Hebrew School

Beyond the Pale…
October 30, 2007, 1:24 am
Filed under: adventures, brooklyn, events, french | Tags:

Pardon my silence last week as I scaled the ghetto wall for some important engagements.

For Nous Non Plus, CMJ week somehow bled effortlessly into preparations for a Rubulad Halloween party, which then led to personal Halloween engagements…

Above: Myself at a still-decent hour with long-time friend Kate Taylor. Opinions conflicted: Was I Björn Borg? an American Apparel ad? And who was Kate?

Meanwhile, Slovenian telecom smiled fondly upon us and licensed our song, “Lawnmower Boy” for a TV cell phone spot. Oh, those Slovenians and their penchant for SMS shorthand and risqué bedroom scenes… As our manager noted, glasnost has finally trickled down to the world of faux-French rock.

In other news, I’ll be playing a show next Friday at Paris London New York West Nile with good friend and D.C. percussion rebel Amanda Huron (ex-Caution Curves). Joining us on the bill will be Myo, Caustic Castle, Brown Wing Overdrive, and Gestures. See events page for more details.


Jew-tube roundup, fall ’07
October 17, 2007, 1:37 am
Filed under: goys, israeli music, jews, youtube

No idea who this is (help!) but, I love this video, fish, bangs and all. It’s by Lahakat Nachal (trans. “The River Band”) and the song is “Shalva” (“Serenity”). (Thanks, Avishai and Ofri!).  I found this all very happy and innocuous until I learned that nachal, here, is a Hebrew acronym for Noar Chalutzi Lochem, which means “Fighting Pioneer Youth.”  It’s a military band.

Same, I think…

Yardena Arazi- “Od Nagia” (1985)

Esther Ofarim in rehearsal (1966)

Woody Allen- from Deconstructing Harry (1997)



Song written by a Jew about Jesus, covered by a gentile. An ’80s gentile.

A friend in Jesus
October 10, 2007, 1:33 am
Filed under: jews, music | Tags: , , , , , , ,

There seems to have always been an assortment of Jewish people in the arts world who were somewhat fixated on Christ. It goes back at least as early as Chagall’s paintings of crucifixes mixed with shtetl and old testament imagery, and later takes up relevance for me in Leonard Cohen’s depiction of said Jew in his hit song, “Suzanne.” And who could (i.e., couldn’t) forget Dylan’s born-again years when he wrote “Saved,” performing it live with a gospel choir?

It’s in that vein that I want to talk a little bit about Norman Greenbaum. If you are not familiar with his name, you are surely familiar with his ’60s hit “Spirit in the Sky,” which over the years has been featured in a bevy of television ads and movies, and continues to get heavy airplay on mainstream radio’s “classic rock” and “oldies” format stations.

Apart from never having stopped loving this song, I have a certain pride in the fact that Norman is from my hometown of Malden, Massachusetts. (Here’s a picture of my hometown, in case you’re interested. Maybe you’ve been there…)

According to an excellent (highly recommended) interview of Mr. Greenbaum on Jewhoo, and his official website, he had a conventional Jewish upbringing, was bar mitzvah, and went to Hebrew school. (I am guessing it must have been the same one I went to– mine had inkpot holes in the desks– come to think of it he would have probably had the same teachers too!) He loved blues music and gospel and formed a band with some other Jewish kids from his high school. After establishing himself as a musician by occupation, he moved to Petaluma, California, perhaps following in the footsteps of a generation of Jewish socialist chicken farmers who had moved there decades before. Long story short, after hearing a country song about a preacher, he decided to write a song about religion that would reach a mass market, and knew that a lyric like “gotta have a friend in Elohim” wouldn’t fly. Apparently he was onto something, as he is still living off of the royalties today.

It’s hard to say exactly what my own musical kinship with Greenbaum is, or will be. And it’s hard to know exactly how to define him. For all intents and purposes, he was a “one-hit-wonder” pop star, but could you call this “Jewish music?” Maybe what’s most captivating about him is that– like Dylan or Chagall– no one can quite put their finger on what he did.

[Guitar nerds: here’s the secret to how he does the “beep beep beep” in “Spirit.”]

The Most Mishige
October 3, 2007, 5:45 am
Filed under: jewish music | Tags: ,

I’m not sure why I think Mickey Katz is so cool. Is it because he had sinister clarinet chops and his band totally rocked? Is it because he’s Jennifer Grey’s grandfather? Or because he sang half in Yiddish, relegating many of his words and references to the realm of mystery for me? Or is it because he was completely out of his mind?

above: Katz at the UN

Katz not only pioneered send-ups of popular songs long before Weird Al Yankovic wrote Yoda (I still prefer a certain movie imitation of said muppet); all of his parodies were Jewish and yet he was still immense in his time. My favorite Mickey songs: “Knish Doctor,” “How Much is that Pickle in the Window,” “Schlemiel of Fortune.” Some more album covers from his Capitol and RCA years: