Recommended Reads: Beatles music and how it helped Soviets lose the Cold War
During the Cold War, Nikita Khrushchev is reported, in various versions, as threatening that the Soviets would bury the Americans without a shot. Instead America would collapse from within by its own working class. But in this book the author argues that the Cold War was lost by the Soviets from their own collapse from within, precipitated by the Beatles.
The author personally knows something of the Beatles. He is a celebrated British filmmaker with award winning documentaries. He shot the first footage of the Beatles in 1962 in a basement in Liverpool, and later footage of the Beatles and other rock music legends. In this book he researches behind the Iron Curtain. He learns how the forbidden rock music was smuggled into the USSR, and had a measurable underground impact. It’s fascinating to read his discussions with Soviets, who were teens and young adults at that time, and felt so moved by the Beatles. Many were willing to risk severe government punishment and often imprisonment for Beatles music.
Soviet cultural restrictions were severe. The Kremlin promoted only patriotic and folk music. American jazz had been allowed to infiltrate forty years earlier, and when rock began, the Kremlin was determined not to repeat what they felt had been a mistake with jazz. Khrushchev was warned repeatedly by his advisers that too much cultural freedom could trigger dangerous political consequences. Much of the rock that leaked into the USSR was through those people who served in Berlin and had exposure to the west. According to this author, the Russians craved that music and took bootleg copies home in very creative and humorous ways.
Over and over the author hears from people who insist that Beatles music made them free, made them feel different from their parents, and taught them some English. The young people felt, how could there be anything wrong with love, love, love. If their government was against this, then something was wrong with their government. The government system was built on fear and belief. According to these citizens, the Beatles helped people to overcome the fear, and also showed that the belief was actually stupid.
Besides listening to the copies smuggled in, the ultimate dream for many was to become a Beatle, and play in their own bands. That was also dangerous. It’s ominous to hear how political swings would sometimes allow a little freedom but then swing the other way so that what was allowed became suddenly illegal, with no warning. Leslie Woodhead’s work continues through the decades, including the touching accounts of the underground fans feelings about Paul McCartney’s eventual concert in Red Square. There is so much interesting Soviet history here, told by the people who lived it.
Complementary to this book, I suggest reading two more that are written about America’s “Camelot”. It’s interesting to read what was happening within America and the USSR at the same time. The one book I very highly recommend is Mrs. Kennedy and Me by Clint Hill. He was her assigned Secret Service Agent. This is his personal account, from the front row, of her days through the White House, the assassination, and after. His insights into Mrs. Kennedy’s life and person during this period are fascinating. And you also gain insights into the very tough job these Secret Service Agents have, including the personal toll it takes, and what drives many of them to do it.
The other book I’d recommend is the recent Killing Kennedy by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard. This is a very factual history, told in a way that highlights how human nature and personalities entangle. It’s very interesting to compare this account of the Cuban Missile crisis with the account in Leslie Woodhead’s book, from the other side.
And thereby hangs a tale . . . .
– By Wendy Kendall
Wendy Kendall is a writer, project manager and volunteer at the Edmonds Library. She’s enjoyed living in Edmonds for over 20 years. Follow her via her blog here or on Twitter @wendywrites1.