A Night In Tangier with Tom Jones


The Turk’s Last Lament

In the category of things I’ve never seen before, subfile globalization, and am not quite sure what to think now that I have:

I was at a bar in downtown Tangier last night that for some reason was full of Turks drinking rose’ wine. They had all been there a lot longer than me and were well on their way to a place the prophet surely would not have approved. One of them, a barrel-chested, good-looking guy of maybe 60 – it’s hard to tell with Turks; in visual age they seem to pass from 28 to 60 in one great leap – decided he was going to join the house band, which until then had consisted of one guy and a synthesizer doing mainly Sufi techno trance crap. The Turk walked on stage, commandeered a mike and was suddenly transformed into a Tom Jones clone, if you can imagine an Asia Minor version of Tom Jones, which I now can.

There he was with a floral print shirt open down to mid chest, lots of hair and gold chains down there, mopping his fevered brow with a silk pocket square, emoting all over the fucking place on a bunch of what I think were Celine Dione songs. He had a pretty good, rich, just rugged enough voice and the crowd was sufficiently with him that after a couple numbers he was chewing out the house band – the guy on the synthesizer – for failure to track his rhythmic improvisations. Once he got that straightened out, he settled in for a set, which grew to include long monologues between songs, kind of Isaac Hayes-Barry White intros on how to love a woman and get over one when things, as they apparently invariably did, went wrong. The band kept trying to hurry these raps along with little vamps aimed in the general direction of being musical. Finally, the band said something (in Arabic; the Turk had been singing in English), which was apparently an ultimatum along the lines of one more and get back to your seat.

The big Turk takes the hint and launches into his final vocal riff which it takes me a while to realize is a spoken version of the Temptations’ “I Wish it Would Rain.”

“This will be my last song and I’ve been happy to share this evening with you” – long pause for a slow pass across the brow with the silk hankie, which will not be hurried along, thank you, no matter how many urgent licks the band hits behind him – “and I have to tell you I’m a lucky man. Why? Because I’ve loved and lost, but at least I’ve loved. Sunshine, blue skies, please go away. Leave me be, please leave me be. Because my love has found another and she’s gone to stay. Oh, she’s gone and I’m so alone.”

You get the idea. Melodramatic, even treacly, but pretty good in a big-belted Tom Jonesian way.

Now up to this point, I think you could more or less accept and maybe even explain the whole little scene: big Turk away from home on a construction job. At the young king’s request, the country is building a new highway south to the capital in what I predict will be a vain attempt to bring Tangier and its Rif hinterland nearer the country’s broader orbit, which is to say, “Look, I don’t like it any better than you do but the fucking fundamentalists are killing me and I’ve got to at least make an attempt to rein you guys up there in a little bit or they’ll have my ass, too.” In other words, s descent into Muslim orthodoxy. In a sign of Islamic solidarity, the Turks had been given the highway contract. I can hear the debate in the interior ministry. We can’t do it ourselves and we can’t bring the Americans in here now, so it’s gotta go to Muslims and better the Turks than the fucking Saudis and their boorish superiority.

So the big Turk washes up here in all his gravely-voiced glory, but has been forced to leave his karaoke machine behind in Ankara and Tangier appears to be the last international city in the world that has yet to succumb to Japanese tourism and all the bad sushi bars and karaoke joints that portends. In other words, he couldn’t help himself. He had to sing.

In a nod to the international nature of his audience – me, the locals, the Turks, two drunken Australians in the corner knocking over beer bottles, their equally drunken Berber guide who, I notice is sneaking hits out of their Carlsberg bottles when they stoop to retrieve the shit they keep elbowing off the table – he sings in English, which is in any event the international language of bad music. Or at least this is a shortened version of what I imagined was going on, when the Turk suddenly upset my little apple cart full of globalization theory,  by veering away from his Motown finale into medley, the second part of which I was shocked – not too strong a word here – to discover was a Warren Zevon number I would have bet was known to me and me alone in the hole fucking country until he began to sing it. “Everybody’s restless. They got no place to go. Someone’s always trying to tell them something they already know, so their anger and resentment show. Don’t it make you want to rock and roll all night long. Mohammed’s radio.”

Now this fit fine thematically with the Temps. All lost love songs, as Max Weber might have said, are in the end about anomie, but Warren Zevon? Coming out of a Turk’s mouth in Tangier?

If the fundamentalists find out about this, we’re all fucked, but I couldn’t help myself. I leapt to my feet and shouted, All night long, my brother, all night long. Sherazade ain’t got nothing on us.