Here’s a fun question. Did the CIA write the power ballad “Wind of Change” for the heavy metal band the Scorpions, as a propaganda tool to help topple to Soviet Union?
I’m sorry, saywhatnow?
This is exactly what acclaimed journalist Patrick Radden Keefe asks, in his 8-episode Wind of Change podcast from Crooked Media, the folks who bring you Keep It and POD Save America/the World/My Sanity.
Is the beloved song from the Scorpions – the guys who want to “Rock You Like Hurricane” – actually part of an orchestrated CIA espionage campaign to foment political unrest with a throbbing theme song?
God, I hope so.
Stealing from Ian Frazier in his Travels in Siberia, I suffer from Russia love. Y’all miss Barack Obama? Well, I miss Philip and Elizabeth Jennings. I’m Class of ’91, so a podcast that involves the CIA, hair bands, and Moscow is like a drug to me. Just say . . . yes. Sorry, Nancy Reagan.
About ten years ago, Keefe’s friend told him about a rumor he heard from a buddy who had worked in the CIA, that the CIA wrote the song Wind of Change, and not the German band’s lead singer Klaus Meine.
The wild story is something that the podcast creator has never forgotten – who could?! — and his looking for the truth is a ride. Keefe interviews a motley
crüe crew, from retired CIA agents to a member of Skid Row, from a rich guy who collects spy memorable to a dude at a GI Joe convention.
The song in question is a very “of its time” power ballad with an unforgettable whistle hook. “Wind of Change” became a huge anthem of the changing Eastern Bloc and Soviet states, with kids finding the song via smuggled cassette tapes on the black market.
But why the Scorpions in the first place? Maybe because they were German and had played in the Soviet Union. Or maybe because they were a part of the Moscow Music Peace Festival in August 1989, and were managed by Doc McGee, whose leg work to set up the concert took over a year of planning with trips and meetings, in and out of the Soviet capital.
The CIA choosing the Scorpions doesn’t seem so wild, especially when you learn that McGee was also trying to plea his way out of prison after a huge marijuana and cocaine drug bust connected to Panama dictator, Manuel Noriega. Damn, I need to borrow Glenn Beck’s chalkboard.
When Keefe asks the CIA about the rumor, using a FOIA request, the CIA “can neither confirm nor deny.” It is plausible, as the CIA and the US Government had often used propaganda and pop culture as a tool to influence global politics. It’s not all drugging people and throwing them out of planes at low altitudes. Sometimes they use the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.
Knowable vs Noble
When Keefe speaks to a former agent Rose — not her real name and her words read by an actress– , she puts an interesting idea out there, after he asks her if the song’s true origin story is knowable and she mis-hears him.
“Do you think this is a knowable thing?”
“Do I think this is a noble thing?”
“Oh. Knowable. I think it’s a knowable thing. I think you could get there. I’m not convinced you should, to the question of if it’s a noble thing.”
Is it noble to find out this knowable thing, beyond our curiosity and the thrill of solving a mystery? Keefe is tracking a conspiracy theory that seems fun and plausible – i.e. this no Pizzagate. But while it might make the CIA look slick/tricky/successful, what does it do for the Scorpions? What does it do for their fans, the ones still attending their shows, those Russian kids – now in their 40s and 50s – who took on that song as their anthem as the Bear collapsed.
A tainted memory can hurt the person remembering. Was I a fool for loving that song? For thinking it was pure, coming from Meine’s earnest feelings during that Moscow festival, as he followed the Moskva, down to Gorky Park, listening to the wind of change. An August summer night, soldiers passing, by listening to the wind of change.
In the final episode, Keefe finally sits down with Klaus Meine himself, in a Hanover Germany hotel conference room, to ask him simply if he wrote the song or if the CIA had a hand in it. I won’t spoil it for you, but I was clenched the entire time.
As Meine spoke about his inspiration and the Mickey Mouse notepad he used for songwriting, I thought of the spooks and kooks from the first seven episodes, knowing that while everyone could be telling the truth, everyone could also be lying.
And I kept thinking about another thing Rose said. No one knows what will go viral. No one knows what will catch fire, so even if the CIA did write the song, who else did they write for? Can you catch lightning on a bottle with only one attempt? Surely not.
I inhaled Wind of Change while spring cleaning my backyard. Is there a word or phrase for that bereft feeling when you binge something amazing too fast and then it’s over? I could look up all the words for “sad” on thesaurus dot com and try to create one, I guess. Binge burn? Listening at rue speed? Yeah, my heart just isn’t in it. The pandemic zaps pithiness. I want to feel the wind of change on my face, but I’m wearing an N95 mask.
You can catch all episodes of Wind of Change now on Spotify, or get a new episode each week on other streaming platforms.
Amy takes pride in being a grumpy optimist. Want to talk sports ball? Amy is your girl. Her favorite New York Times crossword puzzle day is Tuesday. If your book is set in the former Soviet Union or World War 2, Amy will read it. As a recovered Southern Baptist, she is raising her daughter to be happy.