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THE BEATLES HELPED BRING DOWN THE BERLIN WALL!

By Alan L. Chrisman (updated version)


This Nov. 9 is the 25th anniversary of the coming down of the Berlin Wall. But
not many people and Beatles fans may know just how important The Beatles and
their music were in helping to bring that about and the downfall of the Soviet
Union.
I didnt either until I met Yury Pelyushonok, Russian/Canadian Beatles fan at the first Ottawa,
Canada Beatles Convention which I organized in 1995. And this was to be quite a Magical
Mystery Tour for Yury and us, his friends and close supporters.
He told me some amazing stories about what it was like trying to play banned Beatles music,
growing up in the Soviet Union. And I suggested at that time that he write it down. He did, by
two years later, and gave me one of the original copies of his book, STRINGS FOR A BEATLE
BASS, of anecdotes and personal experiences, such as having to make his own guitar and using
old X-rays to record, etc. Upon reading it, I thought it would make a great movie.
At our 2nd Beatles Convention the next year, he was interviewed by the Ottawa Citizen about
how in the 8os, Soviet sailors (he was a medical doctor in the Russian Navy) had smuggled a
Paul McCartney LP out of Russia and traded them for even cars in the West. He had written
this first story down in a tiny booklet called the Golden Disc. And a couple years later, he

had gotten a Canada Council grant to publish a fuller book about his theories and experiences
growing up as a Beatles fan and musician (he had made his own guitar) in Russia. He presented
me with one of the original, only 147 copies of, STRINGS FOR A BEATLE BASS, which had
been translated into English by his wife. Upon reading it, I thought it would make a great
movie. He was going to London, in April, 2000, and I suggested he leave a copy with the
Beatles manager, Neil Aspinall (the BBC lady had given me his contact at the Connecticut
convention in94). Yury did leave a book there and upon returning, he called me one morning
and said hed had a dream, that Neil Aspinall had called me. Id always wanted to meet Aspinall
because he had been there since the beginning and was their closest confidant. And the very
next day Yury calls me back and says, Guess who just called? I said Who? He says, Paul
McCartneys personal assistant, Geoff Baker!
The Beatles record company, Apple, would also call back for more copies for George and
Ringo. Yury approached me about finding some musicians for some songs he had written to go
along with the book for a CD he wanted to make. I suggested John Jastremski (from The
Mustards) and Al Findlay, (from The Ground) who had also played my 96 convention; they
were both Beatles fans and songwriters. Yury had already written the first song,Yeah Yeah
Virus and three others in 2000 and together they wrote and recorded four more songs in
2003. Yury went back to the Beatles Apple headquarters in London a couple more times to
discuss the possibility they would publish his book. Neil Aspinall told him in advance that Paul
McCartney was to play in Red Square in May, 2003; it was to be a world event. Yury had taken
a lot of flak for suggesting that the Beatles could have helped bring down Communism. But
Yury was interviewed in N.Y. on ABC- TV BEATLES REVOLUTION in 2000 with several
celebrities who agreed, including Czech director Milos Forman and Keith Richards (What
brought it down, in the end, was blues jeans and Rock N Roll). And there was soon to be
growing evidence that what Yury had first said, was indeed true.
Yury was contacted by Leslie Woodhead, a BBC director who had read Yurys book and was
planning a film on the Beatles influence there. Mr. Woodhead had actually shot the only
footage of the Beatles at the Cavern, which was known to exist, in 1962. On a hot August day
in 2007, a handful of us gathered in Yurys backyard in Ottawa to have him interviewed and
then to film his song,Yeah Yeah Virus. Later, Mr. Woodhead would take Yury back to Russia
with him to recreate his experiences and reunite with his teenage band. Mc Cartney was once
again to perform in Russia at that same time. Yury had grown up in Minsk, and his friends there
had been shown how to make amplifiers by the guy whom had worked with and knew Lee
Harvey Oswald, when he had defected there in the early 60s.
Yurys book and experiences were to partly inspire BBC film director, Leslie Woodheads film,
HOW THE BEATLES ROCKED THE KREMLIN. As I said, Yury had told us these interesting stories

and his, and what seemed at the time hard to believe, theory that The Beatles and their music
had somehow helped to bring down the Soviet Union. In 2013, Mr. Woodhead released a book
of the same title, chronicling the making of his film, including a whole chapter on Yury and the
visit to Ottawa to film the interview with him and the video shooting of his song, Yeah Yeah
Virus in 2007. Finally in 2009, the film was completed and shown on PBS in the States and CBC
in Canada, in conjunction with the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 89 Sure enough,
the film and idea got write-ups in the L.A. Times, Toronto Globe and Mail, etc. Yury was
interviewed again by the Ottawa Citizen. And the film has since been repeated several times
on both PBS and the CBC. A new book by Mr.Woodhead about this with a chapter on Yury
(including about the day we shot the video and both Tony and I are described in it) was
released in 2013 Yury returned to Minsk in 2010 because his doctors accreditation wasnt
recognized in Canada (and left me in charge of his book and Cd masters). But Yury returned to
Ottawa for a visit in May, 2013 though and we reconnected. I knew how the Beatles had
affected the West and had changed my life, but I had no idea just what Eastern Block kids had
had to do just to listen to and participate in Beatles music or the profound role it had on its
culture and Communism itself. And Yury had written it down first.

And Mr. Woodheads film and book substantiates what Yury had first told us and written down.
For Mr. Woodhead has spent the last 25 years tracking down and documenting this story. And
what a journey its been! Mr. Woodhead had shot the only known footage of The Beatles at
the Cavern in 1962 and met the Fab Four before they were the Fab Four. Before that, Mr.
Woodhead had been a cold war snoop (he has a previous book My LIFE AS A SPY), stationed
in Berlin listening in to the Russians, which first developed his special interest in the Soviet
Union. He has made many trips there over the past several years and has developed many
contacts there. With these Russian connections and his involvement in also meeting and
filming many British and American rock stars (he also did The Brian Jones memorial film concert
by The Rolling Stones , for example), he is the perfect person to capture these two seemingly
different worlds, rock n roll and politics, and show their strange intersection in the Soviet
Union.
He shows that the various Soviet leader were afraid , even as far back as the 30s, of outside
Western music such as jazz. Yury had quoted in his book that Khrushchev had said,its only a
small step from saxophones to switchblades. So in that sense this theory that later Beatles
music could have had such a role does make sense. Mr. Woodhead interviews many of the
Beatles Generation in the Soviet Union from musicians to record producers to journalists to
historians to even politicians (including the Russian Defense Minister and Putins deputy, who
said he learned English from Beatles songs). A curious fact is that most of the Russian rock
stars and Beatles fans, were the sons of the Communist Party elite. Of course, they were one
of the few who would have had access to the West. Yury, although not of the elite class, had
opportunity because he was a doctor in the Russian Navy and was to sail around the world. But
all of these consistently backed up Yurys belief that somehow Beatles music had this profound
effect on the Soviet Union. I think perhaps there was an especially Russian character aspect to

all this. They spoke of this Beatles Effect as almost having a quasi-religious part to it,
something thats hard for us to imagine in the West. Of course, Beatles music changed our
lives in the 60s and a whole counterculture developed in the West along with it. But in the
repressive and isolated Soviet Union, it took on a whole other meaning, and The Beatles
perfectly represented both the forbidden fruit and an artistic and spiritual freedom. And
because of that Soviet youth found very resourceful ways indeed to get around the states
disapproval and banning of it.
In fact, in the chapter on Yury, Mr. Woodhead describes how it is even today in Belarus (where
he took Yury back to reunite with his teenage band in 2008). It sounds like something out of a
Marx Bros. film, but with a leader like North Koreas absurd but dangerous current dictator
(which gives some idea of how it must have been growing up in that earlier time all across the
Soviet Union). Yury actually moved back to Minsk in 2010, because his Russian Navy doctors
accreditation was not recognized in Canada, where he had immigrated in the early 90s. Yury
had left me in charge of the masters of his book and accompanying CD when he returned there,
but in May, 2013, he visited Ottawa again and we reconnected and he talks of perhaps
returning to the West and trying again to get recognition of his doctors skills.
Mr. Woodheads book documents quite a life journey (including meeting with Yoko in
Liverpool) and the mindbogling but now proven theory that my friend Yury had first proposed
to us-that The Beatles could have had such an effect on another, even more oppressive system.
Mr. Woodhead ends his book with the occurrence where the Russian Punk band PUSSY RIOT
is arrested by the Putin government in 2012. On July 7, 2013, Paul McCartney played in Ottawa
(the first time a Beatle had performed here) and during Back in the U.S.S.R., Paul told the story
how high ranking officials had told him they had learned English from banned Beatles music,
when he played Red Square in 2003. During that song, flashed on screen was FREE PUSSY
RIOT. My Russian Beatle friend, Yury, had written for his book, how A Yellow Submarine had
landed in Red Square and I had outlined in my own book a similar feeling of almost like an
alien spaceship (Yellow Submarine) landing in my small Midwestern town in the U.S. growing up
in the 60s, with these talented, witty, fun beings offering us joy and hope. Ironically, it had
taken these four working-class Liverpool lads from a far away mythical land of Robin Hood and
knights to reintroduce us to American rocknroll which had in turn inspired them. And how
that would encourage us to maybe go on and create our own magical music and stories.
Mr. Woodheads fascinating book and film and Yurys book show it was to have an even deeper
effect half way around the world. I was interviewed before the McCartney concert by CBC
radio as to why he and the Beatles were still so popular a half a century later, and I mentioned
how they had influenced me to not to go fight in the Vietnam war and come to Canada, but
also, as Yury would often say, they were, Beatles: the cultural event of the 20th Century. It
was one of those few times in history when it helped create an almost social revolution which
was universal in scope. Also as my friend Tony said, they also wrote some of its best popular
songs. And for all these reasons, they will be remembered. The Beatles and music changed the
world and they still do. ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE.

Leslie Woodheads book, HOW THE BEATLES ROCKED THE KREMLIN (2013), is highly
recommended. Mr. Woodhead is as good a writer as he is a filmmaker; he makes you feel as if
you are right there.
Alan Chrismans book, ITS A LONG WAY HOME (& How Beatles Music Saved My Life),
chronicles his own life and Beatles influences . Available www.rockthistownproductions.com

YEAH YEAH VIRUS


While in the West the Beatles stepped on all the rules
The 60s beat was echoing through all the Soviet schools.
Every Russian schoolboy wants to be a star
Playing Beatles music , making a guitar.
Teachers looked upon this as if it were a sin,
We were building Communism but the Beatles butted in.
Nyet to Beatles music. Da the students said.
Even Comrade Brezhnev sadly shook his head (1)

(1) Yeah Yeah Virus, Yury Pelyushonok-Olga Sansom, c. PLY Publishing 2000

See below YURYs Yeah Yeah Virus, video, shoot, Ottawa, Canada, 2007:

http://youtu.be/2dChyNNAmV4

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2dChyNNAmV4

YURYS REVOLUTIONARY PREMISE AND PERSONAL EXPERIENCE:


THE BEATLES MUSIC HELPED BRING DOWN COMMUNISM!

AFTER SPENDING BILLIONS AND THE THREAT of DOOM, WHAT DESTROYED IT IN


THE END, WAS BLUE JEANS AND R n R
- KEITH RICHARDS (agreeing with Yury!),
THE BEATLES REVOLUTION, ABC-TV, 2000
Below Paul McCartney Plays Back in the U.S.S.R., Red Square, Russia, 2003:

http://youtu.be/_JbLsYoL3ug
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_JbLsYoL3ug

LENNON WALL, Prague

Photo by Karen McCollum

YURY PELYUSHONOKS BOOK, STRINGS FOR A BEATLE BASS,


1998 and 2004 EDITIONS

Alan suggests to Yury in95, he write it all down-he does, then leaves his book at
BEATLES HEADQUARTERS, London, 2000
Yury gets call back from Paul McCartneys office for more copies

YURYS CD OF ORIGINAL SONGS TO ACCOMPANY HIS BOOK,


YOU CANNOT WHISPER ROCK N ROLL, 2005

Yurys CD

YURYS YEAH YEAH VIRUS video shoot, Ottawa, 2007, for:


HOW THE BEATLES ROCKED THE KREMLIN, BBC FILM 2009
& book by director, LESLIE WOODHEAD, 2013
(Leslie Woodhead had also shot the only known footage of The
Beatles at the Cavern, 1962)
Alan Chrismans book, ITS A LONG WAY HOME (& How Beatles Music Saved My Life),
chronicles his own life and Beatles influences . Available www.rockthistownproductions.com