Deep Purple: Syrian Peace Talks Mood-Music in Montreux

Photograph by Baraa Al-Halabia/AFP via Getty Images

Syrian emergency personnel exstinguish a fire at the scene of a reported airstrike by government forces on the central al-Fardous neighborhood in Aleppo on Jan. 21, 2014.

Diplomats have found the perfect soundtrack for the Syria peace talks opening in the Swiss town of Montreux tomorrow: Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water.”

The British rock band’s 1971 hit tells the true story of a fire at the Montreux Casino that broke out after someone fired a flare gun inside the casino’s theater. The band members named the song after the smoke they watched spread over Lake Geneva.

The lyrics “perfectly” describe the setting of the talks, said several delegates attending the conference.

Deep Purple’s lead vocalist Ian Gillan sang about how “some stupid with a flare gun burned the place to the ground,” causing “smoke on the water and fire in the sky.”

The diplomats, who said they listened to the song on repeat during their drive to Montreux from Geneva International Airport today, note that the peace conference is about ending a bloody civil war that broke out when Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — the “stupid with a flare gun” — began firing against peaceful protesters demanding his ouster in March 2011.

Like the casino fire, Assad is burning Syria to the ground, they say,d asking not to be identified in characterizing the Syrian leader in this way ahead of sensitive diplomatic discussions. More than 100,000 Syrians died and millions fled their homes over the past three years, creating the worst crisis since the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in partnership with the U.S. and Russia, has been trying for more than a year to bring together the Syrian government and the opposition to discuss a political solution to the conflict. Officials from about 40 countries and organizations will gather at the Fairmont Le Montreux Palace Hotel tomorrow to express their support for the meeting between the two sides on Jan. 24 in Geneva.

While the official agenda for this week’s so-called “Geneva II talks” is to discuss how the warring parties would establish a transitional governing body in Syria, fundamental differences between them and their backers over Assad’s future challenge prospects for tangible progress.

One indicator for the mounting hurdles these negotiations face was Ban’s withdrawal of his invitation for Iran, Assad’s major ally, to come to Montreux. Geneva II almost collapsed yesterday when Iran refused to accept Ban’s precondition for participation in this week’s conference — formal expression of support for a political transition in Syria.

If Geneva II negotiations drag on, as UN envoy on Syria Lakhdar Brahimi said they may, or collapse, there is no other alternative than to make a second attempt at diplomacy, said one New York-based UN diplomat, who handles Syria policy but is not attending the talks.

The diplomat, who has been listening to “Smoke on the Water” on repeat while writing memos for his government’s delegation to Geneva II, said one of the song’s verses resonate with him the most: “When it all was over, we had to find another place. But Swiss time was running out, it seemed that we would lose the race.

Sing along now:

“We all came out to Montreux

On the Lake Geneva shoreline

To make records with a mobile

We didn’t have much time

But Frank Zappa and the Mothers

Were at the best place around

But some stupid with a flare gun

Burned the place to the ground

Smoke on the water and fire in the sky

Smoke on the water


They burned down the gambling house

It died with an awful sound

Funky Claude was running in and out

Pulling kids out the ground

When it all was over

We had to find another place

But Swiss time was running out

It seemed that we would lose the race

Smoke on the water and fire in the sky

Smoke on the water


We ended up at the Grand Hotel

It was empty cold and bare

But with the Rolling truck Stones thing just outside,

Making our music there

With a few red lights, a few old beds

We made a place to sweat

No matter what we get out of this

I know I know we’ll never forget.

Smoke on the water and fire in the sky

Smoke on the water”



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