In This Episode
HANNOVER, GERMANY, 2020: There is one last person Patrick needs to ask about “Wind of Change.” At a small hotel in sleepy Hanover, Germany, it is time to confront Klaus Meine about his biggest hit.
EPISODE 8: HELLO, KLAUS
Patrick: A quick note before we begin: This series contains some language and topics that may not be suitable for young children.
[Audio Clip: KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK. // Henry and Patrick arriving at a hotel]
Hotel woman: Hello! A sparkling, not sparkling. Yes. Some coke and juice?
Henry: Thank you so much.
Hotel woman: Do you like some coffee? Cappuccino? Espresso?
Henry: Yes. Please, can I get two espresso. Two double espresso.
Patrick: Thank you.
Hotel Woman: Gotcha.
Patrick: It’s a Friday afternoon in January 2020 and I’m in an elegant little conference room with a bowl of fresh green apples on the table, on the second floor of the Hotel Kokenhof. It’s a pretty place with a gabled roof in a suburb of Hannover, Germany. It’s the type of hotel where a character in a John Le Carre novel might hole up. Genteel. Out of the way. Very European. Henry and I flew into Berlin a day ago and took the train here. So we’re pretty jetlagged. But also wired on espresso and nerves.
Patrick: I feel like he should have the good view? Facing the windows, no?
Henry: Yeah, And then I’ll sit here is that alright?
Patrick: For me, this all started nearly a decade ago, with a riddle. And now here we are in Hannover. When we contacted Klaus Meine for an interview, he gave us very precise instructions to rent a conference room at this hotel, at this hour on this day. We took a train to Hannover last night, and then a taxi here today. There doesn’t appear to be anyone staying here. Just a few cheerful staff people but no other guests. It’s eerily empty.
Patrick: You here? Yeah, me here and there? I think so, yeah.
Henry: I just mean, I don’t like being next to you because-
Patrick: Yeah. Then it feels like two on one. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Henry: How you feeling?
Patrick: I’m a little nervous. He’s not even going to be here for an hour and I’m a little nervous.
Patrick: From Pineapple Street Studios, Crooked Media, and Spotify, This is Wind Of Change. I’m Patrick Radden Keefe. Episode 8: Hello, Klaus.
Years ago, I was working on an article for the New Yorker about an FBI investigation, and one of the agents used this great expression I hadn’t heard before. If the FBI starts investigating you, at first they don’t want you to know they’re investigating you. So they might be following you, or tapping your phone but they’re doing it covertly. Then at a certain point, they stop sneaking around. They issue subpoenas, maybe or they come knock on your door. And this phase, the FBI agent called it “surfacing.” As if they’ve been working away, all this time, quietly, invisibly, underwater. Then, all of a sudden, they appear.
As a journalist, sometimes I surface early and sometimes I surface late. With Klaus, we’re surfacing very late, and you might wonder, why didn’t I just call him up months ago, at the beginning of this thing? Why stay submerged till now? The answer is I wanted to gather as much evidence as I could before meeting with him. Even circumstantial evidence. Of course when I talked to Michael, he was sure Klaus already knew.
Michael: We will concede that Doc most likely called him.
Patrick: That Doc McGhee called Klaus as soon as we left his house in Florida.
Michael: Who do you think the first phone call was?
PATRICK: Do you think he tipped him off?
Michael: What do you think?
Patrick: It’s funny, when Michael and I talk about this stuff, what I sometimes feel is envy. Envy of his certainty. I feel like, for me, the more evidence we gather, and the more interviews I do, the more opaque it all becomes. Like, I’m probably ready to believe that the Moscow Festival wasn’t a CIA operation but I still can’t shake the feeling that the official story doesn’t make sense, that something shady was going on with Doc McGhee. I just don’t know what. Whereas Michael has this conviction. This certainty. As far as he’s concerned, I can surface whenever I want, because Klaus already knows, undoubtedly, exactly what we’re doing.
In the weeks since Klaus agreed to an interview, I’ve spent hours war-gaming out possible scenarios. If the story is true, does he panic? Is this the moment his secret past finally catches up with him? I suppose there’s some chance he just cops to everything and comes clean but I doubt it. More likely he’ll deflect, deny the story, try to play it cool. And, if the story is true, I have to assume, as soon as the interview’s over, he’s got to call someone. Right? His handler or whoever his contact was.
There’s also a chance the CIA had some hand in Wind of Change, but Klaus never knew about it.
[Audio Clip: Frances Stoner Saunders talking about propaganda]
That’s Frances Stoner Saunders, who wrote the classic book on the CIA’s cultural Cold War. And let’s not forget, Nina Simone went to her grave not knowing she’d been used by the CIA for a propaganda mission to Nigeria. Then there’s a third scenario which is: I’m just wrong. That this whole thing is a fantasy, a big crazy constellation of red herrings. Michael’s convinced that’s just impossible. And I’m certain, ninety percent of the time, that there’s something real here. But there’s a chance we’re both wrong. And if that’s the case, I could see Klaus being angry. After all, Wind of Change is his band’s biggest hit. And I’m about to suggest that he’s basically been lying about it all this time. Worse, that he’s been taking credit for somebody else’s work… I’d be pissed.
The main thing I’m feeling, though, is excitement. For years now, Klaus Meine has been this Wizard of Oz-like figure in my imagination. With all my obsessive research, it’s almost like I’ve been spying on him. Piecing together his history. Assembling this big, confusing dossier. And now I’m finally about to meet the guy face to face.
Henry: Check, one, two, one, two, one, two. Check, check, check, check, check.
Patrick: The conference room overlooks the courtyard parking lot and we hear the crunch of gravel as a car pulls in below. It’s a zippy little Mercedes. Gunmetal grey. A man gets out. He’s wearing a leather jacket and a long scarf, sunglasses, and a kangol hat, turned backwards. I guess I figured on an off day in his hometown Klaus Meine from the Scorpions might not dress like Klaus Meine from the Scorpions but he came in uniform. And a minute later, he’s walking into the room.
Patrick: Ha how are you? Very nice to meet you.
Klaus: Klaus Meine.
Patrick: You live nearby still?
Klaus: Not too far away, but it’s a lot of traffic because the motorway is blocked.
Patrick: I’m sorry to hear that. And how many of you guys are still, still here in Hanover?
Klaus: Uh It’s just Matthias. Me. And Rudolf.
Klaus: But he’s in Thailand right now writing new songs.
Patrick: Excellent. Good, good, good.
Klaus: So where you guys came from?
Patrick: We came from New York.
Klaus: From New York?
Patrick: So this is the first moment when Klaus seems to register that something is off. He gives me this look like…
Klaus: Just to do this?
Patrick: Just to see you.
Klaus: No way.
Patrick: Oh yeah.
Klaus: No way.
Patrick: Of course. We uhhh yeah we saw you and Kiev we saw the show in Kiev.
Klaus: You came to see us in Kiev?
Patrick: Yeah. That was quite a show.
Klaus: You enjoy the show?
Patrick: It was a great show. Yeah, we were right up front.
Klaus: No, really?
Patrick: Yeah it was fun. Did you enjoy it?
Klaus: Very much. I mean it’s been a lot of shows last year. And Kiev was kind of, uh the pretty much the end.
Patrick: And when do you guys start up again?
Klaus: I leave around the 13th and first show it’s in Melbourne at the 19s. So it’s Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Yogyakarta, Singapore. And, uh, and the last show will be Manila.
Klaus: Yeah, it’s an amazing trip.
Patrick: We take our seats, facing each other across the conference table.
Patrick: Hello, Klaus.
Klaus: Hi, Patrick.
Patrick: So, I’ll tell you a little bit about what we’re doing. We’re looking at rock and roll and the end of the Cold War. The music part, but also the politics part. We’re looking at the Moscow Festival, really closely so we want to ask you about that.
Patrick: And we’re really interested in Wind of Change and I have a bunch of questions about Wind of Change.
Patrick: We’ve been all around like we went to Russia, we met with Stas Namin we talked to fans, we talked to people who went to the festival. We interviewed Doc McGhee. So it’s been, it’s been a lot of fun. We’ve got a lot of ground to cover. But I thought, you know, for starters, I wondered if you could just tell me, for you, what was it like to grow up in a divided country during the Cold War?
Klaus: We could feel the vibe. You know, like our parents’ generation, you know, building up the country again after World War II and growing up in West Germany. Back then of course, I was not, really political, into political stuff um but — it was in the family, it was like a nice and warm feeling uh with parents that were happy, they came back home alive and survived all those years of the Nazi regime.
Patrick: It’s easy to forget how old Klaus is. That he was born three years almost to the day after Germany’s surrender at the end of a World War, in which Germany and Russia were bitter enemies.
Klaus: So you could feel they were looking for relief is the right word? To do after all this, you know, to find the beautiful side of life again.
Patrick: By the time Klaus started playing in bands, he said, the wall had gone up and Germany was divided.
Klaus: When you go on the autobahn, right across the street here. It’s a hundred kilometers to the checkpoint. And then you enter the DDR.
Patrick: He and his bandmates would load up a VW van with equipment and drive to West Berlin for concerts.
Klaus: It was really scary. You’re being so close. And we felt like we were like between the big powers between the US and, uh, Soviet Union. You know, we’re right in the middle. West Berlin was like an island in the middle of the DDR.
Patrick: Klaus always felt really lucky to have fallen on the western side of that divide.
Klaus: Growing up with Elvis, growing up with blue jeans, growing up with Coca Cola, you know. While they had, uh, you know, Nikita Khrushchev, you know, and the Stasi.
Patrick: He had a dream to play behind the iron curtain but they couldn’t get approval to play East Germany.
Klaus: They were just afraid that rock and roll is not a good thing for them, you know, because rock and roll is like the voice of freedom, isn’t it? You know?
Patrick: The Scorpions never did play East Germany, even though it was right there. But they got into Hungary in ‘86.
Klaus: And then from there, it was just a short step to Russia.
PAtrick: Klaus reminisced about how, a year before the Moscow Peace Festival, they were supposed to play five shows in Leningrad then another five in Moscow.
Klaus: And two days before we left, they canceled the Moscow shows. Probably they thought too much rock and roll on Red Square? Not a good idea. The fans, they came from Siberia. 10 hours on the train, you know, and they knew our music.
Patrick: To hear Klaus tell it, the Scorpions were almost like a street drug. It was illegal to buy their music, but all across the Soviet Union, young people partook.
Klaus: Like a hidden kind of.
Klaus: Like in a movie agents meeting in the darkness, you know, you scoff and stuff from coming right from Berlin, you know. Some friends in Romania told us that they handed this the same way, having access to two cassettes and stuff but they got busted and they put him in jail just for listening to Scorpion’s music. They put him in jail.
Patrick: What I’m thinking, as Klaus is saying all this, is this is the easy part of the interview. Klaus doesn’t know where I’m going. But already, he keeps articulating precisely the strategic rationale that the CIA would have for using the music of the Scorpions as a weapon.
Klaus: And music was a threat because a young generation, they were very much open to this poison from the west. The Scorpions poison.
Patrick: On that trip in ‘88, the KGB followed them everywhere, Klaus said. At one point, they came back to their hotel to find that their rooms had been ransacked.
Klaus: And our suitcases and everything was like, like a mess.
Patrick: What do you think they were looking for?
Klaus: I’m not sure what they were looking for.
Patrick: Because your lyrics up to that point were not political. You weren’t singing, it wasn’t Bob Dylan. You weren’t singing political songs.
Patrick: But just coming and playing this music was itself a political act, Klaus said.
Klaus: Yeah, it was political. And there was a political song earlier than Leningrad. I think Crossfire.
[Audio Clip: Song: Crossfire]
Klaus: It was about being between the superpowers, you know, being in the crossfire. But you’re right. We never had the approach being like a political writer, you know, all this, you know, a rock band, you know. We rock you like a hurricane. Come on. Yeah.
Patrick: When did you hook up with Doc McGee?
Klaus: The second half of the 80s, I think.
Patrick: Klaus brings up Doc’s secret past himself, but downplays it.
Klaus: We didn’t know so much about his background and all this drug thing and what he was connected with. We just realized that he’s a very successful manager.
Patrick: We hadn’t realized when we went down to talk to him, he said that in the year before the Moscow festival, you know, he went to Russia twice a month and he would go to the Kremlin and like talk to them just negotiating and figuring out how to make it happen.
Klaus: Oh yeah, he was. He was.
Patrick: When I asked about the Moscow festival, Klaus described feeling this weird dissonance between the huge symbolic gravity of the event and what it meant, which the Scorpions understood, and the behavior of pretty much all the other bands. He recalled the bacchanal on the plane ride over.
Klaus: I think Ozzy pissed himself or something. You know, it was like they had no idea what this whole trip was all about.
Patrick: He chuckled, remembering the lead singer of Skid Row, the one who, in those MTV promo videos, used to make fun of Klaus’s accent.
Klaus: You know, like, uh, Sebastian Bach, my dear friends. I think they were the first band. And I remember when the Olympic fire was burning, you know, and Sebastian Bach comes out on stage screaming, “come on motherfucker.” And I went, ‘God..’
Patrick: For the Scorpions, being older, and being German…
Klaus: Our mindset or our feelings were completely different because it was very emotional just because of where we come from, because of our parents or maybe my uncle sitting in a tank in Stalingrad, you know, and all that.
PATRICK Is that right?
Klaus: Yeah. And then we went on this boat ride. And it was the bands journalist, MTV, you know, Russian soldiers, media from all over the world. Everybody wanted to be part of it. But on this boat trip, the whole world, the world of music was in this boat. You know, Russian bands, German bands, American, British. You know, Russian soldiers, Red Army. And it was like the whole world in a boat and one boat talking music and talking the same language, music, you knowl. So there was an understanding. We are also different. Yeah, but there was an understanding. It was music, you know, it was it was a cool moment, you know. And I think looking back that was the inspiring moment for Wind of Change.
Patrick: What was the change that you felt happening?
Klaus: For me, the change was very much obvious because one year before. We couldn’t play there, we were banned from Moscow.
Patrick: When they came back and played Moscow at the festival, there were Russian soldiers in the stadium for crowd control. But when the Scorpions played, Klaus says, the soldiers were so overcome by the music that they started waving their arms and dancing and they threw their hats in the air.
Klaus: And it was like the world is changing in front of my eyes right now. You know you just could see it. You could feel. I mean, it was all about the power of music.
Patrick: So what do we know? We know that the CIA, from its infancy, recognized and utilized the power of music. And not just Marlene Dietrich and Nina Simone – we know, from Rose’s story, that the agency honored some rock musicians for his contributions in “Cold War messaging.” And that the U.S. government had an ongoing program, dating back to Dave Hess and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, to push rock music into the Soviet Union. We know that the Scorpions had pretty unique access to young listeners behind the iron curtain, and that the Scorpions manager Doc McGhee was part of a big international drug ring that used CIA asset Manuel Noriega to launder their money, and that Doc is the only guy who doesn’t go to prison. Somehow, he beats the wrap, and just a year later, a year in which he’s visiting the Kremlin every other week, he throws this big concert in Moscow. And just after the concert, the Scorpions record this song, which the greybeard told Oliver was actually written by the CIA. And when we approach Oliver to ask him to tell us the story again, he says he’s can’t, it would be a felony, he would go to jail. And when we approach the CIA to ask if they have a connection to the Scorpions, they say they can neither confirm nor deny. We know there’s this other random guy, Lance Sputnik, who, independently of Oliver, tells a very similar story about the scorpions secretly working with the CIA. And now, without any prompting from me, Klaus keeps talking about the power of music.
So I want to press him, now, on when and how precisely Wind of Change was written.
Patrick: So we’ve heard different accounts of when you wrote the song, did you, you didn’t start writing it there. You started writing when you got home.
Klaus: I know. I saw Doc in some interviews saying I remember a class in the back of this bus of whistling Wind of Change. I remember very well. That was not true.
Patrick: So what happened? You came back here.
Klaus: I came back here not too far away from here, back home in my house, a little studio and uh-
Patrick: Someone had recently given him a Yamaha keyboard, as a present.
Klaus: And when I came back home from Moscow I was just playing around with this new toy. I was playing around. And actually in the end of the day, I composed Wind of Change. Exactly on that little DX-7.
Patrick Just on the synthesizer?
Klaus: On the synthesizer. Yeah. Just picking up the notes. Just playing around with it and just having fun with it. You know. And so music and words came. Right. Like, like this.
Patrick: I was gonna ask you do the lyrics come first or the-
Klaus: No. It just kind of came together, you know.
[Audio Clip: Wind of Change]
Klaus: When I had the line like, ‘All these summer nights, soldiers passing by,’ I knew, I realized for myself, this is something very much inspired from what we just went through.
Patrick: So the concerts in August ‘89 and the. Falls in November ‘89. Did you write the song in between?
Klaus: I wrote the song in September.
Patrick: So before the wall fell.
Klaus: Actually, I just yesterday for the House of History in Germany, in Bonn, city of Bonn. They will have like, how do you call this thing in English.
Klaus: Exhibit, exhibit. Yeah. Yeah. And it’s about I think the title is Hits and Anthems, you know. And they were asking me for the original or lyrics.
Patrick: Do you have them?
Patrick: Oh wow. I’d love to see them. Are they, they’re handwritten?
Klaus: Yeah. Handwritten. And the good thing about it is I put the date on it.
Patrick: And it was September.
Klaus: It was third or fourth or both. Third and forth of September.
Patrick: 1989. It’s just amazing to think that you’re doing that before the wall hadn’t even come down slightly.
Klaus: And that’s why this little piece of it’s in a small actually like a Mickey Mouse kind of little book with Mickey Mouse in front.
Patrick: Oh, really? A Mickey Mouse booklet. Your lyric booklet.
Klaus: Yeah yeah. And the good thing is that I put the date. That makes it so special.
Patrick: Is he hitting this a little hard, at this point? Like he’s protesting too much?
Klaus: It’s not there’s still a little things that are changed later or even the chorus is missing or something. But the main part of the verses and the middle age and all this is in there.
Patrick: Klaus reminds me that when he was in Moscow, a fan gave him a traditional Russian guitar, a Balalaika, and he wrote it into the song.
Klaus: And I gave him a Balalaika.
Patrick: Yeah. That you played.
Klaus: It’s in the lyrics. Let your balalaika sing. What my guitar wants to say.
Patrick: Did you have the whistle already?
Klaus: Yeah. Yes.
Patrick: Did you always know the whistle from when you first picked up the tour?
Klaus: I did it in the first run when I started that song. I did. And I did it because I’m not a lead guitarist. You know, I’m, I play guitar better than I play piano actually. But I did this on a piano. It sounded nice. But I did the whistle because I had nobody standing next to me playing a cool kind of melody or whatever. So this whistle came just because of there was nothing else.
Patrick: When he was writing the song, Klaus tells me, he had no idea that he was building something that would end up having such an impact.
Klaus: Because I had a feeling this could be something special. But not of course, not knowing the wall would come down in November, not knowing this song could be one day like an anthem for so many people, in some ways, for reunification, for the end of communism or whatever. You know, not thinking about it at all. You know, I like I just liked it.
Patrick: In 1991, the band was invited to come back to Russia and perform the song at the Kremlin itself.
Klaus: December ‘91. The fourteenth of December ‘91. Eleven days later the Soviet Union flag came down on the Kremlin and the Soviet Union was history.
Patrick: So Gorbachev invites you into the Kremlin. You come into the Kremlin and you play Wind of Change. Then ten days later, the flag comes down over the Kremlin.
Klaus: Yeah. Again, we were so close to history.
Patrick: Yeah, I’ll say.
Patrick: I asked Klaus about the time he was at a hotel in Memphis and met a woman from the CIA, and how the CIA woman asked him to whistle Wind of Change and he said, oh, yeah, that was a funny story. I only met with the woman because I got a phone call asking me too… from Doc McGhee.
Klaus: It was it was, again, Doc McGee calling me in my room. And she’s this woman stands in front of me saying Klaus, great to meet you. Could you please whistle Wind of Change for me?
Patrick: So the reason I was interested in that story, the story about the CIA woman is the, uhhh…
Patrick: It was time to surface, and ask Klaus directly about the CIA. We’ll be right back with that, after the break.
Klaus hasn’t touched any of the snacks or drinks we ordered for him but he’s very relaxed, leaning back in his chair. He seems like he’s having a pleasant time. Or at least, like he doesn’t mind going through the motions. But now, it’s time to ask him if he’s ever been an agent for the CIA.
Patrick: We heard a rumor that there was some kind of connection between the CIA and your band.
Patrick: Have you ever heard anything like that?
Klaus: No, no, no, no.
Patrick: You’ve never heard that.
Klaus: Never. Never heard that.
Patrick: In all these years. Between the CIA some kind of connection.
Klaus: And the band?
Patrick: I mean, specifically was that there was some sort of connection between the CIA and that song, Wind of Change.
Klaus: No. Really? Well tell me the story.
Patrick: Yeah. Well, so the story was that they had something to do with the creation of the song somehow.
Klaus: No. Come on.
Patrick: You’ve never heard this?
Klaus: No, I never heard that.
Patrick: Are you surprised?
Klaus: I am very much surprised. This is new.
Patrick: You’ve never heard about it. Okay. So. So here’s the craziest thing is that the story came to us from somebody who was in the CIA. And they heard it from somebody else who was in the CIA. So like definitely there are people inside the CIA who tell a story, which is that there’s some connection between the agency and that song.
Patrick: He doesn’t seem nervous. Or if he is nervous, he’s very good at hiding it.
Klaus: It is weird. I can, in my wildest dreams, I can think of how that song would connect with the, with the CIA.
Patrick: Well, so that’s what I thought, too. But then I mean, when I first heard it, I said, that’s crazy. It doesn’t make any sense at all because the idea was they were like somehow taking credit for this.
Klaus: Someone wanted to take credit for the song.
Patrick: So initially I said, no, that’s that’s crazy. It doesn’t make any sense. But then I did some research. And, you know, when you look into it, there is a history of the CIA promoting certain types of western music behind the iron curtain because they thought it was good –.
Klaus: Behind the iron curtain.
Patrick: Yeah, because they thought it was good for, you know, good for democracy, good for the West, bad for communism, bad for the USSR
Klaus: Like we talked about earlier.
Klaus: Like the voice of the free world.
Patrick: So on the one hand, Klaus is saying that he doesn’t know anything about this. on the other hand, he’s saying, yeah, makes sense.
Klaus: If if the CIA had a song to to put it, send a singer and a song and put it out behind the Iron Curtain, that would make sense. It’s a little weird when you think about it, you know. But but on the other side, it just underlines the power of music.
Patrick: It does in a big way. In a big way.
Klaus: It brings the, what’s the right word. Infuriate?
Patrick: Infiltrate, infiltrate.
Klaus: Yeah, infiltrate. Uh, it comes to underneath and all of a sudden half of Russia is whistling Wind of Change and they don’t know why. Is that serious? Is that serious?
Patrick: That’s what, this is the thing. I mean, it is absolutely serious. That’s a story you’ve never heard of?
Klaus: No. So I never heard that.
Patrick: So it’s definitely not true? Like they had nothing to do with it. There’s no way…
Patrick: some random person who they did just shows up –.
Klaus: And I gave it to them? Maybe I’m a special agent.
Patrick: Klaus, I got to tell you, I have been wondering this question. This is, I have spent a long time wondering that. So you’re not a special agent?
Patrick: And there’s definitely no connection with the CIA that you can think of.
Klaus: No, no. Definitely not. No, that was the only connection, like with a whistling for this lady. This Memphis hotel. Yeah.
Patrick: But so this is the thing. I mean, it is a nice little anecdote and I can completely see how that would be like the innocent explanation for that story.
Klaus: That’s a nice story.
Patrick: But but here’s here’s the thing. If inside the CIA, whether it’s true or not. You know, there are people who believe that they played some hand in that song. Then you can really see the woman coming and saying, hey, will you whistle that for me? You know what I mean? Yeah. Takes on a different meaning.
Klaus: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely
Patrick: So we went because we’re looking, you know, at this song, but also at other stuff in history. We went and we asked the CIA about certain questions. And there was stuff that they came back and they’re like, no, that’s not true. And so we asked them through the formal process where you can get an answer. We said, did you ever have a relationship with the Scorpions? Is there a connection between the CIA and the Scorpions? They came back and they said, we can neither confirm nor deny.
Klaus: Really? Really? [laughs]
Patrick: Help me understand this Klaus.
Klaus: I mean, it’s it’s really like it’s really after all these years to hear a story like this. You know, that is really something I thought I heard all the stories connected with Wind of Change. But the CIA …
Patrick: Klaus and I are sitting here just kind of staring at each other and we’re both smiling, we both have these mystified grins on our faces, and on the one hand, he’s not coping to any of it. He’s giving me nothing. On the other hand, it feels weirdly cathartic for me to take this bundle of clues that has so stumped me for years and present them to Klaus Meine himself, the singer of the band and see that he can’t explain them either.
Patrick: I mean, I was just trying to think like, what would the scenario be? And I wondered maybe, you know, because you guys did play in Hungary and you went into Russia in ‘88. You know, maybe there was some connection then. You know, not having to do with a song. But just because you were kind of going places where other western bands weren’t able to go at that point, you know. Nothing? You never you never, like, smuggled a document for anyone or anything like that?
Patrick: Would you have if they asked you to? Would you have if they asked you to?
Klaus: The CIA?
Klaus: That’s an interesting question. I really have to think about that. I have to think about that. I mean.
Patrick: Am I blowing your mind here?
Klaus: Yeah. I mean, there’s this whole thing is like, wow, crazy. Maybe you are, you’re from the CIA.
Patrick: Good point. This is the problem is when you start thinking about this stuff, anybody could be from the CIA.
Klaus: I know, it’s scary.
Patrick: I’m just trying to understand how it is that these, these guys in the CIA are saying, oh, yeah. Wind of change. Yeah. That was you know, that was us. Right? And I wondered if maybe it had something to do with the spreading of the tapes, not with the writing of the song or anything like that.
Patrick: Maybe there is some universe where they heard the song. They thought this could be really good for us. Young people are listening to it. It says basically this is all going to change soon.
Klaus: It just shows that music has so much more power than just the music we we hear sometimes on the radio, the music we dance to, or make love to. But there is there is also music around that can touch you very deep. Music that can can obviously make a change. But I think it’s I think it’s a joke. I don’t, I don’t take it serious, no
Patrick: You don’t seem very offended. I think I would be offended at the idea that there’s this classic song.
Klaus: No, I think. I mean, it’s the secrets. It’s secrets. It’s all secret, CIA. It’s secrets so. Maybe in my lifetime, I never hear about it enough because it’s so secret. But you’re really believe that there was some kind of connection?
Patrick: I don’t know that I believe there was some kind of connection. I, I know for a fact that inside the CIA, they tell a story about how there is a connection. That’s the thing I don’t understand is what are they getting at? You know, like are they, did somebody make it up? Or is it like a game of telephone where you know…
Klaus: Interesting story, definitely, for it’s a good idea for a movie would be cool.
Patrick: And you don’t think. And if any, if any of the other members of the band at the time had had, it wouldn’t be that there was something happening that you didn’t know about.
Patrick: Klaus had agreed in advance that he would give me an hour, but we blew right through that. He was smiling, somewhat weirded out but relaxed. I had really thought this was going to be a confrontation. But in a strange way, he seems to like talking about it. I couldn’t figure this out at first, how his mood seemed to improve once I started asking about the CIA, how he could be enjoying this. Then it occurred to me. People have been asking Klaus Meine about Wind of Change for thirty years. Maybe it’s the delight of a guy who thinks he’s heard every conceivable question about a song when he finally gets asked a new one. Or maybe, also, delight at imagining this other, clandestine version of himself. An agent in the fight to end the Cold War. A customized action figure come to life. Of course, if the CIA did have something to do with Wind of Change and Klaus knows it, he would deny it. he would probably say all the things he’s been saying to me. But sitting with him, talking it over, I’m focused like a polygraph examiner on his every reaction, every physical gesture, every fluctuation in the tone of his voice, and…he seems like he’s telling the truth. I think.
It’s amazing, having talked to all these people, to think that the CIA could have written the song, like, that they were capable of it. And that they probably would have, given the opportunity. If Klaus is telling me the truth, that he is the author of Wind of Change, then is it possible that someone else planted the idea somehow? Maybe. I could see that. Or was there some other clandestine link between the CIA and the song, with the agency recognizing that this music was powerful and trying to harness that? To spread it?
That i can definitely believe.
And what I still find so unsettling is that the further I delved into this story, the more plausible it seemed. That half a dozen ex-spies told me as much, without hesitation. And Rose’s reaction that of course the CIA would use pop music for influence operations. They could still be doing it today. But if the cia used Wind of Change as a weapon, I haven’t been able to prove it. I haven’t disproved it, either, though. So I end up trapped in this weird cul-de-sac. The journalist in me wants to just lay the idea to rest and yet I can’t shake this feeling that something is just beyond my fingertips. When we approached the CIA, to tell them about this podcast, and ask them about the Scorpions and Wind of Change, they had no comment. Though in fairness, apart from confirming a few non-controversial details, they wouldn’t comment on any of our questions. So that’s not a huge surprise. And it doesn’t really tell us anything one way or the other.
Michael remains convinced. Just the other day, he sent me this volley of indignant texts, saying I haven’t done enough. There are more people to call, more FOIA requests, more stones unturned. And of course, he’s right. But that’s the nature of a conspiracy theory. It’s impossible to prove but also impossible to disprove, so if you have the temperament, and the time, you could devote yourself to solving it for the rest of your life. But if you’re a person whose livelihood depends on the slow and steady accretion of provable facts, then there’s a madness in chasing a story like this. And there’s something about the moment we’re living in, when every day the very nature of truth is called into question that makes me feel like the stakes of solving this slightly ridiculous story are greater, somehow, than the story itself.
This all started with Oliver, the ex-spy, and I guess in the end I share Michael’s unshakeable faith in Oliver. I believe he met a greybeard, who told him a story. I’m just not sure the story, as told, is true. Doesn’t mean there’s no truth in it, I just think it might have changed over time, the way stories do. It’s funny to think that even the CIA might have urban legends about the CIA, that certain myths persist, from one generation to the next. And occasionally, maybe, one of those wild stories gets out of the building, it slips out of the agency, and into circulation in the civilian world, where it can send someone like me on a years-long quest. What was it one of those customs guys told me at the GI Joe convention in Dayton? The rabbit hole is beautiful, but it’s deep.
[Audio Clip: Mongolia protests]
Patrick: In 2011, back when Wikileaks was releasing over a quarter of a million U.S. Diplomatic cables, one of the cables was about Wind of Change.
[Audio Clip: Mongolia protests]
Patrick: The cable was from the U.S. Embassy in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia. It’s dated August 3, 2006 and the subject line is “Crowd of Thousands in Central Square Demands ‘Change.’” Over the past several months, the cable explained, the main square in Ulaanbaatar had been home to a series of demonstrations. People were protesting corruption in the government and demanding that Mongolians, rather than foreigners, should benefit from the country’s mineral wealth. On the night of july 31, the cable says, and I’m quoting here, “The square was filled to capacity with excited mongolian youth. Just after midnight, the crowd began to shout for ‘change’ – ‘Wind of Change,’ that is.”
The Scorpions had come to town to play a concert, and Klaus launched into the song. “from the statue of general Sukhbaatar to government house to the stock exchange, the lyrics began to echo.,” the cable says. And then, this state department cable, it just spells out the lyrics. Those lyrics Klaus Meine wrote in his Mickey Mouse notebook, in September 1989.
[Patrick reading lyrics] I follow the Moskva
Down to Gorkey Park,
Listening to the Wind of Change.
An august summer night,
Soldiers passing by,
Listening to the Wind of Change
The world is closing in,
Did you ever think
That we would be so close. Like brothers.
The future’s in the air,
I can feel it everywhere,
Blowing with the Winds of Change.
Klaus: We’re always surprised like when you go too far and places and see how much it means. But this song has very much its own life, its own history. And now it adds another chapter now with the CIA. At the end of the day, this song is became bigger than life. You know, it’s one of those songs that they make their own way and there’s nothing I can do.
Patrick: All right, sir. Thanks for coming.
Klaus: Thanks again.
Patrick: Thank you. Okay. All right. Appreciate it.
Klaus: See you in Vegas.
Patrick: The band was scheduled to do a residency this summer, in Vegas.
Patrick: Yeah, absolutely. We’ll be there. Okay.
Patrick: It’s since been postponed, like everything else, by the coronavirus.
Klaus: Bye then. Bye.
Patrick: And with that, Klaus Meine was gone. Henry and I had been talking, semi-seriously, about if Klaus would leave the interview and immediately pull out his phone. Maybe call his handler or Doc McGhee or maybe just one of the other guys in the band to say, you’ll never believe this crazy story I just heard.
So we waited in the conference room, lurking just inside that window overlooking the parking lot, to see what he would do when he exited the building.
We waited five minutes, ten minutes, twenty minutes and his Mercedes was still sitting there. He hadn’t come out. What was he doing?
So we just sat there, feeling anxious. I made a joke of it, pointing out to Henry that in the movie version, there’d be a gentle knock on the door and the woman who brought our espressos earlier would walk in with a silencer hidden under a linen napkin and pffft pffft. We’d be dead. We were both genuinely a little spooked, but at the same time, we felt silly about feeling spooked. Which, incidentally, is pretty much the emotional cocktail I’ve been living with for the past year. Finally, after half an hour or so, the Mercedes was still there, so we decided to venture out. We walked downstairs into the lobby of this quiet, cozy little hotel, and there was Klaus, at the bar, having a beer. Smiling and talking with a friend. I watched him for a minute, trying to glimpse some indication of his true thoughts. Some sign of the tumblers realigning in his mind as he assessed how much I knew. It was impossible of course to know what he was thinking, and impossible not to project the possibilities. That some foolish reporter had come all this way, to the hotel Kokenhof, to float this ridiculous conspiracy theory about his most famous song. Or that somehow, after all these years, someone had discovered the truth. Or was circling it, anyway and what did that mean? What will he say if it comes out? How will this small but singular place he occupies in history be rewritten? It’s a little different to start whistling the opening bars for thousands of fans if they know the song is propaganda.
There was one other possibility. That I’d said something to him about how the CIA works, the things that they’ve done in the past, with music and books and films, the way that they’d co-opted some artists and used others as agents without their even knowing. And now he was wondering, like I had been for years, what if?
Thanks for listening to Wind of Change. That’s the end of our story about the Scorpions but in the course of our research for this show, there were more characters and tales than we could possibly include. So starting July 6th, there will be two new bonus episodes available for free, only on Spotify. The first is called, ‘The Love Song of Joanna Stingray.’ It starts in Beverly Hills with Ronald Reagan and Andy Worhol and ends in Latvia with a mysterious death and a conspiracy theory involving the CIA. And then on July 13th, we’ll drop the second bonus episode, ‘Rocking Venezuela.’ After we released our podcast we got hundreds of messages and tips from around the world about government agencies that might have made secret fores into pop culture. And this is one of the craziest stories we heard where the evidence is completely rock solid. It’s about how a shadowy wing of the US Government used the Wind of Change playbook in Latin America, weaponizing rock music to try and topple a regime in Venezuela. So check out both episodes starting July 6th. For free, only on Spotify.
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. Sound Design and Mixing by Henry Molofsky. Original music by Mark Orton and John Hancock. Our music supervisor is Jonathan Feingold. This episode featured “Drift” by Ratatat, courtesy of XL Recordings Limited and Monotone Inc.. “Saint European King Days” by Opium Flirt, courtesy of CD Baby, and Night by Kino, courtesy of Moro’s Records and Pure Music. Source material in this episode included the AP Archive and C-SPAN2. 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 thanks 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
Thank you so much for listening.