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Comrade Rockstar: The Life and Mystery of Dean Reed, the All-American Boy Who Brought Rock 'n' Roll to the Soviet Union Paperback – June 13, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Journalist and thriller writer Nadelson tells the life story of Dean Reed, "the Johnny Cash of Communism," and of her own investigation into Reed's life, in a book that, while always fascinating, has trouble walking the line between memoir and biography. The details—of how Colorado-born Reed lived and sang in South America and the eastern bloc and became a star of Elvis-like proportions there—are relayed in a clear and often captivating manner. When the author opines on her personal journey to discover and understand Reed, the narrative is often awkward ("my metaphors collided and crashed: none of them any good") and the findings are sometimes naïve ("In the end, the Soviets had not wanted to nuke us; they just wanted to listen to our music"). As "a kind of travel book through a now half-lost time and place"—the time being the '60s, the place being the U.S.S.R.—the book is absorbing. And though there are speed bumps (weak images and an oversimplification of complex political events), as the mysteries of Reed's suspicious death begin to unfold toward the end, the author's strengths become apparent, making Reed all the more exciting. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
In a strange nexus of politics and pop culture that will never be repeated, Colorado native Reed, possessed of a fair voice, great looks, and a boatload of charisma, became the biggest rock star in the Soviet Union during the 1970s and '80s, although practically no one in the U.S. knew who he was. Here Nadelson, author of the Artie Cohen mystery series, tracks Reed's long, strange trip from all-American farm boy to Hollywood extra to South American political activist, and, finally, to Soviet Union pop and film star. Thousands of Russian kids, crazy for all things American, thronged to his concerts, while the authorities viewed him as the ideal propaganda tool, an American whose politics were identical with those of a Kremlin bureaucrat. His death, a few weeks after being featured in a 1986 60 Minutes segment that drew hate mail from the U.S., was ruled a suicide. Although Nadelson's narrative meanders at times, this is a fascinating story of a man in search of fame who found it in the unlikeliest of places. Joanne Wilkinson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Top customer reviews
It appears that as she traveled the world and interviewed people who knew Reed -- and she did engage in thorough due diligence -- it was very difficult to get a complete, straight story about Dean Reed. People who knew Reed would give vastly differing accounts of the events of his life, in some cases even claiming others were lying. Sometimes on separate occasions, the same supposed eyewitness would give highly contradictory accounts of the very same event.
With the evident difficulty of getting the straight story about Reed, even from eyewitnesses, the reporter apparently decided to report the stories from the horses' mouths, contradictions and all.
The accounts of the reporter's travels are useful in giving the reader a feel for the environment Reed operated in. While they may provide mere nostalgia for those of us with experience in the communist East Bloc, they set the scene well for readers with no such background.
Plus, the author's approach provides the reader with interesting details of the historical period that are unlikely to be found anywhere else. These include the Russian practice in the 1960s of producing illegal rock & roll records on exposed X-ray film, which the street hustler could then flex and shove up his sleeve as he peddled them. This is just priceless stuff.
The book "Rock 'n' Roll Radical" is not so great either, but at least covers Dean's formation, his 20s and his time in Latin America. Without that fundamental background one is left hanging, and open to weird conjectures which this book here suffers from. There are a few performances on YouTube, my favorite that shows his talent is a duo with one of the Everley Brothers in East Berlin.
And what a stupid comment by the reviewer in the official blurb, by one Joanne Wilkinson writing for the American Library Association: "an American whose politics were identical with those of a Kremlin bureaucrat." Guess that makes anyone radicalized by the horror of crushing poverty in Latin America easy to dismiss because a functionary in the competing empire is happy to point out the problem as well. Cold War mindlessness dies hard. After all, that's why the bumper sticker "Who's Dean Reed?" is still relevant.
The problem, for some readers (including me), is it's more a story of the author -- including some tired images of frightening Cold War-era border guards and bad hotels. Many of the Dean Reed quotes listed in the book actually are directly lifted from the early '80s documentary 'The American Rebel.' Often these are told as if discovered by the author herself (Reggie's a woman), going through Soviet TV shows and press clippings and translating from Russian. A little lazy.
Another tragedy of the book -- and Dean's life is ultimately cast as quite sad -- is how the author neglects to discuss, investigate, mention very many of Dean's works, particularly his music. There's talk of a Wounded Knee film he had hoped to create at the time of his mysterious death, but otherwise she dismisses his fairly interesting '70s pop songs in one swipe. You wonder if she had heard any. Again, a bit lazy.
Glad to have read it, and some will be happy enough to follow Reggie through the old Eastern Bloc, but it's a little light. I hope to get something meatier at some point.
In "Comrade Rockstar" (333 pages), author Reggie Nadelson brings the life story of Dean Reed, and also writes a travel book of what her experiences were traveling in those countries in the late 80s (before the Berlin Wall fell) while doing research for the book. It is the research part that I have some doubts about, as the suthor brushes over large parts of Reed's life. (Comparw this, for example, to the pain-staking reasearch done by Bob Spitz for his recent "The Beatles: The Biography" book...) That said, having visited the USSR myself in the mid-80s, I very much enjoyed the author's observations on how life was in the USSR and East Germany in the late 80s. My main criticism of the book is that it is never really clear to me how exactly Reed became such a big star in the communist block. Reed died in 1986 under mysterious circumstances: was it suicide? was it a KGB hit? some other sucpicious interference? The final conclusions on this from the author (which I won't spoil here) come across entirely reasonable and plausible.
Finally, it should be noted that this book was first published in England in 1991. Now 15 years later, it is released in the US as well. Why? Because none other than Tom Hanks has bought the movie rights to the book. We'll have to see if it ever does reach the silver screen, but in the meantime we now can at least enjoy the book for ourselves.