Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Weird Looking Pop Star

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Last year, in the pages of The Washington Post, Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch argued that the television show Dallas helped win the Cold War. And now, from the always breathless and usually unreliable German tabloid Bild, we discover that the Stasi, the East German secret police, fearful that his music would drive the youth of the "anti-fascist state" into open revolt, believed that Michael Jackson would help precipitate the end of communism. After Jackson planned a concert at the Brandenburg Gate in 1988, authorities in the GDR twisted their mustaches, stroked their cats, and planned to disrupt the counterrevolutionary concert:

In a file seen by BILD dating from May 4 1988, Stasi Department 20 warns that "the youth will do anything they can to try and listen to the concert from the Brandenburg Gate". It added: "Named youths are planning a confrontation with the police."

The Stasi considered countermeasures and planned a "diversionary concert" to keep young people away from the Wall.  And the real concert was supposed to be beamed onto a huge screen in an East Berlin stadium, with a two minute delay.

Even then, the secret police also considered playing a video of a different Michael Jackson concert.

The plan never came into effect as on June 19 the Stasi brutally hunted down any Michael Jackson fans in East Berlin instead.

A diversionary concert of dreary agitprop from, perhaps, the great traitor Dean Reed?

Friday bonus: A clip of Reed, the Kim Philby of schlager, singing "Give Peace a Chance" on Russian television in 1985. And you thought Stalin's purges were bad:

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  1. Help H&R Commenters! –

    Does anyone recall a short piece in Time or Newsweek circa 1970 describing an official USSR version of the Beatles whose name was translated as “The Songsters”? They were said, in a state-mandated sort of way, to be beloved for the cheery, youthful melodies, in a state-mandated sort of way.

    If anyone has any idea who I’m speaking of or when/where this article appeared, please speak up.

  2. Christ, Reed looks like Michael Pare doing a stint as an extra in Saturday Night Fever.

  3. Admit it, the only reason you posted this was so you could make a Dean Reed reference.

  4. Reed looks like Michael Pare doing a stint as an extra in Saturday Night Fever.

    Well, both Staying Alive and On the Dark Side would be relevant in Hohensch?nhausen prison…

  5. He’s no iggy pop.

  6. Aarch— Many thanks!

  7. We laugh at the idea of MJ being revolutionary, but I also remember a Billy Joel concert held in the Soviet Union around 1987 or 88. It didn’t exactly lead to rioting, but there was definitely rebellion in the air at that show.

    IIRC, Joel ended the concert with the line, “Don’t take any shit from anyone.”

    If Billy Joel can create the reaction he did, I’m sure MJ could too.

  8. What makes a Bishop Aarch?

  9. This would all be very cute, if it weren’t for the fact that a Reason editor is helping in a campaign to do a virtual version of this to those who simply telling the truth. Who knew that someone who organized a pro-war protest in 2003 would now be in Soros’ downstream and helping in an Alinsky-style campaign?

  10. LW, I love you, but we have to stop meeting like this.

  11. I’m okay with opening Kolyma for a while if we can send Dean Reed there.

  12. re: the bonus clip

    I swear to christ if you ever… ever do that again, I will boycott Reason for a month. I’m all settled in, drink in hand, I hit the ‘play’ icon, and now I just want to pour my drink out in the plant and go to bed.

  13. Does anyone recall a short piece in Time or Newsweek circa 1970 describing an official USSR version of the Beatles whose name was translated as “The Songsters”?

    I remember something about this… but the band name you gave doesn’t ring any bells. It’s possible that there have been so many communist bloc countries creating ‘hip’ bands as kind of pop honeypots to attract the youth and keep them from away from the decadent western stuff, that I’m simply thinking of the idea as opposed to the specific instance to which you’re referring.

  14. I recommend the fascinating documentary on Dean Reed called American Rebel: The Dean Reed Story.

    But the whole Stasi-vs.-Rock ‘n’ Roll thing reminds me of the very funny film Top Secret!. A favorite bit: Boss of Stasi-like organization decides that the American rock star Nick Rivers must be stopped. He takes a rubber stamp off of a rubber stamp tree and stamps the file. The stamp says “Find him and kill him.”

  15. @Cridland:

    You’re referring to a cover of the Beatles’s “Girl” that was re-recorded, in Russian, by an a capella group and labeled as a “traditional siberian folk song.”

    Further information is in this audio program, “Beatles in the USSR”: http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/documentaries/2009/02/090204_beatles_ussr.shtml

  16. Seems funny to me that the Stasi were anti- rock and roll, when so many right wingers in the USA were claiming that rock and roll was a commie plot.

    -jcr

  17. But the whole Stasi-vs.-Rock ‘n’ Roll thing reminds me of the very funny film Top Secret!.

    Spy #1: “Whom do you feh-vor een ze Wirginia Sleems tournament?”

    Spy #2: “In vomen’s tennis, I alvays root against ze heterosexual…”

    Incidentally, the little Russian TV logo at the top right corner of the screen is pretty clever, in a Latin/Cyrillic mashup with Commie icon sort of way. (It’s meant to be read as “Nostalgia,” of course. I guess this is their version of Bewitched reruns on “Nick at Night.”)

  18. By 1988 Reed had been bead for a few years, so perhaps a concert by him would have had more news value than one more appearance by the gloved one.

  19. sorry, dead not ‘bead”

  20. Does anyone recall a short piece in Time or Newsweek circa 1970 describing an official USSR version of the Beatles whose name was translated as “The Songsters”?

    Not at all, but googling [songsters ussr] came up with some interesting stuff.

  21. EOC: I’m willing to bet your search came up with the AT-8 “Songster” anti-tank missle.

    This guy is wooden and flat, and not even a totalitarian regime can force a better response from the audience. He’s like your dad trying to sing songs that you grew up with. (To this day, I cringe when my dad sings “Start Me Up”)

  22. MCab: He was better earlier in his career, never great, but a decent singer/songwriter/rocker of the pre-British-Invasion sort. 1985 was also just a year before his death, when he seemed to be losing faith in Communism, so maybe he wasn’t putting a lot of heart into that particular performance.

    Here’s a one minute trailer for the documentary, which has him in better singing form.

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