Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Clash's "Rock the Casbah"/This Music Converts Fundamentalists

The Clash's "Rock the Casbah" has the sort of history that suggests how difficult it is to make an art that is truly socially transformative, and how easy any art can be manipulated to other ends.

My first memories of music videos, watched as a pre-teen in the early 1980s, were largely of lingerie-clad hussies, but these scrawny, unwashed, snaggle-toothed clan also drew my attention. Who can forget the enigmatic armadillo hustling across the ground, throughout the video, like some vague reference to Elizabeth Bishop's "The Armadillo" (also an anti-war poem), some self-armored image of our creaturely survivalism?

According to some accounts, "Rock the Casbah" may have been inspired by Iran's banning of secular music during the Islamic Revolution of 1979. The video, however, with its kitschy and even mildly offensive caricatures of an Arab sheikh and an Hasidic Jew, places the song in an Arab/Israeli context (which replicates the lyrical references to minarets and temples). Its most basic argument is that fundamentalists don't like this music because it moves people, it makes them forget the singularity of their creeds, it makes them disobedy, it makes them forget their war-making.

Yet, according to Wikipedia, the song was then employed for martial ends (in a blatant misreading of the lyrics):
The song became an unofficial anthem for U.S. forces during the first Gulf War, largely on the basis of the line about dropping "bombs between the minarets".[2] It was the first song played by Armed Forces Radio at the start of the war. This is ironic given the band's well established left-wing stance. The song can also be understood as a message that western rock and roll will help defeat radical Islamist regimes by winning over the people of the Middle East, especially the young.[citation needed]

In 2006, the conservative National Review released their list of the top 50 "Conservative Rock Songs", with "Rock the Casbah" at #20, noting its frequent requests during the Iraq War.[8] Despite, or perhaps because of, its popularity with soldiers during the Gulf War, "Rock the Casbah" was one of the songs deemed inappropriate by Clear Channel following the September 11, 2001 attacks.[9]

The lyrics to "Rock the Casbah":
Now the king told the boogie men
You have to let that raga drop
The oil down the desert way
Has been shakin to the top
The sheik he drove his cadillac
He went a cruisin down the ville
The muezzin was a standing
On the radiator grille

The shareef dont like it
Rockin the casbah
Rock the casbah
The shareef dont like it
Rockin the casbah
Rock the casbah

By order of the prophet
We ban that boogie sound
Degenerate the faithful
With that crazy casbah sound
But the bedouin they brought out
The electric camel drum
The local guitar picker
Got his guitar picking thumb
As soon as the shareef
Had cleared the square
They began to wail


Now over at the temple
Oh! they really pack em in
The in crowd say its cool
To dig this chanting thing
But as the wind changed direction
The temple band took five
The crowd caught a wiff
Of that crazy casbah jive


The king called up his jet fighters
He said you better earn your pay
Drop your bombs between the minarets
Down the casbah way

As soon as the shareef was
Chauffeured outta there
The jet pilots tuned to
The cockpit radio blare

As soon as the shareef was
Outta their hair
The jet pilots wailed


He thinks it's not kosher
Fundamentally he can't take it.
You know he really hates it.


RazRocks said...

This song is defintley one of my favorites. I love the music video. For once we get to see an Arab and a Jew get along. The ending where the two are at the Clash concert is great. Did you send up seeing the Joe Strummer film? I hope you had a great Easter!


Stop Raping Palestine said...

Is there any music about what is happening to Gaza now?

Philip Metres said...

Never got to see "The Future is Unwritten," since I assumed it was already out on DVD...guess I'll have to wait.

Philip Metres said...

I find this name, "Stop Raping Palestine," to shake me every time I read it. Why the sexualization of the oppression of Palestinians? And why not use your own name?

As for music protesting what's happening in Gaza, that's a great question. If you find anything, let me know.

Chaerephon said...

This makes me think of how "Bombs Over Baghdad" suffered a similar co-optation. It was a bit more understandable,though, as most of the lyrics there were political only in the vaguest of senses, and did not display the radical cosmopolitanism of "Casbah."

The chorus ("Don't even bang unless you plan to hit something") seemed like it could be a galvanizingly trenchant critique of late-Clintonian Middle East policy; and yet, after it was adopted as an explicitly pro-war anthem, the band's reaction was fairly limp. From Wikipedia:

"The song was used as a rally song for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. André 3000 was unhappy that the song (which is lyrically anti-war) was being used for this purpose, but he stated that it might be a 'good thing' if it improves soldier morale. Big Boi voiced his opposition to the 2003 invasion but stated that he cannot control how the public interprets his work."

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Philip Metres said...

Okay, Jim, you gave me another idea for something more contemporary. "Bombs over Baghdad," then. I'll quote you on it.