Shouldn't Jim's term "detective biography" be changed to "defective biography" since that
is what it really is?
Tony Williams, January 22, 2010
Isn't it weird that two Americans named Reed - John Reed and Dean Reed - became cultural
footnotes in the history of the USSR. Reggie Nadelson's 'detective' biography of Dean,
Comrade Rockstar (1991) is a compelling read.
Jim Greenhalf, January 21, 2010
There's a reason why there are several offers at amazon for this title at $0.01 -- it's a
terrible book, narcissistic about the travails of the author more than anything substantive
about Dean Reed.
Rock 'n' Roll Radical
is the book to get. There are a few
performances on YouTube,
my favorite that shows his talent is a duo with one of the
Everley Brothers in East Berlin.
And what a stupid comment by the reviewer in the official blurb, by one Joanne Wilkinson
writing for the American Library Association: "an American whose politics were identical with
those of a Kremlin bureaucrat." Guess that makes anyone radicalized by the horror of crushing
poverty in Latin America easy to dismiss because a functionary in the competing empire is happy
to point out the problem as well. The Cold War mindlessness dies hard. After all, that's why
the bumpersticker "Who's Dean Reed?" is still relevant.
T.M. Scruggs, amazon.com, November 13, 2009
Dean Reed's life is fascinating -- racing a mule across Colorado, getting a record deal from a
random hitchhiker's tip en route to California, a hit record in Uruguay, living in East Germany,
making cowboy films with Czech actors -- and this book unravels a fair amount of what's known
of the elusive, enigmatic star.
The problem, for some readers (including me), is it's more a story of the author -- including
some tired images of frightening Cold War-era border guards and bad hotels. Many of the Dean
Reed quotes listed in the book actually are directly lifted from the early '80s documentary
'The American Rebel.'
Often these are told as if discovered by the author herself (Reggie's a woman), going through
Soviet TV shows and press clippings and translating from Russian. A little lazy.
Another tragedy of the book -- and Dean's life is ultimately cast as quite sad -- is how the
author neglects to discuss, investigate, mention very many of Dean's works, particularly his
music. There's talk of a
Wounded Knee film
he had hoped to create at the time of his mysterious death, but otherwise she dismisses his
fairly interesting '70s pop songs in one swipe. You wonder if she had heard any. Again, a bit lazy.
Glad to have read it, and some will be happy enough to follow Reggie through the old Eastern
Bloc, but it's a little light. I hope to get something meatier at some point.
Robert Edward Reid, Brooklyn, amazon.com, December 25, 2008
I really wanted to like this book, but as it stands it is more about the author's search for
Dean Reed than it is about Dean Reed himself. The author could have given more real detail
about Reed, but instead she writes about her travels and the folks she meets along the way.
You can read pages, almost chapters, and learn nothing about Reed. The book is dated,
copyrighted 1991, and I was there in 1991 in the former Soviet Union, but the author practices
her prose more than writing a biography. If you really want a Dean Reed biography check out
"Rock and Roll Radical" by Chuck Laszewski.
Sorry Ms. Nadelson, your book is a dog.
WGS, amazon.com, December 27, 2007
I agree with Irina's
comment since I read the first version of COMRADE ROCKSTAR in 1991,
viewed the Roberts documentary,
and wrote "Dean Reed as Jack London"
in the last issue of the
JACK LONDON NEWSLETTER 21.1-3 (1988). This looks like a very interesting site.
Tony Williams, July 30, 2007
I read this book when it first appeared and wrote a damning letter to its author. It is little
better than a smear job by someone who can not understand the sincere motivations which guided
this talent and unfortunately led to his tragic end. Reed deserves much better!
Tony Williams, Carbondale, amazon.com, July 29, 2007
The Rise and Fall of Dean Reed, American Communist Rock Star
The title got me the moment after I saw it. This book sketches out the life of Dean Reed, who went from
being a potential star in LA of the 1950s and then moved to
to begin his rise to a superstar behind the Red Curtain in the 60s, 70s and into the 80s. Dean was a
true believer in socialism and he fully supported the USSR and East Germany, and went so far as to
defend the Berlin Wall and Communism during an interview with Mike Wallace for 60 Minutes.
Finding that his career was sagging with Perestroika, he began to put together a
movie about the Wounded Knee
and had plans to return to the US. Then, in 1986 Dean died under very mysterious and strange circumstances,
his death officially being ruled an accident.
Nadelson interviews all the main players in Dean's life and gives you a good taste of what it is. She
also talks about what it was like to be in East Germany, USSR and the Czech Republic during the times
she interviewed those people between 1988 and 1990. Weaving the threads of Dean's life between her
travelogue, the book is very compelling and an interesting look into the fall of Communism and the rise
and fall of Dean Reed. The book is well written and very easy to digest. I could hardly put it down
since I wanted to know more about Dean. Some parts of Dean's life are skimmed over, especially his time
in Latin America between 1960 and 1966, but the author admits she was more interested in Dean in the USSR
and East Germany, where she was able to get more information and material for her book and where her main
According to the book's last chapter,
has optioned it for a movie. So far, nothing has been done with it, although some of
is coming out in February 2007. If you want to read a look into a strange and fascinating life during
some very interesting times, read this book.
J. Dilworth, Reno, amazon.com, January 21, 2007
The curious tale of "rock star" Dean Reed
I was immediately attracked by the premise of the book: how does American Dean Reed end up in the USSR
and later East Germany, and become a huge "rock star" in the Communist zone during the 70s and early 80s?
I am a pretty big rock music fan, and I had never heard of Dean Reed until I read this book.
In "Comrade Rockstar" (333 pages), author Reggie Nadelson brings the life story of Dean Reed, and also
writes a travel book of what her experiences were traveling in those countries in the late 80s (before
the Berlin Wall fell) while doing research for the book. It is the research part that I have some doubts
about, as the suthor brushes over large parts of Reed's life. (Compare this, for example, to the
pain-staking reasearch done by Bob Spitz for his recent "The Beatles: The Biography" book...) That said,
having visited the USSR myself in the mid-80s, I very much enjoyed the author's observations on how life
was in the USSR and East Germany in the late 80s. My main criticism of the book is that it is never
really clear to me how exactly Reed became such a big star in the communist block. Reed died in 1986
under mysterious circumstances: was it suicide? was it a KGB hit? some other sucpicious interference?
The final conclusions on this from the author (which I won't spoil here) come across entirely reasonable
Finally, it should be noted that this book was first published in England in 1991. Now 15 years later,
it is released in the US as well. Why? Because none other than
has bought the movie rights to the book. We'll have to see if it ever does reach the silver screen,
but in the meantime we now can at least enjoy the book for ourselves.
Paul Allaer, Cincinnati, amazon.com, September 2, 2006
A Truly Intriguing Story About a Rock Star More Americans Should Know
'Comrade Rockstar' is a genuine page-turner. I literally couldn't put it down until I finished it.
Ms. Nadelson paints a vivid picture of Eastern Europe ∧ Russia during the Cold War. She likewise
gives readers a glimpse of the world of Soviet rock and roll. Music fans and history fans alike should
love this book.
On top of all this is the compelling figure of Dean Reed himself. A product of 1950s America, this cross
between Frankie Avalon and John Denver ended up being the biggest rock star East of the Berlin wall.
Through Nadelson's studied though accessible prose, I came to feel like I knew Dean Reed - warts and all.
Was Reed a Communist turncoat or simply a politically naive sucker who ended up being Mother Russia's
pet American? By the end of 'Comrade Rockstar', you'll have the answer to this question. And as hard as
resisting the urge to read ahead was, the real-life "cliffhanger" ending was worth the wait.
Reggie Nadelson has written a fine, balanced biography of a musician more Americans should know.
I recommend it highly.
Bartleby the Scrivener, Mayberry, amazon.com, July 26, 2006
The Biggest Rock Star Nobody Knows
Often, customers and coworkers at the Spendorama Department Store make me feel like Charlton Heston
in "Planet of the Apes". When that happens, I save my sanity by spending my dinner break at a small
bookstore in the mall.
It was there, among the stacks of sudoku books and manga anthologies, that I ran across the most
intriguing biography I've read in a long time: Reggie Nadelson's Comrade Rockstar: The Life and
Mystery of Dean Reed, the All-American Boy who Brought Rock n' Roll to the Soviet Union
(Walker & Company, $14.95). I literally could not put this book down until I'd read the whole damned thing.
Dean Reed, Ms. Nadelson writes, started out typically enough. Born in 1938 to middle class parents,
Reed was raised, "Leave It to Beaver"-style, in a small town near Denver, Colorado. In adolescence,
the handsome lad discovered he could carry a tune — and how this talent, when coupled with a guitar,
could draw females like syrup draws flies. After spending a few summers honing his performing skills
in local venues, Reed packed up his six-string and headed for Hollywood. Young Dean meant to be the
next Elvis, or at least the next Ricky Nelson.
Arriving in California in 1959, Reed lived out the fantasy of countless show biz hopefuls. In short
order, he snagged a recording contract with Capitol Records and a screen test with Warner Brothers Studios.
To sharpen his budding acting chops, the WB enrolled the boy in a class taught by master thespian
Paton Price, where Reed's fellow students included the Smothers Brothers, Jean Seberg and the
Everly Brothers. The vaunted Warner/Capitol publicity machine began cranking out interviews with,
articles about and 8" X 10" glossies of the star-in-waiting. Success seemed to be within Reed's reach.
But fate can be fickle. By 1961, hard work, Capitol and the WB had brought Reed nothing but one minor
pop hit, a bunch of flops and a guest appearance on a now-forgotten sitcom. Just when he was ready to quit,
Reed learned that one of his records was perched at the top of the charts in Chile. Yes, in South America.
For the hell of it, Reed hopped a plane to Santiago to see what the fuss was about.
The crowd which greeted Dean Reed in Chile, writes Nadelson, made the throng that met the Beatles in
New York in 1964 look pitiful by comparison. Seizing the day, Capitol Records sent Reed out on a concert tour
of Chile, Argentina and neighboring countries, where he played to packed houses. Recognizing which side
of the bread his butter was on, Reed learned Spanish and moved to Buenos Aires. Dean Reed records sold faster
than those of any other rocker, including Elvis. Popular movies and a TV show followed. In Latin America
in the early 1960's, this Colorado crooner was the king of rock n' roll.
If the story had ended there, it would've been no big deal. As David Hasselhoff can tell you, many American
entertainers find success far from home. But under the tutelage of liberal activist Paton Price, Reed had
developed a "conscience", as well as a desire to use his fame to help his fellow man. In South America,
Nadelson explains, Reed witnessed widespread poverty and abuse of the poor by governments that were supposedly
bankrolled by the United States. The experience radicalized the singer, transforming him into a left-winger
and an outspoken critic of his native land. He incorporated political material into his act and often
performed benefit concerts for like-minded organizations. Reed dubbed himself a "socialist". Stateside,
the favored term was "pinko".
By the mid-1960's, Reed had been driven out of South America for his leftist beliefs. For a time,
he settled in Rome; he put his acting skills and American looks to good use by starring in a series of
Italian "spaghetti" Western movies. He was also active in the anti-Vietnam War movement. By the end of the
decade, Reed had moved to East Berlin and into the apex of his career.
In the 1970's, Dean Reed was one of the Communist world's premier stars. His albums of American rock,
folk and country standards were gobbled up like auditory forbidden fruit. His films and TV shows,
many of which he directed himself, were received with similar enthusiasm. Reed was the first American
rock singer to tour the Soviet Union, and he did so annually. The highlight of a Reed concert, Nadelson writes,
was the point at which he'd venture out into the audience, serenade a young beauty and treat her to a peck
on the cheek. Tame stuff in the West, for sure. But to the stoic Russians, it was delightfully risque.
Imagine how teenaged Natasha must've swooned: "He's dreamy, talented and a loyal Marxist, too!"
Just when you think you know where this story is headed, Nadelson reveals another factoid that keeps
you guessing. For example, Reed was a true-blue Red, a guy who rubbed elbows with the likes of Chile's
Salvador Allende, Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega, Russia's Leonid Brezhnev and
Palestine's Yasser Arafat — all professed enemies of America. Yet, the singer held on to his U.S. passport,
filed a tax return with the I.R.S. each year and publicly described himself as "a good American".
Watching Nadelson sort through the many contradictions of Reed's life makes for an enriching reading experience.
If you want to learn more, and there's lots more, read Comrade Rockstar. I'm not revealing too much
by saying that Reed is not able to give his side of the story. In 1986, the 48-year old died in in East Berlin.
The official cause of death was "a swimming accident". Those who knew Reed well, though, rejected this
conclusion outright and maintained that foul play of a political nature was involved. Today, all of
Dean Reed's albums are out of print. And now, as then, he remains almost completely unknown in his home country.
Reggie Nadelson has told well the tale of a man who exemplified the pitfalls of vanity, idealism and
John Left, johnleftfield.blogspot.com, August 8, 2006
Three Chords That Shook The World
Not very well written, this book was apparently written and published about 15 years back, and now
reissued with some minor updating by the author, based on
interest in producing a movie version of Dean Reed's life. Author Nadelson, in an engaging foreward,
thanks Oscar winner Hanks for making it all happen for her. But others will feel they are paying 2006
prices for a 1991 book, that feels like it was written under water by s wildly imaginative journalist
who thinks her every musing worth capturing in stone.
She did an okay job in tracking down many who had known Dean Reed, even
and legendary rock figures from the 1950s who had known like
and folks beyond the Iron Curtain. The truth is that Dean Reed was hardly well known in the USA when he
defected, and the scandal might have been bigger if he had been a bona fide star but basically he was a
nothing, a never was, and it took the combined talents of the Politburo and the Russian film studios to
push Dean Reed into the big time. Nadelson cleverly observes that his astonishing resemblance to US actor
Kurt Russell helped his career in Russia and East Germany. Reed made eight or nine
hard to come by in the USA. Not all of them were propaganda pictures, some of them mere
"spaghetti Westerns," but all of them - at least the ones I've seen - have a certain charm, for Reed had
the fragile screen presence of a Brandon de Wilde, you wanted to shield him from the troubles of this world.
In real life he was a serial cheater and a man with a priapic libido who made love to four women every
day. Nadelson's biography would have been much better if she had seen fit to leave out the details of
her "Wuest for Corvo" investigation, for her observations about her travels in Perestroika era Moscow
reveal she's no Rebecca West; it's like watching someone's endless home movies about visiting a grim place.
Kevin Killian, San Fancisco, amazon.com, July 18, 2006
Also nun gibt es auch die tschechische Übersetzung
zu diesem Buch unter BB art Verlag. Ich war unlängst in Prag beim Frühlingstreffen
mit Vasek Neckar und seinem Bruder Jan
und dabei ist mir das Buch "Soudruh Rock'n'Roll" von Reggie Nadelson, org. "Comrade Rockstar"
in die Hände gefallen. Diese Amerikanerin beschreibt darin den schweren Weg von 1986 bis 1991,
um der Todesursache von Dean auf der Spur zu kommen. Sie bereist Moskau, Ost-Berlin, Prag und Hawaii.
Dabei erzählt das Buch auch ein ganzes Kapitel von der Freundschaft von Vasek und Dean.
Bin wirklich überrascht was für einen nachhaltigen Eindruck
Dean Reed vor allem nach seinem zu frühen Tod hinterlassen hatte, dass sich sogar
Journalisten auf Weltreise wegen ihm begeben.
Silvia Linhart, 23. Mai 2006
Back in the day, I was doing my bit to help Our Russian Friends take their full place in
today's global economy by drilling the past participles, showing them how to stick their tongues
out to pronounce "th" and extensive in-class use of find-a-words.
One day we were
killing time consolidating new structures by asking and answering
"Who's/what's/where's the [superlative] ...?" questions, one of which was "Who's the most famous
person you've met?" One middle aged studentka, let's call her Olga, if for no other reason than that
was actually her name, replied brightly:
D ..... ?
Dean Reed, it turns out. The Red Elvis. The most famous American in the USSR. The man who took rock and roll
behind the iron curtain. Friend to Phil Everly and assorted dictators, and maybe murdered by the Stasi.
Well, maybe not. I recently read the very engaging Comrade Rockstar: In Search of Dean Reed by Reggie Nadelson.
Music, politics, showbiz, dreams fulfilled and dreams devastated. What's not to like?
Picture this. All American boy nicknamed Slim from Wheat Ridge Colorado sets out for Hollywood
in the late '50s and somewhere along the way picks up a ragged looking hitchhiker. Bum says, hey,
I've got contacts in the music biz out there. You give me a new pair of trousers and money for a hotel room
and I'll pass on your name. Yeah, sure but Dean helps him out anyway. Turns out the guy knows
primo producer at Capitol and suddenly Dean has a contract. Classic showbiz story, or what? The rest is
hardly less remarkable. Off to South America to capitalise on a small pop hit he discovers two things:
leftist politics and how he loves to be adored by a crowd. The Communist Johnny Cash is born.
Nadelson recounts her story of researching a BBC docudrama on Reed (which never happened) but the search
becomes more personal as she seeks to untangle the contradictions across three countries. It's not a
straight biography in that way, which is good and Nadelson's observations of Reed, his various women,
fans, friends, assorted Communist Bloc hucksters are rather astute and often amusing. Her take on the
politics is totally unsentimental thank god and since her journey covers the ten years up to and just
after the fall of the Berlin Wall there's atmosphere to burn.
It's easy to be cynical about Reed. I mean, you've got a choice be a bit player on the Warners lot or
feted as a god by half the world. Talk about selling out for success. I've got a Dean Reed CD and its
competant, sometimes pleasant, soft rock. Even an Aussie connection with a cover of
'Rock & Roll I Gave You the Best Years of my Life'
(but the Beatles medley is atrocious). He's got a nice voice, a nice face (if you like that square jawed
Troy McLure thing) and wore cowboy boots, so exotic they may have seduced the Soviet Union all by
themselves. But he could probably only be a star in that place and that time.
Still, being arrested a couple of times singing
songs on the streets of Santiago is hardly the work of a complete opportunist.
Reed died "in mysterious circumstances" in the lake behind his home in East Berlin in 1986.
Many are (were) convinced it was the work of the Stasi. Or the KGB. Or the CIA. Or all three.
Or someone else. Anything but an accident or self-inflicted.
dismisses the idea of suicide since "men who laugh like that don't kill themselves." Well, yeah Phil,
they do. The real reason people can't accept it is that for such an extraordinary life,
it is such an ordinary end.
If you don't know about DR already, you may soon since
bought the rights to this book. He's slated to play the lead but he's getting a bit long in the tooth
and is anyway not the square jawed All American type you'd require. Me, I reckon there is only one
candidate: TV's Ronn Moss.
Amanda, flopearedmule.blogspot.com, February 2, 2006
The book I am reading is Reggie Nadelson's "Comrade Rockstar". It is enjoyable - and illuminating,
but I have some criticisms of it. Nadelson has been quoted as saying, "I think he was pretty
pleased with himself and he was a tremendous politically naive. I think he didn't get it and never
got it and saw things exactly as he saw them for 20 years. I think he was very stubborn and very
set in his ways."
Nadelson is a product of middle class radicalism, having grown up in Greenwich Village, New York.
She states quite early in her book that she had "got over" her lefty roots. I guess as a well paid
journalist and author and someone the system was working for, she could not see beyond her
circumstances to see that Reed was a genuine voice of the oppressed. He sought celebrity, yes - like
many young Americans in the 1950's - but when he found celebrity, it was with the oppressed peoples
of South America - people oppressed by the country he was from and he wanted to do something about it.
Politically naive? I would say a cosseted middle class reporter from Greenwich Village could be accused of that.
I would also say that Reed, who physically fought for and was jailed and deported for his
revolutionary beliefs; was slandered and reviled by the right wing in the US, used his celebrity not
to feed his face or ply himself with drugs, but to help free his fellow men from the slavery and
oppression that is capitalism.
Unfortunately the rights of the movie of his life have been bought by none other than
Again, I think the treatment of this icon of socialism will be harsh. Few of these self enriching
stars and personalities criticise each other for greed and over indulgence (see the reverential
treatment of the destructive, right-wing 'patriot' Elvis). However, prepare yourself to see a
movie about a naive and self promoting proponent of the crumbling Soviet system - something, in my
opinion, that could not be further from the truth.
Reed said of himself, "South America changed my life because there one can see the justice and
injustice, or poverty and wealth. They are so clear that you must take a stand. I was not a capitalist,
nor was I blind. And there I became a revolutionary."
Neil Scott, thedrink.blog.com, January 22, 2006
Am reading now the book called "Comrade Rockstar: in search of Dean Reed" by American
woman called Reggie Nadelson whose documentary of the same title I have seen (it was
her English mate Leslie who nearly ate me alive when I disagreed with him that Dean
commited a suicide!)
Dean and his life deserve a far better book than this one as the woman who wrote it
is a rabid anti-communist full of narrow-minded prejudges about Soviet Union etc, even
though she hasn't been there in Soviet days and has really no idea what it was like
then. But of course, she THINKS she knows it all! How typical for a Westerner! The
Western "democractic" value of "tolerance" apparently does not apply to people's chosen
different life style and different system.
She also choses whom to speak to in Russia - there, she takes seriously only comments
of those whom we called "otshchepenec" - "renegade". Obviously, they give her the answers
that she wants to hear! And if any of her respondents give her not the answers she had
hoped to hear, she simply disregards them by making all sorts of disgusting remarks.
Most of us loved Dean Reed exactly for who he was as a person and for his ideals and
his struggle in combination with his talent, energy and charisma - but not simply for
where he was from, and certainly not because we, "the uncivilized Russian savages" (that
is how she sees us!), were looking up to "fantastic America", as she blatantly claims.
Oh yes, there were certainly those who would sell their mother for a pair of American
Levy's, but they were a tiny minority, while this lady represents them like "the voice
of the nation"!
Why write about the man at all, if you hate so much everything he stood for and
everything he was fond of?