Rock & Roll, Soviet Style

Misha Daniels, who narrates much of Nothing Is Forgotten, spends part of the novel in Munich, Germany, broadcasting rock & roll into the Soviet Union. In fact, these efforts were funded by the CIA and, for me, picturing John Lennon standing beside a crew-cut spy is an endless source of amusement.

The CIA believed that rock’s driving rhythms and its celebration of the individual would encourage the younger generation suffocated by the repressive Soviet system to rebel. No doubt, the music helped, but I suspect that a yearning for freedom, in conjunction with a moribund economy and freakish political system, shattered the Soviet Union.

When I started writing Nothing Is Forgotten, I knew that the USSR had its share of rock fans in the 1960s, but not until I began reading oral histories and interviewing people who had grown up there did I understand how important the music was to millions of Soviet baby boomers—so important that they risked their freedom disseminating it by bootlegging songs from records that were smuggled into the country. Since there was a shortage of vinyl the music was recorded on old x-rays and would be known as roentgenizdat—bone music.       

Here’s a documentary: 

As I wrote my novel I often wondered if I would’ve risked going to jail to hear the Beatles. I couldn’t answer that question, not honestly. You can’t know the price you are willing to pay for a cause until you pay it.

So I kept writing and marveled at the bravery of my characters.