Wednesday, July 18, 2012

"I’m Doing What I Want to Do, and Nothing Else"

Johnny in Russia, December 2011. 
All photos © Tatiana Edrenkina.

Johnny Weir: 
“At Heart, I’m an Old Russian Woman"
Interview in Sport Express 
posted 06-06-2012
by Slava Malamud
translated by Tatiana Edrenkina
(Parts 1 and 2 available here;
Parts 3 and 4 here.)

Part 5: How Did This Guy Get the Russian Sorrow?
(Note from Tatiana: This subhead is an allusion to a line from the song “Grenada” — “How did the guy get the Spanish sorrow?” — about a Ukrainian soldier who sang a Spanish song while the rest of the troop was singing a Russian war song.)

By figure-skating standards, you’ll be old in Sochi. If you get there at all.
Yes, I’ll be 29. But I started skating when I was 12! So I’ll have 17 years in the sport. But many of my rivals have been skating since they were 2 years old, so they have stressed their bodies even more than I have. And why wouldn’t I get to Sochi? The competition in America is weak nowadays.

And what are your expectations there?
It’s a competition, so I’m going there to win. What else would they be? If you go knowing that you won’t win, why go at all? Just stay home… But in general, I’ll be happy just to be in Sochi. Three Olympics is serious success.

Especially if we take into account your love for Russia.
Of course! Russia is my inspiration, from my coaches and music and the culture in general to figure-skating traditions. To finish my career in Russia would be a dream come true. Plus I’ll be performing under my new last name, Weir-Voronov.

By the way, how did this start? You were born in a small town in Pennsylvania, where there are a lot of Amish folks and no Russians at all.
I don’t know. It’s just in me. Some people are obsessed with mathematics. Some get hobbies out of nowhere. And I’ve been totally fascinated by Russia since I was 5. What is this country? Why does everyone around me not like it? Why are there such beautiful buildings in Red Square? What is Communism? I was very attracted to these mysteries.

And? What have you found in Russian culture that amazed you most of all?
Even the most miserable Russian who has no money and just a normal job will act as if he were Putin. This is very Russian — to always carry yourself like that. I respect that. In America, people are afraid of doing what they like; they are afraid of offending or upsetting others. Russians don’t care about that. They need to feel that they are the lords of their life, and they need everyone else to tell them this… And the history of Russia fascinates me, too. It’s very romantic, with all its rises and falls… Red Square is the most beautiful place in the world. Each time I walk there, I’m all  ahhh  and  ohhh.

I guess there are not many Cheburashka collectors in America.
Now even our puppy has a Cheburashka.

How many of them do you have?
You know that the rights to Cheburashka were bought by the Japanese. So each time I visit Japan, I return with a suitcase full of Cheburashkas that have been given to me. I have them in all colors and sizes. The Japanese are very inventive, so they dress them God only knows how. I have Cheburashkas on skates, in my costumes… I think I could provide five or six grade schools with Cheburashkas.

It’s a strange toy. He even sings about it in his song.
But he’s so nice. I like him because of that. Nobody knows where he’s from, or how he got into a box of oranges.

Let me give you a poll about Russian culture. What, for example, is your favorite Russian book?
I have a little book of Pushkin’s poems that I always take with me.

Pushkin is difficult in translation. Do you have a favorite quotation?
I remember one, but I think it’s by Tolstoy. “Upon the brink of a wild stream, he stood and dreamt a mighty dream.”

That’s Pushkin.
So I screwed up? Well, yes, Pushkin.

Favorite movie?
Moskva Slezam Ne Verit (Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears).

Good choice. Favorite celebrity?
Alla Borisovna Pugacheva. I adore her. Just because deep in my heart, I’m an old Russian woman. Then also Sergey Lazarev.

"Old Russian woman"?
Many of my friends are elderly Russian ladies. My coaches, their girlfriends, my dentist and her girlfriends. We love talking about bags and fur coats, how to properly make an Olivier Salad.

So here’s the next question: your favorite Russian dish?
My mother-in-law makes incredibly delicious pirozhki [pies] with chicken. I love Olivier and black caviar.

Favorite Russian athlete?
Zhenya, Irina Slutskaya, and gymnast Svetlana Khorkina. I adore her. Diva!

Part 6: How I Was Boris Yeltsin

I’m trying to think of a Russian athlete who adores America as much as you adore Russia. I don’t think it would be easy for him. How does it feel to be a Russophile in America?
Americans often ask me the same question as you did: “Why? How did it start?” They are just interested. And in Russia, they would tear up a person like me and they wouldn’t even let him explain himself.

But I must admit that I did a lot of stupid things. For example, I wore a CCCP (USSR) jersey when I warmed up before my performance at the Torino Olympics. This was Tatiana Totmyanina’s gift, for good luck. The federation would probably be happier if I spoke with my coach in English after my performances, and not in Russian. What if I discuss somebody in front of the cameras? There were a lot of such moments which didn’t charm a lot of people. But in general, people like that I represent America at its best — the freedom to be who I want to be, and to love what I want to love.

Do you mean that many Americans like it?
Well, not everyone, of course. But it’s my fault as well. I used to be a very aggressive non-conformist, just threw it in people’s faces and didn’t understand the reactions it could cause. I went to the Torino Olympics not realizing how many people were going to be watching me. And of course many reacted very aggressively. There were even death threats. I had to register in hotels under different names. I often used the name "Boris Yeltsin."

How did they threaten you? By calling you?
They called me, they wrote to me. Once I received a fax with a threat: “Be a man and die.” That was because one of the elements of my costume was fur. All those people who protest against fur are totally fucked up in the head… Even now I get a lot of messages. Religious groups, homophobes. But it’s worse when they really try to get to me. Now, for example, I’m stalked by a fan. Absolutely sick person. She threatens me, Victor, one of my friends who she imagines was my lover. It’s difficult with crazy ones…

By the way… You know how it is with homophobia in Russia. Doesn’t your love of all Russian things suffer because of it?
It hurts me that people like me cannot live normally in Russia. It hurts me that those who demand their rights are silenced. What can we do? To be gay is not just American culture, not Russian, not Chinese, not any other. We’re in almost equal proportions everywhere. If I had a choice, I wouldn’t even think about it: I’d live with a normal sexual orientation and wouldn’t suffer. It would be much easier! But I don’t have a choice, and neither does anybody else. Yes, it hurts me that Russia doesn’t accept my way of life and hates it. But I still love Russia. And I would live in Russia if I could. At least in Moscow.

Does it mean that you don’t have problems in Moscow and St. Petersburg?
No, never! Not even once! Well, once in Moscow, somebody tried to steal my bag. Once I was in a gay bar in Moscow. There were me and other skaters who went there out of curiosity. The security there was — oh wow. Really tight. And there was no music till 3 a.m. so as not to attract attention… Sad. Russia’s becoming a modern country, but in this context, it’s still in the Middle Ages. And there’s no progress. But no matter how Russian I consider myself, I’m not Russian, and I can’t fight against anything in Russia.

Did your mother cry when you came out to her?
Of course she did. All parents blame themselves when they learn that their children are gay, as if it was their mistake. But what does my mom have to do with it? I was like that since I was 6… Now everything is wonderful — with her, with Victor’s parents. Given how difficult it is to live with me.

Part 7: Horses, Lady Gaga, Chanel

Have you ever tried to change your skating style to make it more masculine?
I have! I used to work with Marina Anissina, Salt Lake City Olympic champion in ice dancing. She invented a very interesting program for me: I portrayed a chess figure in my short program, and Jesus in my long. Marina wanted me to skate in a modern way, sharply, manly. She wanted me to reduce the elegance and ballet. But that’s exactly what I like. My idol is Mikhail Baryshnikov. So it didn’t work… To tell you the truth, that was a very bad time in my life. I had troubles in my personal life, I was depressed, and my skating suffered a lot because of it.

You say that you started skating at 12, which is incredibly late. But I heard that you did an axel at your first week.
I did! I looked closely at it on TV, and then went to a frozen cornfield near our house and jumped.

Landing on one foot?
As it should be… What? I’m from the middle of nowhere in America, and I’m not used to being scared. I’m scared only of sharks and large crowds of people. And spiders. But falling on the ice — no way. We had so much snow and ice in Pennsylvania that every winter my ass turned into a big bruise. And before that I competed in horseback riding.

Did you jump over obstacles?
I did. And I was a little baby then. To sit on an animal the size of a car and jump over obstacles — that is scary.

And how did you do?
Not bad at all. Initially I tried out for soccer, but that’s not for me at all. A team, running, sweating, everybody kicking a ball for some reason… No, thank you. I tried skiing, and then I sat on a horse. I was very close to making the national team for my age group, but as soon as I discovered figure skating, everything else was forgotten.

Lady Gaga gives you music. Are you friends with her?
As much as it’s possible to be friends with a superstar. She supports me, she’s interested in my career. Once I was at her mom’s restaurant and her mom told me: “How wonderful would it be if you skated to Gaga’s music!”

No, of course she called her Stephani. So her mom called her, and she sent me a recording.

Are you going to copy Gaga’s costume?
Well, maybe I should.

The judges will be delighted.
[laughing] We’ll see. I just want to have fun. If this will irritate people, or make them think, laugh, or cry — that’s great. I may win, or I may finish in 20th place — who knows? I’m doing what I want to do, and nothing else. Maybe the time to win an Olympic medal is already over for me. But to entertain people, to change my sport, to change my own opinion of myself — I can still do that.

Once you said that when you skate, you go into your dream world. And you want to take the audience with you. What does your world look like?
Like the inside of a cloud. There are sparkles floating everywhere and it smells of Chanel #5.

Can’t say that I’m surprised.
That's my world. It’s light, sparkly, and it smells good.

Very special thanks once again
to my dear friend Tatiana Edrenkina 
for the translation 
and all the gorgeous photos!

Bonus pic!! From the Chinese Angels: 
"Johnny dusted with flower petals 
at Artistry on Ice in Shanghai. 
There is no clear photo of this, just 
screenshots [from the video]."
Full-size image.

Bonus video!! Off-topic, but this is so wonderful 
it absolutely must be shared. 
And I just couldn't wait until Friday to do it. :DDD

New on Johnny's website!! 
He's skating in Hackensack on August 18!! 
Tickets are just $25 for general admission,
or $50 for on-ice seating plus 
post-show meet-n-greet with the skaters!
To purchase tickets, call the Figure Skating Office 
at the Ice House, 201-487-8444, ext. 232.

Yes, YOU can be a part of Johnny's comeback!  
Please visit Johnny's Comeback Gift Fund today 
and chip in as little as $1 via PayPal. 
Our small gifts can help make his dream of competing 
in his third Olympic Games come true!
And now you can leave a message 
of support for Johnny, too!

More from Johnny's website!! 
He's heading back to Japan in early September 
for Fantasy on Ice! Info here!

Landing quads and kicking ass 
at a Grand Prix event near you!
Read his comeback statement 
on his website!

Johnny returns to Sun Valley this summer! 
He'll be the headliner at the Saturday, August 4, ice show, 
and tickets are on sale now!! Don't miss it!

Please click to vote for Johnny 
once a day as "Best Sportsman"
Because he retweeted Luisa Lotka to tell us 
he wants us to! (Note: With his "58.132" rating, 
he is currently in 1st place in both 
Figure Skating AND across all sports!)

It's not too late! Subscribe now 
and get the entire Johnny Weir perspective, 
including his never-before-heard free skate commentary 
available exclusively on!

Q and A! Go read it now!

with MAC is pretty much sold out, 
but I'm leaving this video on here 
for a little while longer 
because I love it so much.

Yes! Johnny's dresses are now available
for purchase only on!

At last: Pop Star On Ice is now available on DVD!
Order yours today from the Pop Star On Ice website!

Johnny tweeted:
"Buy my single,'Dirty Love' via iTunes.
Tell all your friends to as well. The more copies sold
takes me one step closer to making a video! №1!"

You know what to do.
Please buy the song from Johnny's website,
or just click the "Buy" button on the player
at the top of the blog!

Hey, Welcome to My World also is available
as an eBook! More info on Johnny's website!

copyright 2012 / Binky and the Misfit Mimes / Lynn V. Ingogly / all rights reserved

1 comment:

aaaack said...

Thank you, Binky and Tatiana.

In 2006 poor Johnny caught the reaction of the folks still stuck in an athletics-as-proxy-Cold-War mentality. I hope that that mentality will have vanished in time for Sochi.

Remember when Johnny tried on Matthew Mitcham's swimming trunks and Matthew tried on Johnny's Bad Romance costume for fun and inspiration? I hope that people will see that Russian jacket Johnny wore in 2006 as innocently as that.

I recall that Jacqueline Kennedy was very inspired by Russian art, ballet and history. And uber capitalist Malcolm Forbes was inspired by the art of Faberge. Etc.