Monday, December 19, 2005

Book Review

Rock 'n' Roll Radical: The Life & Mysterious Death of Dean Reed by Chuck Lasewski, Beaver's Pond Press, Inc., 2005, 245 pp.

A Former Classmate Heard a Different Drummer

How does a kid from a politically conservative family go from 1950s middle 'Merica to end his life in 1980's East Germany? And, oh, by the way, become a celebrated singer, entertainer, TV personality and film star in both Latin America and behind the Iron Curtain? It was by chance and circumstance, and it makes for a fascinating story, especially for someone who knew him.

There is some common ground between Dean and me. Near the same time in our lives, our 20s, we both were drawn to live in other countries. And, aside from graduating from Wheatridge High School in Colorado in the same class, we married women who were roommates at Colorado Women's College in Denver.

At another level, Dean and I shared another similarity, we were attracted to socialism as a reasonable alternative to capitalism as a result of our experience living outside the US. My transformation came after reading Erich Fromm's The Sane Society in 1968 and appreciating the value of Canada's universal health care and social welfare systems. The change in Dean was more dramatic and began by being befriended by a man who became his mentor, Paton Price. It was honed as a result of his exposure to the plight of the oppressed in countries like Chile and Argentina. As his political convictions grew, his role changed, causing him to become a champion of the downtrodden in addition to maintaining his celebrity.

In 1964, he said:

"'South America changed my life because there the difference of justice and injustice, poverty and wealth are so clear. So you have to take stand. I became a revolutionary. You were either for the status quo which means for the twenty percent who have all the wealth and all the power or you will stand with the eighty percent who were illiterate, who were hungry who somehow wanted a better future. I felt this fame, that by destiny I had in South America, had to be dedicated to this eighty percent.'"

Aside from politics, his growing anti-American tendencies were fueled by the marked contrast his performance efforts garnered in the US versus his experience abroad. Here, he had one record that barely edged into the top 100, Our Summer Romance. In Chile and Argentina, however, it made him a star.

It was curiosity that caused him, in 1961, to borrow money to buy a ticket to Chile to check out the sales his Capitol recording was creating. He was shocked to find himself a cause celebre when he got off the plane. The next 17 days were spent making appearances on radio and television and performing to adoring fans. Then, it was back to the US and anonymity.

Because of his popularity in Latin America, Reed continued to travel there. By 1964, he and his first wife, Patricia moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina, and his political activism increased.

In 1966, the Reeds moved to Europe, settling in Spain, which was still ruled by the fascist Franco. During his time in Argentina and now Spain, Reed began visiting and performing in the Soviet Union.

In 1970, Reed went to Chile and helped campaign for the election of Salvador Allende. When Allende won, Reed was invited to perform at the inauguration. Since Allende was a socialist, his days were numbered, and he was assassinated in a US supported coup in 1973.

In '71, Reed began spending time in East Germany and became attracted to Wiebke Dorndeck, an East German. This prompted a divorce from his now estranged wife, and in 1973, he married Wiebke and settled down in East Germany, which was to remain his home until he committed suicide in 1986 at age 48. He had remarried Renate Blume, another East German, in 1981.

In 1985, Reed returned to Colorado for a visit, and the trip kindled a desire to return to the US, but his wife, Renate wasn't in favor of leaving Germany, and increasing depression and addiction to pain medications and sleeping pills seem to have rendered Reed somewhat incapacitated or incapable of functioning clearly.

Given the times we now live in, a time when a non elected poseur proudly flaunts his stand above the law, there was one passage in a letter written by Reed to his daughter Ramona in the US on July 4, 1983, that resonated for me. It was written prior to a trip to Pinochet ruled Chile:

"I know there that there is some risk to my life and my well-being, but each human being must be willing to risk something so that other human beings have the possibility to live in freedom and in peace."

I hope the story that Tom Hanks is planning to produce a film of Dean's life is true. Dean may not have always lived well, but he certainly lived fully.

Dean Reed is buried back home in Colorado at Green Mountain Cemetery in Boulder.

Picks of the day:

Democrats plan sharp rebuke of pre-war intelligence, Iraq war in massive new congressional report

"The report, titled 'The Constitution in Crisis: The Downing Street Minutes and Deception, Manipulation, Torture, Retribution and Coverups in the Iraq War,' is slotted to be made available to the public Tuesday. RAW STORY acquired a copy of the book’s cover and some additional information about the document today."

CIA's Polish concentration camp located

"Regular Polish intelligence employees had no access to this inner area, but the Americans apparently did. Furthermore, there were small cars with tinted windows parked at the camp site. The same kind of cars that employees at Szymany Airport told Stern were always driven to CIA airplanes, which were waiting with engines running at the end of the runway."

Excellent! Poland, the land of Auschwitz.

US operated secret 'dark prison' in Kabul

"Eight detainees now held at Guantánamo described to their attorneys how they were held at a facility near Kabul at various times between 2002 until 2004. The detainees, who called the facility the 'dark prison' or 'prison of darkness,' said they were chained to walls, deprived of food and drinking water, and kept in total darkness with loud rap, heavy metal music, or other sounds blared for weeks at a time."

Never mind; it's OK. The moral cretin is simply protecting us.

Bush proud of his big ears: He blames the New York Times for having revealed illegal wiretapping in the war against terrorism.

"On the normal scale of democratic values, setting wiretaps to spy on one's fellow citizens without a green light from the judiciary is not the most virtuous behavior; revealing the existence of such wiretaps is performance of an act of public health. But President Bush has decided to set this scale on its head. In his weekly message Saturday, he proudly acknowledged having authorized the very secret National Security Agency (1) to set up such wiretaps after the September 11, 2001, attacks to put under surveillance 'persons linked to al-Qaeda and other similar terrorist organizations.' This 'vital tool in the war against terrorism'"

Never mind; it's OK. The moral cretin is simply protecting us. Only, who will protect us from him?

Big Brother Bush / The president took a step toward a police state

"Without a serious leap of imagination, particularly with the list of those under surveillance not available to anyone outside the NSA and the Pentagon, it is also possible to project that political critics of the Bush administration could end up among those being tracked. The Nixon administration, a previous Republican administration beleaguered by war critics, maintained 'enemies lists.'"

Never mind . . . .

Bush defends illegal spying on Americans: the specter of presidential dictatorship

"By deciding, after the secret NSA program was revealed in Friday’s New York Times, to not only acknowledge it, but declare that it would continue so long as he remained president, Bush has escalated his administration’s attack on congressional oversight and the entire Constitutional setup in the US. His defiance of laws passed by Congress amounts to a bid to establish a form of presidential dictatorship."

US House wraps up budget with defense plan, spending cuts

"The U.S. House adjourned for the year after approving a $453 billion Department of Defense budget for fiscal 2006 and $39.7 billion in spending cuts over five years to benefit programs such as Medicaid and student loans.

"The defense budget faces opposition in the Senate, where Democrats plan to raise procedural objections because the legislation includes a provision to open Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration."

Presidential pipeline: Bush's top fund-raisers see spoils of victory

"Bush administration policies, grand and obscure, have financially benefited companies or lobbying clients tied to at least 200 of the president's largest campaign fund-raisers, a Toledo Blade investigation has found. Dozens more stand to gain from Bush-backed initiatives that recently passed or await congressional approval."


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