Leftie, pacifist, Detroit indie-rock band plays Gitmo library. Interesting tale ensues.

Detroit-based indie rockers The High Strung, whose penchant for playing live music in libraries was the subject of a This American Life feature, were invited to play a show at the Guantanamo Bay library this summer. They said yes. What followed is documented in a Vanity Fair article, written by the older brother of one of the bandmembers.
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Some of their turnout may have been siphoned off by the presence of another group that had flown in with them [m]ade up of about eight active-duty armed forces members(...) "They're called USA Express," Derek said. "Which is probably the worst band name in the world. That's the best we can do, the all-powerful minds of the U.S. military? Anything would be better than that. The Rangers. The Fighters. Really, anything.

USA Express was also a rock band, but in a different idiom. They played covers of contemporary hits, as instructed by the Army. "Nothing they did was their decision," Derek said. "Where they went, how long they performed, their playlist. The Army said, You have to learn these 60 songs, and your first tour starts in three weeks. Go." For prurience sake, I asked what the 60 songs were. "Something by Pink, 'Freebird,' 'Billie Jean.'" Derek laughed. "That was the highlight of their first show for me actually, 'Billie Jean,' because I was invited to sit in. Their drummer was this 52 year-old dude, and he wanted to perform some dance moves during 'Billie Jean,' so they asked me to cover for him, and he got up and did this Michael Jackson-style dancing while we played.

Video of that "Michael Jackson-style dancing" after the jump. The High Strung Rocks Gitmo (Vanity Fair, thanks Mark Kleiman)

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  1. He didn’t mention what has been the number one requested song by army bands since 9/11: Bodies (“Let the bodies hit the floor”). Very creepy to see huge mess halls of soldiers jumping up and down singing it. The song is also used by soldiers who create YouTube videos of the kind showing themselves in tanks blowing people up.

    Actually, I have a friend (a liberal vegan) who was in the Army band who says that it wasn’t quite as restrictive as this makes it out. Though most of the songs were from a pretty standard set list, there was nothing preventing them from adding their own songs (covers) to the mix. At a Valentine’s Day party they got peop,e to dance to Boris Pickett’s “Monster Mash.”

  2. I just saw one of the High Strung’s library shows last week, and and it was probably the strangest indie rock show I’ve ever been to. There were about 20 people there (at a library in the backwater town of Bayfield, CO) and I must have stuck out like a sore thumb because I was the only adult there (aside from the band members themselves) that didn’t have a kid along with me.
    They seemed to have gotten quite comfortable playing to an unusual crowd and were doing a pretty good job of drawing everyone in.
    On a more technical note, I will say that they know how to THROW DOWN on the Buzzcocks-esque pop music- well worth seeing if you get the chance. I’d especially recommend it if you are a parent that is interested in showing your kids a different facet of rock’n’roll from the one shown on MTV.

  3. “Their drummer was this 52 year-old dude, and he wanted to perform some dance moves during ‘Billie Jean,’ so they asked me to cover for him, and he got up and did this Michael Jackson-style dancing while we played.”

    Why would this be weird? Michael Jackson was himself 50 years old.

  4. Why would this be weird? Michael Jackson was himself 50 years old.

    Michael Jackson was also pretty weird, you must admit.

  5. The article was kinda interesting but desperately needed an editor. You would think Vanity Fair employs someone to look after that sort of thing.

  6. I got the feeling that we were supposed to read the conversation with Marcus as weird. My entire family and 80% of old college friends are crazy conservatives. Conversations with them are just like conversations with Marcus.

    It’s a dangerous and narrow mindset but, in my experience, not very weird at all.

  7. @#2- Makes sense. I mean, considering their line of work, some of them are going to enjoy it, right?

  8. Is it just me, or do they appear to not be having very much fun? The people in the average Vegas club’s house band look to be enjoying themselves more than these guys. They’ve definitely got the chops, but there’s no soul.

  9. Seriously, these guys are so holier than thou they have to make fun of the MWR band (a pick-up team that wouldn’t have a reason to exist if more brand-name bands were volunteering to play USO shows)… for lacking street cred?

  10. #8: “I got the feeling that we were supposed to read the conversation with Marcus as weird. My entire family and 80% of old college friends are crazy conservatives. Conversations with them are just like conversations with Marcus.

    It’s a dangerous and narrow mindset but, in my experience, not very weird at all.”

    Hmm…My entire family and 80% of my old college friends are “juggalos,” but THAT never stops being weird to me.

    “Yes, Mom, I know you’re disappointed that Janelle isn’t a juggalette, but I love her, and besides, I don’t want to get the HIV again.”

    For granola leftie types, juggalos and evangelists weird and exotic. But they are not animals. They are human beings! And some of them make kids and relatives and friends who read Boing Boing!

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