“God gave rock ‘n’ roll to you…”

10 Oct

Mo-ha-med’s tweet of 24 September kind of cracked me up…

It’s a reminder for me that the most amusingly surreal moments in my life as an aid worker have involved music.

I’ve already blogged about the house band in Phnom Penh, wading through their rendition of Pink Floyd… to this day, whenever I hear the line, “…just a little pin prick…” I chuckle involuntarily.

There is also the vague recollection of a Chinese restaurant in northern Bangladesh where the staff insisted in playing a Michael Jackson mix cassette every time I ate there. Or of being dragged onstage at a Can Tho nightclub to sing the only English song in the house band’s repertoire: Love Potion #9.

Somehow music, more than many other things, has the power to inadvertently transcend cultural boundaries. It boldly goes where angels fear to tread. Or something like that…

* * *

So, several months ago I’m riding across the countryside in another country with a mixed group of colleagues mainly from around Eastern Europe and the Middle East. There’s a mix-tape of western 80’s/90’s vintage pop/rock. It’s hard to hear over the road noise, but I thought I recognized Aerosmith. I asked the Canadian woman next to me if she knew what it was, but before she could answer, the Iranian guy sitting ahead of us turned around and said, “That’s ‘Angel’ from the Permanent Vacation album.”

Turns out my Iranian colleague knew a lot about western hard rock and heavy metal. We spent the rest of the trip talking about bands that we liked in common: of course Aerosmith, the Scorpions, The Best Ever To Record On Vinyl… The best was when he asked, “Do you know the KISS?” (“… the KEEEEEESSSS”)

Hell yeah, I know ‘the KISS.’

I’ve met some interesting characters in my time, but an Iranian guy who knows all of the words to “Cold Gin Time Again” is definitely a first.

Even more amazing, though, was the story he told about what it was like exchanging contraband pirated tapes of western rock music as a high school student in Tehran. I mean, he could have spent time behind bars, as could have his parents.

And it seems somehow amusing and surreal and also – well – wild that my Persian friend once defied the Revolutionary Guard Corps, all for a dose of ‘the KISS.’ That is dedication beyond what even Paul Stanley imagined when he wrote the lyrics to “God Gave Rock ‘n’ Roll to You.”

* * *

I don’t know if any of you have heard of Salman Ahmed.

No? I hadn’t either until just a few days ago when I saw this little news clip about him.

And he’s pretty good on the guitar!

Decades of “win hearts and minds” strategies or attempts to co-opt foreign aid as extensions of foreign policy have not made the hoped-for progress towards the world being a better, more stable place. After all of the scholarly analysis and dissertation writing and research, we’re now finally to this: The US Government (among a few others, apparently) are backing Salman Ahmed. He’s going to wage “rock ‘n’ roll Jihad.”

* * *

One way or another, whether as one more option for achieving world peace, or simply as the source for more amusing surreal moments; somewhere between the mental image of a bunch of Arabs shouting “Mazel Tov!” (thanks @TravellerW) and the memory of “Love Potion #9”, I’m beginning to think that maybe Paul Stanley was on to something:

“Put your faith in a loud guitar…” 

9 Responses to ““God gave rock ‘n’ roll to you…””

  1. transitionland 10 October, 2010 at 11:25 pm #

    Driving away at top speed from a near-kidnapping in the mountains of Afghanistan to the sound of Arcade Fire’s “Rebellion (Lies)” during an unfortunate incident this summer is definitely my most surreal music experience thus far. I think Arcade Fire would appreciate that.

    A few others:

    Being asked by cab drivers in Kabul “You like Akon?” and hearing “I wanna make love right now now now” (with the cabbie humming along) on the way to early morning stakeholder coordination meetings.

    The seasoned Afghan war photographer whose eyes well up with tears whenever he hears a Britney Spears song, because he can feel Britney’s pain but can’t stop it.

    Clubs in Sarajevo closing to Boney M’s “Rasputin.”

  2. angelica 12 October, 2010 at 2:47 am #

    ah the sound of music and its ability to bring back sweet memories. one of the best this year in Sudan as the sun set and over 200 sufi men danced to the beat of the drum in a cemetery…. I accidentally stood on a grave when I removed my self out of courtesy to take a call, ouch!

  3. KP 12 October, 2010 at 5:06 am #

    I find that I can finally relate to my teenage nieces and nephews after I come back from the field. As an NPR-listener-extraordinaire, I rarely know what the kids listen to until I sit in a bar in Africa. Admittedly, I had no idea who Lady Gaga was, nor knew anything about her Poker Face, until hearing it last year in Zambia.

    Thankfully, Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” is on the Africa soundtrack this time around. Even though the voice comes from a white girl from the burbs, my colleagues boastfully join me in singing along to the lyrics.

  4. Mo-ha-med 13 October, 2010 at 7:10 am #

    I’ve got an odd mp3 playlist – among my favourite moments is walking around in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, with Israeli rock blasting through my earphones…

  5. Rob Hiffy 13 October, 2010 at 8:41 am #

    I always find music spans across culture, religion and language and build bridges between us all! Thanks, and well done.

  6. Dave 25 January, 2011 at 3:59 am #

    Music is my life too – its a talking point between friends, brings thousands of people together at gigs, and creates peace.


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