Beating the Odds

A Bosnian War Vet in Astoria Drums Away Tragedy One-Handed

The N train speeds Darko away from Manhattan into Astoria, home to 10,000 immigrants from Yugoslavia. Five dusty flights of stairs lead him to the one-bedroom apartment he shares with two roommates (one permanent—from Belgrade—with whom he plays in Fijuci; one newly arrived and crashing on the couch). The place is all about music: The kitchen, which Darko says they've never cooked in, is used as storage space for their instruments.

Darko's tidy bedroom is like a studio's greenroom. Black-lacquer-framed posters of the Cult ("my all-time favorite, coolest, rocking band ever in the world") dominate the room, along with framed copies of the five CDs and LPs he released overseas, carefully presented in a geometric arrangement along his spotless walls. A mixing board and a new computer constitute his "studio"; his bed—no sheets or mattress pad—is an afterthought.

One-and-a-half-armed bandit Darko Jelisic
photo: Cary Conover
One-and-a-half-armed bandit Darko Jelisic

This fall, in this room, Darko recorded and played every instrument on his second solo album, now awaiting release in the old country. Here's where he also used to engineer The Voice of Bosnia-Herzegovina, a weekly tristate news and music broadcast, until the show moved into its new digs in the Croatian Radio Club a few blocks away. Like his work with Croatian and Serbian bands, his contributions to local Bosnian radio are not at all politically motivated, he says. "The war was nothing but bullshit about religion, and I hate religion," Darko growls. "It doesn't matter to me. It has nothing to do with any of this."

Prancing around his bedroom, Darko plays rock god. He cranks up the Cult's Sonic Temple CD and strums air guitar with his stump in a mad staccato. Suddenly bored, he flops on his bed, spreading a stack of pop magazines from Sarajevo over the pink ticking of his mattress. He flips through each issue, pointing out articles about his last album, which landed two singles on the Bosnian charts. "If this all happened before the war, if I had been in all of these magazines there like I am now, I'd be like, fuck New York," he says. "I'd be rich and famous. I'd be a big star. But I'm here."

Darko isn't here for the American dream, though. Beavis and Butt-head were his Berlitz instructors; he has no illusions about American culture beyond MTV. Yet in America he can fashion rock style out of duct tape and Levi's. And he can grasp that hope—a tired one for any 31-year-old, but hope all the same—that his unique story will help make him a star. "I may not be the best drummer, singer, whatever," he admits, "but I'm one of a kind."

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