That is Russia," a voice from California said, "and the kids there want to be like us--wear jeans and T-shirts and shorts and most of all they want rock 'n' roll."
"Yeah, yeah," roared a crowd of more than 300 Soviet youths watching themselves being watched live on a large 40-foot high screen at the US music festival in the San Bernardino valley. The exchange was relayed simultaneously via satellite to an eight-foot-high screen in a studio of Moscow Television.
With audiences at both ends waving, blowing kisses and shouting good wishes to each other, the first jam session of rock groups 9,000 miles apart got under way Saturday, casting aside official recriminations between Moscow and Washington and stressing the idea of peace between the two countries.
The 60-minute live rock 'n' roll exchange was preceded by an unprecedented live one-hour discussion via satellite between audiences in California and Moscow, including panels of dignitaries at both ends. Again there was lots of hand-clapping, cheering and assurances of peaceful intentions.
The hookup was largely financed by the 33-year-old millionaire Stephen Wozniak, designer of the Apple Computer, who has established "Unite Us in Song" (UNUSON), a corporation to promote worldwide cooperation.
Wozniak's idea is that technological developments have gone so far that they allow people to establish new channels of communications to help break down suspicions and distrust among nations. The words sung by singer Joe Sereno at the outset of the session--"chance to know you, just a chance to see you"--seemed to symbolize the theme of Wozniak's project.
The Soviet audience was made up mostly of selected students from various Moscow institutes and some prominent figures from the literary and scientific worlds. Moderator Vladimir Pozner and Wozniak's two representatives here--James Hickman and Richard Lukens--coached the audience shortly before the program got under way. The students rehearsed how to say in unison "Good Morning, America" (in Russian) and Pozner instructed them to "look joyful and happy."
However, the people in the Moscow audience seemed to have thoroughly enjoyed the experience and to have acted spontaneously despite the presence of security men in the studio. A fat baldish man wearing an orange shirt and gray suit, who appeared to be in charge of security, personally removed several youngsters from the studio who apparently got carried away while dancing and cheering during the jam session.
But while the proceedings were accessible to thousands of people in California, in Moscow they were confined to the select group of no more than 400 participants and observers.
Wozniak's ideas are shared in Moscow by Joseph Goldin, a free-lance writer who argued that the existence of high-resolution large video screens has opened possibilities for direct contacts between large groups of people. Goldin says misperceptions between the Soviet Union and the United States can be dispelled only through direct and spontaneous contacts between large groups of Russians and Americans.
Perhaps to underscore the visionary nature of the new experimental channel, organizers at both ends recruited spacemen for the project, since they have seen Earth from outer space as a small planet and hence presumably have an unusual angle of vision on earthly problems.
Both Vitaly Sevastianov, a Russian cosmonaut, and U.S. astronaut Rusty Schweickart agreed that "we all live on one planet, a very beautiful planet, but we have got to take care of it." Alluding to the current state of Soviet-American relations, the two spacemen mused about whether they will survive through year 2000, but even this dismal topic was given an optimistic twist.
Rep. George Brown (D-Calif.), a member of the California panel, said he intended to propose that the new channel be turned into a permanent one. "New technologies," he said, "should be used for confidence building measures between our two countries."
Brown's counterpart in Moscow, Evgeny Velikhov, a vice president of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, appeared to endorse the idea by saying that new technological achievements should be used for peaceful rather than military purposes. He was given a standing ovation at both ends when he said, "People think that nuclear weapons are the muscles of a nation while in fact they are a cancerous tumor on a nation's body."
By prearrangement, the American audience did not raise such questions as Poland, Afghanistan or arms control issues. Instead, the questions focused on life in the Soviet Union. Do the Russians have movie stars? Do they know E.T.? What sort of music or sports do they like?
Although Moscow's obsession with security usually precludes the airing of spontaneous events, an edited version of the experiment was expected to be shown to a nationwide audience here Monday. A similar project by Wozniak conducted on a much smaller scale last September was subsequently given wide publicity here.
Joseph Goldin argued that Wozniak's approach represents the wave of the future. "It is not possible to overnight change the attitudes of people or even the textbooks they use. But it seems that when you have large groups of people communicating with one another, their common sense will always prevail. Technically, this is possible to do without false illusions."
In California, moderator Sam Keen called the hookup "a wonderful bridge of friendship," adding, "Let's keep it up now that we have begun."