The Messenger, Athens, Ohio
Film, music star of 32 countries, virtually unknown in native U.S.
By Paul Souhrada
Look at any early 1960s issue of Billboard or Cashbox magazine, and you'll find a list of the greatest rock'n'rollers - Elvis Presley, Dean Reed, the Everly Brothers, Chuck Barry ... Wait a minute! Who's Dean Reed?
Whether its "Tutti Frutti" or an ode to Sacco and Vanzetti, millions of people all around the world love it when Dean Reed sings. Yet, as he sings in his latest single, "Nobody knows me back in my hometown."
"Who's Dean Reed?" is a popular question in the Unites States, where the guitar-playing Denver native is a relative unknown, but in 32 other countries, the internationally recognized music and film star regularly gets mobbed by thousands of fans as he walks down the street.
The reason for his obscurity here is that Reed left a budding film career behind in the ugly confines of the Hollywood scene to head for South America, where he went on to become a living folk hero.
Reed, dressed in a sport coat and turtleneck with a peace dove pendant hanging around his neck, was in Athens Wednesday for the Ohio premiere of Will Roberts film about Reed's life, "American Rebel," at the Athena Theater. Reed is now living in East Germany with his wife, filmstar Renate Blume, and one of his three children. Reed was expelled from Argentina in 1973. He has, however, retained his American citizenship.
It was in South America, during the turbulent years that saw the overthrow of Chile's President Salvador Allende and the heavy-handed reign of Augusto Pinochet that followed, that Reed became a "revolutionary artist."
An expatriate for nearly 25 years - he left the United States in 1961 - Reed has not been back to this country for more then a few weeks at time. That's hardly the way to go about building a reputation in the giant American music market.
Neither is calling yourself a Marxist and having your picture taking toting a gun around and singing "Ghost riders" to Yasser Arafat in Lebanon. Reed said after the film that he didn't know if he was official "blacklisted," but he questioned why his songs were not distributed in the United States when millions of South Americans and East Europeans have proven his marketability.
Marketability, however, is not the name of the game for Reed, who could probably have made millions of dollars had he stayed in the Unites States. Admittedly a privileged person in East Germany, he said he uses that privilege to reach the masses of the people to bring peace and justice to the world. "I don't have to fight in Chile and Nicaragua," he said. "It would be easier just to stay home."
Reed said he has the freedom to sing whatever he wants "behind the Iron Curtain." If there was ever any censorship, he said it was by "some fearful member of the bureaucracy."
"There are a lot of different freedoms," Reed said. "In the United States, you are free to be unemployed and free to fear you will not have enough to eat." Socialism does not suffer from those "freedoms," he said.
Former Athens resident Roberts spent four and a half years on the film biography. The film is still not ready for distribution - if it will be distributed. Roberts and his wife have already sold their Mill Street house and moved to Springfield to help finance the Ohio River Films project, and Roberts said he needs about $ 20,000 more.
Reed acknowledges that Socialism has its problems, but said the people in those countries want "a better Socialism, not capitalism." The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan is one of those mistakes, according to the former protester against the Vietnam war. The Soviet would like to get out, he said, if they can be assured they would not have a hostile country on their border.
Dean Reed has travelled a long road since he was called "Slim" and was named the Kinanis Club "student of the week." Reed now lives by the words of his friend and mentor, Paton Price: "defend your truth, no matter what the consequences."