In This Episode
MOSCOW, USSR, 1989: Klaus Meine, the lead singer of the Scorpions, has said for 30 years that the Moscow Music Peace Festival in 1989 inspired him to write “Wind of Change.” Bon Jovi, booze, Ozzy Osbourne, cocaine, fireworks, fist fights, the KGB — Patrick takes you step by step through the wildest music festival in Russian history. But something about the concert doesn’t add up.
EPISODE 5: I FOLLOW THE MOSKVA
Patrick: A quick note before we begin: This series contains some language and topics that may not be suitable for young children.
Snake Sabo: Yeah. We went down to Texas for a quick shot and then I leave again next week, we’re like Louisville and then the Midwest and – we’ve got a pretty stiff schedule.
Patrick: This is Dave Sabo. He goes by Snake. He’s 55 years old, and for the last three decades he’s been playing guitar for the metal band Skid Row. Snake’s had a wild life.
Snake Sabo: We’re doing over 100 shows a year.
Patrick: You still having fun with it?
Snake Sabo: I do. I’d be hard pressed to do it if I wasn’t. It would be…It would be tough to get me out there, you know?
Patrick: These days Snake has settled down a little. He’s married with kids and a nice house on Long Island. He’s fit, with tattooed arms and dirty blond hair down to his shoulders. He suggests we meet at a pretty little park in the town of Amityville. There’s a swing set and a bunch of ducks waddling around, but otherwise we’ve got the place to ourselves…which is good because I want to ask Snake about a trip he took to Moscow in 1989.
Snake grew up in Perth, New Jersey. Originally he thought he was going to be a baseball player.
Snake Sabo: I just absolutely knew that that’s what I want to do. And then, you know, up the street, John’s playing music and he’s playing guitar and I’m like ‘well I want to do that too.’ So he would show me a couple of chords and that just set me on that path.
Patrick: Jon was his best friend, a local kid with killer hair and rockstar aspirations named Jon Bon Jovi.
Snake Sabo: Jon was…very very successful at that point. And we were best friends. He was always like, ‘man, you put a great band together and I’ll help you in any way I can.’
Patrick: Bon Jovi eventually got a big deal manager, a guy named Doc McGhee.
Snake Sabo: Jon calls me up and says you gotta come up to my parents house and meet my manager and he’s like ‘this guy, Doc McGhee,’ and I’m like ‘no way, I know who that guy is.’. He manages Motley Crue.
Patrick: Motley Crue. One of the biggest metal bands on the planet. Nikki Sixx. Tommy Lee. Vince Neal. Girls Girls Girls.
Patrick: You don’t, you don’t even have a band at this point now? No?
Snake Sabo: No, I’m 19.
Snake Sabo: So, classic story – we’re all hanging out in the backyard, grilling, having a cookout, and Doc is relaxing in a lounge chair.
Patrick: Picture a 1980s rock manager and the image in your mind is probably roughly what Doc looked like. He was short and plump and swarthy, with thinning, slicked black hair and a colossal ego. And it was the 80s, so he wore blazers with the sleeves rolled up.
Snake Sabo: Everybody happened to go inside for whatever reason – I say ‘this is my moment.’ So I spend the next 10 minutes, probably felt like 10 hours to him, explaining to him, I’m the world’s greatest guitar player, I’m going to be a huge star, this and that, just bloviating. And he was kind enough to indulge me. And finally I’m done and he just looks to me and he goes, ‘that’s great. You want to get me a beer?’.
Patrick: Oh no.
Snake Sabo: True story
Patrick: It took three years, but Snake put together a band with the right lineup. They had a preening frontman with bleached blond locks who went by Sebastian Bach. And Doc McGhee agreed to take them on ushering them into the racy, big time, slightly mysterious world that he occupied. Snake was about to take part in one of the strangest chapters in the end of the Cold War.
From Pineapple Street Studios, Crooked Media, And Spotify. This is Wind of Change. I’m Patrick Radden Keefe. Episode Five: I Follow The Moskva.
One weird wrinkle of this mystery of whether the song “Wind of Change” could have been secretly written by the CIA, is that the song actually has a very well established origin story. There is already an account of how this song was created, and it is very detailed and specific. But when you really examine that origin story, it’s also a little bizarre, even improbable.
So in this episode we’re going to look at the official story of how Wind of Change came to be, a story that the Scorpions, and the fans, and the music press have been telling and retelling for decades. It hinges on an unlikely rock festival in the USSR. A festival that was the brainchild of Snake Sabo’s new manager, Doc Mcghee.
Doc didn’t just represent Motley Crue and Bon Jovi and now Skid Row–as it happened, he was the manager for the Scorpions, too. In 1989, Doc told Snake that he wanted to put on a rock festival in Moscow.
Patrick: Did it seem like normal to you?
Snake Sabo: No! It seemed way out there but they – it was the end of the Cold War.
Patrick: It would be like Woodstock, Doc said. but with metal bands. And in Russia.
Snake Sabo: And it was an opportunity to bring Western culture there and promote unity on this massive global scale.
Patrick: Doc hooked up with a Russian musician named Stas Namin. Namin was the grandson of a legendary Bolshevik who been an important political figure with a career that spanned the Lenon, Stalin, and Kruschev eras. But he was also a bit of a rebel. So he was the perfect partner for Doc McGhee: Stas loved rock music, and in a country where it could be really hard to get stuff done, he had all the right connections. When Doc went to Moscow, Stas would pick him up and they would zoom into town, bypassing the traffic, on a special lane for VIPs. Today Stas runs a theater in Moscow’s Gorky Park.
Stas: It’s not just theater. It’s a Cultural center, I don’t know. We have different things here.
Patrick: He’s got a beatnik ponytail and when I went to see him recently, he walked me down a long corridor lined with memorabilia from his career. There are pictures of Keith Richards and Peter Gabriel and Frank Zappa and yes, the Scorpions.
Stas: So that’s all the bands actually we put together with Doc McGhee.
Stas: He was helping me from the other side and I was doing everything from Russian side. So we join our forces
Patrick: Doc came to Russia to meet with Stas in 1988 and they talked about this idea of a rock festival, which was totally unprecedented in Moscow.
Stas: It was communist time. No one festival. Everything almost underground. So just to be so dare to go to the Lenin Stadium.
Patrick: One thing everybody will tell you about Doc McGhee is that he thought big. This idea developed, to bring a bunch of bands to Moscow and have them play a two day festival in a vast sports arena on the banks of the Moskva called Lenin Stadium. They would call the concert the Moscow Music Peace Festival, and the purpose, bear with me here, but the ostensible purpose, would be to encourage kids to say no to drugs.
Stas: Doc’s organization was Make a Difference Foundation.
Patrick: The Make a Difference Foundation. None of the bands would be paid for the concert, and the proceeds would go to this foundation that was set up, and I’m quoting, to “combat drug and alcohol use among young people via a pro-responsibility message.” Of course, the bands that doc rounded up — Skid Row, Motley Crue, Cinderella, Ozzy Osbourne — were not what you would call paragons of sobriety. Motley Crue sent out a christmas card once in which they were all posing for the camera with straws sticking out of their nostrils around a giant mirror on which the word Crue had been spelled out in cocaine. This irony was not lost on the bands themselves.
Zakk: It was Make a Difference Foundation and we were calling it ‘Make A Drink Foundation.’ You know what I mean? So
Patrick: That’s Zakk Wylde, Ozzy’s guitarist.
Zakk: What’s going on man!
Patrick: How are ya?
Zakk: What is shakin?
Patrick: These days Zakk plays in a Black Sabbath cover band called Zakk Sabbath.
Zakk: Zakk Wylde blluuuuh!
Patrick: And the way it was explained to him, the festival was set up with good intentions.
Zakk: So I guess it was going to help drug rehabs and alcohol rehabs… you know, just a rehab foundation that Doc set up.
Patrick: He describes the whole experience as kind of surreal. A lot of people who went to the festival talk about it that way.
Carole: Well, so I started MTV in 1984 and one of the cornerstones of what we did at MTV was a series of promotions.
Patrick: This is Carole Robinson and her friend Pete Danielsen. They used to work at MTV, back when MTV felt like the biggest thing in the world.
Pete: Do you know anything about the contests that we used to do? So we used to put winners in situations with bands that were kind of spectacular that you could only win at MTV.
Carole: Well, my first one that I went on was One Night Stand with U2.
Carole: Five contest winners, five Lear jets. We flew to Red Rocks Stadium. We saw the band. We had a party with the band afterwards.
Patrick: After U2, Pete and Carol took fans to Jamaica with Bon Jovie
Pete: So we went down to Hedonism in Jamaica.
Patrick: They took over a hotel in Wyoming with Prince.
Carole: Prince performed a concert in the Holiday Inn.
Patrick: They even hit up the middle east with Tom Petty and Bob Dylan
Pete: We toured the pyramids on a camel.
Carole: It was amazing.
Patrick: Then in the summer of ‘89, Pete and Carole learned that Doc McGhee was putting together a concert in the Soviet Union.
Carole: He was like a power manager.
Pete: He was a force of nature. He just really understood how to use MTV and television to the benefit of his bands.
Carole: And to open the Russia market to these artists
Patrick: Russia was changing. It seemed to be opening up. And MTV wanted in. Doc had already made a pay-per-view deal for the concert but MTV would hold a contest and send a few lucky winners to Moscow.
Pete: And then all of a sudden we were organizing and figuring out how to get everybody over there. And then Doc solved the problem with the plane.
Patrick: In order to get his bands into Russia, Doc Mcghee procured an airplane.
[Audio Clip: A flight attendant speaking on an airplane]
Snake Sabo: The idea of getting on a plane with all these people, like that in of itself is like you’ve got to be kidding me, ‘who’s a crazy maniac that came up with this genius idea?’
Patrick: This is Snake Sabo again.
Patrick: It was a charter plane?
Dave Snake Sabo: Yeah it was like a giant 747.
Dave Snake Sabo: Oh yeah.
Patrick: Because MTV was on board, the cameras were rolling on the flight.
[Audio Clip: Flight attendant]
Patrick: And this it’s – so it’s you guys, it’s crew it’s journalists.
Dave Snake Sabo: Yeah. It’s the whole bit, man. Yeah of course MTV is traveling with you and they’re trying to interview everybody and
[Audio Clip: Snake from an interview in plane. “we’re rocking man. I mean you got the Crue, you got Ozzy, Bon Jovi, the Scorpions are here…”]
Patrick: That’s 24-year old Snake, on the plane.
Zakk: I mean no it was just a massive drunk tank.
Patrick: Zakk wylde had known Snake growing up, and they sat together.
[Audio Clip: Zakk from the plane: “Alright the headbanger’s ball continues, we are on the magic bus and we’re starting to get rowdy at this point.”]
Carole: The plane. No, you know, they were all almost everyone was like completely drunk the entire time. So, you know, we’re going to do this anti-drug peace festival. And I mean, the amount of alcohol.
Patrick: Ozzy Osbourne, the former black Sabbath Frontman, was sitting a few rows away, with his wife Sharon. On a good day, Ozzy was not…coherent. As they crossed the Atlantic, he grew less so.
[Audio Clip: Ozzy from the plane “It’s like a flying madhouse…I don’t know what the pilot’s doing up there but I hope he’s on automatic pilot.”]
Carole: At one point I had to use the restroom and all of a sudden I hear this pounding, pounding, pounding on the door like I’m in here, someone’s in here, I’m finishing up and the door breaks down and it’s Ozzy. He’s like, I have to pee. And he literally like, I pull up my pants and I like Pete, you cannot believe that he broke down the bathroom door because he had to – I mean it was a nightmare.
Patrick: I mean, it’s everybody’s nightmare that you’d be in the airplane bathroom and somebody would break in the door but for it to turn out to be Ozzy Osborne.
Pete: I remember you came back and then I thought the plane was going down.
Patrick: In London, the plane touched down long enough to pick up the Scorpions.
[Audio Clip: Klaus “Well I think it’s a great trip. I mean this is like a big party with all the bands.”]
Patrick: This is Klaus and Matthias Jabs on the plane.
[Audio Clip: Concert Tape: Matthias Jabs “ It’s always a good reason to play anywhere but this time it’s gonna be a charity situation but we are happy to be part of it and help out wherever we can.”]
Patrick: This was a crazy time to be landing in Moscow. The country was starting to open up under the leadership of Mikhael Gorbachev. But there were also powerful elements within the Kremlin, and in Russian society in general, that were fiercely resistant to change, and wanted to see an authoritarian crackdown. The whole Soviet Union felt like it was teetering on the brink. And there was chaos. It wasn’t always clear who was in charge. Doc McGhee had been negotiating with the Kremlin for a year, but he still didn’t have all the necessary permissions for the festival. Even after this plane full of rockers took off, Doc wasn’t a hundred percent sure they would be allowed to land in Russia. He also thought maybe they would be allowed to land, and then all the bands would be arrested. But, as he said, only half jokingly…you couldn’t buy that kind of publicity.
After the break, the magic bus lands in Moscow.
As the plane entered Soviet airspace, tensions were high. Here’s Pete and Carole again, from MTV:
Pete: People were just on edge because Russia was scary.
Carole: You know, when you think about what you know about travel today and how the Internet has changed everything, we really didn’t have a sense of… nobody had been there.
Pete: It was just monumental.
Patrick: Snake Sabo was freaking out.
Snake Sabo: And I was like ‘Holy shit man we’re going to frigging Russia.’ Enemy territory.
Patrick: Less than a decade earlier, the United States had boycotted the 1980 Olympics in the Soviet Union. In ‘84, the Soviets boycotted the Olympics in LA.
Snake Sabo: How do we get from there to here where you’re gonna have, Ozzie Osborne, Motley Crew, Bon Jovi, Skid Row, Scorpions, Cinderella – come over to Russia to play in a stadium – two days? That’s impossible in my young brain.
Patrick: To everyone’s relief and surprise, the plane was permitted to land.
Carole: You know, when we landed, we never showed our passports.
Carole: Never asked to identify ourselves.
Patrick: How is that possible?
Carole: I have no idea. It was really bizarre.
Pete: We sat on the runway for a short period of time and they said we have to deal with, you know, clearance and customs. And they came on and they said, actually, everything just you’re just going to walk off and walk into the press conference.
Patrick: At the airport, Doc McGhee lined up his rockers behind a long table, like a panel of senators. Bon Jovi, in sunglasses and a tasseled jacket, said that they had come…
[Audio Clip: Jon Bon Jovi saying “…as emissaries of rock n roll.”]
Patrick: Doc said the message of this concert would be a little different than it was at Woodstock 20 years ago, this time, it would be:
[Audio Clip: Doc saying “to help, uh, the awareness of drugs and alcohol around the world.”]
Patrick: The bands were whisked into busses and cars and made their way to the hotel Ukraine, a towering neoclassical fortress. The building had originally been commissioned by Stalin himself. It’s huge. You can see it for miles. And it loomed over the city on a picturesque bend in the Moskva River.
Scotti Hill: So there’s a number of buildings that look like that in Moscow. From what we were told they were built designed to make the people feel small.
Patrick: This is Scotti Hill, who also plays guitar for Skid Row.
Scotti Hill: And at one point one evening I was running around with Randy Castillo who was the drummer for Ozzy Osborne. He’s not, he’s not with us anymore. But you know we’re just running round the hotel raising hell. And I was like let let’s let’s find the top of this place man. So we hopped in a stairwell, started our way up.
Patrick: Like a pair of urban explorers, they climbed to the deserted upper reaches of the hotel.
Scotti Hill: And we wound up on one of those one of those balconies with those big archways and the view was just incredible. Like this is awesome. Let’s keep going.
Patrick: As they rose higher and higher, the stairwells got more narrow, until they reached the summit, the highest turret, and now there was just a ladder.
Scotti Hill:: Up through like a little hole in the next floor. And finally found our way to that bell tower that you see at the very top.
Scotti: And there we are up in this tiny this tiny room the size of a bathroom and it’s all broken glass on the floor and four or five little round windows and the wind was coming through and we’re just looking out over the city six hundred feet above the ground. And we were like we were the first Americans here. Like the man on the moon. Here we are.
Patrick: The bands also got out into the city, strolling Moscow’s big avenues, talking to people. They were shocked and bemused by the spectacle of Russians waiting in line.
[Audio Clip: Ozzy: “It’s a beautiful country, it really is. It’s just the people in it are so miserable.”]
Patrick: This is Ozzy.
[Audio Clip cont.: Ozzy: … “They’ve got nothing. What it does make me appreciate is what we have in the west. You can’t get toilet paper here, you can’t get soap. I saw a great big line of people yesterday for a cabbage. That’s ridiculous…”]
PatrickL It was as if the USSR was conforming to all the stereotypes they’d grown up with. In fact, some of the bands were so in your face with the cultural superiority that I felt like, if this were a cultural diplomacy mission, like the American tours of Louis Armstrong or Nina Simone, it might backfire. It’s hard not to envy somebody who won’t shut up about all the things he’s got that you don’t. But it’s also hard to like him. Even so, most people on the streets in Moscow didn’t seem all that repulsed by the douchiness of the bands. It was more that they were curious about this cohort of rowdy aliens with leather pants and feathered hair who’d suddenly descended on their streets. The scorpions, who had been to Leningrad the year before, were more gracious. Klaus had a balalaika:
[Audio Clip: Klaus, on concert tape: “A Russian fan gave me this balalaika as a present. This is actually original balalaika 20 years old.”]
[Audio Clip: Scorpions: “Back in the USSR”]
Patrick: He and some of the other rockers sat in a public park and jammed. Doc Mcghee didn’t have time for sightseeing. He was running around, meeting with people. One minute you’d see him, the next, he would disappear. As the impresario behind this huge bonkers spectacle, he was busy making sure nobody got arrested.
Scotti Hill: You know he was he was making sure everything runs properly.
Patrick: This is Scotti Hill from Skid Row again.
Scotti Hill: He was dealing with the press and all that.
Patrick: As if the logistics weren’t complex enough by themselves, Doc had a personality issue to contend with. The members of one of his biggest bands, Motley Crue, had just gotten out of rehab. They’d had to abruptly cancel their earlier tour in order to go to rehab, so the Moscow Festival would be something of a comeback. But because the Motley guys were on the wagon, they were also, understandably, a little edgy. And the other bands were just debauching with abandon. It’s not like they were sensitive to this dynamic. Adding to this tension, the members of Motley Crue were feeling a bit insecure about their position in the roster of Doc McGhee’s affections. They were Doc’s original big act, but now here, all of a sudden, was Bon Jovi, this pretty boy from New Jersey with movie star charisma and a sensibility that was more avowedly poppy. His band was having incredible success with songs like “Living On A Prayer” and “I’ll Be There for You”…
[Audio Clip: “Living on a Prayer” and “I’ll Be There for You”]
Patrick: So there was a little anxiety, among the crew, over who precisely was the headliner of this festival? During their free time in Moscow, the Motley guys seemed to spend a lot of time accosting random Russians and demanding to know whether they had ever heard of Motley Crue. here’s tommy lee in a moscow market:
[Audio Clip: Tommy Lee: “Motley Crue? Another big fan. Tommy Lee. Motley Crue. Do you know who Motley Crue is? See you know. Alright alright”]
Patrick: It’s funny. These guys all cultivated this swaggering, vodka-swigging persona, but underneath, they had this almost adolescent insecurity.
[Audio Clip: Dmitri speaking Russian]
Dmitri: I’m going to distill everything down and I’ll just give it all to the insurgents. I mean, he’s assuming you’re the intelligent. Russian, joke.
Patrick: Oh, shit. The joke is that we’re intelligent.
Patrick: This is Dmitri. He’s in his late 40s, and he meets up with me, along with a translator, on a sunny, frigid day at the giant statue of Lenin that still stands outside loozh-nik-ee stadium in Moscow. In 1989, Dmitri was 17 and he scored tickets to the Moscow Music Peace Festival.
Dmitri: Yeah word of mouth. [Russian] Yeah. It was like word of out all over Russia.
Patrick: Oh really? The festival? People knew about it.
Dmitri: [Russian] Yes. Yes. It was the first such big, big event. I was an amateur drummer and of course it was interesting to me to come here to listen to the Western bands.
Patrick: Dmitri lived in Novogrod, so it took him eight hours on the train.
[Audio Clip: Dmitri talking about “Crazy Trian”]
[Audio Clip: “ALL ABOARD”]
Patrick: He can only compare the experience to the song “Crazy Train,” by Ozzy Osbourne.
[Audio Clip: Ozzy Osborne: “CRAZY TRAIN”]
Patrick: Dmitry has long, bright blond hair and I can see his face light up with excitement as he talks about the experience of entering the stadium. As he conjures the music, his hands start moving, miming the drum beats.
[Audio Clip: Concert tape]
Patrick: The concert kicked off with a Russian physician greeting the crowd and saying, “As a doctor I would like to thank the outstanding musicians who chose as their slogan no alcohol no drugs”
[Audio Clip: “You want to get wild tonight Moscow!”]
Patrick: The stadium was packed to its seventy five thousand seat capacity. Young Russian fans screamed and danced. They did their best to sing along with the words, but so many of these bands were completely new to them that they mostly had to fake it. The authorities were sufficiently worried that there was a big phalanx of military guards there to make sure the crowd didn’t get out of control.
Stas: They were ready to go to the audience and to stop everything.
Patrick: Here’s Stas Namin, who organized the concert with Doc.
Stas: We had many military people there, not only police,
Patrick: He was worried they might just stop the concert.
Stas: Stop the concert. I mean, it’s a scandal.
Patrick: But he managed to placate the riot police and the show went on. When the Scorpions took the stage, the crowd roared in anticipation.
[Audio Clip: Klaus greeting the audience.]
Stas: Scorpions, were the most popular that moment. In Russia.
[Audio Clip: Scorpions Set]
Patrick: The Scorpions had been playing together since before some of the other rockers were born. A few of the young guys made fun of them.
[Audio Clip: Sebastian Bach: “Yay, Scorpions. ve ah Scorpions! No we’re not, we’re Skid Row.]
Patrick: That’s Sebastian Bach, imitating Klaus Meine on MTV. But for many, the Scorps were a role model – a band that had figured out how to survive, to stay together,to keep touring and recording year in, year out. Bon Jovi had even opened for the Scorpions back in 1984.
Scotti: And if you were a heavy metal kid man you knew the Scorpions.
Patrick: This is Scott Hill.
Scotti: They just sounded so incredible. Just a big German engine sounds massive. These guys are on a different level
[Audio Clip: “Big City Night’]
Patrick: Klaus took the stage in a black leather ship captain’s hat with a long red ribbon tied around the brim. He seized the mic and did a series of karate kicks while belting out “Big City Night.” For Dmitri, the fan from Novograd, the concert was life changing. It opened his eyes to what music could do.
Dmitri: There was a feeling of absolute freedom.
[Audio Clip: Motley Crue concert tape]
Patrick: Motley Crue seemed to hold it together and played a very tight set. it looked like it might be the comeback they’d been hoping for but when Jon Bon Jovi took the stage at the end of the evening, everyone was in for a big surprise.
Zakk: I think some pyro went off too during Jon Bon Jovi’s set.
Patrick: If you were a stadium act in 1989, a pyrotechnic display was the thing to have. Bands were always looking to one up each other, and this became a way to do it. Who had the bigger pyro display. It was actually pretty crazy, this devotion to detonating mega-fireworks at crowded concerts, in a few tragic cases it ended up leading to injuries and even deaths. So with all these bands in Moscow, Doc McGhee had issued a decree that there would be no pyro, for anybody, because he didn’t want the bands competing, literally, over who can start the bigger fire. And besides, he didn’t want to seem to be playing favorites. But, then, when it was time for the finale, Jon Bon Jovi appeared on the stadium floor, dressed in a red army cap and greatcoat, and made his way through the crowd to the stage, like Moses parting the waters. And then suddenly, mysteriously, the stadium, mysteriously, erupted in fireworks.
Stas: Boof! It was a big scandal because they agreed without fireworks.
Patrick: Snake Sabo was backstage when it happened.
Snake Sabo: And I had heard Tommy coming down the ramp, [whispering] ‘fuck you Doc McGhee.’ I’m like, ‘oh shit,’ Then somebody said Tommy just punched Doc in the back of the head.
Patrick: Then Snake saw Tommy, who had managed to remain sober up to that moment, grab a bottle of vodka and start drinking.
Stas: Rock n’ roll. You know, all the emotional guys.
Patrick: Motley Crue fired Doc McGhee that day. They got on an airplane and left the festival early.
Apart from the pyro scandal, the Music Peace Festival was a colossal success. It was one of the biggest pay-per-view events of the decade. It’s one of those spectacles that everyone who was there talks about with a kind of whimsical reverie. As if they’re not completely sure it wasn’t all some elaborate dream.
Pete: I did bring the…
Carole: We both have this.
Pete: This is the. This is the concert jacket.
Patrick: Tour jacket.
Pete: Tour jacket, yes.
Patrick: Get out of here.
Patrick: It’s a leather biker jacket with one sleeve that’s an american flag and another sleeve that’s a Russian flag and a big skull and crossbones.
Patrick: You should put that on eBay. It will fetch a little bit.
Pete: Yeah. Not doing that for me. I don’t know why. I’m not a saver of things. Those are tickets.
Patrick: Wow, you really saved everything.
Pete: I just I, I’m not a big saver either.
Patrick: Carol and Pete had traveled the world with MTV but in Moscow they saw something completely new. A year earlier, the Scorpions had been forbidden, by the government, to play in Moscow, but now here was this wild, open-air, two day rock festival. This is the sort of thing that, as an American, it can be easy to lose sight of. But when I watched a VHS tape of the concert recently, I could see just the total euphoria of the young Russians at this concert. It’s not just that they’re having fun, the way you or I might at a concert. It’s that this is new and amazing. It’s this deeper sense of release and communion. You can see it on their faces. It’s blowing their minds.
Pete: But when you when somebody sees something that they’ve never seen before, you can’t unsee it. And once you get a taste of it, you can’t go back.
Patrick: Klaus Meine felt the same way. He stood on the lip of that big stage, looking out at tens of thousands of fans, young Russians who’d grown up without rock n roll, and he felt like something was changing in the world, something profound, and he was witnessing it…or so the story goes, anyway.
“The russian youth are hungry for rock ‘n’ roll,” Klaus told an interviewer. When he stood there on the stage at Lenin Stadium, before the band’s encore, and cried out to the audience, “Moscow, do you want more?” There was a sense in which he wasn’t just asking if they wanted another song from the Scorpions. He was asking if they wanted more. From their country. From their political system. In their lives. Before they left Moscow, a bunch of the bands took a boat cruise one evening on the Moskva River. They went to Gorky Park, where the Hard Rock Cafe had catered a cookout. This is Klaus in moscow, describing his experience of the festival:
[Audio Clip: Concert Tape – Klaus: “It’s like playing in front of a virgin audience. It’s so fresh and feels so good, people are so excited.”
Patrick: Klaus was so overcome – by this experience of playing for a “virgin” audience, by the concert and the river cruise and the political transition that seemed poised to sweep europe – that after the festival he wrote a new song.
[Audio Clip: “Wind of Change”: “I follow the Moskva, down to Gorky Park…”]
Stas: They wrote a song, Wind of Change because of this. And that’s why it’s down to Gorky Park. So it was inspired by this place.
Patrick: Klaus had never seemed to be an especially political person. The band’s songs didn’t dwell on geopolitics. The Scorpions most famous albums up to that point was called “Virgin Killer.” They weren’t making protest music.
Another weird thing, too: Klaus wasn’t really a songwriter. He didn’t write music. Almost all of the Scorpions songs were written by the guitarist, Rudolf Shenker. . . “up to this point i very rarely wrote music. I focused more or less all those years on lyrics,” Klaus told an interviewer. “but with ‘Wind of Change’ I presented the whole song to the band. The words and the melody and the whole structure of the song came out pretty quick. Klaus went on to say. And the beginning melody, I guess I just whistled my way through it because, I mean, I play guitar, but I’m not a lead guitarist. So I was just whistling and it went down pretty cool.
When it came time to produce their new album, the band decided, for the first time in their career, to record the album not in Europe, but in the United States. At a studio in Los Angeles. Once they had recorded Wind of Change in english, they sent it to Stas Namin back in Russia.
Stas: I felt this hit. Very simple, but simple, doesn’t mean bad. Yeah, it’s very unusual. Yeah. In rock band it’s very unusual. Somebody is whistling. It’s not rock style a little bit. They called me, said we wrote a song. And we want to ask you to write Russian lyrics because we want to record it in Russian also.
[Audio Clip: Russion version of Wind of Change]
Patrick: They ended up releasing the Russian version, an unusual move for a German band singing in english, but they wanted people in Russia to understand the words. Years later, Stas Namin played the Russian version for Mikhael Gorbachev, who had tried to work within the Soviet system to bring about more openness and change.
Stas: Gorbachev came to see us and we played Wind of change in our version in Russian. And he was crying.
Deb Wilker: When you guys first approached me, I saw the subject line on the email, you know, like “Metal to Moscow” or something and I’m like, “This email could not possibly be about that story”
Patrick: This is Deb Wilker. She’s a music journalist. Back in 1989, she was the pop music reporter for the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
Deb Wilker: I was indeed a full time pop music writer at the South Florida Sun Sentinel. We also had a full time classical music writer.
Patrick: When Deb Wilker heard about the Moscow festival, something about it didn’t add up.
Deb Wilker: I did start as “real news” reporter. So when a press release would come in I would always look at it with the same basics — who, what, where, why and when, what is this about. And there were just so many holes in the story. I remember thinking, ‘this cannot be real.’
Patrick: So what made you think that?
Deb Wilker: I was kind of in disbelief that if something as profound as a music festival, which was meant to bridge cultures East and West, you know, behind the iron curtain and the Cold War and all of those issues, if we were going to do something so profound, why were we sending these rock bands? It just seemed ludicrous.
Patrick: Like these rock bands in particular.
Deb Wilker: Yeah. These bands in particular. I felt at the moment almost kind of like a little bit of shame that, you know, here we were in this country which was known for producing great entertainment. You know, we were the home of Hollywood. This is where all the greatest stuff got made. And could we not do any better? It just seemed, it seemed kind of like a Fellini movie. This can’t be real.
Patrick: Deb wrote an indignant column for the Sun Sentinel. Why not send Madonna, or Prince, or Michael Jackson, or George Michael, or R.E.M., or Tina Turner, or Bruce Springsteen, or Whitney Houston? She wondered. Wouldn’t they be better ambassadors of western culture? Even Sting. She hated Sting. But why not send Sting?
Deb Wilker: If you want to win a medal in skiing, the United States would send its three best skiers. You want to represent yourself with the best that you can.
Patrick: To be fair, Deb was not a fan, in general, of the sort of light metal that the Scorpions and the other bands in Moscow epitomized.
Deb Wilker: It was pretty guys, playing pop tunes at crazy decibels, with a lot of crunchy guitar and gigantic hair and sequins and you know, just a lot of ridiculousness.
Patrick: When she looked at the roster, she developed a theory.
Deb Wilker: And it was very easy to connect the dots. I’m like, “What do all these bands have in common? Motley Crue, Scorpions, Bon Jovi, what was the other one, I don’t remember.
Patrick: Skid Row.
Deb Wilker: Skid Row, right. And they were all managed by the same guy.
Patrick: Doc McGhee.
Deb: Doc McGhee.
Patrick: And there was something about it being Doc McGhee who put together the concert and happened to represent all these bands that made Deb Wilker especially suspicious.
Deb Wilker: Somebody made a deal.
Patrick: Somebody made a deal. The thing about the world of intelligence is when you dig into it, at a certain point you start to lose all faith that any given thing is what it at first appears to be. When you think about the story of the festival and the Scorpions and the song, doesn’t it, actually, kind of not make any sense?
What if the story I just told you about the Moscow festival wasn’t quite what i described? What if there were important missing pieces to the story of the festival and the Scorpions and the origin story of Wind of Change that would make you understand all of these things differently? What if Doc McGhee, the PT Barnum of heavy metal managers, wasn’t quite who he appeared to be?
Deb Wilker: This manager had been in trouble through the years for drug smuggling, he had been arrested a couple times. You don’t have to be like Sherlock Holmes to figure out that some deal was made. And hey, rather than throwing this guy behind bars, can we can we possibly allow him to use his powers for good?
NEXT TIME ON WIND OF CHANGE: The real identity of Doc Mcghee.
Patrick: Wind of Change is an Original Series from Pineapple Street Studios, Crooked Media and Spotify. The show is written and hosted by me, Patrick Radden Keefe. The Senior Producer is Henry Molofsky. Associate Producers: Natalie Brennan and Ben Phelan. Joel Lovell is our editor. Consulting producer Michael Shtender Auerbach. Original music by Mark Orton and John Hancock. Our music supervisor is Jonathan Feingold. This episode featured “Saint European King Days” by Opium Flirt, courtesy of CD Baby. The Executive Producers at Pineapple Street are Jenna Weiss-Berman and Max Linsky. At Crooked Media, Executive Producers Tommy Vietor, Sarah Wick, and Sarah Geismer.
And from Spotify, Executive Producers Liz Gateley and Jake Kleinberg. Special thank you to: Jon Favreau, Jon Lovett, Alison Falzetta, Ksenia Barakovskaya, Maddy Sprung-Keiser, Eric Mennel, Courtney Harrell, Dzifa Yador, Jesse McLean, Paul Spella, Bianca Grimshaw, Sai Sriskandarajah, Jonah Weiner, and Justyna Gudzowska.
Source material in this episode included archival footage from MTV and the Moscow Music Peace Festival.
Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next time.