Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Rockin' w/MO Chassid

MO Chassid responds to an email he received in response to his post about the inappropriateness of YU hosting a concert featuring several of the Jewish "bar bands" who have been bringing Yeshiva kids into the NYC club scene.

This part was a little off the subject, but amusing nonetheless.
The Boro Park JM scene is even worse because the musicians with the Armani suits and shiny black shoes truly believe that they are elevating the music by putting pasukim against them when in fact they are lowering the pasukim by putting horrible tunes to them.
I was cc'd on the email he is responding to in this post and I've responded as well.

Here's my response:

Thanks for writing. I don’t think that we are as far apart as you may think. I have no problem with Jewish rockers performing at clubs per-se. My issue is with the way SOME of these performers are targeting “frum” yeshiva kids to bring them into the clubs.

Now onto specifics.
You write:
Musicians don't often have a choice about where they get to play, especially if they get paid to do it (which is how they feed themselves and their families). Jewish rockers have even fewer choices, and in the world of rock music, BB Kings is a choice gig. They would be misguided not perform there, and one might argue irresponsible if they have financial obligations to family or charities for which they perform.
Essentially, I agree with this. The problem that I have isn’t that these musicians are performing at BB King's per-se, rather it’s the way in which they do so. Typically, they schedule these gigs for days when young yeshiva kids are looking for something to do (i.e. Purim, chanukah, Simchat Beit Hashoeva) and then they try very hard to get those kids to come to these bar gigs. It’s not as if they take a gig in a bar, publicize the gig to the world at large, or even to the secular or culturally Jewish communities who are comfortable in that environment. Rather, they target the “frum” kids whose communities (and parents too, I might add) do not approve of such behavior.

I’m not talking about a situation where a band gets a gig at a club, and some yeshiva kids (BTW, when I refer to yeshiva kids here, I’m talking mainly about the black-hat community) hear about the gig and decide to show up. Some of these bands are specifically trying to draw that demographic to their shows and their marketing is geared towards that end.

Check out the interview with Soulfarm’s Noah Solomon at this link.
“You know, the Ramaz and Frisch high school kids that come to your concerts - do you ever get concerned that they will scare off more mature audience?”
“It already happened - they've already scared off everybody. Some of my friends just told me "Dude I can't hang any more. I like your music but I can't deal with the crowd." We've just come to realization - that's what it is in New York right now. Out of the city it's not like that. But they're really keeping us going, these kids, coming to concerts, supporting us, buying CDs and all. And they will grow up and, soon enough we'll have a sophisticated audience that have been with us for quite a few years.”
The interviewer is from the YU community so he refers to Frisch and RAMAZ, but I’ve been to see Soulfarm at the now defunct Wetlands in NYC, where the audience was primarily 16-19 year old kids from Brooklyn. For the most part, these kids come from homes where going to bars is looked down upon, and are not street-smart enough to be aware of everything that’s going on around them.

You also write:
2. In case you hadn't noticed, most young Jews don't hang in the Bais most Saturday nights. They're out at the clubs. If we can bring any yiddishkeyt into that atmosphere, we do something to stem the tide of assimilation and light a spark of identity (or maybe keep it lit) in those who attend the shows. Many of those attending these shows aren't even shul-goers or observant- they're more casually, culuturally affiliated Jews who are either seeking something more or a connection their shul doesn't provide, something that straddles their modern sensibility, passion for their identity and that ultimate of chassidic touchstones, music. You of all people should realize how effective this sort of kiruv is.
I fully agree and have written as much. For example, here where I wrote “I've posted several times about Blue Fringe and my disapproval of the fact that they are being marketed to the "Yeshivish/Chassidish" community. I have nothing against the band, they do their thing well, and I think they would be a great band to book on college campuses and the like to increase Jewish awareness and pride. I just have problems with the aspect of their marketing that has been targeting the "heimish" community.”

Finally, you write:
Those who argue that Jewish rock bands performing at rock clubs take Jews away from the fold are imitating ostriches and are not cognizant of the realities of today’s youth culture, which does impact our youth. THEY ARE GOING TO GO OUT ANYWAYS. We should take appropriate action and support the bands and promoters who go out and provide cultural context in clubs with contemporary Jewish music, no matter how derivitive or secular, with our thanks and checkbooks open.
Again, with the exception of those groups I’ve listed that are deliberately having what I consider to be a negative influence on ‘frum’ kids, I absolutely do believe in supporting bands and performers who are doing just that.

Here's part of an earlier correspondence I had with the same writer that summarizes my position on the issue.
I personally believe that it is important for all segments of the greater Jewish community to express their Jewishness through music -- even when it contains messages or themes that I disagree with. I think the presentation of ‘real’ Jewish music is an important end in and of itself; although the Kiruv aspect is a nice bonus. I simply think that artists and promoters ought to respect the values of the communities they’re marketing themselves to.