Until now, Jan Camp Garrett was best known to many Colorado premies as the spirited female vocalist in a lively and versatile Aspen band called Liberty.
But anybody who has stumbled across her on the streets of Aspen or Denver also knows her sparkling eyes reflect the truth of one of her own lyrics - a song which declares:
"There is a light, oh yes, much brighter than the sun. It shines from within you, a-all the time …"
Those shining eyes have spread the light of Guru Maharaj Ji's Knowledge in many places. But it wasn't until this spring that they flashed their way into such far- flung corners as Moscow, Leningrad and several other cities in the Soviet Union.
Teaming up temporarily with another Colorado-based group, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, she helped its members make musical history as they became the first American rock band to play in the Soviet Union. But, for her, the historic part of it was almost secondary to the simple joys of quiet - and sometimes not-soquiet - moments along the way.
There was, for instance, a banquet hosted by the Philharmonic Society in the Russian state of Georgia. In typical Russian style, there were endless toasts. And one toast encouraged the visitors to sing. So they did.
Launching into an impromptu medley of down- home country spirituals, Jan and the Dirt Band's members started out with "Will the Circle Be Unbroken?" - title song for one of the band's most successful records. Then they sang "Somebody Touched Me," which Liberty often has used to delight premie audiences.
By the time the Americans got through harmonizing on "Amazing Grace," there were tears in everyone's eyes. It didn't even matter that the Georgians didn't understand the words.
Another memorable moment came at an outdoor bicycle track in the Armenian capital of Yerevan, where the Americans indulged in a game of Frisbee while waiting for their sound crew to set things up for an afternoon concert.
It was May 9, which Russians celebrate as V-E Day, marking the end of World War 11. A handful of older men, dressed in their best suits, walked around with 20year-old war medals on their chests. At one point, the Frisbee went astray and one of the local men picked it up and tossed it back.
Soon, the Americans were showing him the fine points of Frisbee-tossing. And, through their Russian interpreter, Yuri, the man struck up a conversation about the medals, the holiday and the war.
The medals, he said, weren't worth their price. He showed them his scars and said the fighting had been terrible, and pointless. He said it must never happen again. The people, he said, want peace.
Jan was so touched that she asked Yuri to translate an old Hopi saying: "May the Great Spirit work sunrise in our hearts." It was her way of acknowledging that the sun rises everywhere on this planet, every day, as constant renewal of hope.
She said the encounter left her remembering that every
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citizen of the world longs for peace, no matter how many missiles our governments may build.
Still another encounter came in Riga, the capital of Latvia. (here, the Dirt Band met a number of young music fans who were so thrilled by their concerts that they ignored the risks of fraternizing with Americans and came to see them in their hotel.
And, one night after a concert, Jan and her husband, Vic, along with the Dirt Band's John McEwen and a fourth member of the entourage, got in a cab and rode to an old farmhouse on the outskirts of the town.
The setting was beautiful. There were gardens, lilac bushes and green trees. Inside, the furniture was "sort of funky but homey - not that different if you've ever spent any time being poor or being a hippie." Several young couples lived there, and their hosts had brought out their best tea set and bottle of cognac.
They also seemed terribly nervous, as if the KGB were about to knock on the door. Finally, Jan realized it was simpler than that.
"They had never met Americans before - let alone American musicians. They could just hardly stand it, they were so happy."
Since none of them could speak English, and Yuri hadn't come along this time, the language of the evening was music. There were lots of songs, and lots of smiles.
"I definitely experienced that heart feeling there," Jan said, "a feeling that just cut right through any barriers. All you had to do was look into their eyes."
As the visitors thrilled their hosts by performing American songs, the Latvians amazed the four by pulling out a copy of a familiar, made-in-USA item. It was the Dirt Band's "Circle" album!
A total of 16 Americans went on the tour, which involved 24 concerts in five cities over a span of 25 days. In that period, they watched the audience reaction go from restrained appreciation to a gradual loosening up - and even some outright dancing in the aisles at the Armenian bicycle track. Rock 'n roll was a new experience.
Although those smuggled American albums are passed around and copied on tape for an underground audience, rock music doesn't get much official encouragement, Jan said. And, throughout her trip, Jan looked around for signs that something else - a spontaneous folk music reflecting the life of Soviet young people in the same way rock reflects it here - might he springing to life. But she didn't find it.
Instead, she found a virtual absence of a Soviet counterpart to the "youth culture" in America. She also found many young people longing desperately to escape to the United States. It was such an obsession to many of them that Jan said she had to tell them about such things as TV dinners, air pollution, and the fact that one has to find one's freedom inside, regardless of the external circumstances.
"What struck me about the whole tour," Jan said, "was that we don't know how free we are - and the Soviets don't know how free they are, either."
Returning to Colorado, Jan and Vic (also a member of Liberty) found out their band - a six-member group which included four premies - had broken up. Its members had scattered in several directions - some looking for new musical directions, others deciding to put more focus into the practice of Knowledge.
It meant the future was an open book for the 32-year-old singer. But this didn't seem to upset her.
Just one more chance to surrender, said Jan Garrett with a smile as she walked off to tell one more person about her adventures in Russia.
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