Romania: Power Pop Time Warp

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21 April 2002

I've been commissioned to write an article on Bucharest for a newsletter called Travel Smart (I've written them short NY accomodation & London cheap eats pieces in the past, but this one is going to be a longer featured article). They are strictly paper and strictly subscription, so no relevant link. Probably eventually I'll write something comparable and put it on the site, but for copyright reasons I won't be able to post the article itself.

[2021 note: Nancy Dunnan, editor and publisher of Travel Smart, who died in 2014. For a while in the 1970s, a few years after my mother died in 1973, she was my father's girlfriend, more or less my stepmother. My first "working" relationship with her was working at that time as her research assistant for an article about the painter Winslow Homer: I spent way too many hours in the British Periodical Library trying to find everything anyone in England had written anything about Homer during his time there. Nancy later wrote several books, mostly on personal finances. I last saw her over dinner in the restaurant of the Washington Square Hotel in Greenwich Village about a year before she died. One slight Romanian connection there: about a year before I had occasion to go to work in Romania, she had brought me to a very good New York gallery show of contemporary Romanian art.]

(Orthodox) Easter is a couple of weeks away. This is at least as big a deal here as Christmas. Special markets open up for Easter gifts (mostly dreck or things you would ordinarily find elsewhere anyway, I'm afraid, but a few good crafts and of course lots of icons and the best painted eggs of the year). Flower stalls begin to crowd produce out of the public markets (except green onions, which are in season).

Saturday night I saw a really fun rock act at Lăptăria Enache, a power pop foursome called Zob. I'm sure I've mentioned the Lăptăria (literally "milk bar" but nothing could be farther from the truth) but I don't think I've really described it. The Lăptăria is a genuinely hip (not tragically hip, not "hip for Eastern Europe") bar at the back of the top floor of the National Theater. I'm told they have majorly remodeled every couple of years; the current look contains quite a bit of contemporary art but also pays homage to the Romanian dada-ist Tristan Tzara.

In London the equivalent bar would probably be in Brick Lane or just maybe Old Street and would have an eight pound cover. In Seattle it would have to be somewhere on Pike Street, in with the Baltic Room and the Capitol Club, but the atmosphere would be a bit different because there is no such thing in Seattle as a hip club that doesn't cross gay/straight lines. In Barcelona it would definitely be in Gràcia, but it would be smaller and the music wouldn't start until midnight. In Manhattan I'm not sure where it would be, but almost certainly somewhere below 23rd Street on the West Side or 14th on the East. Here it is rather near km0.

As I said, Zob are power pop, kind of 1978, one part Cheap Trick (that would be the drummer, I guess), two parts Ramones, and one part Sensational Alex Harvey Band (they did a version of "Delilah" that certainly owed more to Alex Harvey than to Tom Jones). Their act was about a 50-50 mix of (mostly, but not exclusively, English-language) covers and (mostly, but not exclusively, Romanian-language) originals. In English, spoken and sung, the lead vocalist had an unoubtedly well-cultivated English working class accent, but not from anywhere in particular, a weird mix of suburban London, the East End, and (above all) Merseyside. One of their English language songs was sufficiently obscene that I cannot bring myself to describe it other than to say I, for one, do not have any desire to date outside my species.

They actually did great covers of the Sex Pistols' "Pretty Vacant", the Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop", and (on a more contemporary front) Blink 182's "All the Small Things". More regrettably, they did the Pistol's "God Save the Queen" which doesn't travel well and their lead singer simply didn't have the proletarian sneer to carry it off. It's OK to look and sound like you are having a good time singing that song, but you need to appear to be enjoying yourself for all the wrong reasons, not because you're basically a happy guy. Besides, "No future for you" takes on a lot of irony when even the Queen Mum outlived Sid Vicious by almost a quarter of a century and probably (although over a far longer period) consumed more alcohol in her lifetime than he did in his (though I don't imagine she ever tried needle drugs, hence a longer future than Sid's). Of course, the former Mr. Rotten is doing fine, but he sounds pretty silly singing this song these days himself, or at least he did when I saw him on the Sex Pistol's reunion tour a few years back.

Weirdest English-language cover of the night: a power pop version of "My Bonny Lies Over the Ocean", presumably by way of the early Beatles.

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Originally written: April 21, 2002

Last modified: 25 February 2021

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