Back in my radio days my favorite sections of the newsprint zines were the scene reports—dispatches from Grand Forks or Chattanooga, relating what bands were active; where to play; why it sucked so be bad to stuck in their town (which was full of jocks and heshers); and why punks and skins should or should not get along. The National Review of hardcore zines, Maximum Rock’n’Roll, often had reports from the far reaches of the galaxy. I don’t know if it was refreshing or dispiriting that the Tromsø scene sounded just like the Kobe scene, but occasionally there’d be a report from an unlikely locale, like Tunis. I remember that one well, in 1985, when I’d just read The Sheltering Sky and thought, man, Tunisia has it all.
Well, it turns out to have been a hoax. Not one worthy of Clifford Irving, perhaps, but clever enough to have seemed plausible. It might have been much more than a prank, however:
Rather, it’s that punk, at its best, engendered an opening, a space for creation of new hybrid identities, for contestation both of the dominant culture and of the easily available alternatives. As such, a Tunisian punk band playing a strip club called Camel’s Crazy Lounge was reconfiguring, even if momentarily, a space nominally reserved for a backhanded, even potentially illicit, affirmation of the dominant culture’s norms.
(I have no idea what that means, but I’ve played that game before.)
While there may not have been a Maghreb punk scene in 1985, death metal is thriving now in the Hijaz and Levant, with scene reports courtesy of CNN. The Baghdad scene is more speed-metal oriented, it seems, while Teheran keeps the melodic-black-metal faith.
And in Tbilisi I recently saw a teenage kid in a homemade Black Flag t-shirt. Who crossed himself three times when coming into view of a church, as all observant Georgian Orthodox do. It’s a small world, after all.
Update: Several readers have asked about the distinctions among black, death, dark, and doom metals, as “they all sound the same.” Yes, to the uninitiated–but try explaining to me the difference between a cabernet and a pinot noir, or the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod and the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Or the Judean People’s Front and the People’s Front of Judea. Even the best taxonomies presuppose a certain insiderness, and it matters hugely to adherents. The tyranny of small differences, as always.