News Journal, Mansfield/Ohio 03.07.1972
American 'Country Boy' Sinatra of Soviet Union
By Jay Axelbank
MOSCOW – Pop singer Dean Reed is one of the those lucky people who always makes a strong first impression.
At 18, he won a certain renown among fellow Coloradans by defeating a mule in a 110-mile footrace.
Some years later, he charmed Chilean photographers and leftist politicians by washing an American flag in front of the U.S. Embassy in Santiago
And this year he fairly dazzled Soviet audiences by leaping athletically from the stage, grabbing the nearest pretty girl and whispering in phonetic Russian into her – and into the microphone – "You are very beautiful. Are you married?"
The tall, boyishly handsome singer with the shock of country-boy hair falling over his forehead has somehow never quite made it in the U.S. But they like him in Latin America, they let him make spaghetti Westerns in Italy and in Russia they think he's more exciting than Leonid Brezhnev, and a darn sight prettier.
On one of his Soviet tours, he drew an audience of 16,000 to the Lenin Sports Palace – a record for a concert in the U.S.S.R. This year huge billboards in Moscow screamed "Dean Reed Sings," there was standing room only for all 12 of his Moscow appearances and scalpers were getting 40 rubles ($48) for tickets. His album, issued by the Soviet recording monopoly, have sold more than 4 million copies.
"I guess you could say that I'm the Sinatra of the Soviet Union," says Reed. And wistfully, the 32-year-old singer wonders why he isn't hearing from U.S. record and movie producers.
"I know I'm controversial," he adds, "but I think a lot of people will accept me in the States because people are more tolerant these days towards those on the left, like me."
Reed's repertoire is a mixture of county Western and protest. The country part is neither purist traditional nor progressive ("Jericho" is his big hit; also popular are "Maria" and Country Boy".) But his protest songs are "progressive" as the Soviet Ministry of Culture could want. One sample goes:
"We are the Revolutionaries – As Lenin taught us to make our destiny – Ho Chi Minh and Castro, too – Have made the whole world see..."
The politics, like the love songs, are straight from the heart. "All my songs are love songs," he tells audiences. "There is the love between a man and a woman, the love of a mother for her child and the love for mankind. And if you love mankind you must protest against injustice. So my protest songs are love songs."
Political activism obsesses him. He campaigned for leftist in Uruguay. He was jailed in Argentina for entering the country illegally. He was arrested in Chile for the flag-washing incident, which took place a week before the leftist government was voted into power with a one per cent popular vote margin. According to Reed, the publicity his arrest got was the thing that swung the election to the leftists.
Privately, he will admit that the Soviet Union is not absolutely perfect. But publicly he remains steadfast.
"Whatever small errors and injustices that exist here," he says, "can be dealt with inside the party. I am a socialist. I didn't come here to criticize. The fascists would be the first to use my words against the country."
This point of view recently led him to join in the official denunciation of Nobel Prize-winning novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. And he wrote to a Soviet newspaper: "The principles on which your society is built are sane, pure and just, while the principles on which my country is built are cruel, selfish and unjust."
Isn't this going a little for? "Not at all," says Reed, "I know Solzhenitsyn has fought for freedom. But his words are used by anti-socialists everywhere. I have personal friends who are being tortured in Latin American jails because of such anti-Soviet slander."
Reed wants to come back to the U.S. to work but somehow the offers are not pouring in. He still has a family in America. His father, a retired high-school teacher, lives in Arizona and swears politically by Barry Goldwater. And his wife, a former Miss California, is on the West Coast with his three-year-old daughter. They are planning a divorce.
Most of all, he would like to make a movie in the U.S. "If Nixon is welcome in Peking, I should be welcome in Hollywood," he says. "You know, I'm really a conservative. I'm not a Maoist."
And he sings the Sinatra hit "I Did It My Way" at all his concerts. "When I sing that," he says, "I get the most emotional."