June 13, 2021

COMRADE ROCKSTAR: Dean Reed may be the biggest rock star that you’ve never heard of.  An American from Colorado, Reed was a huge star in the Communist Bloc, but not in his native land. “Comrade Rockstar” is just one of the nicknames that have been conferred upon him over the years.

His failure to make it in America was not for lack of trying. Born to a Goldwater-supporting family, he left for Hollywood in the late 1950s, where he got a contract with Capitol Records. Alas, his records never took off in this country.

For some reason, however, his music was especially popular in Latin America. He therefore moved down there in the early 1960s (during which he began his political lurch leftward). From there, he went on to Europe, finally winding up in the early 1970s in East Germany, where they absolutely, positively, no-doubt-about-it, loved him and his music. Communist bloc teens swooned.  To them, he was “the Red Elvis.”

Reed always professed to love America, and the lyrics to his songs sometimes reflected this, but he seemed to spend as much time denouncing the United States as he spent singing, songwriting, and acting in movies.  Of course, denouncing the United States is pretty common among rock musicians.  But Reed’s wholesome style (by the standards of the time) made him different.  Here, for example, he sings “Bye Bye Love” with Phil Everly.  No wonder the Communist Bloc authorities encouraged his rise to stardom, while condemning what they viewed as degenerate forms of music.

Reed died on this day in 1986 at the age of 47.  Six weeks earlier, he had appeared on CBS’s 60 Minutes — one of the rare occasions on which his by then fading fame was acknowledged in the Western media. During that interview, he defended the building of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and compared Reagan to Stalin.

Although officially recorded as an accident, Reed’s death was almost certainly a suicide. His body was found in knee-deep water in Zeuthener Lake a few miles outside Berlin.  His wrists were slashed, and he had taken an overdose of sleeping pills.  A suicide note was later found.  “Wholesome” musical style or not, he was an all-too-obvious troubled soul.

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