‘FREE TO ROCK’ breaks down social reform through music

Jim Brown Productions



Billy Joel performs in concert at Philadelphia’s Citizen Bank Park. ( BEN MIKESELL / Staff Photographer )

Logan Sasser, Staff Writer

During UNC Wilmington’s annual Communications Studies Week, Producer and Author Doug Yeager came to show and discuss a documentary called “FREE TO ROCK.” The documentary, directed by four-time Emmy winning filmmaker Jim Brown and narrated by Kiefer Sutherland, is a documentary about the significant impact rock music had on the demise of the communist system behind the iron curtain and the Soviet Union.

Before this documentary, there had been very little research related to the cultural impact of rock music during the Cold War’s Western versus Eastern era and the role this music played in fueling a youth revolution behind the iron curtain that challenged the Soviet government. Not only did this music change the culture forever, but it also contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union according to the film’s interview subject, President Jimmy Carter.

Doug Yeager, the co-executive producer/co-producer and co-writer of the original story of the film, worked on this film for over ten years. Yeager, who has been involved in the music industry since the mid-1960s, used his experience managing and producing artists in America and Europe, as well as producing events in the Soviet Union, to bring important knowledge about the inner workings of the music industry in America and the Ministry of Culture in the USSR.

The film was designed to highlight the personal experiences of artists who toured the Soviet Union during the Cold War era and of the iron curtain rockers they inspired who braved the long and dangerous 35-year struggle with the Ministry of Culture and the KGB.  The film clearly demonstrates the impact that rock music and its culture had in weakening the communist controlled states of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.

Also, included in the documentary is information about people who risked their lives to bring rock music into the Soviet Union. Stories of the infamous “bone records,” which were records created using left-over X-ray film, and of one Latvian rocker, Valery Saifudinov, who successfully created the first Soviet electric guitar and formed the first Soviet rock band, are included. They highlight the dedication and passion the Soviet and iron curtain youth possessed in bringing rock music to their fellow teens despite the serious threats from their government.

As the film neared its end, a major KGB general stated, “One of the best ways to topple or erode or weaken an opposite system is through ideological offenses…through cultural offense.  This is precisely what happened during the Cold War that caused the collapse of the Soviet Union.”

In relationship to the documentary, it is important to consider the current political atmosphere of modern-day hip hop in the United States. It has long been said that hip hop is this generation’s rock music, in terms of influence and popularity.

Many hip-hop artists have used their platform to express social injustices such as police brutality and racism, much like rock musicians in the documentary. Recent examples of this include the album “All-American Bada$$” by Joey Badass, which is a conceptual album about the state of African American culture in the United States, and Kendrick Lamar, who released “To Pimp A Butterfly,” another conceptual album designed to examine and evaluate the nature of black poverty and other racial issues in the United States.

“FREE TO ROCK” also contains interviews from very prominent rock artists during the Cold War era, such as The Beach Boys, Billy Joel, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, the Scorpions from the West, as well as Pete Anderson, Stas Namin, Andrey Makarevich, and the Plastic People of the Universe from the East. In addition, the film shows Presidents Jimmy Carter and Mikhail Gorbachev from the USA and the USSR.  The film includes interviews from former Eastern European diplomats and a KGB major general, who provide a unique insight to those things going on behind the scenes of the youth movement, and the harsh efforts the Soviet government took to stop it.

In addition, the film provides stunning historic live performances by Elvis, the Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, Cyndi Lauper, and Metallica, along with the iron curtain rockers.  Certain artists, such as the Plastic People of the Universe were sent to prison, while Pete Anderson was beaten nearly to death by the KGB, who also threatened the security of his family if he chose to continue performing rock & roll music.