Lock the Casbah 

Oakland's Heavenly States set out to be the first American band ever to rock Libya. But making history is never that easy.

Page 5 of 8

The Heavenly States makes frenzied plans to return, maybe tonight. With Ted's guitar, Genevieve's violin, and Jeremy's new drum, if not a few others. Perhaps that drum salesman knows a place in the souk they can plug in. This is the interaction Genevieve dreamed about.

The overjoyed band is whisked off to get gear and work out equipment issues for the more formal tsunami benefit show, while Eugene arranges to pick up Chris, the photographer whose arrival was delayed a day by passport woes.

From there, Eugene is summoned to the five-star Corinthian Hotel, where diplomatic officials inform him that if the Heavenly States attempt to do anything -- or play anywhere -- in Libya during the remainder of their stay, everyone involved will be in a shitload of trouble.

The Fear Factory

"I've been around a bit," Eugene Bari says. "I've never been that scared. Not for me, but for everybody else."

Two official-sounding guys -- one Libyan, one Australian -- had read him the riot act. "'What you've got left, you're not allowed to do -- if you do this, people will get in big, big trouble,'" he says, recalling the conversation. "They mentioned prison, they mentioned ramifications, families. It was real big bloody stuff. They put the fear of God into me. They said basically, everyone that you associate with, if you go ahead and do these shows and rock the boat ... your visas, the ones that we thought were entertainment or official visas, are actually tourist visas, and if you break the rules on that you'll be deported, and other people will get in big trouble."

In eight months of back-and-forth with anyone who'd talk to him, this was the first Eugene had heard of a tourist-versus-entertainment-visa issue. But the band has landed in Tripoli with the former, the party's over, and Eugene is absolutely reeling. "When you go to see some people you think have been helping you the entire time, that have enabled you to get to the other side of the world to a closed country, to achieve all this stuff, to get there and then, not even the eleventh hour -- later than that -- they suddenly turn around and turn into the nastiest bastards you could possibly imagine," he muses. "It's just beyond comprehension."

At first he suspected the souk incident triggered something. Did the cop file a report? Someone in the crowd? The band ecstatically relayed the whole story to Abdu back in the bus -- is our tour guide actually a spy?

We were more likely betrayed by a well-intentioned local paper: The Tripoli Post, a biweekly official government organ, had run a tiny piece buried on page seven, sharing space with "Folic Acid Said to Cut Blood Pressure." Enthusiastically described as "a Californian music band," the Heavenly States were said to have four shows, including a free gig at the Roman amphitheater in nearby Sabratha. The Post also ran the States' official PR photo, a shot of the band posing below a Shell gas station sign with the S blotted out. This publicity was perhaps not warmly received.

Nor was Eugene's news, when the band reconvened. "A lot of people are railing into Eugene today, including us," Ted says. "He's made a lot of promises to a lot of people, and they're all just -- evaporating."

"But on the lighter side ..." Genevieve begins.


We gather in Eugene and Jeremy's hotel room. The facts: Everyone is being watched. If anyone plays, the band will be deported, and everyone who engineered this, from ambassadors on down, will be fired, deported. Etc.

"If we play, it's serious," Eugene says.

"If we don't play, it's serious," Ted replies.

"Not critical serious. Not prison serious."

"That's just the fear factory."

Ted wants to "roll the dice." The phrase hangs in the air for a second. Everyone tries to imagine what it really entails.

"I'm just so used to battering the fucking ram at everything in my life until the door goes down," Ted says quietly. "And this door's not going down. We've done everything to dumb down our own lives and cheapen our own lives to do this. Not just this, but this band. That's why Gen and I live in a garage behind my friend's house."

Eugene tries to calm him down. He's been working the phones, and the tsunami benefit gig has been salvaged. But it's in a British diplomatic community, gated, not legally on Libyan soil. Tickets are fifty dinar, far beyond the reach of the average citizen, and those who pay have to supply a great deal of personal information for clearance.


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