People Magazine 11/1978


For a Song

Behind the Berlin Wall, crooner Dean Reed thanks his red stars he escaped Minnesota

In America, he is Dean Who?, unknown both as a singer and as a political activist. But when Balladeer Dean Read, 40, returned to his adopted East German homeland last week - after a brief stay in a Minnesota pokey - the reception was tumultuous.

"The only reason we were freed," the transplanted Colorado cowboy told a placard-waving crowd at the East Berlin airport, "was because of the international solidarity." Little noticed by the U.S. press, Reed's arrest on trespassing charges during a protest over the stringing of power lines across rural Minnesota was just what the Soviet propaganda apparatus needed. No sooner had Reed and 18 other demonstrators been busted last month than the agitprop wheels started turning. Still smarting over world reaction to the dissident trials earlier this year in Moscow, Communist reporters made Reed's plight a cause célèbre in Eastern Europe, where his records outsell Sinatra's and his concerts are standing room only.

When Reed and the others went on a hunger strike and refused to post bail, Tass said the expatriate's only crime was his "active struggle for the rights of U.S. political prisoners." Pravda reported a flood of telegrams from an outraged public, and Reed's fans - including four Soviet classical composers - began cabling the White House to plead for his freedom. (Reed himself hardly seemed to be suffering. He was allowed to send cables to the presidents of the Soviet Union, East Germany and Czechoslovakia, "asking for solidarity." While trimming off 17 pounds on a liquids-only diet, he began each day singing Oh, What a Beautiful Morning. Sleepy fellow prisoners begged for silence.) Finally, after 11 days behind bars, Reed and the others were found not guilty. The singer who is still a U.S. citizen, denies that he is anti-American. "My enemies might say that, but I think I am the good American. I'm the one who truly believes in the revolutionary traditions of our country."

But wasn't his release a vindication of American justice? "here are thousands of political prisoners in the U.S. who aren't so lucky," he argues. "Even U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young has admitted that." A self-proclaimed "Independent Marxist," Reed returns to the U.S. every few years but doubts he will ever come back to live. "I would be happiest if I could come back and create in my own country," he says, "but at the present time there is a blacklist. They're afraid of me and my politics."

Nor would he be likely to forsake his career, which had languished until he abandoned the U.S. 17 years ago for the pop-music-starved socialist circuit. Once back in Germany, where he lives in an elegant eight-room villa, Reed began promoting his latest film, El Cantor (about Marxist Chile), and preparing for a 20-concert Eastern-bloc tour and a new cowboy movie. (He recently divorced his second wife.) "Many, many thanks," he cried to his frenzied fans at the airport. "It's great to be back in Berlin and to see the red flags again."

Rosemary Rawson and Clive Freeman

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Letzte Änderung: 2007-06-07