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 6 of 8

As for everything else, we don't have a choice. "We're on their turf," Eugene says. "This is a totalitarian state. It's not just, 'No, please don't do this.' It's, 'No, you will get in the deepest shit you can fucking imagine.'"

Furthermore, it's not just us. "Getting deported from Libya, that's the ultimate rock 'n' roll thing," Eugene says. "That's better than the TV set out the window by a million fucking miles. I'm worried about the B-side, the guy tryin' to make it on fifty dinar a month who gets put in jail for the rest of his life."

"It's like comin' down from a fuckin' drug," Ted says. "I was so high this afternoon, and now there's no more crack."

"Let's be tourists," Eugene says. "Let's be good tourists. Tomorrow, we're tourists."

The band wanted to know what it was like to live in Libya. Libya, evidently, was all too eager to show them.


The Journos

Tom, an editor and writer for the Telegraph, has an even better idea what Libya is really like. Unlike the band's, his entry into Tripoli was seamless, so he spent two days here prior to our arrival. Alone. In surprisingly wintry conditions. With not much to do, beyond a museum or two. In a dry country, no booze, anywhere. This, in particular, rankles him.

Tom is not amused. Earlier that evening, between the elation of the souk and the devastation of the hotel room, the journos had gathered for dinner, alone. Word of Eugene's ambassadorial meeting had gotten around. It's a disaster. Chris the photographer has nothing to shoot. Mike the on-spec freelancer has nothing to sell. Tom has nothing to drink.

"I can't work out if Eugene is naive or just inept, or possibly both," he says. The waiter offers him an appetizer of Libyan soup, a spicy broth served before nearly every meal we eat. Tom recoils in horror. "This band, it's not Abba. It's not U2. How can this possibly be making money?"

He feels duped. "It's alright to do as your own pet project, with all the right reasons. But to involve other people, it feels like false pretense. It's a week of my life. A complete and utter waste of time."

The charity gig? "It's on British soil. It's meaningless." Instead of "Rock the Casbah," he suggests changing the title to "Rock the British Consulate."

The theme to The Godfather plays softly in the background.

But the following morning, everyone piles in the bus and tries to be good tourists as we motor toward Leptis Magna, a nearby Roman historical site. Abdu, the guide, tries to cheer us up -- he suddenly starts talking about a friend of a friend with a connection to Gadhafi's daughter, who has some sort of humanitarian organization federation, and maybe she'll sponsor the band, letting them tour the country and play charity shows as official friends of the state. Maybe even in a couple weeks. The band brightens; the journos turn ashen.

We wander around Leptis. Though the site is nearly deserted, the band briefly considers playing a bit in the amphitheater: Gen brings her violin, Jeremy his drum. Abdu slips into a gift shop and hands Ted a small, oud-like stringed instrument, candy-striped, that can handle simple melodies. We wander about, soak in the sights. But when we hit the amphitheater itself, there's no one around, and the slight drizzle has Genevieve worried for her violin. Eugene grabs the drum, strolls around banging it a bit, and announces that he alone played Leptis Magna.

We leave.

Eugene is quietly clinging to the hope of a sneak-attack restaurant show. Perhaps the band and the teenager Ted's been e-mailing could do something covert -- we just show up, have dinner, notice instruments, and decide to spontaneously play a tune. It's an interesting idea the band bats around all afternoon, but by dinner, it's clear no one will back Eugene up on it. Instead, we enter another deserted restaurant, Libyan soup at the ready, with awful Muzak pumping on the stereo system.

Tom has had it.

"You've got journalists from three continents here," he snaps at Eugene. "You've got a guy from Magnum Photography, not some pussy with a Polaroid. Why are we here? For your ego?"

("Bridge Over Troubled Water.")

"We're driving around looking at tourist sites. Like we're on holiday. Quite possibly the worst holiday I've ever been on. I cannot stand to sit in another empty restaurant eating Libyan soup."

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