“Let’s go to Bagdad Café,” said Kečer.
“I don’t feel like going,” I replied.
“C’mon, we’ll head over to Džadžo later,” he added. That sounded OK to me. We took off.
I didn’t like Bagdad Café, until it turned into the New Age Teahouse, which became my favorite hangout later on. But Džadžo and 21 at the Trades Center were perfect venues for me—grungy, authentic, and alternative, minus the tea and intellectualism, and minus the philosophers and mystics, everything that was abhorrent to my heavy metal and punk rock mind at the time. But a person changes over time and may even mature, as long as he’s not chewed up and spat out by the daily grind and turned into something that no longer resembles himself, but rather everyone else—in one huge pot of ajvar.
Former Yugoslavia was mired in upheaval, in contrast to the Czech Republic and Slovakia, which had managed to peacefully separate. The world didn’t care one bit about the war in Yugoslavia, because to them we weren’t part of Europe, but rather an outpost. We were “Balkanites,” a bit of dirt on their shoes that should be wiped from their consciousness. But why would they care when there were at least a dozen other civil wars going on in the world, which they also weren’t concerned about. Guatemala, Angola, Afghanistan, Sudan, Sri Lanka, Libya, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Algiers, Tajikistan, Burundi . . . to name a few.
Recipe for Hate by Bad Religion sounded like the perfect name for an album for that time, but I didn’t like it. It felt to me as though hardcore punk was dead. But it was resurrected in a different way by the songs of the post-punk bands such as Fugazi or by the grunge sound of Mudhoney, who I listened to until it almost drove my family and my neighbors crazy.
“I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston was wailing from the TV and I turned it off in disgust. I liked a different kind of howling—loud punk screaming and the rattling sound of the cassettes, which was sometimes even louder than the music itself. Nirvana’s follow-up album to Nevermind wasn’t like that and their performance on MTV Unplugged disappointed me. It seemed as though grunge rock was in crisis. Nevertheless, alternative music did not stop after Nirvana’s popularity declined. Primus’s My Name is Mud introduced a new sound and a new awareness in my life. So did Disciplina Kičme and other unusual bands, which I discovered on my weekly pilgrimage—walking all the way from Debar Maalo to the new railway station, where the cassette shop, Pop Top, was located.
Despite the objections of my music buddy, Vlad, music could be both heavy and fun at the same time, which I liked as a concept. “Buka u modi” was blaring from my stereo. I was in 10th grade and it seemed as if the opportunities before me were unlimited.
Trotoar, the local magazine dedicated to the alternative scene, appeared at the right moment, just as Ace of Base’s All That She Wants or Snow’s Informer were assaulting our ears daily. We could finally learn more about our idols at a time when we didn’t have the internet and things weren’t just a mouse click away. We had to order books from overseas and go to the university library to copy out texts by hand or photocopy them, but we didn’t mind because we were hungry to know more.
Heavy metal was evolving. After the death of Metallica, there weren’t many bands left that would blow us away—with the exception of Sepultura, who continued singing about socially relevant topics on their album Territory, something that was quite uncommon for metal bands. Meanwhile, in former Yugoslavia fierce territorial battles were being fought. In the old days people used to ask, “Who are you? Where are you from?” with an interest and desire to get along with you. Now the standard reply was just, “I’m a nonentity.”
The guitar on U2’s “Numb” roared, catching the world unprepared. Music became a thumping heartbeat, a machine propeller, a car engine . . . I listened to it and thought about “my” Einstürzende Neubauten, who’d been making music like that for years . . . It seemed that pop-rock music was evolving and catching up with rap, which was always experimenting. Insane in the Brain by the timeless Cypress Hill and Bacdafucup by the short-lived Onyx breathed new life into the scene, while Body Count blended metal with rap in a completely new way that I liked. Headbanging to rap was a challenging concept. My heavy metal friends teased me for doing it, but hey, that’s a completely different story.
This is a story in which tennis star, Monica Seles, was attacked with a knife, after which her career would never be the same, while her attacker received a minimal sentence. But that was just another one of the many injustices of 1993 that the world turned a blind eye to. Another reason for people to keep their heads down and withdraw into themselves.
“Sober” by Tool was playing on MTV. I wondered to myself, “Are we all just puppets trapped in the containers we put ourselves in?” It seemed as if the whole country was stuck in a world of its own. Spurned by others, we fought hard to survive, but the fight wore us down. And as if that wasn’t enough, the period of economic transition then just finished us off. People right and left were losing jobs. And songs such as “Human Behavior” by Björk and the album Into the Labyrinth by Dead Can Dance seemed like soundtracks that perfectly matched this kind of atmosphere. We had entered the labyrinth of transition from which there has been no escape.
Excerpt from the book “3 Minutes and 53 Seconds” (Goten, 2015)
Translated by Paul Filev
Copyright © Branko Prlja, 2015