What Does 'Rock The Kasbah' Mean? Bill Murray's New Film Takes A Cue From The Clash
Though first looks at Rock the Kasbah made it appear the spiritual successor to Almost Famous, its release proves it's a whole different story. Bill Murray plays Richie Lanz, a washed up rock promoter looking for his next meal ticket. He books his star act — Zooey Deschanel, who doubles as his receptionist — to sing for the American troops in Afghanistan, but she bails on him once they arrive, leaving him indebted to a mercenary (Bruce Willis) and on the hunt for a new client. He finds her, in the form of an Afghani woman (Leem Lubany) with a sweet voice he first hears singing a Cat Stevens song in a cave. She aspires to appear on the Afghan version of American Idol, entitled Afghan Star (despite the criticism and threats she's bound to receive). And while the movie's title could refer directly to a North African or Middle Eastern citadel — "kasbah"s definition — what does Rock the Kasbah really mean?
First thing to know, it's about a song. "Rock the Casbah" was the third single off The Clash's 1982 album Combat Rock. It's probably the British band's best-known track to American audiences, and it tells a sort of Middle East-adapted Footloose story. After an invented king bans rock music, he orders his pilots to destroy anyone who violates the law. Yet the pilots refuse to listen to the king's orders, and play rock music out of their cockpits. So the title of Murray's film, Rock the Kasbah, immediately recalls this memorable track (albeit with an alternate spelling) and also comments on the potentially taboo nature of Lubany's character being on Afghan Star. Rock the Kasbah doesn't probe too deeply into the politics of its plot, but its title does make a subtle reference to rebelliousness.
The Clash's song has become such a cultural touchstone that it has been incorporated into numerous films and television shows over the past 30 years. Even if you didn't know The Clash were responsible, you probably know the song's words — or, at the very least, the chorus: "Shareef don't like it / Rockin' the Casbah / Rock the Casbah." Here are a few of its most notable on-screen appearances:
1. "Chuck Versus The Nacho Sampler," Chuck
Wedged between a montage of "40 Day Dream" by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and "Merrymaking At My Place" by Calvin Harris is a scene where Chuck and the team arrive in Dubai to the sound of "Rock the Casbah."
2. "Stan Of Arabia: Part 1," American Dad!
After an anniversary celebration for Bullock gone bad, Stan is reassigned to Saudi Arabia. Choice soundtrack bits include "Rock the Casbah" and Gerry Rafferty's "Baker Street."
3. "I Love You Too," Entourage
Though the focus of this episode, at least musically, is on an upcoming U2 concert, "Rock the Casbah" finds its way in between "All Because Of You," "City of Blinding Lights," and "Vertigo." Entourage is pretty well known for its musical choices, so it's not surprising that The Clash's track worked its way in.
4. "In Camelot," The Sopranos
It's not just Entourage — HBO shows in general tend to have pretty stellar soundtracks. (Just think about that closing montage for Six Feet Under, or the title credits for any episode of Girls, or the perfectly anachronistic synth score for The Knick.) In addition to The Clash, this 2004 episode of The Sopranos also features the likes of Kylie Minogue, John Coltrane, and Linkin Park (an eclectic mix, but it works, somehow).
5. The Royal Tenenbaums
"Rock the Casbah" isn't even the best musical moment in Wes Anderson's masterpiece. The Royal Tenenbaums prominently features music from The Clash, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, the Ramones, Nick Drake, Elliott Smith, Nico, the Velvet Underground, and, in one of the best moments, "Everyone" by Van Morrison. Selections from The Clash include "Rock the Casbah" and "Police and Thieves."
6. Rogue Trader
This Ewan McGregor and Anna Friel film about the life of Nick Leeson, an investment broker who rendered the Barings Bank bankrupt, debuted to little fanfare in 1999. But one of its earliest musical moments features "Rock the Casbah" — that song has been everywhere.
7. "Natural Born Kissers," The Simpsons
"Rock the Casbah" plays over the end credits of this Season 9 Simpsons episode, in which Marge and Homer discover their sex life can be reinvigorated by sex in public places — the fear of being caught is a turn-on. They find spots across Springfield, nearly getting caught at various points. "Spanish Flea" is also featured in the episode.
Rock the Kasbah is neither the first time the song has been used in pop culture, nor is it the first film to draw its title from the song. A 2012 Israeli film called Rock the Casbah received critical attention at the Berlin International Film Festival, while a 2013 film of the same title, this one French-Moroccan, screened at the Toronto International Film Festival. While the new addition to the song's legacy is unlikely to receive the kind of festival attention of its predecessors, it still recalls the numerous instances that preceded it, all of which reaffirm the song's place in the cultural canon.
Images: Open Road Films; Giphy (6)