Let’s get serious for a moment.
Radiolab blows me away any time a new episode is put up, but this one hit a little closer to home than usual. Because I love music, and I was born in a repressive, communist country. While I wasn’t alive for the fall of the Berlin wall or was old enough to appreciate the magnitude of the Soviet Union crumbling, I do appreciate hearing the stories of those who did, just because heritage and history and all that. A common theme running through many countries whose governments met an unfortunate end is the availability of new information, often western information… and western music.
Like Led Zeppelin. And Nirvana. And in Eastern Europe where my family’s from, The Beatles.
Switching gears, Cuba is a total mystery to me, history classes taught me about those commies down South whose cigars aren’t allowed in the US. That’s, about it. But I was instantly hooked on this story when the man they’re profiling started talking about how he would sit on a friend’s roof with a radio listening to the music coming out of Florida – a common DIY theme with many Eastern Europeans and Russians who would constantly tinker with electronics to try and get any sort of media, whether music or television, that was coming out of Western Europe beyond the Iron Curtain and their governments’ control. Because this was an era where isolation information through the media was possible. Until the radio, anyway, which was cheap and more available, and open to modification. People tinkered their way into music, shared it, and while the spread of music was the not the cause of regimes toppling, it was one of the major channels for toppling ideologies. It blatantly pointed out how much better life could be.
This is how this story starts out, but then takes a bloody turn in Cuba. A really depressing, bloody turn. So block out half an hour, and listen to the full story, “Los Frikis,” on Radiolab. And if you’re interested in some of the Cuban punk rock that resulted, check out this PRI article.