Rare '80s metal merch w/ a wild (alleged) backstory
New Yorker writer Patrick Radden Keefe on an amazing Cold War rumor / t-shirt
Patrick Radden Keefe is one of the best journalists in the damn game. He’s a staff writer at the New Yorker, where he’s written definitive pieces about wine counterfeiters, El Chapo, Anthony Bourdain, and the wack family that got rich as hell off Oxycontin. When he’s not busy getting off this award-winning longform, he writes best-selling books: up here in the Blackbird Spyplane H.Q. penthouse it took approx. ~2 days to tear through his 2019 hit Say Nothing, which is about I.R.A. MFs going HAM in the ‘70s.
The book’s dope as hell to the degree that Barack Obama put it on his list of “2019 cultural touchstones I hope people will associate with me”:
Patrick’s newest project is the podcast Wind of Change. It kicked off last week and was an immediate hit, shooting to no. 3 on the charts behind some weird Dateline podcast and I think the Joe Rogan Experience. The show centers on an incredible rumor Patrick spent years investigating: That the C.I.A. secretly wrote the German rock band Scorpions’ 1990 global smash “Wind of Change” as covert propaganda.
We’ve listened to all 8 episodes and can report that the show is flames. Possibly even more flames than anything Patrick has accomplished professionally, though, is that while making Wind of Change he tracked down and copped a super-rare 🔥🔥🔥 1988 Scorpions tour t-shirt. He hit us up to talk about this and other under-the-radar Cold War jawnage...
Blackbird Spyplane: Yr podcast is great and this shirt is cool, despite the fact that I do not enjoy the Scorpions’ actual music. Are you a fan?
Patrick: “Not at all. The story starts in 2011 when a friend of mine sends me an email and says, Last night a guy told me a crazy story you’ll never believe about the Scorpions and ‘Wind of Change.’ I wasn’t into hard rock or metal growing up, particularly in the late ’80s and early ’90s. I was into hip-hop and very strongly self-identified that way: I was wearing Public Enemy shirts. So the Scorpions weren’t on my radar, and I was only ambiently aware of ‘Wind of Change,’ but I discovered that it’s one of the biggest rock singles ever, especially in Europe, where it became the sort of anthem of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union. So my friend told me he’d gotten dinner with this guy who was in the C.I.A., and the guy told him ‘Wind of Change’ was actually written by the C.I.A. That set me off on this quest to figure out if the story was true.”
Spyplane: How does this shirt connect to that quest?
Patrick: “Rock and roll was essentially banned in the Soviet Union — it was perceived by Moscow as a threat to Communist control, very western, very American, so you couldn’t really have a rock band, there was no place to buy this kind of music legally. You could even get in trouble for listening to it.
“But there was a black market with tapes that got copied again and again. The Scorpions grew up in West Germany and they always wanted to play behind the Iron Curtain, in East Berlin. They never did, but eventually things started opening up and they booked this run of 10 stadium shows in Leningrad and Moscow in 1988 — they’d gotten that huge on the Russian black market. But a few days before the tour, Moscow says, No, you can’t come after all, and cancels the Moscow dates. So in the course of researching this project I found this shirt on eBay, with the dates for both Leningrad and Moscow. I spent something like $130 on it, which is kind of embarrassing, but it’s such a great artifact.”
Spyplane: Speaking of great artifacts, one of the pivotal moments in your podcast is this 1989 concert called the Moscow Music Peace Festival. There are some beautifully heinous commemorative leather jackets floating around— one’s on eBay right now for $1,000.
Patrick: “Yeah, all these hard rock and heavy metal bands played — Scorpions, Bon Jovi, Ozzy Osbourne, Motley Crue, a bunch more. So the Scorpions took it as a triumph that they could finally play Moscow, and in the official story of how ‘Wind of Change’ was written, Klaus Meine, the singer, says he was inspired by that trip and wrote the song right afterwards. Part of what’s amazing about this jacket is the MTV logo — you’ve got to remember that in 1989 MTV was this colossus, and this concert was important for them because they really wanted to break into the Russian market. They realized things were opening up, so they got involved.”
Spyplane: Since Blackbird Spyplane is the No. 1 source across all media for recon on dope under-the-radar joints, we have to salute this Leningrad band Кино. They make a brief cameo on the podcast, playing this Moscow club in the ‘80s that the KGB secretly operated — some of their songs are cool !
Patrick: “They’re great — they kind of have a New Order feel to them. They have a crazy story, too: The lead singer, Viktor Tsoi, died tragically, really young. We have a bonus episode coming with a lot more about Кино, so that’s something to look out for, once the season’s over.”
-Listen to the “Wind of Change” podcast on Spotify and Apple
-Check out a roundup of Patrick’s New Yorker features here
-Cop Say Nothing from an indie bookshop here
-There’s a Scorpions shirt like Patrick’s for $499 (🤔) on eBay here
Author photograph by Ilene Squires
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My favorite line from this read is "2019 cultural touchstones I hope people will associate with me", wizard level word craft at it's finest. Journalists are quickly climbing the list of very cool people in not so cool looking jobs, now after a listen of the podcast appearance on Trowing Fíts it seems like a strong number 1 contender but unsure if you can beat septic tank repairmen...boy do they have good stories.