Thursday, July 10, 2008

Dean Reed: The Red Elvis


DeanReed A Pair Of Scissors


Dean Reed Thunder and Lightning

Back in my communist days, a many people told me to "go to Russia ".
Dean Reed, the subject of the film "American Rebel" did almost the same thing, moving instead to East Germany. In America, Reed achieved a modest success and some critical acclaim with some modest hits such as "I Kissed a Queen" and "Our Summer Romance". He even had a contract with Capitol Records and some walk on television roles. To his frustration, American success eluded him. After spending some time in Latin America, he moved to East Germany. Finally in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, he achieved mega stardom. His American origins and style appealed to those behind the iron curtain who were fond of American music and style. To the communist leadership, he was a propaganda windfall, having left America for a socialist paradise. Far from being apolitical, he enthusiastically espoused Marxist beliefs and incorporated socialist favourites such as "Bella Ciao' and "Venceremos" into his repertoire. He was frequently on tour. He was photographed with Yasir Arafat , defended the building of the Berlin Wall and the invasion of Afghanistan.
He professed a love for America and never gave up his American citizenship. He considered himself a Marxist but was never a card carrying party member. Although he generated antagonism with his unpopular views, he was an exotic side show in the United States. The contrast between America's treatment of those who left it and Reed's defense of the Berlin Wall is most ironic and was not brought up in the controlled East German press.
In 1986 at the age of 47, Reed was found drowned in a lake in in East Berlin. The death was ruled a drowning although there was widespread rumours of suicide. His family suspected foul play, although he was on good terms with the East German Communist regime at the time of his death.
Dean Reed was a talented man with political beliefs that were repugnant to many. From a psychological viewpoint he is fascinating. To common Soviet citizens, he was simply a very popular performer and a household name.
It is interesting to speculate how Reed would have reacted to the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, how he would have adjusted psychologically and where he would have lived. His untimely death leaves this and many other unanswered questions.
Pete Seeger, a folk singer with known communist sympathies was far more influential in shifting American public opinion than was expatriate Dean Reed. As they say at the New York State Lottery, "You have to be in it to win it."
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