Experiences of an American woman who was married to a Serb.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Live from Belgrade! Bajaga in Boston (Sort Of)

Bajaga's been a rock/pop-star in the former Yugoslavia for 25 years now, which makes his act a shoe-in for the expat circuit. My husband was terrifically excited when his daughter bought us all tickets to Bajaga's Boston concert in April... which was then delayed for a month due to "visa problems". We consoled ourselves as we waited by watching a bit of video from his 2009 Canada tour which someone posted online. The crowds in Toronto looked enormous.

I for one, couldn't figure out how, because whoever was in charge of marketing the tour did a beyond-crappy job of it. We only found out about the tour by accident, and even then, it took my step-daughter a full hour of clicking and cursing to find her way down the rabbit's hole to where one could buy a ticket online. When, on the appointed day, we piled into the car and I asked for the address for the GPS, my worst fears were confirmed. The "Boston" concert was being held in a rundown neighborhood in Everett, a working class town a few miles away. Instead of a concert hall, the band rented 'The Silver Fox' a dingy local nightclub with no heat and folding tables and chairs. It had all the ambiance of your local VFW hall.

We arrived, unfashionably early, at the exact time our tickets said the concert started, then we scurried back out again to get coats left in the car. And for the next hour or so watched everyone else come in and then run back out again to do the same. I was one of the tiny handful of non-Yugoslavs in the crowd. (There were maybe 3-4 of us American-born spouses out of 125 or so concert-goers.) If I'm dressed right, I think I can pass as a Serb as long as I don't open my mouth, but I wasn't dressed right. Not by a long shot. I felt like an alien anthropologist.

The women were Feminine with a capital F. I'm talking heels - as spiky and high as possible - tiny, tight top ( a tank top if you could stand the cold), a skirt, and potentially something in the ensemble with glitter or sequins on it. These were Beauties On Display for a big night out, although as my step-daughter noted, sometimes the taste level was "lacking".

The men were also in uniform. This consisted of closely cropped hair, button-down shirt, jeans, and leather shoes. They all looked squeaky clean.

Everyone was drinking. And drinking. Then they went outside for a smoke, and returned to drink some more. If smoking were legal indoors I have no doubt the resulting fug would have obscured our view of the stage.

And everyone, besides us, seemed to know a lot of other people. It felt like a high school reunion. Lots of hugging, kissing, photo-taking. More phototaking. Wait! We have to take yet another photo with this person's camera too!

My husband figured nearly everyone in the room was a Serb, but I didn't recognize a single person from church. I guess there are two crowds of expats - the Orthodox and the Partiers. The women of both, it must be noted, have a fondness for spike heels, although the partiers perhaps in more colors. It should also be noted that the Orthodox definitely party, just look at the line for sljivoica shots with the priest in the church basement after services on important Sundays.

So, now we come to Bajaga himself. He looked, to my eye, like any former rock star on tour amongst the faithful. A bit older than anyone remembered, a little puffy from too much alcohol or jet lag or both, tired from the road but game for the concert. And that hair, well, he looked more like an aging Frankie Avalon from the 1950s with a dyed black pompadour than a star from the 80s and 90s.

But we didn't care, we came to hear him sing and play.

There was no opening act. We doubted, given how small the crowd was (due, again, to the utter crappiness of the marketing) that the band could afford one. The sound men, hired locally, sucked. And no one, no tour manager, no bar owner, could be bothered to hop on stage to introduce the act so poor Bajaga had to make the announcement himself. "Live from Belgrade, I am here Boston!" His backing band, two more guitar players, a drummer and an electronic keyboard guy launched into the first song. It was an unfortunate choice. A new song, apparently, no one in the audience had ever heard it before and it did not go over well with this nostalgia seeking crowd.

I'm thinking, where is the guy's manager? Idiot, idiot.

But then the hits started to come. Even I, the Amerikanka wife could spot them. Not for nothing have I had mix tapes of Yugoslav greatest hits as the backdrop to so much of my life over the past five years, including our wedding celebration. Some of the songs were pop born of their times - Yugoslav version of Culture Club, Yugoslav version of Caribbean rythmns, Yugoslav version of U2-style.... Some were classic Serb, songs that could only come from that culture. And some were just classics. Even I, speaking next to no Srpski, could tell the difference. It's like watching foreign movies, you know when you are in the presence of greatness even when it's not in your language. Some of Bajaga's songs should win the rock version of the Cannes Palme D'or.

And, the man can sing. He would be a singing star anywhere. Even worn out, jetlagged, with silly old fashioned hair and maybe a little drunk. He's a great singer. World class.

Afterwards my husband said he wishes we hadn't come. The reality was more tawdry and tired than his memories wanted to allow. He will not go see any more Yugo bands on tour, except maybe Bregovic who is well-known to keep production standards up. But I disagree. Maybe it's because I have no memories of Bajaga in his days of glory. Despite everything, right here, right now, he sounded pretty damn good to me.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Don't Listen to Balkan Beat Box While You're Driving

Unless you want a speeding ticket. Perfect soundtrack for housework though.

So, OK, what's your favorite Balkan music record?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Suggest Your Favorite Expat Books & Blogs

Even before I met and married my Yugoslav husband, I was always fascinated by people who live outside the countries of their birth. Over the years I've gathered a collection of more than 100 autobiographies by expats, diplomats and journalists living abroad, especially women. (Hey, I'm female, so that's my preference.)

Tonight I started a longtime dream, to post book reviews and Amazon hotlinks for all these wonderful books and share them with the world. Some of them are famous, some barely known, others rare collectibles.

And what the heck, I also decided to start reviewing the best living abroad bloggers as well. Because blogs are often the autobiographies of tomorrow. I haven't added any yet, but will do so shortly.

I'd love your suggestions for blogs and/or books to include. I'll keep posting new reviews in the weeks and months to come, so lemme know at rosemarybaileybrown(at)gmail.com

In the meantime, my new blog is at: http://living-abroad-books.blogspot.com/