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Making A 'Big To-Do' About Life's Important Things.

Formed in the late '90s by guitarists and singer-songwriters Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley, the Drive-By Truckers hit a peak of critical success with its 2001 release Southern Rock Opera. Critic Ken Tucker says their latest album, The Big To-Do, is "head-clearingly refreshing."



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Other segments from the episode on April 2, 2010

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, April 2, 2010: Interview with Faisal Talal, Marwan Riyadh, and Suroosh Alvi; Review of Drive by Truckers' album "To Big To-Do"; Review of the film "Clash of the Titans."


Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
Playing Heavy Metal In Baghdad: Acrassicauda

Dave Davies, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross.

Baghdad wasn't the easiest place to keep a heavy metal band together.
Metal wasn't exactly the preferred music of the Saddam Hussein regime,
but for the musicians on today's show, things got a lot worse after the
U.S. invasion. The insurgency started, then soon after, they got death
threats from Islamist insurgents. Even wearing a Metallica T-shirt could
put your life at risk.

The documentary "Heavy Metal in Baghdad" is about one of the first and
one of the few bands to perform heavy metal in Baghdad. The group is
called Acrassicauda, which is Latin for black scorpion. The movie was
shot in 2005 and '6 in Baghdad. It also follows the musicians after they
crossed the border into Syria when the death threats became too much for

You can find a link to watch the film online at It's also
available on DVD, and last month, the band released their first-ever

Today, we'll listen to Terry's 2009 with two members of the band:
drummer Marwan Riyadh and lead singer and rhythm guitarist Faisal al-
Talal. They're joined in the interview by the co-director and producer
of the documentary, Suroosh Alvi, who co-founded Vice Magazine
Publishing. After making the film, he helped relocate the band members
to the United States. Before we hear the band's story, let's hear what
they sound like. This is the song "Garden of Stones," from their new
recording, "Only the Dead See The End of the War."

(Soundbite of song, "Garden of Stones")

ACRASSICAUDA (Music group): (Singing) (Unintelligible).

TERRY GROSS, host: That's music from the Iraqi heavy metal band
Acrassicauda. And welcome, Marwan Riyadh, Faisal Talal and Suroosh Alvi.
Tell us what first got you interested in heavy metal music, which there
probably wasn't a whole lot of in Baghdad. Faisal, you want to start?

Mr. FAISAL TALAL (Lead Singer, Acrassicauda): Yeah, sure. We basically
loved foreign music. So heavy metal was a road to us to explain more of
our feelings, explode that kind of rage inside of us and try to find its
way, dig its way, you know?

But that wasn't enough for us as fans or listeners, only. So - but
basically, we turned our horses to more educational and more training as
a band, tried to feel this music more and more.

GROSS: Marwan, was it hard to find heavy metal records in Baghdad? I'm
sure there weren't a lot of, like - or maybe there were, like, record
shops that had big heavy metal and death metal sections in it.

Mr. MARWAN RIYADH (Drummer, Acrassicauda): Well, we don't want to, like,
you know, be like a bad influence or something. But there was, like, a
lot of bootlegs. And that was good stuff, cheap stuff.

GROSS: And did the bootlegs have the covers on them and everything?

Mr. RIYADH: Well, sometimes, no. You don't get lucky, like, with a
cover. So what we used to do, just like write the stuff down on paper
and just like put, with a tape.

Like, we didn't have CDs. We had the tapes, cassettes. And - or
somebody, like, will travel outside Iraq and come back with, like, you
know, a collection of stuff, like you know, heavy metal rock 'n' roll,
like Dio and Black Sabbath and stuff like that. And we'll just copy
them, and this is the way that we just trade between each other.

And sometimes by the time that you get the tape, you can't really like
hear, like listen to a good quality. So it will be just like…

(Soundbite of hissing)

Mr. RIYADH: But it's still good. You still can head-bang to it.

GROSS: Well, let me ask you to talk about a song that you recorded after
you left Iraq and lived in Syria briefly, and you were able to make a
demo record in Syria. And one of the songs you made was called
"Massacre." It starts out in Arabic. Would you explain what's being said
at the beginning of this recording?

Mr. RIYADH: Well, what had been said is like a lot of innocent people
getting killed, rivers turning to blood, since like, you know, we had
like two rivers in Iraq and stuff. And it's kind of - it has nothing to
do - just like about the images that we have to live daily in our lives.

You know, sometimes something bad happens in your life that you can't
just get over it. You know, you'll dream about it. You'll think about it
the whole time, you know? So we're just trying to get this off our
backs, but hopefully, like, if we do that, these songs, mostly like a
tribute for the people who just, like, you know, got killed or whatever
in the war.

So we're seeing, like, you know, basically, like, you know, these
innocent children, innocent people, elders and seniors, like, who got
killed. And some people, like a lot of people got killed in vain, you

(Soundbite of song, "Massacre")

ACRASSICAUDA: (Singing in foreign language) (Unintelligible).

GROSS: That's the song "Massacre" by the Iraqi heavy metal band
Acrassicauda, and the members of the band are now living in the United
States. Two of the members are my guests, Marwan Riyadh, who's the
drummer, and Faisal Talal, who's the rhythm guitarist and singer. Also
with us is one of the two filmmakers, Suroosh Alvi.

Let's talk about what it was like to play heavy metal in Baghdad before
the American invasion. Let's start with the Saddam Hussein era. Did the
government disapprove of heavy metal music? Did you have to play it

Mr. TALAL: This is Faisal. Basically, the government didn't disapprove
anything back in the time. Most of the rumors come ahead from all the
friends and the people who surround us because we had to translate all
the lyrics that we used to sing, just in case, and be prepared that
somebody would ask us or tell us that what the hell that we were writing
about or describe that the music that you're expressing...

Mr. SUROOSH ALVI (Co-director, "Heavy Metal in Baghdad"): I think I'm
going to jump in here and...

Mr. TALAL: Go ahead.

GROSS: This is Suroosh, the filmmaker. Yeah, go ahead.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TALAL: Suroosh.

Mr. ALVI: They wrote a song called "Youth of Iraq" that they don't like
talking about. I'm going to force them to talk about it.

Mr. TALAL: Dude, dude.

GROSS: Oh, oh, I was going to ask you about this. Yeah, this is a song
that you - it's explained in the movie that when you do the concert
under Saddam Hussein, you had to do a tribute to Saddam, a musical
tribute to Saddam. So you did one, and that's in the movie.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RIYADH: Yeah, it was an opening for a concert. Thanks, Suroosh.

Mr. ALVI: It's their dirty little secret. They don't like talking about
it, but it's in the movie, so...

Mr. TALAL: You're evil. You know that.

GROSS: Just to make it more evil, let me quote one of the lines from the

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RIYADH: Yeah, sure. Be my guest.

GROSS: All right, okay. And this is about fighting the evil forces. And
the line is: We're following our leader, Saddam Hussein. We'll make them
fall. We'll drive them insane.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RIYADH: Yippee.

Mr. ALVI: I love that song.

GROSS: Did you write that just for this concert so that you could have
your shout-out to Saddam Hussein, or did you change the lyric of a pre-
existing song?

Mr. RIYADH: No, no. Actually, like the whole thing is, like, just like
Faisal said before. It's just like sort of like our friends, who like
had bands before, like played gigs, were kind of like intimidated by the
situation down there. So we were kind of frightened because it's the
first concert. So they told us, like, you know, maybe we should take
precautions and just, like you know, write something to the government.

Some of us, like, you know, approved. Some of us disapproved the whole
thing. But I guess this song came to be, and we played it twice in two
concerts. Then we quit playing it.

I guess it's much more like, you know, in order, like you know, to play
your music, you've got to do some stuff that probably - you need to be
flexible. You need to go with the flow, which is not good all the time,
but we had to do it.

GROSS: Well, since there's a scene of you performing it in the film
about you, "Heavy Metal in Baghdad," why don't we listen to an excerpt
of that performance of your tribute to Saddam Hussein? And what's the
song called again?

Mr. RIYADH: "Youth of Iraq."

GROSS: "Youth of Iraq." Wow.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Okay. Here it is, and this is the band Acrassicauda.

(Soundbite of song, "Youth of Iraq")

ACRASSICAUDA: (Singing) (unintelligible)

GROSS: That's the band Acrassicauda. They're an Iraqi heavy metal band
that managed to get out of Iraq, and the band members are now living in
the United States. My guests are two members of the band, Marwan Riyadh
and Faisal Talal. My third guest, Suroosh Alvi, is the co-director of a
documentary about the band. The film is called "Heavy Metal in Baghdad."

So we were talking a little bit about playing in a heavy metal band
while Saddam Hussein was in power. Let's talk about what it was like
after the American invasion, when there was a civil war, and a lot of
the insurgents were ultra-religious Muslims, many of whom, like, didn't
even like music, let along heavy metal music.

So, and Americans were really hated by - or maybe I should say are
really hated by a lot of Iraqis, and heavy metal is so associated with
American bands and with American popular culture.

So did all of that, did the religious fundamentalism and the hatred of
America affect your ability to play heavy metal music, or even to wear
your favorite T-shirts?

Mr. RIYADH: Yeah, of course. Yeah, totally. I mean, it became - it was
already, like, dangerous, like forbidden, like, to play such kind of
music. I wouldn't say forbidden, but it was just, like, just too
eccentric, you know.

But, of course, after the invasion, it became a matter of life and
death, and is it even really worth it? Is it even worth it that you're
playing music, and you're threatening - you're jeopardizing your life
and your family, too, with that, you know?

GROSS: Well, why was it so dangerous? I mean, I know it was dangerous to
just to be outside, no matter who you were. But why was it particularly

Mr. RIYADH: Well, it's - first, we're singing, like, in English, you
know. So they considered that, like, Americanized. Second, it's rock 'n'
roll, so that's also Americanized, you know? Third, it's like, you know,
the way that we dress, the way that they can see us coming back and
forth from the practice space. And, you know, obviously, we wouldn't,
like, you know, we weren't like going to practice space wearing
(unintelligible) or something, or turbans, you know.

So it was kind of like, you know, we were kind of distinguished, but in
a bad way. So that's the thing. So we received the threats and saying
that we're Americanized.

GROSS: Well, how would the threats be delivered? Like would someone tell
you we're going to kill you if you're going to kill you if you keep
playing your music? I mean, how...

Mr. RIYADH: Well, you know, we found them hanging on the store walls,
like, you know, the front door for the...

Mr. TALAL: The practice space.

Mr. RIYADH: Yeah, practice space. We found them there, and it was like
pieces of papers and, you know, written and just hang there. So...

DAVIES: We'll hear more from two members of the Iraqi heavy metal band
Acrassicauda and the co-director of a documentary about them after a
break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: We're listening to Terry's 2009 interview with two members of
the Iraqi heavy metal band, Acrassicauda: drummer Marwan Riyadh and lead
singer and rhythm guitarist Faisal al-Talal. Joining them is Suroosh
Alvi, the co-director of a documentary about the band called "Heavy
Metal in Baghdad."

GROSS: Suroosh, you and your co-director helped organized a concert for
the band at the Al-Fanar Hotel in Iraq. So there's scenes of this
concert in the movie, and the audience - I mean, it's a relatively small
audience because it's, what, like in the ballroom of the hotel or

Mr. ALVI: Yeah.

GROSS: But people are so into it, and everybody's kind of, you know,
like doing the head-banging thing and making this, you know, kind of
like falling on each other, and I mean, doing the devil horns. They're
so into it. But from what I could see, there wasn't one female in the

So I was wondering, is it because the music didn't appeal to women, or
is it because women just couldn't go out then? Or, I mean, like, what
accounts for the fact that there were no females?

Mr. RIYADH: It was too dangerous for them.

GROSS: Too dangerous? Mr. RIYADH: Yeah. Basically, the whole tradition
wasn't, like, so acceptable for a woman to walk alone in the street or
having boyfriends or something, just like not so liberated. And I
daresay that going to a dangerous spot that we performed in that night,
which is, basically, it's near to the Sheraton and Palestine Hotel,
which has been surrounded by concrete blocks and Americans all over the
place and the whole security guards.

So they check the whole Iraqi IDs and search the whole T-shirts, candy
machines and all that stuff. So an Iraqi woman wouldn't bother to go
through all that process just to see heavy metal.

I mean, yes, they do exist, a lot of listeners. I mean, I got - for now,
I mean, I'm having a lot of messages on MySpace or Facebook or whatever,
they just - just expressing their feeling that they wish to come at
these concerts, but they couldn't. And they wish they could have seen us

So at this point, I feel glad about it, you know? Just like all these
years, I was imagining there's no scene of metal to women, you know? But
now, just like everyone's started coming up, and now it's really

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: It's funny because, you know, certainly in the United States, so
many musicians say they became musicians because they thought they
thought they would be more appealing to girls if they were in a band.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RIYADH: Yeah, sex and drugs and rock 'n' roll.

GROSS: No, exactly, exactly. And, of course, here you are in Iraq,
where, like, girls can't even show up to the concerts. So it's not going
to be very helpful in that area.

Mr. RIYADH: It's more like, you know, bomb and war and rock 'n' roll for

GROSS: Yeah, no exactly, exactly. You said for you, it was of war, bombs
and rock 'n' roll. In this concert that we've been talking about,
there's a power outage. There was a mortar that goes off, like, next
door or something.

Mr. TALAL: Yeah, yeah.

GROSS: So...

Mr. RIYADH: That's part of the scene, actually, just like fireworks, you
know? So it's much easier to do such stuff in Iraq.

GROSS: You did kind of get used to it in a way, didn't you? I mean, you
seem kind of like unfazed by it in the movie.

Mr. RIYADH: No, I guess it's all going to be overrated if we say, like,
we got used to it. No, you can get used to such stuff. Like bombs? I
don't think nobody can get used to it. But you just, like you know, it's
part of, like, basic, human survival, I guess. You had to survive, you
know? So you have to go, like, wake up every day, and you have to go to
work every day. You know, you can't starve. So you can't get used to it.
But you can deal with it, I guess.

GROSS: So eventually you and the other members of the band decided to do
your best to get out of Iraq. Two members went first, the other two
followed. Can you tell us why you wanted to leave and how difficult it
was to get out? You went to Syria first.

Mr. TALAL: Let me just rephrase this before...

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. TALAL: The general idea of us leaving Iraq is not, like, because we
wanted that so desperately. I mean, most of people could miss it or
misunderstand it, but we'd been forced to leave. And leaving all this
behind was so hard. It was so depressing for us. We wanted to do
something for the band, and for me, I mean, at my time, when I wanted to
leave, I had already two members of my band had already left to Syria.

GROSS: How long were you in Syria, and how long were you in Turkey?

Mr. TALAL: Well, a year and a half and a year and half, I guess like
three years overall. I can't be exact, but I guess it's overall like
three years together.

GROSS: Did you feel like freedom in either of the places? Or were you in
such difficult positions that you still didn't really feel...?

Mr. TALAL: You need to understand, we were refugees. So it's life like
just - it's a hard life multiplied like in 10 times, I guess, like -
because a lot of bureaucratic stuff that you need to go through,
paperwork, just to legalize your situation and just to, you know, a lot
of people got the (unintelligible) like, you know, to born in their
countries and walk tall and stuff.

For us it was - even that was kind of hard. So we had to go like through
down streets and alleys just to avoid like being in like
misunderstanding situation or get caught by the police because sometimes
we're illegal in these places because the paperwork wasn't done.

Mr. RIYADH: Well, I guess the general idea wouldn't - I mean, things
were really getting harder and harder. And we were out of time, out of
money. So we had to do what we had to do.

GROSS: And what did you have to do because you were out of money?

Mr. TALAL: We made "Heavy Metal in Baghdad." We said yes to whatever

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: You hadn't said yes before that?

Mr. TALAL: No. Not in our Baghdad, you know.

Mr. ALVI: I think it took some time to gain the trust of these guys as
well and the whole, you know, process of making the film. But once the
film was out and premiering at the Toronto Film Festival, that's when
the Syrian government was getting fed up with, you know, the number of
Iraqis that were coming in, were threatening to kick Iraqis back in to -
to Iraq. And at that time the guys were receiving threats from inside of
Iraq when they were living in Syria

So because of the footage that we'd shot and put on our Web site, on, I'm not sure if that makes sense, but what happened was we had
kind of outed these guys. They were living their lives as refugees in
Syria, and all of a sudden, they're getting threats for their music from
inside of Iraq, people saying, you know, come back home, we'll take care
of you; meet us on this corner at this time in this city. So the guys
are contacting us saying: Syrian government's about to kick us back
home, and going back home is really bad idea; what can we do?

Mr. RIYADH: Situation was unstable too.

Mr. ALVI: Yeah. So that's when we started raising money and...

GROSS: Raising money to get them out of Syria?

Mr. ALVI: To get them out of Syria and get them to Turkey. Turkey was
the one country that you could fly to as an Iraqi without a visa and
they would accept you. That was the one border that was kind of open at
that time. And even that had a window that was going to close. So we -
we hustled and, you know, raised awareness, and the metal community

Mr. RIYADH: It was the craziest thing ever.

Mr. ALVI: Yeah, donated, you know, whatever - 25 grand or something like
that. And with that we got them tickets and some cash in their pockets
when they landed.

DAVIES: Marwan Riyadh and Faisal Talal of the Iraqi metal band
Acrassicauda will be back in the second half of the show, along with
Suroosh Alvi, who made the documentary "Heavy Metal in Baghdad." I'm
Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I’m Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross.

Today we're hearing about what it was like to be a heavy metal band in
Baghdad. We're listening to Terry’s 2009 interview with two members of
the Iraqi metal band, Acrassicauda: drummer Marwan Riyadh and lead
singer and rhythm guitarist Faisal al-Talal. The band’s the subject of
the documentary "Heavy Metal in Baghdad." Joining them is the film’s co-
director, Suroosh Alvi.

After the insurgency started, the band started getting death threats
from Islamist insurgents. When we left off, they were talking about
leaving Iraq and living as refugees in Syria and Turkey before they made
it to the United States.

GROSS: So now, Turkey isn't the end of the story. Suroosh, you helped
get them - with contributions from the heavy metal community, you helped
get them into Turkey. But now you guys are living in the United States.
Was Turkey a problem eventually too?

Mr. RIYADH: No, we need - we needed a place, okay. We couldn't stay like
in exile forever. We couldn't stay like unstable forever.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. RIYADH: We couldn't like walk and we're carrying like the forms of
refugees like three or four papers around, you know. You need to
understand this because refugee – being a refugee is not a status. It's
just like, you know, form. You know, so that's part of a process, you
know? And that's why it was just like, you know, it wasn't the
destination. So we had to go to someplace where we can perform our
music, where we can play our music, it didn't matter where. Just like,
you know, we had to find a solution.

And I remember we applied like with help from the boys, we applied to
the Canadian embassy twice, got rejected. And the German, because like
embassy, where they were premiering "Heavy Metal in Baghdad," the movie,
and they helped a lot but just the papers. I guess it was a problem with
our paperwork. Then it just happens that we got to the States and then,
you know, and it took awhile. We came to here like separately, you know?

Mr. ALVI: The level of bureaucracy as an outsider looking in, seeing
what these guys had to go through in Turkey, was totally insane. The
psychological impact that this amount of bureaucracy has on refugees, it
really takes its toll. And, you know, the system on some level doesn't
make sense. They - even once they became, you know, official refugees in
Turkey, they weren't allowed to work legally and then were forced to
resettle in these satellite cities all over Turkey.

So the band was then broken up and they're all living in four different
cities inside of Turkey and they have to check in with the local police
stations every week for, you know, X number of months until they can be
granted exit visas out of the country.

Mr. TALAL: Yeah, until they finish the process.

Mr. ALVI: Because Turkey doesn't want Iraqis to stay there indefinitely.
It was kind of like a temporary station. They want to resettle the
refugees in another country. And so that's why, you know, we got...

Mr. TALAL: Population.

Mr. ALVI: ...we got the IRC involved, who were the International Rescue
Committee, they're an NGO based here in New York, who got behind their
cases and helped expedite everything and got them re-settled.

GROSS: In the United States?

Mr. ALVI: ...over the last couple of months, yeah.

GROSS: Yeah. So you're all living in New Jersey now.

Mr. ALVI: No.

Mr. TALAL: No, we're, were still separated; some in New York, some in
Michigan, some in New Jersey. Also scattered again. But it’s because

GROSS: Oh, I didn't realize that. So one member of your band is in

Mr. TALAL: Yeah, for now. I mean like just because we can't afford like,
you know, I mean the crisis of the economy a little bit affecting us.

GROSS: Right. So you finally made - so you made it to America. So what
you're doing to make a living and to pay your rent?

Mr. TALAL: Work in different jobs, waiting tables and whatever, you
know, overtime jobs. But you know, you need to understand the main
reason for us is the music to be here, working with the boys on finding
something and solutions. But everything’s taken like, you know, a while,
you know, finding instruments, finding practice space, you know.

GROSS: Finding instruments. Did you not have your instruments when you

Mr. TALAL: We had to sell them all so we can afford like, you know,
whatever, tickets, pocket, like money for pockets and stuff. So we had
to sell our instruments.

GROSS: Do you have them back yet?

Mr. ALVI: Some of the, you know, companies out there like Fender Guitars
have been really supportive in the past. And Yamaha just gave a bass to
- to Faraz and, you know, James Hetfield gave his guitar to Faisal.

GROSS: The James Hetfield of Metallica, and if you want to see him
giving the guitar to Faisal, just go on YouTube.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Because it's on there.

Mr. ALVI: Yeah. It was a pretty awesome.

GROSS: It's a really - it's a really sweet moment.

Mr. TALAL: Yeah. For those who doesn't - still concerning about the
whole situation, I'm still in coma, okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TALAL: I'm still in coma okay, yes.

GROSS: So have you been to any heavy metal concerts in the United
States? I know you can't afford food, but have you managed to get into
any concerts?

Mr. TALAL: Yeah. Look, we can't afford tickets, but, you know the boys
is helping, kind of like they're giving us like mooching tickets.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. TALAL: And, you know, I...

GROSS: So tell me something about the experience of being in a heavy
metal concert in the United States compared to what you were used to.

Mr. TALAL: Yeah. It's great seeing the amount of people. And - and the
whole benches are full and people standing and people going through the
mosh pits and the stuff. I mean, you don't see that every day like for
us, you know? And it's great seeing like a big community of - of
metalheads and metal fans and standing on that solid ground and the
bands performing. And it was a great show. I mean like it was - it was
kind of like an epiphany for us like, to see all this stuff. And just to
remind us about what we kind of miss the most, which is music and
perform on stage. I mean like we had 600 people on stage and we were
like, you know, yeah, we had 600 people on stage, and yeah, whatever,
you know?

And now like I just go to an underground concerts and there's like, you
know, thousands like of people and watching like an underground band. So
it's great. I mean like we're kind of being optimistic considering the
music, trying to work hard just to catch up, because it's been the last
two years, I mean, like we didn't really, you know, continue with our
own music because we had to handle all the paperwork and, just like we
said, the bureaucracy stuff.

GROSS: So I'm sure you would love to be in that position of being on
stage in America with thousands of fans in the audience.

Mr. TALAL: Oh yeah - oh yeah, definitely. Definitely, all over the
globe, you know.

Mr. RIYADH: It's like when I was trying to talk to the guy and tell them
just like, guys, seriously, for the first time we're - I guess we're fit
in whole society. I mean the whole - the whole guys was metalheads and
headbangers and all these hot chicks around you. And so just like was
really, really interesting to see all that, you know, just like, yes, I
want this.

GROSS: But here's the thing. Like now you finally fit into this large
community of fellow heavy metal fans and musicians. But you're still the
outsider because now you're an Iraqi in this American community, so like
you're finally with your people, but they're not quite your people.

Mr. TALAL: See, to be honest, it doesn't matter.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. TALAL: For these people like, you know, the music does matter.
Paperwork and - that says like where you're from and stuff. I mean like
we speak the same language. We speak the language of the music, you

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Mr. TALAL: So it sound kind of like cheesy or cliché, but this the way
it is.

GROSS: Right. Right.

Mr. TALAL: We went to this festival in Atlanta. And there was like 31
bands performing. And we were like surprised to see how much people knew
about us and knew about the movie, but they knew about us and they were
like, you know, really delighted and would like, you know, wide open
arms, saying like, you know, we want to take to take photos with you
guys. Are you playing today? So I don't think it does matter - borders
and frontiers and stuff doesn't matter. It doesn't make sense in the
music like world, you know?

GROSS: I'm interested in how you feel about America now. Here is what
I'm thinking. You know, the American government decided it wanted to
like, you know, bring democracy to Baghdad and ended up bringing civil
war to Iraq. And you became victims of that. You had to flee the country
because of it. So that might go in the negative column for you, for
America, and part of the reason why you had to flea was because you are
playing a music that came out of America, heavy metal, and America was
so hated in Iraq then that you were threatened, and now you're living in

At the same time you're broke. It was hard to get in here. It's not like
America invited you to come. I mean you had a - it was really hard for
you to get in.

Mr. TALAL: I already feel better when you say like the whole story, you
know? Like you’re like reminding me of this, and it feels good.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So - but how did you feel about America now? I mean like what are
your thoughts about the country?

Mr. TALAL: It's not easy - it's not easy as it seems. It's a lot more
complicated. If you want to like, just like, you know, in one program or
show, like trying to describe, like, two nations' policies and political
views, and you know, you can't do that. First like we're musicians. And
second - I guess what happens in some - a lot of points was monstrous
and you can't justify it, you know? But also we can't justify like the
First World War, like the second one or like, you know, all over, I
can't justify the Gulf War or trying to analyze it or explain it
because, you know - we had our had head in the music.

But I would say like, you know, killing living souls and stuff, that's
wrong, you know? And this is against everything, and we had to go
through that and we had to live through that, and I guess we got lucky
in way, you know, if you look at it. A lot of people got killed in these
wars and lot of people just, you know, had to live with a lot of like,
you know, living like the daily sorrow of missing someone or, you know,
part of their families – part of their lives.

Mr. RIYADH: Even here - even here, a lot of families lost their own kids
and sons and daughters in the army, I mean over, just like - it isn't
fare, you know, both societies have been destroyed.

Mr. TALAL: But that's what we're saying. Like we can't justify war. I
mean like if you expect like two musicians just to come and talk about
war, like, you know, I wouldn't like drag myself to that.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. TALAL: But I would say it's monstrous, it's hideous. And we don't
want to sound hippies, but you know, wish there was peace on Earth, but
I don't think this is possible.

GROSS: Well, Marwan and Faisal, I want to wish you good luck with your
lives and with your music.

Mr. RIYADH: Thank you.

Mr. TALAL: Thank you.

GROSS: And Suroosh, congratulations on the movie and thank you for
talking with us. It's been a pleasure to talk with the three of you.
Thank you very much.

Mr. ALVI: Thank you.

DAVIES: Marwan Riyadh and Faisal Talal are members of the Iraqi metal
band Acrassicauda. Suroosh Alvi is the co-director of a documentary
about the band called "Heavy Metal in Baghdad."

The band has been reunited on the East Coast, and they're playing Monday
night at the Lit Lounge in New York. They also have a new recording
called "Only the Dead See the End of the War."

You can download one of the tracks of the new recording at,
where you can also find a link to watch "Heavy Metal in Baghdad" online.
It’s also available on DVD.
Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
Making A 'Big To-Do' About Life's Important Things


Drive-By Truckers is a band formed in the late '90s in Athens, Georgia
by guitarists and singer-songwriters Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley.
They had a critical success with the band's 2001 release, "Southern Rock
Opera," which suggested their ambition and a penchant for narrative

Rock critic Ken Tucker says the band's new album, called "The Big To-
Do," is well-named.

(Soundbite of song)

DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS: (Singing) (Unintelligible)

Mr. KEN TUCKER (Entertainment Weekly): If you broke down the techniques
employed by Drive-By Truckers, the band's music really shouldn't work
well at all. Their signature sound consists of mass guitars, drums and
keyboards that owe a lot to '70s hard rock bands such as Lynyrd Skynyrd,
the Marshall Tucker Band, and Black Oak Arkansas.

The vocals wouldn’t sound the way they do had Bob Dylan or The Band not
existed. The lyrics tend toward fiction, stories, the kind of stuff that
usually works better on the printed page. Yet put them together with a
kind of pitiless precision and gleeful tendency to turn every downer
into a music rave-up, and you've got yet another entry in what has
become a really impressive body of work.

(Soundbite of song, “The Wig He Made Her Wear”)

DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS: (Singing) (Unintelligible) had to be some outside
thing that made this happen. Because they seemed like the perfect

TUCKER: That’s from “The Wig He Made Her Wear,” Patterson Hood's latest
addition to the murder ballad tradition, updated to include “Amber
Alert.” It's the story of a small-town preacher shot dead by his wife
because of the humiliating sexual peccadilloes he foisted upon her over
a long period of time. The rumbling music behind the folksy recitation
of degradation carries all of the foreboding and menace.

The tension between Hood's calm detailing and the craggy guitar lines
transform the song into a crime novel. At other times on this album,
guitarist Mike Cooley relieves Hood with a slightly lighter bit of
boogie-inflected country rock that's really only chipper until you
listen closely to the words.

(Soundbite of song)

DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS: (Singing) Yeah, said Jimmy, you better get yourself
up off of that raggedy couch. I'm too pretty to work and tired of you
uglying up my house. Jimmy said baby (unintelligible) as the guy’s on
the street. Jim says the guys at the top ain't about it to be paying
(unintelligible) put your face in someone’s that ain’t mine. Looks like
they running for (unintelligible) wearing out your house shoes. Baby
left when you’re boots came untied.

TUCKER: Drive-By Truckers are chroniclers of smallness: small-town life,
lives crushed by small tragedies or rewarded by small kindnesses,
kindness closed off by failures that go unnoticed by anyone except the
people involved. On this song, called "It's Gonna Be I Told You So," the
band sets a small argument — the way one person in a squabble needs to
have the other person acknowledge that he or she is right — against a
soaring rush of melody.

(Soundbite of song, “It’s Gonna Be, I Told You So”)

DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS: (Singing) I don't even like the way it sounds but one
day it's gonna be I told you so. I'm expecting that you’re gonna be
there. One day it’s gonna be I told you so. One day it’s gonna be I told
you so. One day it’s gonna be I told. You never listen to a word I say.
One day it’s gonna be I told you so. I told you something then you
kicked in the head. One day it’s gonna be I told you so. One day it’s
gonna be I told you so. One day it’s gonna be I told...

TUCKER: Ultimately, Drive-By Truckers are doing something common on
certain TV shows and many independent films but is increasingly rare in
pop music: celebrating losers, people in trouble, people who feel
trapped. That such subjects used to be more prevalent in music is one
reason why the Truckers can sound like throwbacks. It's also what makes
them sound so head-clearingly refreshing. They do it by making a big to-
do about small but crucial things in life.

DAVIES: Ken Tucker is editor-at-Large for Entertainment Weekly. He
reviewed “The Big To-Do” by Drive-By Truckers.
Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
A 'Titans' Remake, Clashing With Everything In Sight


“Clash of the Titans” is a remake of a 1981 epic remembered for its
high-toned cast, which included Laurence Olivier as Zeus. The new film
is in 3-D and stars "Avatar"'s Sam Worthington as Perseus, Liam Neeson
as his father Zeus, and Ralph Fiennes as the malevolent god of the
underworld, Hades.

Critic David Edelstein has seen both versions and has these thoughts.

DAVID EDELSTEIN: “Clash of the Titans” makes a good case study in what's
wrong with the Hollywood blockbuster mentality. Let's start by saying
it's not a train wreck — a train wreck would be more entertaining.
Honest craftsmen toiled to give it life. Accomplished actors clearly
worked hard to conceal their boredom. Although the film was not
conceived or shot to be seen in 3-D, the “Avatar” box-office blowout
made it a suitable candidate for a quickie conversion. Advance sales
have been through the roof. As I speak, fanboys are lined up for their
new dose of spectacle.

Now, there's no shame in loving spectacle. In the "Poetics," Aristotle
recognized it as an important component of drama — although much further
down the list than plot, characters and dialogue. But Aristotle never
saw “Avatar.”

Spectacle in movies goes a long way. We crave amazement. I certainly did
when I lined up for the original 1981 “Clash of the Titans,” back in the
day. Here was my favorite actor, Lord Laurence Olivier. And he was in a
movie with giant monsters, giant monsters made by Ray Harryhausen, the
stop-motion heir to “King Kong” FX master Willis O'Brien, the man behind
“The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad” and “Jason and the Argonauts.” What could
go wrong? Everything. Although I smile as I remember its truly mythic

The original “Clash of the Titans” rests on the tragicomic conceit at
the heart of many Greek myths - that the seemingly random and often
cruel fates of men, women and nations can only be explained by gods and
goddesses fighting among themselves like spoiled rich children with too
much power. That meant Olivier's randy, petulant Zeus bickered with
Maggie Smith's Thetis on Olympus - while down below the kids they'd each
conceived with mortals got constantly upended.

The new “Clash,” though, is a humdrum revenge saga. Zeus's son with a
mortal woman, Perseus, played by “Avatar"’s Sam Worthington, is out to
get Ralph Fiennes's Hades for killing his adopted family. That's why he
looks really mad when Fiennes's giant god materializes out of swirling
black smoke and in a plangent Shakespearean belch informs the
insufficiently reverent Greek king he's going to unleash his deadliest
monster, the Kraken.

Up in Olympus, Liam Neeson's Zeus looks vexed but sad. He loves his
little humans. But they're so unruly that he agrees with his brother
Hades about calling forth the Kraken. But Perseus, his demigod son, is
down there. What's a god to do?

(Soundbite of movie, “Clash of the Titans”)

Mr. LIAM NEESON (Actor): (as Zeus) You heard the witch’s prophecy. You
will not defeat the Kraken, much less Hades. If you configure(ph) this
journey, you will die and Argus will still fall.

Mr. SAM WORTHINTON (Actor): (as Perseus) (Unintelligible) sure why
you’re here.

Mr. NEESON: (as Zeus) To offer you sanctuary. Your blood is mine,
Perseus, and that makes you a god. It’s time you came to Olympus and
started living like one.

Mr. WORTHINTON: (as Perseus) I'd rather die in the mud with those men
than live forever as god.

Mr. NEESON: (as Zeus) You foolish boy. (Unintelligible) entire existence
is a gift of my grace.

Mr. WORTHINTON: (as Perseus) (Unintelligible) created man, you don’t
know much about us. We live, we fight, and we die - for each other. Not
for you. Tell Hades I’ll see him soon.

Mr. NEESON: (as Zeus) I will not make this offer again.

Mr. WORTHINTON: (as Perseus) Good, because I'd hate to refuse you twice.

EDELSTEIN: Apart from Neeson's haggard majesty, there isn't a whisper of
feeling in “Clash of the Titans.” Beefy Sam Worthington is too old and
too seasoned doing battle with effects to make a compellingly youthful
warrior, and a Chewbacca-esque sidekick doesn't make him any more like
Luke Skywalker. The computer-generated monsters? They're okay. I
especially liked the three hairy witches who share one eye, but the
giant crab thingies don't have the rickety charm of Harryhausen's stop-
motion work.

Medusa is a supermodel's head on top of a giant serpent's body. She'd be
much scarier if she were simpler. The Kraken, when it emerges, looks
like a humongous octopus with the head of a snapping turtle. Somewhere
the reigning CGI hell-spawn champion, “Lord of the Rings”'s Balrog, is
laughing its butt off.

Here's the most interesting thing about “Clash of the Titans.” In the
middle, I took off my 3-D glasses, and even though it was slightly
blurry, it was much more involving. Director Louis Leterrier knows how
to use the wide screen to bring out the primordial beauty of the rocky
desert landscapes, which are real. With those glasses on, though, they
and everything in them look like one of those pop-out greeting cards.

The trendy technology, the trendy revenge formula, the miscasting of a
new big star: It all works against the movie. The dirty secret about the
gods who call the shots in Hollywood is that they're boring.

DAVIES: David Edelstein is film critic for New York magazine.

You can watch scenes from “Clash of the Titans” on our Web site,, where you can also download podcasts of our show. You
can join us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter at nprfreshair.

Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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