In The Mix #7 (Music and politics: what’s in a name?) with Jane Risdon
Taking a young rock band to New York City to meet the staff of their East Coast Record label and to undertake a series of interviews in print and live on the air for radio, is not for the feint hearted. It is an undertaking fraught with possibilities for disaster. Believe me, I know.
The Big Apple, December, and it is freezing cold. We’d been booked in to the Holiday Inn on 57th Street – nice enough – and the five band members have sorted out who was sharing with whom without bloodshed. Thankfully, on this occasion, I had my own room on the same floor – I’m free!
One particular morning we had appointments with several Rock magazine journalists and headed for the Rockefeller Plaza because some of the interviews were taking place in one of the massive skyscrapers overlooking an area where there was skating on ice. This managed to distract the guys – it doesn’t take much and we stood watching the skaters for a while, or perhaps it was some attractive young women who were drawn to gaping at five good looking, long-haired English guys chatting and giggling like they were on a school outing, which really drew their attention – I couldn’t possibly imagine: I certainly felt like the school ma’am dragging the boys away, which proved to be a struggle, but I managed it in my usual sergeant-major manner.
The war in Bosnia was just kicking off at the time but none of us gave it a second thought, especially me – silly me. One of the journalists we visited would be interviewing the band for a British rock magazine who loved the band – and had sent him to NYC to interview their current favourites – seated us at a large table and took out his notebook once introductions were made.
The atmosphere was suddenly very strained – not like our usual bubbly full-on nattering interviews which was the norm, when the guys got together with a kindred spirit who ate, slept, and drank rock music as they did, and was just as excited. Trying to cut the tension I thought I’d ask the journalist where came from, as his accent was heavy and his name was un-pronounceable.
‘Bosnia,’ he replied with a hint of caution in his voice, eyeing the drummer with what can only be described as suspicion.
‘Oh that’s nice,’ I replied not understanding the intense glare I was getting from one of the band. ‘Our drummer comes from Bosnia too, what a co-incidence.’
There was an uncomfortable hollow silence as I innocently asked, ‘Whereabouts in Bosnia, perhaps it is the same place as he comes from?’
A massive kick in the shins landed on me and the journalist screwed his eyes up as I yelled out in pain and confusion.
‘Why do you want to know?’ There was definitely a hint of menace in the journalist’s voice.
Before I could answer the drummer decided he needed the ‘bathroom,’ and deserted us in haste.
‘He’s not from where you’re from,’ said one of the band. Really? I thought, I have no idea where in Bosnia he’s from and I’m sure you don’t either. It’s never mattered before.
‘Yeah, well I’m relieved to hear it,’ replied the journalist scribbling rapidly on his pad. ‘But if he is from where I think his name says he’s from, this interview is over.’ He glared at us and added, ‘I’ll soon find out when he comes back.’
We all sat in horrified anticipation of the drummer coming back into the room. ‘Where did he say he came from?’ whispered the lead singer, ‘I don’t think he’s ever said.’
‘Why does it matter?’ asked the bass player.
We all shook our heads; buggered if we knew.
The door opened and the drummer returned looking really fed-up. Everyone watched him take his seat.
‘Look can we just get on with the interview, I’m sure you’re tight for time and we have loads more to do before other meetings later on,’ I said, wanting out of there fast.
‘Your name is Croatian isn’t it?’ The journalist said eventually, staring at his notepad.
‘Look mate, let’s just do this and we can go, it’s up to you if do the interview or not,’ the drummer mumbled not looking at the journalist.
‘Oh for goodness sakes we all love rock music, let’s put everything else to the side and forget whose name comes from wherever, shall we?’ I ventured.
There was a long uncomfortable silence and then the Serbian journalist began to ask his questions. Afterwards we left without shaking hands – he didn’t respond to our outstretched hands – and he didn’t ask to come to any gigs or have his photo taken with the band which most journalists do, as the band shot out of the offices at the speed of light.
Needless to say the write-up wasn’t that favourable and not unexpected. Music usually overcomes most obstacles I’ve found, but apparently where you are from and what name you have can still be a politically hot potato when your country is divided and at war.
Next time: Picture yourself in an elevator going high (Grapefruit 1968)