Art and music are powerful tools against the establishment. And during the cold war, when Eastern European was cutoff from most of western civilization and capitalism, rock & roll’s influence couldn’t be stopped.


Here’s a transcript of our conversation:

Brittany: Hi Connor.

Connor: Hi, Brittany.

Brittany: So it is no surprise that we’re not huge fans of communism, like at all. So in fact, we’ve talked about it as being one of the worst isms There is. I mean, I can’t really think of any other worst ism except for totalitarianism, which is really just communism. So every time it’s been tried, it’s failed. We know this and it’s kept people oppressed. It’s halted the progress of prosperity and people living better lives. But if there’s one thing we like to talk about, it’s a good rebellion story. You know, we come from a country that began as a good rebellion story and people rising up in the face of tyranny. And I wanna talk about a good one today. So today’s topic, I’m gonna start with a question is how did rock and roll help strike back against communism? And I think this is a really fun topic. So during the Cold War, which we talked about, briefly, we mentioned what that is. So a Cold war is kind of a time or is a time when, when there’s no physical war, but there’s a lot of tension between different nations and maybe they’re, they’re threatening each other, but nothing actually happened. it’s like when you poke your brother and sister and you’re just like, Hey, I’m not doing anything. Or like, did you ever used to put your finger near your Oh yeah. Forehead be like, I’m gonna touch you. I’m not touching you. Yeah, I used to do that a lot.

Connor: I mean, no, I never acted that way.

Brittany: that is a cold war. You were engaging in a Cold War. So, so during this time, during the Cold War, there was something called the Iron Curtain. And the Iron Curtain was like this dividing line that separated Europe into two parts. So there was Western ideology in one part, and then there was Eastern ideology on the other. And Connor, can you kind of explain the difference between what these two are?

Connor: Yeah. You know, the, it’s difficult to generalize cuz when you, when you generalize, you can perhaps oversimplify, but the simple version is the Western ideology was kind of the American led, you know, pro-capitalism, pro-democracy, quote unquote pro-freedom, type of view. And then, the kind of eastern ideology was led by the Soviet Union, which is, you know, they have, communism and Marxism and they have central control and the state kind of overpowering everything. And so really the very, very simple way to think of it as kind of the state versus the individual. You had the Western ideology was people should be free and, individuals matter. And then people on the, on the eastern ideology, kind of the Soviet Union was, you know, that the state is what matters and people should be controlled and they should serve the state. So very, very roughly speaking, that’s how you can divide the two up.

Brittany: I think that’s a good explanation. In fact, this is not for younger kids, I’d say for older teens and, parents out there. There’s a great German movie called Goodbye Lenin. That does a really good job. It’s about the Cold War and Eastern, kind of the conflicting beliefs and the young people. And I think that a great companion to this episode, but maybe watch it first and decide what age or what, you know if you want your kids to see it. But on the eastern side of the Iron Curtain, Western fashion and music like American music and fashion and art were not allowed because people saw this as dangerous. It was a threat. Right. But that didn’t stop the young people from sneaking it into their culture anyway.

Connor: Didn’t that happen with like blue jeans as well?

Brittany: Yes, that was part of it. Denim became like how we think of like drugs on the black market or things you’re not allowed to have. There was like a black market for blue jeans because denim was huge. It was all the rage as they said, but they weren’t allowed to watch it. Honestly, we could do a whole other episode just on jeans in the Soviet Union, but it was also music. It was a lot of.

Connor: Well, yeah, and, like this was like peak like rock and roll time in the world, right? And America and Western countries. And like, I mean, you think about the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, and this is like spreading throughout all these western nations. And, you know, there were a lot of adults in America that were scared about the influence of rock and roll over the youth. It was seen as rebellious. It was harder than by harder I mean kinda like faster and louder and so forth than the music of the past, which was kind of slower and folksier and, you know, it was encouraging young people to dress edgy. And, so you can imagine, you know, how much, this was feared behind the iron curtain where, you know, all westernism, were feared and rock and roll was perceived as a threat, certainly to the tight control and conformity of, kind of the Eastern ideology.

Brittany: That’s exactly right. And, communist leaders tried to shelter the young people from this, and they called it I think it was American, prim capitalist, cultural imperialism. Like they were trying to sling all these names and try to tell the youth, I say the youths like, I’m like 80 the youth that this was, you know, a bad thing. And actually, those caught sneaking the music into the country, or even some of them listening were sometimes arrested. This was a very big deal. And a lot of it is because it represented like you said, Connor self-expression. This was individuality in action. And that’s a threat to the collectivist ways of communism. And so that’s why a lot of times people say if we look through the history, which we’re about to do rock and roll and jazz killed communism.

Connor: Well, and it wasn’t just rock and roll, I think jazz, was also seen as a threat. there was an aid to Stalin, kind of the head honcho of the Soviet Union. and this aid warned that jazz would, poison the consciousness of the masses even went so far as to say that like the saxophone, which I used to That’s right. And drums. He said they provided too much rhythm. like what does that even mean? And so they banned jazz performances. This was, I think in the forties right after the end of World War II. And, you know, jazz records that would come into the country were often seized at the border. You’d have East German leaders who would encourage so-called civilized dancing with no excessive movement of the hips, arms, or legs. Like they’re getting so controlling that. They’re trying to say, oh no, your arm is swinging too much. We can’t have that. But it’s because this dancing and this music was perceived as this self-expression and encouraging too much individualism, not conformity. Think of like North Korea when they’re doing their big military marches and everything was in sync, right? The central planners love when like a machine, every little screw and cog and part of the machine is doing exactly what they want. And so the central planners want conformity. But when people are, you know, going out, and I know you dance a lot, I do Brittany, and you know, like you’re out there and you’re just flinging your arms, I’m slinging my arms and you know, you’re, dancing to the beat of your own drums, as they might say, right? And, that’s a very individual expression. So you can see why the central planners feared it.

Brittany: What’s funny about it is, like in America, when you look at this history, a lot of the parents in America feared it too. You know, Elvis, people like Elvis who we’d look at now is like, oh, Elvis is boring. Like kids today would probably say that Elvis was very edgy back in the day. And now you take that mentality and times it by a million and that’s how it was over, you know, behind the iron curtain. So, it time went on, the communist leaders ended up having to soften the rules, honestly, because they couldn’t stop it. Like the kids weren’t listening to them, they were doing it anyway. They were defying orders even when they faced prison time, they didn’t care. They wanted the music, they wanted the fashion, they wanted that individuality. So to fight back against this, you know, revolt of the youth, Eastern European leaders tried to promote their own traditional music at dancing, which was like folksy think like Sound of Music, Adal Vice, like like there was like that kinda music. And they’re like, come on, kids like bop to this Bob was what they used to call dancing. I don’t know why I turned to an 80-year-old but again, the kids just were into western fashion and music and dancing. And of course, the leaders blamed America, juvenile delinquency as they called it for it, and or called it. And remember this was when there was a lot of protests going on and people in America were starting to rise up events against their government. And so, you know, the communist leaders were thinking like, Ugh, this is America’s fault because there’s all this protesting and, youth crime and you know, there’s other instigation against the government now it’s happening in East Germany. And so it became more widespread throughout the fifties and sixties and it just became something they couldn’t stop.

Connor: Well, so then, you know, I think of when the sixties began, it was easier to get these like tape recorders back in the day, reel-to-reel tape recorders as they were called. And so there were a lot more people who had access to music. You know, one newspaper even went so far as to warn the epidemic of body and vulgar songs copied from tape recorders is spreading faster than a flu virus which is funny to think about in like COVID Yeah. Faster than the COVID virus. We have music being shared from, you know, one person to another. But again, that kind of plays into, the individuality of all of this and how disruptive it was to the controllers and, you know, part of the significance of the Berlin Wall.

Brittany: Which we never really talked about. What is, can you explain real quick, ’cause we’re gonna do a whole episode on this later, but what exactly is the Berlin Wall, just like a quick, definition?

Connor: Yeah, I mean, it was literally a wall that separated when World War II ended. And, Germany was basically carved up into different pieces. And then in the city of Berlin, they carved up Berlin as well. And so even though Berlin was, as I recall it was in the site of, east Germany and therefore the Soviet Union, the capital city itself was split up. And so the West had a chunk of Berlin that they had access to kind of, you know, fly into and be controlling it. It was very odd how they kind of carved up Germany Yeah. At the end of the war to try and split things up so that the Nazis could not kind of, you know, restart their process. They really wanted to kind of divide it up and separate all these things. And so, they had literally this wall with barbed wire and guard dogs and snipers and people from East Germany could not escape. You know, they basically walled people in, they didn’t want them leaving to go to the west. so very, very interesting. You find all kinds of videos and information about this, but part of the reason for this wall was literally to keep this so-called bad influence out of Eastern Europe. And you know, of course not even a wall could stop kids from enjoying American culture. If there’s, one way to make something more appealing to oppressed youth, it’s to ban it, right? Like, tell people you can’t have this and they’re gonna go to great lengths to figure out how to do it. And, in a way, communist leaders, by trying to restrict things so much, were really kind of helping rock and roll become more popular because the youth were trying to rebel against their oppressive leaders. And music was a kind of a safe way, quote-unquote, that they could do it relative to, you know, getting a Molotov cocktail and throwing it at like a, at a police station or something.

Brittany: No, That’s exactly right. And it almost seemed like the more communists cracked down, the more, you know, the young people became obsessed with it. Like it didn’t stop. So there’s an article from Pacific Legal Foundation that highlights this history and there was a quote from the article that says, when authorities attempt to shut down, or when they attempted to shut down rock concerts behind the Iron Curtain attendee started rioting. Meanwhile, the soulful grooves, like the sound of disco music are the newest threat to communist rules. What they were saying in Lavia, one newspaper even called Disco clubs, which is like dance music, incubators of violence. And this is all because again, people are flinging their and dancing, but oh my goodness, how dare they dance to anything that wasn’t, you know, German folk music.

Connor: Incubators of violence. You know, I think of, excuse me, as the 1980s began, you know, a lot of the leaders by this time started to realize, you know, that, that the culture around music and the music itself, like they were too powerful to try and defeat. And, so eventually many of the laws were relaxed. And, it’s very interesting, as you’ve pointed out here, as we’ve discussed, like the music in a way started this revolution. it empowered people to push back. it led to this broader, relaxation of laws. And, before the 1980s came to an end, the Berlin Wall came down the east and the west were united. it didn’t take long for so-called Western culture to spread like wildfire once the east, you know, saw all these things that they liked and the benefits that a freer market provided. And, you know, not just the cultural things like music, but just, you know, products and services and food and gadgets and toys and clothing and all these things. And, so these things spread like wildfire. And I think it’s a very interesting lesson for us about the power of ideas, cuz music is really about ideas and, especially when you think of that self-expression, the power of individuality being your own person, being able to, you know, grab a saxophone or, a set of drums and, create something of your own that is a powerful act of defiance against the state that wants to control you and only allow you to do what it wants and, can control. And those ideas are powerful and can even defeat dictatorships and Communist Soviet Union.

Brittany: That’s the thing I think we forget a lot of the time, is that music and culture play a huge role in influencing and, changing politics. You know, parents were scared of the Beatles, the government was scared of the Beatles because they thought like, oh no, this group is getting too powerful. They’re too, you know, they’re too anti-war. So, music and art, they, it’s a big challenge to the government and, its one that you can do without violence. So a lot of cool lessons in this story. I think another thing that I always really love to point out, and we pointed this out in the tragic story of the white rose as well, is that young people can make a difference. I think we forget about that a lot of the time and a lot of people think I’m too young to make a difference, but just by dancing, just by listening to music, and wearing blue jeans, these young people were able to essentially end the Cold War. So I think that’s a really important lesson to take from this story.

Connor: Pretty impressive. Guys. Head to the show notes page for more information about the topic we’ve discussed today, Thank you as always for listening. We really appreciate it, Britney. Great conversation. until next time, we’ll talk to you later.

Brittany: Talk to you later.