Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

Take a bow the ill-fated Iranian rockers who dared to dream

Members of the band The Yellow Dogs
Members of the band The Yellow Dogs

I hadn't thought about the band The Yellow Dogs much recently. I mean, why would you? They're not exactly in the Garth Brooks league of popularity. They're from the Iranian capital Tehran. I wouldn't even have heard about them if it wasn't for a small indie film a few years back called No One Knows About Persian Cats.

It was a half-drama, half-documentary about the young bands playing underground in Iran in defiance of the Islamic regime, who rule that rock music is Western decadence and outlaw it. It was a life-affirming movie. It seems stupid to point it out, but these young musicians were just like our kids, dreaming of making the big time, fantasising about playing gigs in London and all the time, dodging the religious police.

Punishment for playing "satanic" rock music in Tehran is jail and confiscation of passport. Yet The Yellow Dogs and others played to up to 200 brave, spirited young Iranians in underground gigs, refusing to be censored, and they were pretty good.

The Dogs themselves had to practise on a rooftop away from the prying eyes and ears of neighbours, some of whom would be only too willing to grass them up to the totalitarian fundamentalist regime. The film came out a couple of years before the US and Britain started seriously talking about attacking Iran in retaliation for its nuclear programme. The film forced me to crystallise my opposition to such action; had humanised some of the potential, and unwilling, participants.

Unlike Baghdad a decade before, I actually "knew" some of the people who might become victims of such action. As I say, they were just like our kids.

Like all young people they, too, were fighting to throw off the shackles of authority, even if it was more life and death struggle than our own young.

I imagined a stray Western missile landing on one of those underground Tehran gigs... so much youth and promise wiped out. Thankfully, we stepped back from the brink and I forgot about the four boys of The Yellow Dogs until last weekend.

Did you hear about that Iranian band, a friend asked? Seems The Yellow Dogs fulfilled their dream.

They escaped and made it to their own Oz, New York, started playing gigs, planning for the future. But that's when it went wrong. You see, it wasn't the suffocating religious regime that snuffed out the Dogs, it was the Land of the Free, where a lone nutter and easy access to guns wrote a tragic final chapter in their story.

At the back end of last year, after what seems to have been a petty disagreement among musicians, a clearly deranged immigrant climbed up to the Dogs' Brooklyn flat and shot dead two brothers who were members of the band, Arash and Soroush Farazmand, before turning the gun on himself. The irony was that the dispute did not concern the Dogs, but another group who shared the apartment block.

Apart from the obvious sorrow, what does this story tell us? It is unbelievably poignant that the place they longed to escape to turned out to be fatally flawed.

Many have argued on the message boards that the West's idea of freedom is a mirage, almost as if they deserved what they got for daring to be different. But I don't think so.

Sure, our dreams have a way of turning into a different reality, but that doesn't mean we should stop dreaming. The Farazmand brothers have made their mark, written their little bit of history. In the wake of The Yellow Dogs' success, Tehran is now buzzing with bands playing indie rock, hip hop, and metal.

The authorities cannot contain the outpouring of creativity and defiance.

That, rather than a blood-stained flat in Brooklyn, is The Yellow Dogs' legacy.

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