My grandmother always said that you could pull anyone's pants down in my country and know what will be there, irrespective of creed or sex: black boxer shorts. Such were the economics of the Soviet Union that there were only so many fabrics being produced and the variety of stuff was pretty low. My grandmother was a tailor, which saved me from only ever wearing things that looked unconnected to any worldwide fashion.
I grew up next to a sewing machine and by the time I got into punk rock, I could do anything make patches and badges, manufacture leather bracelets from my mum's old purse and put spikes in stuff. I was a very good friend to have in this sense! My parents were really creative because of their Romany roots and looked like proper fashion dandies. They weren't imitating any fashion from the West, but managed to achieve a hip-looking style; I'd call it a Ukrainian, post-war Yohji Yamamoto look.
It was a really uniformed country and we'd mainly be in school uniforms, but the funny part is that through the uniformity, the creativity of people was unstoppable. One outfit had so many variations from the way you rolled your sleeves, to wearing aprons backwards. The girls would say their families couldn't afford a new uniform so that next year they could wear shorter skirts than the year before.
Survival was about finding ways to get around the system, finding underground jobs like working in a liquor store or a butcher's. My father took many jobs and became a butcher, which was a major saving of our personal circumstances. There was a food deficit and what was available was shit.
We were at the mercy of the system, but I never felt we were in one condition for too long and my family has always been very good at trying new things. My dad got into yoga and vegetarianism there was always some sort of mania in my household. Once we'd achieved a certain level of success in the Ukraine, there was a desire to move on.
When we left our country, we gave up everything we owned. You were only allowed to take $400 with you, so we sold everything and gave the money to friends and relatives. I hit the road with an extra pair of pants and my guitar, and arrived at a refugee home in Vermont, in a bad part of town. I'd essentially gone from quite high up in the Ukraine to the bottom of the pile in the US which was traumatic.
In New York, I moved in with the punk-rock kids, befriending people working in coffee shops to get free drinks and bagels, and going to art openings at night to eat the free crackers and cheese. Most of my clothes were stolen, or borrowed from friends, but I always put them together in my own way and never felt I'd lost my true identity.
When I made it big it didn't mean so much to me, but for my family it showed I'd been accepted by the so-called social scene. What I've done is a result of hustling and finding ways to survive in testing situations. I don't know where I inherited this profile, this "cool" label, but it's not so important. I've always said there is no point of arrival; it's the process of becoming that is the gem.Reuse content