Category Archives: Rock and Roll

We Can Work It Out

beatles_narrowweb__300x3710.jpgDid you know that The Beatles were scheduled to perform in Tel Aviv in 1965, but Israeli government leaders nixed the tour for fear the Fab Four would “corrupt” Zionist youth?

Well, me neither. But get this: Israel is now trying to atone for their, shall we say, “ill-advised” decision. According to news reports, Israeli Ambassador to Britain Ron Prosor was expected to meet with John Lennon’s sister at The Beatles museum in Liverpool and to present her with an official letter of apology from the State of Israel.

Click here for the lowdown…

One Rabbi’s Christmas Confession

6618a.jpgOK, I admit it: I love to listen to Christmas songs this time of year.

I’ll leave it to you to determine if that makes me a bad Jew or a worse rabbi, but what can I say? I’ve got a major weakness for the ol’ seasonal standards.

Now I’m not talking about Christmas carols or overtly religious hymns (nor do I mean X-mas novelty kitsch like “Barking Dog Jingle Bells” or “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer.”) No, I’m really, truly a sucker for those aching, melancholy Christmas ballads.

I’m sure you know the ones – they actually come in various sub-genres. There are the “It’s Christmas and I’m Sad Because We’ve Broken Up” songs (i.e. “Christmas/Baby Please Come Home” or “All I Want For Christmas Is You.”) Then there are the “It’s Christmas and I’m Not Able To Make it Home” songs (i.e. “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” or “White Christmas”) and there’s the “This May Be the Last Christmas We Ever Spend Together” songs (i.e. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”)

Is it perverse or at all sacreligious for a rabbi to be confessing his love for songs such as these? I dunno, don’t you think there’s something of a Jewish quality to them? Maybe it’s their quasi-exilic yearning (not to mention the fact that most of them were written by Jews anyhow.)

So that’s my seasonal guilty pleasure confession. And lest you judge me too quickly here, just take the test yourself. Check out James Taylor’s version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” or “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” as sung by Sarah McLachlan. (Man, that last line gets me every time…)

My Israeli Music Pix

Some of the Israeli tunes I’ve been listening to since I’ve returned…

When I was in Tel Aviv, I made a beeline for Tower Records and picked up the first two Israeli releases by The Idan Raichel Project. Raichel is a musical phenom who has been extremely popular in Israel for some time, but has only recently introduced to American ears. He’s a multi-talented keyboardist, composer, producer and singer, whose musical “project” involves over 70 different musicians from a wide variety of backgrounds and he produces an amazingly rich musical synthesis of Israel’s ethnic diversity. While Raichel highlights Ethiopian music and musicians prominently, his songs also feature Arab musicians, traditional Yemenite vocalists, a percussionist from Suriname and a South African singer, among others.

Unlike most Israeli popular music, which is for me too often a mediocre rehashing of Western style rock and pop, Raichel’s music represents an attempt to create an authentically Israeli style by bringing together the unique musical traditions of a uniquely multi-ethnic Israeli culture. (I know I’m making his music sound like an anthropology dissertation here, but trust me, this is eminently listenable and often beautiful music.)

If you’re new to Idan Raichel, I’d recommend his 2006 American-released CD which is a “best-of” collection from their first two albums. While you are at it, click above to see the video of his song, “Mi’Ma’amakim.” (Even more exciting: according to his MySpace site, he’s coming stateside this fall – I hear his performances are not to be missed.)

Pick #2: While I was at Ben-Gurion and preparing for my flight home, I wandered into the Duty Free shop and I noticed the latest CD by Habreira Hativit– an Israeli group that I haven’t listened to in years. Habreira is led by great Shlomo Bar, a Moroccan-born Israeli, and has long been creating exciting Israeli music that combines Eastern Jewish cultural influences. I became a devoted fan after seeing them in concert in LA in the early 1980s, and I confess I didn’t know Habreira was still alive and kicking. I’m delighted to become reacquainted with their new lineup and their latest music. (Click below for the video of their song,”Da’re,” from their recent album, “Low Clouds.”)

Everybody Jump!

Woo hoo!!! I had the very good fortune to catch the Balkan Beat Box concert last night at the Empty Bottle in Chicago. I don’t get out to the clubs an awful lot, but boy am I glad I caught this particular gig – they did not disappoint!

For the uninitiated, here is a description of BBB, cribbed from their MySpace site:

Balkan Beat Box is steeped with an intense lifetime of research into their own non-Western roots as well as other cultures. A quasi-circus event, BBB performs with a core of 6 musicians, collaborating with artists from Bulgaria, Morocco, Spain, Israel, and Turkey who draw on a variety of styles from around the world. Every event keeps the audience guessing what the next surprise will be.

BBB makes connections that politics often keep separate. Jewish, Gypsy, Arabic, and American are united by hip hop beats and dancehall toasts. BBB’s musical hitch-hiking continues as they mix things up with dub and electronics, juxtaposed with ancient Moroccan and Mediterranean melodies. The band’s uncategorizable sound gives equal weight to soulful acoustic timbres and digital rhythms creating a uniquely organic sound with electronic elements.

Yep, that pretty much sums ’em up. And it’s true: BBB is one of those acts that you must absolutely see live to get the full effect of their artistry. This band is clearly at the height of its musical power – this was one of the best concerts I’ve seen in a long time in any genre (make that multi-genre…)

Last night was the final stop on their current tour, but don’t pass up the chance to see them on their next go around. In the meantime, check out their great new album, “Nu-Med” or click below for a clip of them performing in Europe. (That’s the chronically shirtless, indefatigable lead singer Tomer Yosef singing “Ramallah Tel Aviv,” the song that closed last night’s show.)

(Eternal thanks to Adam Davis and the good folks at Kfar Jewish Arts Center for bringing BBB to town!)

It Was 40 Years Ago, Today…

soldiers_western_wall_1967.jpgAnyone notice the the media is currently overflowing with reminiscences, analyses, etc. about two very different milestones that are marking their forty year anniversary this month? I’m referring, of course, to the Six Day War (June 5, 1967) and the release of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” (June 1, 1967). Indeed, it’s been hard to avoid the ever-increasing perspectives on these oddly juxtaposed, yet undeniably world-changing moments: Israel’s euphoric, if Pyrrhic military victory and the Beatles’ iconic masterpiece that may or may not be their best album.

Still, amidst the plethora of recent articles, I’ve yet to see anyone attempt to somehow find a connection between these two auspicious moments in history. So here’s a try: a sampling of “Sgt. Pepper’s” lyrics that might well be read as commentary on a six-day Mideast war that has since stretched into a tragic forty-year occupation:

“I’ve got to admit it’s getting better, a little better all the time. (It can’t get much worse…)” (Getting Better)

images.jpg“And it really doesn’t matter, if I’m wrong, I’m right, where I belong, I’m right, where I belong…” (Fixing a Hole)

“We were talking, about the space between us all, and the people, who hide themselves behind a wall of illusion, never glimpse the truth, then it’s far too late…” (Within You, Without You)

OK, so that was pretty glib, even for me. Here are two more interesting pieces: a recent article from the Jewish Forward and a lovely childhood Pepper-memory by singer/songwriter Aimee Mann.

New Jewish Music: From the Sublime…

From neo-klezmer to world music to Israeli hip-hop (not to mention hasidic reggae beat-box) there’s a pretty amazing renaissance going on in the world of post-modern Jewish music. That doesn’t mean, however, that all the music being generated is worthwhile – like all wide-ranging movements, this new scene certainly contains its fair share of musical dross.

Here’s an example: take a look at two different contemporary musical pieces based on Jewish liturgy. Click above for a video of Israeli “hip-hop violinist” Miri Ben-Ari and Israeli rapper Subliminal performing their version of Adon Olam. It’s an incredibly heavy-handed reworking of this Jewish prayer as a Holocaust remembrance – and like too much new Jewish music it’s all pose and very little substance. (Note Miri’s completely inappropriate seductive smirks – and what’s with the goofy interpretive dancers?)

Now compare that to Basya Schechter and her band, Pharoah’s Daughter (below) performing Kah Ribon (a piece from their upcoming album “Haran.”) Pharaoh’s Daughter is one of the truly talented groups producing new Jewish music today, synthesizing a vast array of musical influences (Indian ragas, Arabic folk, hasidic niggunim) to create something both original yet utterly authentic.

Feel free to weigh in with your own picks and pans. (For great discussion of emerging Jewish music and new Jewish cultural trends in general, check out Adam Davis’ blog, Jewish Fringe).

Pushing the Button

The world press is abuzz about the Israeli entry in this year’s Eurovision song contest: “Push the Button” by the Israeli rap group Teapacks. Contest organizers say they may ban the song because of its “inappropriate message.” Seems “Push the Button” is a semi-satirical song that expresses fear about nuclear war and crazy world rulers. (Guess who they might be referring too?)

If you’d like to read more, here’s an article about the controversy from JTA. Apparently the Eurovision folks are going to convene a meeting in Helsinki to figure out how to handle this. (Good lord!!)

Those of you who follow such things will note the irony in all of this: Israel WON the Eurovision contest back in 1998 with “Diva,” a song sung by Israeli transsexual Dana International. Apparently Eurovision’s tolerance extends to LGBT acceptance but not as far as concern over nuclear proliferation…

You can see a performance of “Push the Button” by clicking above. Politics notwithstanding, I personally think it’s a pretty lame song (though I do appreciate Teapacks’ attempt to deal with such a terrifying issue through humor).

For video of Dana International in her moment of victory, click below. (Viva la diva!)

Beautiful Music For You

And now, a break from my regularly scheduled blog-ranting…

…a sublime musical moment: George Harrison and Paul Simon performing an acoustic duet of “Here Comes the Sun” and “Homeward Bound” on a 1976 SNL appearance.

If you ever find your spirit in need of renewal, just click above…

Thanksgiving in the American Land

Here’s my recommendation for a Thankgiving anthem for 2006: “American Land,” by Bruce Springsteen.

It’s a contemporary American folk song Bruce recently composed for the new edition of “We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions.” Upon first hearing, it sounds like a garden-variety Irish-inflected immigrant song, extolling the joys of the American dream (“There’s treasures for the taking, for any hard working man/Who makes his home in the American land.”) But true to form, Bruce folds a deeper and more complex message into his vision of America, proving once again why he is among the most powerful – if misunderstood – songwriters of our time. Listen carefully and you’ll catch his inclusion of illegal immigrants and even (gasp!) Arabs among those who reach our shores, hoping for a better life and future.

Every Thanksgiving, I’m mindful that like most Americans, my ancestors didn’t come over on the Mayflower. My paternal grandfather, Yitzhak (later Irving) Rosen up and left his home town of Kamen-Kashirsk in the northwest Ukraine when he was a teenager, certain that a better life must certainly await him somewhere else. After wending his way through Europe (among other things, serving as a soldier in WW I) he ended up in the American Land supporting a wife and two sons by driving a candy truck in City Terrace, Los Angeles. His two sons grew up to be a doctor and a lawyer – every Jewish parent’s dream come true.

As we debate immigration policy in our country today, I can’t help but think of the myriad of immense challeges my own grandparents faced when they immigrated here not so long ago – and how this hard fought dream continues even now. In the words of the song: “They died to get here a hundred years ago, they’re dyin’ now.”

Anyhow, Happy Thanksgiving. And sing this one around the table this year:

“American Land” by Bruce Springsteen

What is this land of America, so many travel there
I’m going now while I’m still young, my darling meet me there
Wish me luck my lovely, I’ll send for you when I can
And we’ll make our home in the American land

Over there all the woman wear silk and satin to their knees
And children dear, the sweets, I hear, are growing on the trees
Gold comes rushing out the river straight into your hands
If you make your home in the American land

There’s diamonds in the sidewalks, there’s gutters lined in song
Dear I hear that beer flows through the faucets all night long
There’s treasure for the taking, for any hard working man
Who will make his home in the American land

I docked at Ellis Island in a city of light and spire
I wandered to the valley of red-hot steel and fire
We made the steel that built the cities with the sweat of our two hands
And I made my home in the American land

The McNicholas, the Posalski’s, the Smiths, Zerillis too
The Blacks, the Irish, the Italians, the Germans and the Jews
The Puerto Ricans, illegals, the Asians, Arabs miles from home
Come across the water with a fire down below

They died building the railroads, worked to bones and skin
They died in the fields and factories, names scattered in the wind
They died to get here a hundred years ago, they’re dyin’ now
The hands that built the country were all trying to keep down