Sting in the tale?

We wrote about the work of Patrick Radden Keefe a few weeks ago, mentioning the bingeworthy qualities of his podcast Wind of Change. The series has now reached its conclusion – and it feels like it’s time for a reckoning.

The premise, if you’ve missed it, is that a CIA source told Keefe that the agency had been responsible for writing the Scorpions hit Wind of Change, which was credited with galvanising anti-Soviet youth opinion in Eastern Europe before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Keefe’s self-appointed task was to find out if it was true.


He certainly tried, over the course of several years and eight deeply reported episodes, with many fact-finding trips and lines of inquiry. In the course of the reporting, he did reveal some of the extents the CIA went to in pursuit of its goals, including using Nina Simone without her knowledge.

But he did not prove that the CIA wrote the song. He put the notion to the band’s songwriter Klaus Meine in the concluding episode, having marched his audience up the hill. The response was a soft “No…. No…”, a bit like Family Guy‘s Consuela. Meine was pretty believable.

Keefe concluded that although he hadn’t proved the rumour to be true, he hadn’t proved it wasn’t true either – and the evidence he collected certainly indicated the story could possibly have been true.

So does the lack of a conclusion matter?

Tom Rowley, a supporter of Well Told and the Britain correspondent for The Economist, tweeted that he was “slightly tired of podcasts that set out to investigate something tantalising and don’t really come to a conclusion”. Others voiced their support.

Interestingly it’s the opposite position to that taken by Jon Ronson’s for The Last Days of August where he was clear from the beginning that the apparent prime suspect was not actually a suspect (see here).

We love it when non-fiction feels like fiction, to have the same arcs, tidy endings and neat conclusions; clear goodies and intriguing baddies. But even when real life does turn out like fiction, proving it is another matter.

To Keefe’s credit, he had not promised any answers.

But he did rise above the fray after the series was released with this one word tweet:


The true stories of Patrick Radden Keefe

Many events have been scuppered by the lockdown, but one in particular was a real miss.

Get a 15% discount on Say Nothing at the Well Told Bookshop – use coupon lovelongform

Patrick Radden Keefe, author of Say Nothing, was due to speak to former Guardian Long Reads editor Jonathan Shainin at the Daunt Books festival in March, but the event was – of course – cancelled.

The reputation of Say Nothing is growing with every person who reads it – a pure narrative, researched over many years, telling the story of the murder of Jean McConville in Northern Ireland in 1972.

In piecing together the mystery surrounding McConville’s disappearance, Patrick Radden Keefe tells the story of the rise of the IRA, the Troubles, and the peace movement in a work which was described by the great David Grann as being “meticulously reported, exquisitely written and grippingly told”. It’s certainly that, and more. To a British audience for whom the Troubles were an impenetrable subject, it is truly revelatory.

Lovers of longform will want to read in particular a section at the end of the book entitled ‘A note on sources’ which describes how a massive project like this book comes to pass. In it Radden Keefe writes:

Memory is a slippery thing, so I have sought wherever possible to establish corroboration for individual recollection. In instances where there are discrepancies among different accounts, I have used the most plausible version of events in the main text of the book and elaborated on alternative accounts, or other nuances, in the notes.

This is not a history book but a work of narrative non-fiction. No dialogue or details have been invented or imagined: in instances where I describe the inner thoughts of characters, it is because they have related those thoughts to me, or others, as detailed in the notes.

Radden Keefe, 44, has been a contributor to the New Yorker since 2006 (his articles are here) And now he has burnished his reputation even further with what further defines what a narrative podcast series should deliver.

Wind of Change is an eight-part series which seeks to get to the bottom of a rumour which reached Radden Keefe from a intelligence source: that the Scorpions hit Wind of Change had in fact been written by the CIA to help foment the uprising of young people which fuelled the collapse of Communism.

Miranda Sawyer in the Observer wrote: “Wind of Change is a beautifully constructed listen, never less than entertaining. I burned through it in a day and loved every minute.”

While she thought the series was too long, my reaction was quite the opposite – at the time of writing I’m on episode seven and have that familiar moth-to-a-flame feeling of not wanting to listen in case I get to the end.

The series has been made by Pineapple Studios, Crooked Media and Spotify, which is publishing one episode each week. However, by listening through Spotify, you can binge on all the episodes now. It really is a treat. You can find the podcast here:

And if you haven’t read Say Nothing yet, you can get a copy with a 15% discount using the code lovelongform at the new Well Told Bookshop which is now in beta. (Please let us have any feedback on the bookshop itself to A full launch is to come.)