Dean Reed: Death of a Comrade. Radio 2,
11 July. Presented by Mark Lamarr.
For a time in the 1970s, Dean Reed was probably the best-known American in South America and Eastern Europe. Though, as he sang, “Nobody knows me back in my home town.”
Born in Denver in 1938, Reed was a rock singer who never quite made the big time in the US. Understandably enough, he felt that nobody who worked in Hollywood could keep their integrity.
When one of his records became a hit in Chile, he travelled there to perform and was struck by the obvious inequalities in power and wealth. He later settled in Argentina, but after some unwelcome attention from the dictatorship he moved to Europe.
His left-wing views attracted the attention of cultural bosses in Russia, and he was invited there. He became a great success with young people in eastern Europe, who were keenly interested in Western popular music.
In 1973 Reed decided to move to East Germany permanently. The secret police or Stasi were initially suspicious of him and spied on him, but they later tried unsuccessfully to recruit him as an agent.
By the 1980s, however, he was no longer a star in Eastern Europe, as younger musicians from the West were touring there. He considered returning to the US, but remarks on radio and TV chat shows (e.g. comparing Reagan to Stalin and defending the Berlin Wall) led to him receiving hate mail. In June 198 he was found dead in a lake near his home in East Berlin – officially an accident but probably suicide.
Mark Lamarr’s programme contained interviews with people who knew Reed and excerpts from his (unexceptional) music. It also made the point that he failed to see how ordinary East Germans felt about the regime that governed them and how they viewed him as an establishment figure.
So the rebel became another apologist for the Bolshevik dictatorship, one who certainly would have had no place in a unified Germany.
Some people, including some socialists, used to get quite irritated about the way that recorded laughter was inserted into, first radio, then television, shows that went under the generic heading of comedy.But we have slowly got used to this feature of modern life in capitalist society.
It is almost universal now. It is applied to quality comedy and poor comedy; those with real audiences and those with no possibility of an audience at all in the location of the action. Like antidepressant drugs, canned laughter is prescribed for nearly everybody. Because, let’s face it, much of the time, if you didn’t laugh, you’d cry.
Many aspects of living in this increasingly dysfunctional world society are moving in the same direction. In Japan, as well as North America and Europe shopping has become the diversionary avenue of seeking feel-good factors. Clothes, to make us feel good about our appearance; various types of car, to make us comfortable about our status among our neighbours; health foods, to make us feel healthy; exotic foods to make us feel opulent; gyms, to make us feel confident or even superior about our physical fitness and sexual attractiveness.
Houses, gardens, kitchens, etc., etc.
Our electronic gadgetry, from mobile phones and digital cameras to MP3 recorders and players, offer us more power to do things we hadn’t even thought of and probably will never try.
The planet is being pillaged, plundered and polluted to make commodities for us to buy, partly because we need them and capital must have the flow of profit, but increasingly in the effort to obliterate our basic hunger for freedom, the one thing we cannot have. Like canned laughter, the temporary lift we get from commodity gratification is artificial,false. It hides a bad joke.