Belgrade, Serbia, Tesla, BandX and a Hairdryer November 2010

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Eight years ago, I was gifted with two trips to Europe thanks to my book, The Story of AC/DC-Let There Be Rock, which was first published in 2006. An updated version came out in 2009, and I was invited to do a book signing in Udine, Italy in May of 2010, the day before AC/DC played there. A few months later, in response to my trip to Italy, I was invited to attend the CD release party for a band called BandX, who was also Serbia’s only AC/DC tribute band. Wild Ride was released in 2010, and features their original, “Wild Ride,” and covers of songs by AC/DC, Abba and Bob Marley.

I originally met them on My Space, and they had even called into a radio show one night that I was appearing on. Once they saw that I traveled to Italy, Billy, the lead singer and mastermind along with his band mates, invited me to Belgrade, Serbia for a week of activities, promoting my book and their debut CD. They also invited Brian Rasic, a photographer born in Serbia but now living in London, who just happened to be the official photographer of the Rolling Stones.

Of course everyone in my life was dead set against me going to Serbia alone. I had wanted to go to Europe my entire life, and now I was being offered a second trip five months after I got back from Italy? Hell yeah, I was going! Besides, I’m a journalist, and that’s what journalists do, they travel and report what they experience. However, I have never written about my trip to Belgrade, and I apologize for that. I came home to a husband who was moving out, an editor who wanted revisions done on my book on Hank Williams and I had a bad case of hives from the stress. All I know is, that trip changed my life for the better in so many ways.

After flying from Chicago to London, I boarded another plane for a two hour ride to Belgrade. Brian Rasic was on the same plane, but I didn’t know what he looked like, so we didn’t meet until we landed. Waiting for me at the airport were the entire band, some of their family members, with a big bouquet of flowers, accompanied by tons of hugs and kisses. So far Serbia seemed pretty friendly to me!

Before I knew it, I was in a car with three Serbian guys and Billy was at the wheel. In the backseat were Dragan, who played Malcolm in the band, and Darko, who plays Angus. They were all chatting away in Serbian and I had no idea where I was or where I was going. For a fleeting second, I had wondered if I had made the right decision.

Before any real doubt could creep in, we pulled up in front of the Hotel Intercontinental in Belgrade, where I had a lovely room with breakfast served to my room every morning. To be on the safe side, Billy gave me a Serbian cell phone with his number and the band member’s numbers already programmed into the it. Billy told me to rest and he would be back in a few hours to take me to dinner. Accepting their invitation to come to Serbia was starting out to be an incredible adventure.

The next day their celebration of the release of  their debut CD, Wild Ride, was planned for 1pm downstairs in one of the conference rooms in the hotel. The band was set up to play, and TV and radio reporters were there to record the event, which included several Serbian pop stars and some government officials who obviously were very supportive of rock and roll.

As I was getting ready for the party, I plugged my hair dryer into the outlet, using an adapter, and while I was drying my hair, I glanced over to see that the hair dryer was actually shooting flames at my face! In my shock, I pulled the plug out of the wall socket and cursed the damn hair dryer! Then I plugged it back in and turned it back on, and that’s when all the power in the hotel went out for about a second or two.

Son of a *****! I unplugged it and threw it in the bathroom sink, just as the fire marshal was banging on my door. I had to try to explain to him in English that there was no fire here, and all was fine. Except that my hair was still wet and it was going to stay that way. I loved the hotel, but the hotel air dryer I believe, was someone downstairs blowing air through a tube, because it wasn’t drying my hair, that was for sure!

I later found out that the band thought they had blown the power and the party was over, and when they found out it was me and my hair dryer, they couldn’t stop laughing. I’ll bet if they are reading this, they are laughing about it right now! Dragan liked to say that it was Tesla’s way of saying hello to me and welcoming me to Belgrade. I’d like to think that if I hadn’t seen the flames sooner, I wouldn’t have had any hair to worry about!

Luckily the party was a huge success, and the band sounded amazing! Billy’s vocals were incredible, singing both Bon and Brian era AC/DC songs, Dragan on rhythm, Darko on lead guitar, Darko on bass and Igor on drums were rocking the house and filling the dance floor. Interviews with me and Brian Rasic can still be found on You Tube, and it was such an honor to be treated as a special guest of the bands. All their wives, girlfriends and children were extremely kind and are still considered more family than friends to me. The same for Brian, who was a such a sweetheart and a true legend in the rock industry. Getting to know him during my visit also made my trip to Belgrade very special.

The following day, we were interviewed on live radio, and Billy, Dragan and Dragan’s stepson, Igor, took me on a ride to see one of the buildings that Tesla used to work in. That night Darko (Cliff), and his family had us over for dinner, where I met his wife, Lika, his children and mother, who all lived together. I was humbled by their hospitality, considering the average Serbian family lives on very little income compared to the US. They made me feel so welcome, and some of them had never met an American before.

On Wednesday, we did one of two live TV appearances and that night Dragan and Billy took me to the Belgrade Arena to see Cirque du Soleil. The zipper on my coat got stuck and I spent half the show working my way out of it. I managed to peal it down and pulled it off like a pair of pants. Lucille Ball would have been proud!

That Thursday was Thanksgiving in the US, and the band felt badly that I was missing the holiday with my family. To be honest, Thanksgiving has always been way too much work for me. Missing one wasn’t the worse thing that could have happened. Considering I got picked up that morning to go to a spa and wellness center run by a good friend of the band’s named Kristina (Kiki), who had me use the sauna, receive a healing from her, and then wind down by sitting in a salt cave, which helps asthma and has an amazing calming effect.

I was in a car accident when I was a kid, which left me with a whiplash neck and plenty of back problems. Whatever Kiki did that day, I have not had the pain I lived with my entire life on the left side of my neck. I know she trained with the Aborigines in the Outback of Down Under, and she is a healer and an Earth angel, and now part of my Serbian family. That night I was taken out to dinner and the band, Kiki and I celebrated an American Thanksgiving in Belgrade!

On Friday, I did an interview with the national newspaper, Kiki took me shopping and we got to see BandX in action that night at a local club. The place was packed, there were AC/DC/BandX fans who wanted their books signed and plenty of BandX fans who wanted to meet me. The band was incredible and I danced until the lights came on. The following day would be my last full day in Belgrade and that night Dragan said to me, “I miss you already.” Leaving Serbia was going to be harder than I realized.

The next afternoon, Dragan and Billy took me to the Tesla Museum in downtown Belgrade. Billy had to take care of band business, so it was just me, Dragan, a family of three and the tour guide. Due to my presence, she gave the tour in English, which was a real treat. Almost everything that Tesla had ever invented was right there in that building! The perpetual motion machine, the boat that he drove around a lake in Central Park in NYC using a remote control, the freakin’ Tesla coil, his safe, his hat, his walking stick and his ashes!

I had no idea that his ashes were there until we were led down this small dark corridor where on the left at the end of the hall, is a tombstone with a golden globe on top that contains Mr. Tesla’s ashes. It is lit from above and surrounded by curtains, and has a very solemn feel around it. Right in front of me were the remains of one of the greatest if not THE greatest inventor of our time. The privilege of that visit I will never forget.

As soon as the tour was concluded, the family left and the tour guide told Dragan and me to take our time. What?! We were going to be left alone in the Tesla Museum without supervision! The first thing I did was race over to the safe, bend down, and put my ear up to it and started playing with the knob. Dragan, with a stricken look on his face, asked me what I was doing. I told him to be quiet, I was trying to crack the safe!

Once we stared at everything and touched things we shouldn’t have, we reluctantly left to meet Billy. He couldn’t understand why our trip took so long, but we didn’t tell him that we tried to crack the safe, had a few private words with Mr. Tesla’s ashes, and ate two petit fours each at this irresistible bakery on the way back to meet Billy.

For my last evening, we all gathered at Dragan and Goga’s place, where I met Zika Jelic, the popular Serbian musician and member of YU grupa. Once again, their family was wonderful to me, and there were plenty of treats. Before it got too late, Mr. Jelic went home and we all went to Zemun, ( a suburb of Belgrade), where Darko (Angus) lived with his wife Biljana, and their daughter Sophia.

Their place had a sweet set up in the lower level which included a big couch, wood-burning stove, a computer for tunes, and drinks kept cold outside on the window sill. We laughed, drank and partied until 4am! They were listening to music on the computer, and I had the pleasure of introducing them to Hank Williams’ “Move It On Over.” They had never heard him or that song, and they loved it so much, they played it at least three times in a row. Then I introduced them to Hank III! Their reaction to that was even better!

Before I knew it, it was time to go to the airport and fly home. Billy, Darko, Darko, Dragan, Dragan’s stepson Igor and Kiki all went to the airport with me, and we talked until I had to board the plane. I never expected to fall in love with this band, their families, their kids, their way of life. Belgrade is a beautiful city that sits on the Siva and Danube Rivers. Saying goodbye was one of the hardest things I have ever done, and as soon as the wheels lifted off of the runway, I sobbed all the way to London.

I’ve never been to London, but I had plenty of time to enjoy Heathrow airport where I browsed around, including a spin through Harrod’s. My favorite movie is Love, Actually, which was shot partly in Heathrow airport. Just as I walked into the store, they started playing the song from the movie, “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” and the sobbing started all over again.

Someday I will return to Belgrade, Serbia where I had one of the most amazing weeks of my life. Thanks to Billy, BandX, their families, their friends and fans, who couldn’t have been nicer. Darko’s wife Biljana, gave me the best compliment the night before. She told me that honestly, her and the wives weren’t that crazy about some blonde American chick flying over to Belgrade to hang out with their men. Come to think of it, I wouldn’t have been a fan myself! Then she said that I was nothing like what they expected, and that they loved me just as much as the band did. All I can say to Billy, Dragan, Darko, Darko, Igor, Lika, Goga, Biljana, Igor, Brian, Anja and Kiki, is, hvala, hvala, hvala! Love and light, always and forever.

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