I saw a wonderful program on PBS a couple of nights ago, “How the Beatles Rocked the Kremlin” about the impact of The Beatles on the people of the Soviet Union. The director interviewed a lot of people, including a minister in Russia’s current government, all of whom had been fans in the 1960s when it was totally illegal. Many of them said that the Beatles’ influence was more profound in bringing about an end to the Soviet system than any thing else, including dissident writings.
There were amazing stories: people recorded tapes of Beatles songs off of Radio Luxembourg and stole used X-ray discs out of hospital trashcans; they took these to street recording booths (set up so soldiers could send audio recordings home) and made records. Bootleggers could roll the discs into a cylinder and slide them up their sleeve. People said they listened to their uncle’s ribs. Another story was of a man who made his own electric guitar just from looking at a photo of the Beatles with their instruments.
The Beatles’ music gave these people a feeling of liberation and opened their eyes to a world beyond the Soviet Union. No one mentioned the Rolling Stones and I thought it was telling that it was the positive music of the Beatles that made a difference, not the negative dark sounds of the Stones.
The film is really inspiring; not only does it show that the human spirit can never be extinguished no matter how authoritarian the political system, it’s also enlightening as to how change happens. We were all taught in our history classes that kings and presidents and wars were what were important in history. Maybe that was all wrong.
You can watch the entire hour-long program here.