About a month ago, I walked into my local Guitar Center to buy some equipment and noticed banners all over the store which read, simply, "Make Rock History." There was no other information indicating what the banners meant, but one of the salesman filled me in on the secret: On August first Motley Crue would announce a contest to determine who would open for them on their upcoming tour. The idea was to discover a young, unsigned band and use the tour to help launch them to rock 'n roll stardom.
"How cool!" I thought. As soon as I got home I emailed friends in some of my favorite unsigned bands to let them know about the contest and urge them to enter by going to makerockhistory.com. All were excited. Then the full rules were announced on the makerockhistory.com website on August 1, at which point this depressing email arrived from Tangier: "Bah! We would love to [enter the contest] but then we read 'All band members must be legal residents of the continental United States'."
Since when has heavy metal become an American-only endeavor? Are Motely Crue, despite their bad boy sex-drugs-and-rock 'n roll image really a bunch of anti-immigrant Republicans? With 80 millions albums sold and counting, do they and their sponsors not have enough money to fly in a band economy class from overseas (not to mention Hawaii or Alaska)?
It is disheartening to think that in the age of globalization, when fostering greater communication between people--especially young people--that one of the biggest rock bands in the world isn't interested or willing to fork out a little extra sponsorship money to allow bands from around the world to be introduced to fans in the United States.
I've just spent five years working on a book on the heavy metal scenes across the Muslim world, so I'm partial to that part of the world. I was shocked when I first discovered these scenes, but I quickly realized that some of the best bands around today or playing in relative obscurity--at least vis-a-vis the American music scene--in Morocco, Egypt, Iran, Pakistan and even Saudi Arabia. Not only have they mastered the classic sounds of Scandinavian, British and American metal, they've brought in their indigenous sounds and even instruments to create new strains of rock, such as "oriental death metal" or "Sufi rock" that are among the most innovative styles of music today.
I'd be willing to put some of the bands I've worked with in these countries against any band from the US, or anywhere else for that matter. That's why I was so excited to hear about the contest.
Of course, I'm biased towards the Middle East. China also has a rapidly developing scene, and I'd never bet against a band from Brazil (think of all the unknown heirs to Sepultera playing in garages and small clubs across Latin America's biggest country), not to mention all the great rock coming out of Colombia and Mexico.
Even Africa--and not just South Africa, but Ghana and other countries not known for their rock music--are seeing a flowering of rock and metal across their soundscapes.
It certainly would be easier to stick to good 'ol american metal; but rock 'n roll, and heavy metal in particular, are not supposed to be easy. They're supposed to be about taking crazy risks, saying Fuck You to authority and convention, and most of all, breaking down that barriers that polite society has always tried to erect to keep those poorer and/or darker them them in their place.
Indeed, now more than ever it's crucial for established American artists both to welcome in their lesser known comrades from abroad, because one of the casualties of the endless war on terror has been the constant harassment foreign musicians have had to endure when they try to enter the United States. An Iranian death metal band that I met in Tehran was invited two times to play at the famed SXSW festival in Austin; both years their visas were delayed for so long (despite hiring a lawyer and filling out all the paperwork in plenty of time) that they missed the festival, receiving the "security clearance"--an added step many Muslim artists have to endure, as if musicians are likely to also be terrorists--they need to obtain in addition to visas the day after their show was supposed to take place.
Similarly, a Moroccan metal band that I work with was pulled off a plane when it arrived in Atlanta on the way to New York from Paris and held for hours, missing their connection, despite having all their paperwork in order, including visas and invitations from the college and clubs where they were to perform. Their experience was so upsetting, they're not sure they want to return. Other artists I know won't even bother accepting gigs in the US because of the humiliation they've faced in the past when entering or leaving the country.
It's time that American artists took a stand with artists from around the world, and held out a welcoming hand that could both highlight how great the music scenes are in places we likely wouldn't imagine even have music like death metal, hardcore punk or gangsta rap, and force our government to treat artists with the respect they deserve.
I'm not saying that if the Make Rock History contest were open to bands from around the world that a foreign band would definitely win. But I do know that, today more than ever, the next Motley Crue, or even the next Iron Maiden or Led Zeppelin, could just as easily come from Cairo or Karachi as from Kansas City or LA.
So c'mon Nikki, Tommy, Vince and Mick; really make rock history--open up the contest to bands from all over the world and may the loudest, meanest, most kick-ass band win the right to open for you guys on your upcoming tour. Your fans will thank you, and more important, young musicians from around the world will thank for you recognizing their dreams as well.