A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

the sound of music in Lebanon (iii): whose music is it, anyway?

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on April 3, 2007

This post is for M, with whom I had drinks last night, and for all those other thoughtful Christians who have wondered: if I spent my teenage years here during the war, would I have followed Bashir?

One rainy Sunday I sat in the backseat of a car whose other occupants included three Lebanese aged 34 to 42.

As we drove into a steady flow of raindrops, “I’ve never been to me”, the 1970s Charlene hit made popular again in the mid 1990s thanks to the surprise success of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, came on the radio.

Hey Lady, You Lady
Cursing at your life
You’re a discontented mother
With a regimented life.

I’ve no doubt you dream about
The things you never do
But I wish someone had talked to me
Like I want to talk to you …


I sang absently.

Diamond, my fellow backseat’er asked, do you find it strange that we listen to the same music?

Not as strange as I find the fact that a movie about Australian drag queens single-handedly made this song a massive hit during my freshman year of college, I thought.

Well, I said, I do find it strange that you don’t have any music of your own.

[I continued with a long and eminently forgettable cadenza on the global workings of the American pop music industry from the 1960s til now, whose remarkable combination of pedantry and ignorance has hopefully slipped the minds of my riding companions.]

Actually, we do have music of our own, said the driver. We have Fairouz.

Yes, yes, the other two agreed.

But we don’t listen to her, the front seat passenger said, turning back to face me.

No, never, my backseat companion agreed.

We paused to contemplate this paradox for a moment, as the rain pounded on and the song ended.

But wait, he suddenly added, leaning forward in his seat to address the driver. Don’t you remember the songs we used to sing?

He burst into song, a bouncing martial tune whose words meant nothing to me.

Oh YES! the driver exclaimed. We used to sing this all the time!

They sang on, thumping the leather car seats for percussive emphasis.

Diamond, do you know what we are singing? the backseater asked joyfully. Its a song about Arafat. We know ALL the old 2uwwet songs.

Mmmmm, I said, smiling wanly. Yikes, I thought. So this is “our music” – the fighting songs of the Lebanese Forces.

Suddenly 1970s torch songs seemed a whole lot more appealing.


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