In This Episode
When Patrick Radden Keefe heard that the Scorpions were coming to town last month, he knew he had to go to the show. So he called his friend Michael, his source for the original CIA conspiracy theory, and they headed to UBS Arena on Long Island, microphones in hand. Ever since Russia invaded Ukraine earlier this year, the song Wind of Change has taken on new meaning — and new lyrics, courtesy of lead-singer Klaus Meine. Patrick wanted to feel first hand how the powerful ballad of hope sounded in this new context of Russian aggression.
We’re also raising funds for medical supplies in Ukraine and encourage you to join us in giving to United24. The link is here: https://u24.gov.ua/
[clip of Klaus Meine]: Good to see you Long Island! Oh yeah. We have a whole new show for you. Couple new songs but with this next song, we take you just over there to Manhattan 42nd Street. We used to call it the zoo.
[clip of Fan]: New York, motherfucker!
Patrick Radden Keefe: Hey, this is Patrick Radden Keefe, the host of Wind of Change, and that’s Klaus Meine, lead singer of the Scorpions. This is a few weeks ago, in mid-September, at the UBS Arena, this brand-new stadium on Long Island. The Scorps are still constantly touring and when we heard they were going to be in town we decided to do a little bonus episode for Wind of Change listeners, prompted in part by the war in Ukraine. So we’re doing this episode to raise some money to support the people of Ukraine. And I’m here with my friend Michael. You remember Michael, right? He was sort of the genesis of the original podcast. Big fan of the finished product, too.
Michael Shtender Auerbach: Yeah, disappointing. I was disappointed. It felt like at the end you were rushed. You wanted to get it out there.
Patrick Radden Keefe: Not true.
Michael Shtender Auerbach: Yeah, well that’s not—
Patrick Radden Keefe: We had all the time in the world…
Michael Shtender Auerbach: Well, no, you didn’t. I said you needed to continue. I said you could not put this thing out until you came to some type of resolution.
Patrick Radden Keefe: We weren’t going to come to a resolution!
Michael Shtender Auerbach: We were. We totally were. You were close man. It was – there weren’t follow ups.
Patrick Radden Keefe: It was close? Give me a break.
Michael Shtender Auerbach: I hated the Klaus Meine interview. I thought you did a horrible job.
Patrick Radden Keefe: Horrible job? You didn’t hate it, you liked it. I know you did.
Michael Shtender Auerbach: I didn’t like it. [laughter]
Patrick Radden Keefe: Why not?
Michael Shtender Auerbach: Just didn’t. I didn’t think you like –
Patrick Radden Keefe: You didn’t believe him.
Michael Shtender Auerbach: He was so not telling you the truth.
[clip of Patrick Radden Keefe]: We heard a rumor, there was some kind of connection between the CIA and your band.
[clip of Klaus Meine]: No.
[clip of Patrick Radden Keefe]: Have you ever heard anything like that?
[clip of Klaus Meine]: No.
[clip of Patrick Radden Keefe]: No?
[clip of Klaus Meine]: No, no.
[clip of Patrick Radden Keefe]: You’ve never heard that?
[clip of Klaus Meine]: Never heard that.
[overlapping voices]: Between the CIA and the band? / Some kind of connection.
Michael Shtender Auerbach: And then there were people that you didn’t interview that you should interview.
Patrick Radden Keefe: Like?
Michael Shtender Auerbach: I don’t know. Like, I have a list. I literally have a list. [laughter]
Patrick Radden Keefe: You’ll have to give that to me.
Michael Shtender Auerbach: But anyway, my point is, is that you kept telling me like, it’s over. I got to move on. Like, we’re not.
Patrick Radden Keefe: That’s not what I was saying. What I was saying. No, no.
Michael Shtender Auerbach: No, we’re not coming to a conclusion.
Patrick Radden Keefe: Yes. What I was saying.
Michael Shtender Auerbach: It felt like you…
Patrick Radden Keefe: No, what I was saying was this was an unknowable thing. And to this day, it’s funny because I kind of, I go around talking about my book or whatever. And people will come and say at the end, people always say, ‘What do you really think?’ And it’s not that I have a – I listen to that Klaus Meine interview one day and I think he’s telling the truth, and the next day I think he’s lying. Yeah.
Michael Shtender Auerbach: No, he’s lying. It’s not that he’s lying. He’s withholding truth.
[clip of Klaus Meine]: No.
[clip of Patrick Radden Keefe]: Yeah.
[clip of Klaus Meine]: Come on.
[clip of Patrick Radden Keefe]: [laughter] You’ve never heard this?
[clip of Klaus Meine]: No I’ve never heard this.
[clip of Patrick Radden Keefe]: Are you surprised?
[clip of Klaus Meine]: I’m very much surprised. Tell me the story.
Patrick Radden Keefe: I don’t know. He’s, I’m just not sold.
Michael Shtender Auerbach: And Doc was definitely lying.
[clip of Doc McGhee]: Nobody likes to [unclear]. Im sorry. They want to chop the fucking head off the king.
Patrick Radden Keefe: I mean, I think there seems to be fairly uniform agreement…
Michael Shtender Auerbach: That was the most frustrating conversation that was recorded, between you and I.
[clip of Patrick Radden Keefe]: I just don’t understand the origins of this whole thing. The make a difference foundation. So this grew out of your plea deal?
[clip of Doc McGhee]: Yes. The Make a Difference foundation did.
Patrick Radden Keefe: Uh huh.
[clip of Doc McGhee]: Okay. But it had no connection or anything with the Moscow Music Peace Festival.
Patrick Radden Keefe: Oh really?
[clip of Doc McGhee]: I brought it over. I, I put it involved when we did the tie in between the East and the West because the Make a Difference Program was to help kids on alcohol and drug abuse that I formed after my plea deal with, with the government.
Michael Shtender Auerbach: I was disappointed, given your thoughtfulness, your skill set, when it comes to investigative–
Patrick Radden Keefe: You mean in general?
Michael Shtender Auerbach: Just in general, like thinking. About you generally? I was disappointed in the sense that it was just so obvious that he was lying. And then you were trying to tell me like, ‘Yeah, this is just how stuff happens. Like, you know, people go into the back room of the judge’s office and be like, Yeah, let’s bring Bon Jovi to the high school and get him out of prison.’ And that’s just nonsense. That’s just absolute nonsense.
Patrick Radden Keefe: Not that we can clear the air here. You can you know, you can you can leave a one star review.
Michael Shtender Auerbach: I did! No I’m kidding.
Patrick Radden Keefe: It’s funny, we released the podcast in May 2020, which turned out to be a great time to put out a binge-able digital product that people can listen to at home. It was still early pandemic, but right at the point in lockdown when we were starting to realize this was not going to be, like, a two-week thing. That it actually might be indefinite. People were getting sick of their spouses, sick of their roommates. They’d already finished The Tiger King. And while Michael’s only half joking here — he’s still legitimately pissed I wasn’t able to Woodward and Bernstein this conspiracy he one hundred percent believes is real — part of the fun of the afterlife of the podcast has been hearing from listeners with all these reactions and alternative theories. We’ve heard from musicians and metal fans and former diplomats and spooks and musicologists and Cold War historians and the full range of tinfoil hat conspiracy theorists. Some people are convinced Wind of Change was definitely a CIA op. Others are convinced it wasn’t. Others think maybe the Moscow Music Festival was an influence op, but not the song. Everyone thinks there’s something fishy about Doc McGhee. But one thing I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is the last time I saw the Scorpions in concert, which was at the Sports Palace in Kiev back in 2019. This was for episode 2 of the podcast, and at the time, I was so struck by the way Ukrainian fans connected to the song Wind of Change and its message of freedom from oppression.
[clip of Fan]: Wind of Change today, they created this song as far as he remember because [?] was about to apart, and it was like Wind of Change to that blows to empire of evil—
Patrick Radden Keefe: Wind of Change always felt like one of those time capsule songs, a song that’s just very linked in the popular imagination to an extremely specific moment in history. A song about the past. But it doesn’t feel that way today. Since this past February, when Russia invaded Ukraine, the song has taken on a whole new relevance. Once again, it’s been namechecked and played as this anthem of hope, as a battle cry for humanity in the face of tyranny and oppression. After the war started, Klaus Meine actually changed the lyrics of the song, doing away with the famous lines, “I follow the Moskva, Down to Gorkey Park,” because he feels like they “romanticize Russia.” He replaced them with the very Klaus, “Now listen to my heart, it says Ukrainia…” Right after the invasion started in the spring, there was this anonymous Russian whistleblower, who purportedly works for the FSB, the successor to the KGB, and issued a series of letters that were harshly critical of Vladimir Putin and the war. “There are no hopes for a “Victory in Ukraine” one of these letters said, on March 14. The whistleblower predicted, back in the spring, that the invasion would be a military disaster for Russia. And on the basis of the past few weeks, with Ukrainian forces making stunning gains, reclaiming territory, to a point where Putin was forced to call for a partial mobilization, that prediction seems pretty on point. Of course, the Kremlin might claim that this anonymous whistleblower was itself a psy-op, a pro-Ukrainian propaganda. But what interests me is the pseudonym that this person chose to adopt: “the Wind of Change.”
[clip of Igor Suhko]: So, Wind of Change knew that these letters would be publicized and of course he’s taken the necessary precautions to keep his cover. Wind of Change from inside the FSB, began to accelerate leaking, insider information.
Patrick Radden Keefe: That’s Igor Sushko, who translated a series of communiques from the whistleblower, the so-called FSB letters.
[clip of Igor Suhko]: Because there’s this objective that you can clearly deduct from these letters and that is to help the West, understand this enigma that is Putin and the Kremlin and Russia.
Patrick Radden Keefe: He started an organization in Washington, the Wind of Change Research Group. As a charitable initiative, they sell rubber wristbands that are blue and yellow and say, “Wind of Change.” When the Scorpions play the song in concerts now, they unfurl these huge blue and yellow Ukrainian flags, and Klaus expresses his solidarity with the people of Ukraine, and fans take videos on their phones and the clips go viral.
[clip of Patrick Radden Keefe]: So what are we doing here? We are. We are at the UBS Arena, which is kind of a new –
[clip of Michael Shtender Auerbach New spot.
[clip of Patrick Radden Keefe]: It’s a new stadium primarily for hockey in Long Island.
[clip of Michael Shtender Auerbach]: The Long Island Islanders play here.
Patrick Radden Keefe: We’re in this incredibly pimped out box that Michael has somehow secured for us, through his connections to something called Canaccord. I assumed it had to do with legal weed, which Michael is heavily invested in. But it turns out to be a Canadian investment bank. He’s on their board.
[clip of Michael Shtender Auerbach]: It has nothing to do with cannabis.
Patrick Radden Keefe: When we went to Ukraine in 2019, it wasn’t some hugely deliberate choice. We were just looking for an interesting place to see the band, ideally in some part of the former Soviet Union. But since the invasion, I can’t count the number of times I’ve thought about that concert and the people we talked to while we were tailgating in front of the Sports Palace before the show. There were those two big, beefy, jolly guys, Sergei and Yuri, drinking vodka and 7-Up and singing “Rock You Like a Hurricane.”
[clip of Sergei and Yuri singing]
Patrick Radden Keefe: And that group of young fans who’d driven ten hours, all the way from Odessa, just to see the show. It was impossible to look at Kiev now, preparing to defend itself, and not think of how happy and warm and hopeful everyone was that night. After the show we stopped for a beer and a hot dog with Roman, the Ukrainian journalist who was interpreting for us, and the whole city just felt totally vibrant, full of young people. I think Roman must be reporting on the war now. We’ve been trying to get in touch, but we haven’t heard back. It’s been awful to watch this incredible place get torn apart, and inspiring to witness the courage of the Ukrainian people in rising up and fighting back. But so many people are still suffering across the region, and this felt like an opportunity for us to do something to help in some small way. We are all going to donate. That is Pineapple Street, Crooked Media and Spotify and also Canaccord. We would encourage you to please do so, give anything you can. We’re donating to United 24, a global initiative to support Ukraine, that was launched by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. They raise funds for a number of different purposes, some of them specifically tied to the military and the war effort, but the funds we’re donating are for medical aid. We’ve put more details about United 24 in the show notes, along with a link so that you can make a donation, too.
Lesya: My name is Lesya. I am from Ukraine. I live Kiev.
Patrick Radden Keefe: Before the concert, Michael reached out to an organization that has been resettling Ukrainian refugees in New York City, to see if there were any families that might want to come to the show. So we’re here with Lesya and her twins.
Lesya: And my children. Two children Nicholai and Stephania.
Patrick Radden Keefe: They’re twelve. Lesya’s from Kiev. She fled the country after the invasion, while her husband stayed to fight.
Lesya: Yeah. My husband, military. My husband.
Patrick Radden Keefe: So he had to stay?
Lesya: Yeah, yeah.
Patrick Radden Keefe: Lesya explains that she crossed into Slovakia with the kids and drove all the way to Warsaw, where she caught a flight to the U.S. She now lives in a donated apartment in the East Village. Her kids are in New York City public schools. They’re all learning English. The war has been brutal for her family.
Lesya: My cousin from Russia, my cousin from Moscow and leave Moscow. Yeah, no speaking. No speaking. No call me. No, call me. I call! Please, help please understand my situation. No. Information TV. Information Russian TV. This is big, big problem.
Patrick Radden Keefe: But as it turns out, she’s a Scorpions fan.
Lesya: This the Scorpions. I go to Scorpions concert to see Ukrainian.
Patrick Radden Keefe: You’ve already seen them play there. Yeah. Amazing.
Lesya: This is the best. This is surprise, my friends.
Patrick Radden Keefe: We’re all so busy chatting that we almost miss the big moment and have to scramble to get outside as the band starts Wind of Change.
[chatter and music]
Patrick Radden Keefe: It’s a good crowd. Scorpions fans show up. And Klaus is bellowing out the song, giving it everything he has, prancing around the stage in that ageless, elfin, very sincere way of his. And the jumbo digital screens are awash now in the colors of the Ukrainian flag. And I look over at Lesya, who has been having a blast all evening, just letting her hair down and dancing and singing along, and as the band plays Wind of Change, she’s sobbing. My wife Justyna is with us and she goes over and gives Lesya a hug and we all stand there, swaying to the music, and I’m reminded again that whatever you believe about the origins of the song, and whether it’s true art or a CIA psy-op or just a catchy metal ballad, it has this power that is undeniable. I think these days, maybe especially as Americans, we’re not used to relating to music in this kind of direct, sincere, sentimental way, but part of the reason it’s believable that “Wind of Change” might have been propaganda — or that some people at the CIA might have wanted to take credit for it — is that it had such a sweeping emotional impact on the people who listened to it. Watching Lesya react to the song, I feel like I can better understand how all this lore has come to surround it.
[clip of Patrick Radden Keefe]: Wow. That was Intense.
[clip of Michael Shtender Auerbach]: That was intense.
[clip of Patrick Radden Keefe]: Yeah. I mean, it’s funny as like, nobody is more cynical than me, but I, you know, I find that I’m moved by it. I don’t know. It’s intense.
Patrick Radden Keefe: Thank you for tuning into this bonus episode. As I mentioned, we are all making donations to United 24, and if you could please do the same, in whatever amount you are able, it would make a real difference to the people of Ukraine, who have gone through unimaginable suffering over the last eight months. We’ve made it super easy for you. Just click the link in the show notes and make a donation today. A big thank you to Michael Shtender Auerbach and to Canaccord Genuity for providing the suite, a particular thanks to Lesya for coming out and sharing her story with us, and to everyone at Pineapple Street Studios, Crooked Media, and Spotify. This episode was produced by Natalie Brennan and Henry Molofsky, and edited by Joel Lovell. I’m Patrick Radden Keefe. So long.