A pro-Kremlin lawmaker spawned a tsunami of scorn in Russia this week by alleging that Soviet rock star Viktor Tsoi’s Perestroika-era anthems were composed by CIA operatives trying to destabilize the Soviet regime.
Friends, acquaintances, and fans of the late frontman of the legendary band, Kino, call the claims ridiculous. But the U.S. government was keenly aware of the power of rock and roll to rattle its Cold War rival, according to Free to Rock, a new documentary that explores the impact of rock music on Soviet society.
The White House, in fact, played a hands-on role in this soft-power strategy when U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s administration helped send the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band to the Soviet Union in 1977 for the first tour of an American rock band on Soviet soil, said Jim Brown, the film’s New York-based producer. “Carter was more involved than any of us thought,” Brown told me. “He thought rock and roll could kind of undermine the system.”
Carter is one of several former officials and prominent musicians from both sides of the Iron Curtain interviewed for the film. Others include former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, whose perestroika and glasnost reforms allowed the country’s vibrant underground rock scene to explode into the mainstream in the late 1980s.
“He was a fan of Elvis Presley, he liked rock and roll,” Brown said of Gorbachev. “He felt rock was for young people and that young people wanted rock ’n’ roll. And I think he takes pride in the fact that after wasting, you know, trillions of dollars on weapons, that words and actions and culture brought these two countries together.”
Read more. [Image: Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters]