Monday, November 26, 2007

From the mailbag...

Sruli Weinstein writes:
I am a guitarist making my way into the NY wedding scene. I believe I have sent you clips once before. Anyways I have uploaded some live clips online and would love to hear some feedback.

SoundClick artist: Sruli Weinstein - page with MP3 music downloads

PS. I know from your blog your not a fan of the Usher Yea Yea intro but try to get past it on this track.
E. forwards a link to a Forward article: "Orthodox Women Shine Onstage."

He also forwards a link to a demo clip of Piamenta's upcoming release and writes 'yet another feeble attempt to jewify "the sound of silence". Indeed. I love the guy in the background, though. Geshmak! Seriously, though, I wish they'd lose the horns on their commercial releases. Piamenta has a unique sound, and I love some of their releases, but the pop horn section sound doesn't work for them, IMO.

Leo writes:
Do you have this old LP, Shirei Alumim, in mp3 format? I can't find my old LP.
I thought it had been re-released on CD recently, but the online JM retailers do not appear to have it. Anyone know if it's available?

Y writes:
I've been "lurking" for quite some time, reading your blog every now and then. I can really a keyboard player for a relatively (60-90 gigs per year) busy Frum band in a large "out-of-town" community, I've seen/heard/transcribed all forms of original, not-so-original, and totally ripped-off forms of "Jewish" music, but the stupid Usher riff topped all. (And no, I'm not the von-man-band Boro Park type...)

It all started when Lipa Schmeltzer did a concert here. A whole crowd of Yeshiva Bochurim gathered in front of the stage and started singing that riff, which he had conveniently used on his most recent remix CD.

A week later, we played a wedding, at which these Bochurim were doing the same. We went through a few rounds of this, and (of course) it got the whole crowd going. I was sitting there these Bochurim know where this garbage came from? If they did, would they still be singing it? Why does Lipa's Rebbe tell him that he has to have a Mechitza at his concerts, but playing totally Goyishe music is OK? I just don't get it. You seem convinced that they all know what it is. I'm not so sure they know the lyrics -- just that it's Goyish.

Of course, I was the last person in the world to find out how Goyish it really is, as I was able to send an MP3 sound clip to a relative who's more integrated into the "outside world" and identified it right away - but that's another story.

While we're on the topic -- what in the world is up with all these dancing intros people use (Pirates of the Caribbean, Crazy in Love from Beyonce, Monday Night Football, etc.)? I wonder if they know where all of that stuff is from!

Another interesting question (and this might make interesting blog material): Why are these visiting New Yorkers thoroughly convinced that we "out of towners" aren't Frum & have no idea, even when our appearance would indicate otherwise? By my appearance, I basically identify with the Chassidish segment of the community. The tux is just a "Purim costume", as far as I'm concerned, that I have to wear in order to stick to the bandleader's rules and have a uniform look on the bandstand. So why do these people look at me like I fell off of a spaceship from Mars when I go out in the hall to daven Ma'ariv with them and put on my Gartel? Why do these Bochurim come up to me on the bandstand and ask if I have heard of "Od Yishoma"? Or if we know about "Niggun Neshomele"? What about the ones who tell me that we have to pick up the tempo because there's a dance floor (no kidding!), or that we have to play slower because we're out of town? What about the Chassidim who remarked to each other in Yiddish, right behind me, about "di shkootzim" on the bandstand? WHAT THE HECK IS WRONG WITH THESE PEOPLE?

I'm glad to see I'm not alone in getting weird comments from people. Something seems to attract the weirdos to the bandstand, and I can't quite figure out.
I've seen this happen too. It's bizarre.

As far as the Usher intro goes... Perhaps my original comments were unclear. I don't think every bochur who asks for it now knows the original lyrics. Some of them just know that it's "goyish" and the "oylem is into it". However, the people who brought it in to the community did know. This includes the musicians who recorded it and the guys who started asking for it at simchos.

On a related note, a recent Cross-Currents post, "How Secular?", links to a PDF of a Hakira essay by Rabbi Dr. Ahron Hersh Fried on the subject "Are Our Children Too Secular." Here's a salient point that helps explain how this stuff becomes appealing to frum youth.

Many of our youth today have little understanding of the global context, the nature, and the values that drive secular thinking and of the worlds of business, politics, interpersonal relations, culture, and the like. This knowledge would be helpful to them in navigating that world. Yet many of them are unfortunately, quite familiar with the crassest forms of entertainment and enticements of that world, and that, in a most na├»ve and simplistic fashion.14 When we fence out the non-Jewish world completely, we fail to give our children some of the basic knowledge, values, and criteria used in general society to discern between what is refined and what is crass, between what is esthetically pleasing and what is just flashy, and between what is acceptable and what is abhorrent. In their ignorance, and in the throes of their passions, our “unprotected” youth, once they have dared to open the gates that have kept them penned inside our world (and have earned the appellation “Children at Risk”), make a mad dash for the lowest forms of culture and entertainment in the secular world, and in their ignorant minds rationalize, justify, and validate their behaviors by telling themselves that they are doing what is done and approved of by all those “smart, intelligent goyim who, by dint of their intelligence and wisdom, make things happen, invent things, and run the world.” Little do they realize that the goyim whose technological prowess they’ve come to admire wouldn’t want to be caught dead in the cheap and crass environment that some of our disenchanted youth habituate.
It's over the top, and I don't agree with this in full, but I do believe that he's correct about these kids not using discretion once they're "acting out".

To illustrate...

I once had a roommate at a prestigious yeshiva where listening to secular radio was forbidden. He'd made a mixtape of his favorite pop songs off the radio. (Naturally, he listened to Z100 and Hot 97 and the like). All of the songs were about sex, like the Divinyl's "I Touch Myself" (an ode to masturbation), Color Me Bad's "I Wanna Sex You Up", George Michael's "I Want your Sex" and the like. When he played me the cassette, I asked him if he saw anything interesting about the song selection. He didn't. Even after I pointed out the obvious sex angle, he continued to insist that it was a coincidence, that the lyrics didn't matter to him, he just liked the music.

The reality is that these kids, who are taught that listening to secular music is wrong, have no discretion about what they'll listen to. After all, their self image of how their community will view them is accurate. As far as their rabbeim are concerned, there is no difference between listening to the Beatles and Usher. They'll relate to students who listen to either the same way. Obviously, this is a generalization, but, it's one I have plenty of firsthand experience with both in yeshiva and as a bandleader.

Recently, I linked to a post on this subject by The Studio 54 Rebbe. It's worth reading, if you haven't yet.