My name is Shireen. I was born Shireen Saidi, if you want to get picky about it. My mother is of Scottish descent, my biological father is Iranian, and my so-long-term-it’s-insulting-to-call-him-a-step-parent is Jewish. And I’ve lived in the UK for the past eight years.
My experiences abroad may be a little slanted, since most of my friends are slacker/liberal types, and one of the prime rants of professional slacker/liberals since the 1960s is “I hate America/Americans.” I believe it’s much the same at home — America presents a picture of hegemony that’s bland and suffocating at best, a bully at its worst.
This blanket “I hate Americans” statement is the one that will really give me the rage — and it is often made, quite thoughtlessly, to my face, by my friends — because it treats us as one, great big homogenized moron. And as we know, we are many morons; we contain multitudes. Even some smart folks.
I have an almost daily dose of “Americans are stupid” that portray us with weird little factlets, such as our 12-year-olds cannot find Afghanistan on a map. And? I grew up under education cutbacks — we didn’t have a fucking map in my classroom. I know that most British schoolchildren couldn’t have found it, either, except for the second-generation immigrants whose families are still sending cash home to somewhere nearby.
I have been treated horribly because of my accent. I have had to leave a pub in order to avoid fights. I still regularly get shortchanged. I am told that we’re all pathologically vain and liposuctioned/obese and greedy, that we’re overly ambitious/lazy, that we are artistically protectionist/cultural vampires — any contradiction you can think of, there are those here that truly believe we are both. Then again, this war for peace, circumventing the United Nations to uphold the United Nations, is eroding all claims to logic.
This is all before the war.
Now that the British people are in a position to watch their own government go to war under their flag without their consent, they are much more sympathetic, more aware of dissenting Americans in general. I really have to credit Michael Moore’s excellent Bowling For Columbine, which also gave the UK a much stronger sense of U.S.-style media fearmongering.
Maybe this is just my experience, but now when someone says, “the Americans are determined to have a war ...” they will amend, “I mean Bush and his cronies, not you.” This is nothing short of a small miracle. Seriously — I have become accustomed to being held responsible for every American misfire since World War I. This new separation of American government policy and me will take awhile to get used to.
Weirder still — the model of resistance and protest that is being actively studied and put into place is a very American one. Since the parliamentary system is completely different from our system of representation (long story short — you vote for your team, and then the team does whatever they want — the individual politician is not responsible to constituents), political pressure on individual politicians is less effective. The answer has become mass rallies.
On Feb. 15, more than 1 million people marched from the Embankment on the Thames to Hyde Park. Now, I’m not usually a marching type — crowds give me the raging anxiety — but I had to stand up and be counted. It was one of the more profoundly gratifying moments of my life. This wasn’t your usual CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) bunch of white kids with dreadlocks and hemp trousers listening to bad music and smoking pot. This was everybody. Coaches full of grannies from Scotland, Muslim teenagers, the Brixtonian Jamaicans who cannot get together for any reason without it becoming a party. Welsh choirs and Pakistani mothers. Because America’s picture of Great Britain as a racially and politically homogenous place is as pathetically wrong as the UK’s traditional view of Americans as spoiled children.
I live in North London, off the Holloway Road, in a largely immigrant neighborhood. My weekend swap meet is full of Armenian baby clothes and Turkish CDs. And my car has fliers on it for another demonstration, marching to Hyde Park because it is the only place big enough to hold us all. The flier is put out by a coalition between Stop the War (www.stopwar.org.uk), CND and the Muslim Association of Great Britain. Of course I’m going — my job can wait, my band can wait, my list of personal crises can bloody well wait. And for the first time in this country, my American-ness will be genuinely and warmly welcomed. Celebrated, even.
Because of the UK’s wacky licensing laws, we get there at 7:45 and the Sights are already halfway through their set. The songs are receiving the kind of intense punishment that usually comes from not getting a proper soundcheck, and rocking all the harder for it. The 1,400-capacity venue is packed, and the crowd is theirs. Mission accomplished.
My introduction to the Detroit Cobras is a big-boned blond woman striding onto the stage in a Fair Isle cardigan and some slouchy cords, looking like a mother of three on the school run. I’m confused. … Then she opens her mouth, and lets loose that kind of barroom vibrato that used to be Chrissy Hynde’s specialty, and I’m beginning to get it. By the end of a sleazy, positively New York Dolls-meets-Ronnie Spector in Mitch Ryder’s garage set, I’m a convert to the Cobra’s driving Motor City stomp.
The miracle of Rachel Nagy in a mom sweater is that, by the subtlest, slightest, pinup-girly gesture, she can transform some very trad rock ’n’ roll into the pheromone-dripping genuine article. That woman is a fucking alchemist. Coal to diamonds, rubbish to gold.
Favorite moment of the night — Heckler: “Fuck you.” DC gal: “Fuck me? Come closer when you say that. We’re from Detroit.”
The Libertines have taken the Stooges’ Detroit jive and dragged it through the Clash’s 1977 London gutter. Which is not to say it’s a bad thing — the Libertines do rock. If I had never heard the Clash and the Jam and the Stooges, I’d think the Libertines were the second coming of rock ’n’ roll. But I already have those records, so maybe I’m a little less impressed.
The Flaming Lips
Kentish Town Forum
I got a call from a mate, asking if I wanted to be a giant dancing animal for the Flaming Lips show, and I said yes before even considering what degradations that might entail.
My animal costume fell through at the final hour, and thank Christ for that. Strains of “Fight Test” begin to play in the dark theater, and instead of the expensive, computerized moving light shows that are making so many live bands a traveling migraine-inducer, there were about 40 adults in giant animal costumes on either side of the stage, dancing with industrial-strength flashlights. Can you imagine that? This huge, glowing sea anemone, a giant, furry-animal conga line, waving lights in the dark.
Which is a very Flaming Lips response to a 20-year career that has resulted in critical darlinghood and their very first “Top Of The Pops” appearance. Even in the days of the Mogadon Death Tractor guitar noise, there was always a joyousness to them, but Wayne Coyne has grown into his Oklahoma preacher’s suit, coming over all evangelical as the Pied Piper of Pop. A performance of glee and endless compassion by turns that never, for a moment, made that hard left turn into heartless art-wank and alienated the audience.
I think I’ve just seen the future of rock ’n’ roll — and how it can mature gracefully, graciously, and still be full of art and joy. Regime change begins at home, and I fancy the idea of President Coyne. Vote Flaming Lips.Metro Times UK correspondent Shireen Liane periodically pens Letter From London. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org