Radio Netherlands 25.04.2008
Caught between homes
By Susan Stone
For some, their homeland is where they were born - chosen for them by parents, or other authority figures. For others, it's a place they chose - somewhere they feel most themselves, most connected. But sometimes people get caught in the middle.
Some might say that's what happened to American pop singer-turned socialist superstar Dean Reed. In the 1960's and 70's, Reed toured Latin America singing songs of peace, brought country music to Moscow, then moved to East Germany, where he became an ideological pop icon and movie star.
The Red Elvis
Reed is the subject of a documentary film from Germany called "The Red Elvis," that's been playing in film festivals around the world and has just come out on DVD. The film's director, Leopold Gruen, wanted to tell Reed's strange story, but also raise questions about identity and nationality, especially in the context of the once-divided Germany.
"There's a lot in this film concerned with questions of homeland, and belonging. This is a really important theme - where do I really belong? Where am I from? What role do I play? He was dealing with this throughout his whole life - this kind of restlessness."
Where to call home?
Reed's restlessness led him around the world, and helped him find success behind the Iron Curtain, but it also left him feeling unsettled. Though he often denounced the policies of his birth country very publicly, he made sure to post a small American flag in his girlfriend's apartment as reminder of home. He was loved and admired in East Germany, where he settled in 1972. But as support for the East German regime waned in the mid-1980's, so did Reed's fan base.
He was seen as a tool of that regime, and just not cool anymore, says Leopold Gruen.
"His music didn't really stand for rebellion. It was the opposite. He wasn't some kind of 'American Rebel'."
But he was a shade too rebellious for many in the USA. Dean Reed tried to make a comeback there in 1986, but he stirred more spite than sympathy when he appeared on American news magazine "60 Minutes" comparing US President Reagan to Joseph Stalin, and claiming he'd like to run for Senator in his home state of Colorado. The negative public response hit him hard, and within a few months, he took his own life at the age of 48; three years before the fall of the Berlin Wall.
A star in Germany
Though he's not well known by Germany's younger generation, or by those who grew up in West Germany, Dean Reed hasn't been forgotten. There's a fan club, several websites devoted to him, and many biographies. His story has also piqued interest in Hollywood - movie star Tom Hanks has been researching a feature film about Reed's life.