Anyone worth his or her cassette tape collection can whistle the beginning of ‘Wind of Change’, the 1990 hit by the West German heavy-metal band Scorpions. The song — with wistful lyrics such as “The world is closing in/Did you ever think/That we could be so close, like brothers,” emoted by the group’s frontman Klaus Meine — was an anthem for the stretch of history that saw the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union’s collapse. It also might be the handiwork of the CIA.
In his new, eight-part podcast — duly titled ‘Wind of Change’ — journalist Patrick Radden Keefe doggedly pursues a rumour he heard nearly a decade ago: that US intelligence officers wrote the power ballad as a tool to help end the Cold War. “On the one hand, this is an investigative story about Cold War espionage, but on the other hand, it’s about these ‘80s hair-metal guys who are inescapably absurd,” Keefe explained in an interview. “That’s the reason I hadn’t been able to cut this idea loose — the contrast between the serious aspect of it and the ridiculousness lurking at the edges.”
The podcast (produced jointly by Pineapple Street Studios, Crooked Media and Spotify) takes listeners from CIA headquarters in Virginia to a Scorpions concert last fall in Kyiv, Ukraine, and on to Berlin, St. Petersburg and Los Angeles in between. Keefe — known for his work in The New Yorker and his book about the Troubles in Belfast, ‘Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland’, which was published last year — makes references to George H.W. Bush, “Argo” and the Beach Boys alike. He’s an amiable host focused on telling an absorbing tale full of tightly edited twists and turns, and he is less concerned with connecting photos of suspects with red string.
Keefe did, however, share the words of an unnamed former clandestine officer who told him that the CIA dabbling in music wasn’t outside the realm of reason. “She said, ‘In fact, I’d be somewhat surprised if they weren’t still doing that sort of thing today.’ I’ll leave it to you to wonder which acts that might be.”