This is a very special series for Winds of Change.NET. Thanks to the cooperation of Andrαs Bacsi and the Hungarian Embassy in Washington, Hungarian Ambassador Andras Simonyi's speech at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland on November 8, 2003 ("Rocking for the Free World: How Rock Music Helped to Bring Down the Iron Curtain") is being featured here on Winds of Change.NET as a Guest Blog.
Ambassador Simonyi's speech tells a very personal story of music and freedom, and the enduring relationship between the two. The ideas he refers to remain every bit as relevant today, and touch on topics addresed here in articles like "G-d Gave Rock N' Roll To You...
" and "Keep On Rocking for the Free World
." Initiatives like Radio Sawa
are proving that every day.
In today's introductory remarks, Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, who played for The Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan and now works as a consultant to the U.S. Department of Defense, seems to agree. As well he should. Rock n' Roll isn't just cultural fluff. In a very deep way, it has been - and remains - the essence of America's story.
"Rocking for the Free World: How Rock Music Helped to Bring Down the Iron Curtain"
(Transcript of Hungarian Ambassador Andras Simonyi's speech at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland on November 8, 2003)
Good Evening. No no. I know this is a Hungarian event tonight but in Cleveland when you say good evening or good morning it's like in the black gospels, you get a response. So good evening... Very good. You are quick learners.
This is going to be quite a night, something very different. I had some of the media ask me how different it is and I said it is totally different because we are so lucky to have somebody of the rank of the Ambassador here to talk about rock and roll. But it is something we do every day, because we believe one of the reasons the museum is here is to remind people that this is an art form that has changed the world dramatically. A lot of parents do not want to hear about that sometimes because all they hear about it is loud music and they say "Turn it down!" but it is a music that's brought people together, starting in the segregated South, where I grew up, with the coming together of the rhythm 'n' blues in the '40s and '50s and playing a major role in the civil rights, women's rights and the green peace.
The story you can hear tonight is a very strong and dramatic one, and one that was lived and experienced by the individual who's going to be here tonight. So we are very lucky to have that, and it really underscores the big part of our mission about the influence of the authority of something called rock and roll. Which really is an African-American art form that collided eventually with country music and bluegrass and it comes now under the heading of rock and roll and that's what we celebrate here every day....
I also have the distinct honor tonight to introduce a gentleman who is going to eventually introduce you to the Ambassador. He is quite an individual he is a true rock and roll renaissance man. He has played with two of the greatest rock bands of all times, Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers, and now he is a consultant, an advisor to the Defense Department. I thought I had a strange life being an engineer, a banker and being in comic books and rock and roll but I think he has got me beat. So would you give a warm round of applause of welcome to a great musician and a gentleman who's taken a different path: Jeff "Skunk" Baxter.
Jeff "Skunk" Baxter:
Thanks very much. Thank you for coming and the formal side is: Good evening ladies and gentlemen. And the rock and roll side: Welcome Cats and Catrinas to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
What we're going to try to do tonight is I want to introduce a man who's become a very good friend of mine in a very short period of time. We're going to discuss the idea, what may seem strange to some people, and some people will say "Well, Skunk, does Admiral McGuiness call you Skunk?" Yes, he does.
What we are going to talk about tonight is the fact that there is really no distinction between all the different pieces of the life that we lead. And it is all about a journey. And as Terry said, from the sharecropper days when black Americans first heard their words recorded on a record, they heard it on the radio, they realized there was a world outside the world where they were, got together, started going upriver, went to Memphis, went to Chicago, started recording music, touchy western artists started hearing that, started going to gospel churches, listening to gospel singers play, and all of a sudden something happened.
It's like a pallete. And the pallete originally started out with one or two colors. There was a little bit of gospel, and a little bit of country, and a little bit of R 'n'B, and a little bit of blues. And then all of a sudden the pallet became wider and deeper. Classical music, African music, folk music, jazz, classical music.
I'll give you an example. Is anybody familiar with the song Pachelbel's Canon? You probably heard it at every wedding you've ever been to. Do you realize that the chords to Pachelbel's Canon are exactly the same chords as in Percy Sledge's "When a Man Loves a Woman?" And to some of the Righteous Brothers' songs? What are we talking about is a theme that runs through everything that we do. And that's music. Andras is going to tell you a little bit about his experiences with music and it's an interesting path.
We are meeting at a bridge. My side of the bridge was as a quote-unquote "rock star," playing rock and roll music and making records that the Ambassador would get a hold of in one way or another and listen to. His side of the bridge and he will tell you a lot more about it he is coming from a country that was basically under a repressive regime.
So how do we come together? Well, let us see. The guy who brought us together was a gentleman named Dan Poneman, who works with Brent Scowcroft. Dan used to be on the National Security Council and Danny and I started working together because I do missile defense and counter terrorism and a few other things we can't talk about. We met on a business thing and it also turns out that Dan plays guitar and has a band. So the next thing I know he introduces me to this guy who is an ambassador, takes me to his Embassy and I go downstairs and I think "Ah, it's going to be the usual suit and tie, yes, Mr. Ambassador." But he's up there with a Fender Telecaster, rocking away. And I'm going "You know something? This is the way it was supposed to be."
I know it sounds a little strange but understand that when I went to the Soviet Union and I mean not Russia, but the Soviet Union in 1987 with the Doobie Brothers with Bonnie Raitt, Carlos Santana and James Taylor, it was the first time an American rock and roll show had ever come and played an outdoor concert in the Soviet Union. You go to a concert today and you see guys with jackets on that say "security." Well, there were two thousand shock troops there with armored personal carriers and automatic weapons. That was there version of concert security. They had not figured it quite out yet.
But what happened is when we started to play, every single person in that audience knew every word to every song that we did and our songs were illegal.
I'll tell a quick story and then I'm going to bring the Ambassador up. I'd like to stir it up a little bit. I was writing letters to a Russian guitar player and I was doing what I'd read in the boy scout manual you write a letter then in between the lines you write in lemon juice and then he holds it over a candle and OK, I'll meet you at the front of the Gum Department Store at 1:30 in the afternoon, and they smuggled in a bunch of recording equipment. Did the handoff of course the KGB followed me into the Gum Department Store. I ducked into the ladies room, went out of the window, down two flights of stairs, and I managed to get back to the hotel. But the idea was we were trying to bring freedom. After the concert there was a young boy up on stage and I'd brought a ton of gear. We gave away everything that we had and this young man said "Do you have anything that I can use to be a guitar player?" And I looked around and I found a little box and I said "Here, this is all I've got but please take it." And he stood up and he pulls a gold crucifix off of his neck and hands it to me. I said, "Hey, don't be dumb, the KGB is everywhere." He says "I don't care. This is all I have. This means so much to me that you did this, thank you so much. This means freedom, you are coming here, it is a tremendous thing in my life."
The hairs on my arm still stand up every time I think about this young kid, who basically took a chance on going to jail just to show the kind of appreciation that he had for the folks who were coming to play.
We're going to talk about this a little more. I'm going to introduce the Ambassador, then afterwards we'll do some Q and A so you guys can fire away. Now I'd like to introduce a guy that I got to know about six, seven months ago. We've had an awful lot of fun, we did CNN yesterday, we have done a couple of other interviews and stuff, and we have an evil plan which he will explain to you a little later. So without further ado, one of my favorite people on the planet now, the Ambassador from Hungary, Andras Simonyi....
Tomorrow: Ambassador Simonyi's Speech / Guest Blog