Anastasia: The Mystery Is Over, But the Songs Go On
Romanov Collection, General Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University
Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia was the youngest daughter of Russia's last Tsar, Nicholas II. During her father's reign, her life was rife with scandal due to the association between the royal family and Grigori Rasputin.
By all accounts, the relationship that Rasputin had with the young duchesses was a warm and innocent one. They often wrote each other, and the girls were visibly upset upon hearing that he had been murdered. Nonetheless, there was a great deal of nasty propaganda that accused the Empress and her daughters of having sexual relationships with the Mad Monk.
In 1917, Russia entered the Bolshevik Revolution, in which Anastasia and her entire family were captured and later executed. Despite reports to the contrary, it was rumored that Anastasia had somehow survived.
In the early 1920s, a woman named Anna Anderson started wandering around saying she was Anastasia. Even though she wasn't even Russian -- to be fair, there wasn't actually a whole lot of real Russian blood left in the dynasty by this point -- Ingrid Bergman won an Oscar for playing Anderson in a 1956 film.
Various other charlatans have capitalized on the mystery over the years because the Soviet Union wouldn't tell anyone where the royal family had been buried. Finally, on this day in 2008, remains that had been unearthed near Ekaterinburg, Russia, were confirmed through DNA testing to be those of the long-lost princess.
So a million Disney-esque dreams were shattered, and pretty much everyone who ever claimed to be Anastasia was lying or mentally ill. Nonetheless, for almost 100 years she was an enduring figure of mystery, and in her honor I dedicated this week's playlist to her.
Liz Callaway, "Once Upon a December": I've never liked the 1997 animated film Anastasia , despite being an advocate for all things Don Bluth. I'm a big fan of Rasputin's and the idea that he was somehow a bad guy during the murder of the princess's family is laughable. Still, the soundtrack has stood the test of time.
Voltaire, "Anastasia": According to one fan who asked Voltaire about the meaning of this song, it is indeed inspired by the Russian princess, but written from the perspective of a dead father in the afterlife sadly waiting for his still-living daughter. Whether or not that's Voltaire's real meaning, or just something the poster made up, is open to opinion, but it's definitely an interpretation that could fit.
Sponge, "I Am Anastasia": If you asked me what the most underrated album of the 1990s was, I would answer without hesitation Sponge's Wax Ecstatic. It's a masterpiece of rock experimentation that should be lauded for the genius it is, but is sadly forgotten. I suspect "I Am Anastasia" is a leftover from when the record was going to be a concept album about the death of a drag queen, and it bears little resemblance to the life of the historical Anastasia.
Nonetheless, its message of becoming enamored with a girl known only from books, and wanting to become that tragic figure, rings true in the many people that attempted it over the last century.
Guns n' Roses, "Sympathy for the Devil": Yes, I like the Guns version better than the original, and I don't care who that pisses off. The murder of Anastasia is mentioned among the many places that Lucifer claims to have been present at through the course of history.
Considering the whole of Russian history following the death of the royal family, the idea that the devil had something to do with the whole thing isn't that far-fetched.
Tori Amos, "Yes, Anastasia": I'll let Tori tell it herself...
"It's a journey. Anastasia Romanov... it's not like I've read loads of books on her. I was aware of the family and that's about it. So I'm in Virginia, and I had crabs...I keep saying that! I had crab sickness, I had eaten bad crabs in Maryland!
"But I couldn't cancel the show. I was at soundcheck, and needless to say, when you are very, very ill, it is easier to communicate with your source... you are fragile and vulnerable.
"Well, her presence came. Now I have only heard of her in history, I've got no point to make. She comes and goes, 'You've got to write my tune.' I go, 'Ohhh, now's not really a good time.' She says, 'No, you've got to understand something from this, there's something here that you've got to come to terms with.' And that night came," as she softly sings the line "'We'll see how brave you are,' and that was really about the whole record.
"That came just about before everything. And whenever I sing that chorus, 'We'll see how brave you are,' it means so many different things to me. It's part of my self, my spirit self saying to the rest of myself, 'If you really want a challenge, just deal with yourself.'
"The funny thing is that Anna Anderson, who claimed to be Anastasia, died very close to where I was playing, an hour or so from there in the '80s. The feeling I got that Anna Anderson was Anastasia Romanov. She always tried to prove it and a lot of people believed her and some people didn't want to believe her, because of what that would have meant.
"And again, it's really working through being a victim. 'Counting the tears from 10,000 men, and gathered them all, but my feet are slipping.' You can't blame the men anymore; there's always you. It comes back to us; it comes back to me."
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.