Monday, June 23, 2008

This Review Is Banned! -- Lipa Schmeltzer's "A Poshiter Yid"

Bought the new Lipa CD, "A Poshiter Yid"...

Had an interesting conversation with the Judaica store salesman. He saw me looking at the CD and came over to say "that's brand new. It's great." I told him I was buying it to support Lipa. He asked if it was "because of what they did to him" and when I said it was, he told me he agreed with me. Judging by the comments on other sites, I'm not the only one to do so.

Before I get to my thoughts on the disc, here's a story that happened while I was listening to it...

I bought the CD and took it along in the car for a shopping expedition in Boro Park the other day. I was listening to the CD while parked, waiting for a family member, when my car was bumped by a car backing into the huge parking space in front of me. So, I leaned on the horn. That didn't stop the fellow from backing straight into me again.

Before I got out of my car to check for damage, two people got out of the car and quickly, without turning to apologize or check for damage, went into the yeshiva across the street. I didn't recognize the driver, but the passenger was the Novominsker Rebbe, the Rosh Yeshiva of said yeshiva and the Rosh Agudah. He's also one of the Rabbonim behind the Lipa ban. Rumor is that it was personal for him. It seemed to fit that he'd be driven around by someone who clearly doesn't have much concern for the damage he does to others.

Take a look at the bumper rash on this car. (You can see part of the Yeshiva building across the street.)

That's not someone who parks carefully, being considerate of other's property.

There's no way they didn't notice that they'd bumped me or missed hearing the horn. The impact was hard enough that there easily could have been damage to my car, and in either case, I was obviously there and aware of the impact.

I found it extremely ironic that this would happen while I was listening to the new Lipa disc, as the seeming lack of concern for potential damage done to others is even more evident in the way the Novominsker and some of his peers have treated Lipa. Whether it's the Big Event ban, wedding takanos, or other situations, he's demonstrated a remarkable lack of concern for many. Fortunately, there was no damage to my car, thanks to the placement of the license plate holder, I assume.

Now on to the CD...

I've written about Lipa's music before. I believe he is a very refreshing talent with a lot of depth and very creative ideas. I do enjoy many aspects of his work , although I'm not fond of some of the pop stylings he's been trending towards.

This is a very subversive disc. The graphical elements in the packaging, marketing, and music all work together to set up the theme, Lipa the "Poshiter Yid", the simple Jew. The CD cover shows the simple Jew, Lipa, (who appears to have dropped his last name, although it is on the door of the hut pictured on the cover) learning Torah in front of his hovel.

In a very smart move, Lipa has included a bumper sticker and bookmark in the CD packaging. The bumper sticker reads “I’m A Poshiter Yid” in English and “’kh’ Bin A Poshuter Yid” in Yiddish, both in simple type. The bumper sticker is the perfect means to enable the "amkho" to show their displeasure to rabbinic leadership run amok in a non-confrontational way. It's hard to take issue with the sentiment expressed. Bet you'll see a lot of these around. (You can see one in use here.) They should sell these separately.

The same goes for the bookmark. Think about it. What Yeshiva is going to ban a bookmark with the tefilos said before and after learning Torah? If they try, they look like vindictive fools. And if they don't, all the bochurim will be running around with Lipa ads in their seforim. Beautiful.

Indeed, the marketing is the exact opposite of that for the banned "Big Event." Instead of presenting himself as "the" big star, Lipa is presenting himself as merely a simple Jew, a "Poshiter Yid". Hence the CD title. It's going to be difficult for the rabbonim to argue with that pseudo-modest self-assessment.

This low-key tone extends to the in-store posters too. I passed by Eichler's in Flatbush. They had simple green papers in the window that simply read "Lipa!" in a plain font. I passed another store on Ave. J that had a plain white poster with a small image of the album cover in middle and a lot of blank white space.

There is also some explicit anti-ban imagery in the CD package including a photo giving "A BIG thanks, to BIG people who do BIG things." The image shows Lipa asleep over his seforim and the text underneath reads March 9 '08, which was the date of the banned/cancelled "Big Event."Another panel in the booklet shows an old wooden wall with the remnants of a Kol Koreh and Poshiter Yid bumper sticker that have both been torn down, presumably by people opposed to their respective messages. You can see these images here.

(One gripe about the Digipack design. Whoever manufactured these didn't do a good job gluing them. Mine started coming apart when I opened the CD. Is the booklet is too thick for its pocket? Whatever the reason, it's disappointing that it's already coming apart.)

About the music...

Album opener "Yomam Valaila" is a funky ode to Torah learning, in which Lipa sings various common Gemara phrases, names of topics of Jewish study, and famous commentators like Rashi and Rambam over a slamming drum groove.

One of Lipa's trademarks is his use of original Yiddish lyrics to create "Pop Mussar", if you will, through songs like Gelt and Vos Is Neais, for example. You can call him "Der Alter of Yiddish Pop."

On this album, those songs include "Yener," "A Poshuter Yid," "Wake Up" (the rest of the lyrics are Yiddish), and "Hentelakh".

"Yener" is an ode to individuality. Sample lyric: "Yenem's deye loz geyn, fregt dir aleyn: 'Vu bin ikh? Ver Bin Ikh? Ver Bin Ikh?' Meanwhile, the music sounds like it could fit into a dance set between "Boogie Oogie Oogie" and "Lady Marmalade."

In "A Poshiter Yid," Lipa sings of the challenge of being a simple Jew nowadays to musical accompaniment that evolves from acoustic folk rock to Bossa with a detour or two along the way.

"Wake Up" is a funky song about the importance of getting up in the morning. The tune opens with a recording of Lipa's father leaving a message on his machine urging him to get up because there are just a few minutes left to say Shema before the Zman.

Album closer, "Hentelakh" urges the listener to "heyb oyf dayne hentelakh tzum Tatte in himmel!" It sounds like something C & C Music Factory might have produced if they had been Chassidic. Ale mentshen tants yets!

On Halelu, Lipa trades vocals with composer Yitzchak Fuchs, who sounds here like a cross between Adi Ran and Yosef Karduner. It's nice to see some of the Israeli alternative chassidic musicians getting some exposure here. The recent trend towards including them on US JM releases has positive potential. (It also has the potential to be exploitative, but this collaboration does not feel that way to me.) I reviewed Fuch's Disc "Melech" in 2004 here.

The wayward son sings of faith in "Carry On", the album's English language song. Why do JM singers feel compelled to sing bad Beis Yaakov poetry? IMO, Lipa really doesn't need to do the whole English thing, especially since he didn't even write the lyrics.

"Asher Yotzar" is a catchy number, and the "shtik" in middle of the song is cute. Sounds just like a heymishe wedding. Except, shouldn't it be a one-man-band, instead of trumpet? Come to think of it, it'd been funny if he'd broken the tune down with a "one-man band" breakdown, and then came back in with the whole band!

A number of these songs are going to be in the simcha rotation this season in Brooklyn, I'd guess. My prediction: "Yomam Volayla", "Asher Yotzar", and "Hentelech" will make the second dance set at Brooklyn weddings this season.

About the only thing I can think of that Lipa can do to increase the presence of this music in the community is to post the sheet music on his new website. Yes, he now has one. (Unlike the previous aborted attempt, this one has actual content.) There are also shout-outs to a number of J-blogs in the "My Supporters" section of the CD acknowledgments.

One of the interesting things about the politics of fear in the chareidi community -- the idea of keeping people in line through the threat of shaming-- is that once the shaming is done, the threat is gone, and there's less of an incentive to conform. In other words the threat may work keep people in line, but once someone has been "shamed", there's no longer any incentive for them to hold back.

For example, recently Pravda Ne'eman revived itself. The blogger(s) behind it was/were threatened with outing if they didn't shut down. So, they did. But, they were outed anyway. Guess what happened to that blog! That's right. It's back. Same with the UOJ blog. And now, Lipa. I suppose they can still throw his kids out of school, but it'd be a lot harder to do, given the subversive nature of his marketing campaign, as well as community sentiment.

Incidentally, for another perspective on this CD, here's a new Blog in Dm feature we're going to call "Back Seat Review". Think Pitchfork for toddlers.

At any rate, here's the review:
"I don't like these words. I like the words on Uncle Moishy's songs better!"
As for me, I'm looking forward to seeing ads for the A Poshiter Yid "Not A Concert" summer tour!