Rolling Stone: “Andrew W.K. Still Keen To Visit The Middle East.“
It’s been a crazy week for Andrew W.K. No sooner had the California-born musician-cum-motivational speaker unveiled plans to travel to Bahrain as a U.S. cultural ambassador on December 2nd, than the visit was suddenly cancelled (from the U.S. end, not the Bahraini one) just days before he was due to fly out to the Kingdom. It’s something of an abrupt end to a process that began back in 2011, when the 33-year-old was first contacted about the opportunity to bring his Power of Partying message to the Middle East.
“It was a huge surprise,” he says from the States. “I mean, the idea of doing any kind of lecture, or speaking, or motivational work wasn’t a surprise, because I’ve been doing non-musical work in that capacity, going to colleges and universities and speaking about the power of partying. But for the State Department to invite us to anything, let alone to go to the Middle East, was a wonderful surprise.” As the laborious process of background checks and itinerary preparation continued over the last year, W.K. began working on his plans for the trip. “It was very exciting that we were so close – just days away. I received my final itinerary last Monday. It was not a musical trip. I was going to jam with some local musicians – from what I understand there’s actually quite a passionate rock and metal scene in Bahrain – but it was mostly a trip based on visiting with people – students at university as well as younger students of elementary age, traveling around the city in the spirit of goodwill and good cheer. Beyond that I was following the guidance of our State Department contacts and the U.S. embassy, and being open enough and spontaneous enough to respond to the events as they unfolded.”
The message that W.K. was preparing to communicate was hardly controversial. “[It’s about making] the most of life. If we think of partying or celebration as recognizing something that you are happy about, or grateful for, use your energy and enthusiasm and to express that gratitude. I’m glad to be alive, and it was about embracing the opportunity for all it was worth, and in the spirit of, I guess the American spirit, which I was representing, of taking your life by the horns and enjoying it for all you could possibly get out of it.”
A lack of information about why the trip was cancelled means that W.K. remains frustrated, rather than angered , by his government’s decision to can the venture, and his newly-announced status. But he is – good-naturedly, it’s worth noting – holding off from judgment. “First of all, the folks that we had been working with closely, had nothing to do with the decision,” he explains. ” And they’ve been caught in the middle, and it’s been very unfortunate for them as well. I’m almost thinking that someone outside of the State Department might be behind it. I don’t know. We’ve been asking, hoping to get some information. It could be anything. Once we had received the itinerary, I had gone over the details with my contact again, and we had spoken of what I could announce. I put it on my website publically, so that people could be excited, as I was, about this trip next week. And it seems that a lot of people were excited. People were talking about it, which seems to be the whole point of a trip like this – to engage people and create a dialogue, and encourage that type of interest in the place we’re visiting, and the place we’re coming from as representatives. And perhaps because of that, someone higher up saw it, and didn’t like the attention it was getting. Although that seems contrary to the whole point. I don’t know. Maybe they looked at a picture of me. But then, I don’t want to take it personally. Maybe it was a safety issue. It’s very difficult to say, and that’s what’s the most perplexing.”
Undeterred, however, W.K. remains excited about the possibility of visiting the region, and is already looking at alternative ways to secure a trip. “I’m not so much disappointed, beyond how excited I was for this first trip to the Middle East. I’ve never been there before, and to go there in these conditions, representing the U.S. was truly thrilling. We’re still now, especially because of the very encouraging and positive support that we’ve gotten from many Bahrainis and many other people around the world, working on planning a trip of our own.”
Besides, the singer also seems determined to see the positives that could already have resulted from the whole experience. “What I’m focusing on is the tremendous display of support and kindness from the many different folks. In many ways, also, I feel like whatever the trip would have achieved in terms of dialogue, in terms of getting people interested… I’m guessing that there are folks out there, my friends, who probably hadn’t thought about Bahrain very much at all, so maybe we achieved some version of a cultural ambassadorship, just from what’s happened. Now I’m almost more driven and inspired to go than before, because now it’s like a challenge. We’ve always wanted to go places we haven’t gone and now it seems more thrilling than ever to make this happen, despite the challenges.”
W.K. is the first to admit that he might not the most obvious choice for a cultural ambassador, but as he talks (eloquently, and at length) about what he had hoped to achieve from the trip, it’s clear that his intentions have only been good. “I understand that I’m not the most predictable candidate for anything, especially this,” he says. ” I was really aware of that. I felt very privileged, and I wanted to do the very best job I could to make the most of this opportunity, and have it be a really wonderful experience for everybody. I don’t want to let down, or disappoint, or embarrass anyone, let alone my own country. If anything, I would have expected Bahrain to not want me to come, but not my own country – the country that formed me and created me. I mean, I feel very American, and they’re the ones who asked me, and then snatched it away at the eleventh hour. It’s strange.”