Reason Magazine on the ‘Red Elvis’

His name was Dean Reed. He was an American who became a Communist, settled in East Germany, and became a minor rock ‘n roll star. They called him the ‘Red Elvis’, but I prefer the moniker ‘Socialist Cowboy’, since he acted in East German cowboy movies (cowboys rapacious capitalists, Indians peace-loving naive socialists). This is the genre known as ‘Westerns From the East‘.

Reggie Nadelson has now written a book about Reed called ‘Comrade Rockstar,’ and Michael Moynihan reviews it in Reason (a libertarian magazine). As you might imagine, Moynihan is not very fond of Reed:

After a short and largely unsuccessful stint with Capitol Records, Reed abandoned California for South America, where, inexplicably, his singles were outselling those of Elvis Presley. Possessed by his newfound ideology, he underwent a transformation among the bitterly impoverished natives: He shed his "false consciousness" and subsumed the artist’s prerogatives beneath those of the Party. After a few years, Reed was expelled from Argentina for agitating against the government and moved to Italy, where he landed a string of minor film roles, including the lead in Karate Fists and Beans, billed as the world’s first western/kung fu cross­over film.

Nadelson’s account offers few details of what motivated Dean’s political journey. Like many radicals of his generation, he claimed to have been inspired by that common inventory of 1960s grievances: Third World poverty, the Vietnam War, CIA machinations in Latin America. So when, in 1966, Reed was approached by a friendly Russian apparatchik offering a truly socialist variant of fame, he boarded a plane for the Soviet Union as an Officially Approved Rock Star-the genuine American article, playing ersatz rock ‘n’ roll.

Moynihan distrusts Ostalgie and therefore has his suspicions about why Reed was considered an appropriate subject for a book. The review’s worth reading, however. [Hat-tip: SK, a Liberty-Loving Slovene].

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