How the Cedars Invaded the Land of Blue Pajamas

At a nightclub years ago, while overpraising some now-forgotten musical discovery, I found myself upstaged by a stranger who was raving about something even more obscure he claimed to have heard in London. Articulate but thoroughly lubricated, he raved about a legendary late-sixties Israeli garage band called the Seders. The band, he claimed, were what the late-sixties Beatles and Kinks would have sounded like if they had thoroughly devoured Eastern rhythms rather than politely nibbling. Two beers later, when he was explaining how the Seders also inspired a dance craze in Turkey, I stopped listening and filed those thoughts in the part of my brain that stores Apocryphal Rantings of Drunk Guys at Concerts.

Earlier this month, a quickie post on “the Sea-ders” at the Aquarium Drunkard website made me drop my burrito. For your information, the drunk guy at the long-ago show was telling the truth, except for botching one crucial detail. The awkwardly hyphenated band, later renamed the Cedars, were Lebanese rock pioneers from prewar Beirut who got signed to Decca and made a minor splash in London in 1967 before calling it a day. The band’s hard-charging debut single, “Thanks a Lot,” could pass for an outtake from the Beatles’ Revolver, fusing a slightly sugar-coated pop melody with beguiling swirls of rhythm flying miles higher than “Eight Miles High,” and sounding more like tomorrow than “Tomorrow Never Knows.” “I Don’t Know Why” vaguely resembles the Kinks’ Ray Davies having an identity crisis on a Mediterranean adventure.

This stuff isn’t just exported Britpop, either. While nobody would confuse the Cedars with a virtuoso like Marcel Khalife, the Cedars were also an indelibly Lebanese band, capturing the cross-cultural exuberance of prewar Beirut and the glories of an embattled city that has advanced world culture for more than 5000 years.

But what about the Turkish dance craze? That part is partially true as well. Perhaps the best-known Cedars song is “For Your Information,” whose heavy freakbeat has long made it a cult favorite among afficionados of Nuggets-style psychedelia. While it never became a huge UK hit, the song improbably caught like wildfire in Turkey, where it has become the Ur-text of Turkish garage-rock and inspired a dozen or so cover versions.

The most famous cover of “For Your Information” is by Mavi Işıklar(the Blue Lights), whose reworked version, “Iyi Düşün Taşın,” was recently featured in a Turkish sitcom. The English translation of a Turkish Wikipedia entry provides this useful information about the band: “Jihad was formed from Manisa morning and pronouns… One of the lottery, a newspaper in 1964, taking the stage and they are much appreciated….Members from time to time in the military, such as going abroad because of changes in light blue pajamas with the group singing, a bedroom scene to bring their signature as they also interesting.” That’s just for your information, not for your comprehension.

The Cedars (Sea-Ders), “Thanks a Lot”

The Cedars, “For Your Information”

Mavi Işıklar, “Iyi Düşün Taşın”

About Roger Moore

rocklobster3.JPGRoger Moore is a writer and musical obsessive who plays percussion instruments from around the world with an equal lack of dexterity. An environmental lawyer in his unplugged moments, he has written on subjects ranging from sustainable development practices to human rights and voting rights, as well as many music reviews. A native Chicagoan, Roger lives in Oakland, California with his wife Paula, who shares his Paul Weller fixation, and two young children, Amelia and Matthew, who enjoy dancing in circles to his Serge Gainsbourg records and falling asleep to his John Coltrane records.

Roger Moore’s Musical Timeline

1966. Dropped upside down on patio after oldest sister listened to “She Loves You” on the Beatles’ Saturday cartoon show. Ears have rung with the words “yeah, yeah, yeah” ever since.

1973. Memorized all 932 verses to Don McLean’s “American Pie.”

1975. Unsuccessfully lobbied to have “Louie Louie” named the official song of his grade school class. The teacher altered the lyrics of the winner, the Carpenters’ “I Won’t Last a Day Without You,” so that they referred to Jesus.

1977. After a trip to New Orleans, frequently broke drumheads attempting to mimic the style of the Meters’ Zigaboo Modeliste.

1979. In order to see Muddy Waters perform in Chicago, borrowed the birth certificate of a 27 year-old truck driver named Rocco.

1982. Published first music review, a glowing account of the Jam’s three-encore performance for the Chicago Reader. Reading the original, unedited piece would have taken longer than the concert itself.

1982. Spat on just before seeing the Who on the first of their 23 farewell tours, after giving applause to the previous band, the Clash.

1984. Mom: “This sounds perky. What’s it called?” Roger: “ It’s ‘That’s When I Reach for My Revolver’ by Mission of Burma.”

1985. Wrote first review of an African recording, King Sunny Ade’s Synchro System. A reader induced to buy the album by this review wrote a letter to the editor, noting that “anyone wishing a copy of this record, played only once” should contact him.

1985. At a Replacements show in Boston, helped redirect a bewildered Bob Stinson to the stage, which Bob had temporarily confused with the ladies’ bathroom.

1986. Walked forty blocks through a near-hurricane wearing a garbage bag because the Feelies were playing a show at Washington, D.C.’s 9:30 Club.

1987. Foolishly asked Alex Chilton why he had just performed “Volare.” Answer: “Because I can.”

1988. Moved to Northern California and, at a large outdoor reggae festival, discovered what Bob Marley songs sound like when sung by naked hippies.

1991. Attempted to explain to Flavor-Flav of Public Enemy that the clock hanging from his neck was at least two hours fast.

1992. Under the pseudonym Dr. Smudge, produced and performed for the Underwear of the Gods anthology, recorded live at the North Oakland Rest Home for the Bewildered. Local earplug sales skyrocketed.

1993. Attended first-ever fashion show in Chicago because Liz Phair was the opening act. Declined the complimentary bottles of cologne and moisturizer.

1997. Almost missed appointment with eventual wedding band because Sleater-Kinney performed earlier at Berkeley’s 924 Gilman Street. Recovered hearing days later.

1997. After sharing a romantic evening with Paula listening to Caetano Veloso at San Francisco’s Masonic Auditorium, purchased a Portuguese phrasebook that remains unread.

1998. Learned why you do not yell “Free Bird” at Whiskeytown's Ryan Adams in a crowded theater.

1999. During an intense bout of flu, made guttural noises bearing an uncanny resemblance to the Throat Singers of Tuva.

2000. Compiled a retrospective of music in the nineties as a fellow at the Coolwater Center for Strategic Studies and Barbecue Hut.

2001. Listened as Kahil El’Zabar, in the middle of a harrowing and funny duet show with Billy Bang, lowered his voice and spoke of the need to think of the children, whom he was concerned might grow up “unhip.”

2002. During a performance of Wilco’s “Ashes of American Flags,” barely dodged ashes of Jeff Tweedy’s cigarette.

2002. Arrived at the Alta Bates maternity ward in Berkeley with a world trance anthology specially designed to soothe Paula during Amelia’s birth, filled with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Ali Akbar Khan, and assorted other Khans. The project proved to be irrelevant to the actual process of labor.

2003. Emceed a memorable memorial concert for our friend Matthew Sperry at San Francisco’s Victoria Theater featuring a lineup of his former collaborators, including improvised music all-stars Orchesperry, Pauline Oliveros, Red Hot Tchotchkes, the cast of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and Tom Waits.

2003. Failed to persuade Ted Leo to seek the Democratic nomination for President.

2005. Prevented two-year old daughter Amelia from diving off the balcony during a performance of Pierre Dorge’s New Jungle Orchestra at the Copenhagen Jazz Festival.

2006. On a family camping trip in the Sierra Nevadas, experienced the advanced stage of psychosis that comes from listening to the thirtieth rendition of Raffi’s “Bananaphone” on the same road trip.

One thought on “How the Cedars Invaded the Land of Blue Pajamas

  1. We interviewed one of the band members of the Seaders. Check out this article!

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