Wind of Change: All Episodes
May 22, 2020 8:10 AM - Subscribe

It’s 1990. The Berlin Wall has just come down. The Soviet Union is on the verge of collapse. A heavy metal band from West Germany, the Scorpions, releases a power ballad, “Wind of Change.” The song becomes the soundtrack to the peaceful revolution sweeping Europe — and one of the biggest rock singles ever. According to some fans, it’s the song that ended the Cold War.

Decades later, New Yorker writer Patrick Radden Keefe hears a rumor from a source: the Scorpions didn’t actually write “Wind of Change.” The CIA did.

This is Patrick’s journey to find the truth. Among former operatives and leather-clad rockers, from Moscow to Kiev to a GI Joe convention in Ohio, it’s a story about spies doing the unthinkable, about propaganda hidden in pop music, and a maze of government secrets. “Wind of Change.” An offbeat eight part investigation.
posted by computech_apolloniajames (8 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Spoiler warning because I binged the whole thing on Spotify. I don’t necessarily recommend that; I probably would have enjoyed it more hearing one part per week.

Anyway, it was great: good interviews and also just the right amount of behind the scenes stuff.

BUT, I can’t understand why they didn’t discuss what seems to me the most obvious answer to the big question: when The Old CIA Hand said that the CIA wrote Wind of Change, he (or whoever told him the story) meant that the CIA *caused* it to be written. (The other obvious answer is that the whole thing is bullshit propaganda, but they did discuss that.)

What I mean is that it seems pretty plausible that the CIA had a role in organizing the Moscow Music Peace Festival like they did with Nina Simone’s Africa shows. The well-known origin story of the song is that Klause Meine was inspired to write it by his experience in Moscow, so by having some part in organizing the festival, the CIA can say that they caused the song to be written.

CIA involvement in the festival is consistent with the suspicions around Doc McGhee’s plea deal and with McGhee sending someone supposedly with the CIA to hear Meine whistle the song after it became a hit and the CIA was taking credit for it.

And re. the plea deal, it seemed like Radden Keefe could have gone deeper. I may not be remembering it right, but did he press the prosecutor on why he would agree to the deal? (Remember the claim that Jeffrey Epstein got his outrageous plea deal because he was supposedly an intelligence asset.) Did they review court records about McGhee’s sentencing that might explain it?
posted by Xalf at 7:07 AM on May 23, 2020

One other thing, it was cool to learn about the song and how important it was to young people in that part of the world.

If you had asked me (a young person in the US at that time) to name the hit song that embodied the wind of change in 1990, I would have said Jesus Jones, “Right Here, Right Now.”

Did the CIA write that one too?
posted by Xalf at 7:16 AM on May 23, 2020

I mean, leaving aside the central and literal premise of "did the CIA write 'Wind of Change'?" it's easy to see the agency's fingerprints all over the Moscow music festival. No brainer.

Also, clearly there was intervention in Doc McGhee's case, no matter how they spin it. He is such a bad liar when the reporter isn't a music industry flack there to do a puff piece, which is hilarious given how managers are bullshit artists.

It was also easy to see how Klaus Meine is much more of an experienced interview subject and he and Radden Keefe have a great conversation.

But yeah, this story very much needs an in-depth longform piece, maybe even a book.

As I noted in the post, this didn't feel too padded out for time, which can an issue with podcasts (I don't listen to many, so I am not an authority on this). Almost every episode felt like a good story. Well maybe except the GI Joe one, which was interesting about the subculture of custom action figures, but no I don't believe that this guy knew anything about the CIA or the Scorpions.

When I wrote about this podcast on FB, somebody linked to a piece about Jackson Pollock and the CIA. This should have been included.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 4:44 PM on May 23, 2020

I'm embarrassed that I wasted my time with this "podcast." I thought it was interesting until the episode where he interviewed the G.I. Joe guy. That's when it became clear that the host had absolutely nothing to offer. That he was not a serious journalist. That I was supposed to find this amusing, his dumbass theory that he and his stupidass stoner friend liked to bullshit about over drinks. I hate myself for listening to the rest of this podcast, because like a dumbass, I wanted to find out how it ended, only to have it confirmed that it was a waste of time shaggy dog story.

In short, there's no reason to doubt that a ridiculously successful band would write a hit song. This "podcast" is a waste of your time, and I wish I could have refunded the hours I spent listening to it.

Although the part about the Motley Crue guy and his drug deals were interesting. A podcast about him I would listen to. They should give him a podcast, and not this stupidass podcast that I assumed was journalism and instead turned out to be yet another "comedy" podcast that I was supposed to find funny.

If you liked this podcast, you might think I'm a CIA plant. In fact I am. I've written every hit song for the last 30 years. "My Humps"? That was me.

You're welcome.
posted by panama joe at 7:24 PM on June 20, 2020

I liked this but it became apparent about halfway through we weren't going to find a smoking pen proving the CIA wrote Wind of Change, and that took some of the power out of it. Agree having a whole episode on a guy who makes custom GI Joe figures was not super rigorous journalistically... It must have been pretty disappointing to the creators of the show when they too realized they weren't going to prove this. Also, in the post Serial age, I think we also know that we would have heard via reviews or whatnot if he had found strong evidence of a CIA hand in the writing of the song.

Along with the Moscow Music Festival, it seems quite likely the CIA had a hand in promoting the song after it came out, which is mentioned but not lingered on.

My favorite character was the Russian journalist in the second to last episode who was like mentally saying, "You flew all the way here to share your stupid conspiracy theory? Don't you get that conspiracy theories have been weaponized to undermine our whole project of democracy you American doofus?"

Anyway, my comment is sounding more negative than intended. There were a lot of incidental anecdotes, funny characters and contextualizing history that made this project worthwhile. I had fun listening and learned stuff along the way.
posted by latkes at 7:53 AM on July 1, 2020 [2 favorites]

As someone who was the right age at that time, watching everything happen all at once, it's both strange and gratifying to revisit it.

I mean, it's a shaggy dog story, but it's also a story about reporting a shaggy dog story. That makes it a little like the self-referential longform print pieces that used to be typical in American magazines, which in turn tells you about the economics of magazine publishing during an era when writers were given six months and a few-questions-asked expenses account to produce 10,000 words because the ad revenue more than covered the cost. (The New Yorker is probably one of the few outlets that regularly commissions something like those pieces for print, though without the expenses accounts and leaning hard or permalancers.)

All of that tells you a little about the economics of top-tier podcasts and Spotify: Radden Keefe and his production team presumably earned more than $0.004 per stream.
posted by holgate at 12:56 PM on August 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

Also: the bonus episode on Joanna Stingray is a fun side-story which makes clear that if she attracted the interest of the FBI and Soviet authorities, there's no way Doc McGhee's twice-monthly trips to Moscow took place without similar scrutiny.
posted by holgate at 2:12 PM on August 5, 2020

Loved learning about CIA terminology and tech, loved the music history, loved the side stories.

There’s an annoying trend in podcasts (and Netflix documentaries), where the author/narrator inserts their own agenda and (perhaps) unintentionally centres the subject around themselves. It’s really annoying. And in this case, it makes Americans look like self-involved dicks.

Klaus and the woman in episode 7 handle it very well though. In a way that whooshes right over the narrator’s head. So that was amusing.
posted by iamkimiam at 4:02 PM on December 25, 2020

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