Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Jewsic

Firstly, I’d like to apologize to everyone who was expecting a post last week. For those of you who didn’t know, the holiday of Shavuot fell out last week from Tuesday night to Thursday night. Due to the cooking and preparation involved in simply getting ready for the holiday, nevermind the fact that I couldn’t write anything for the stretch of the three nights and two days that made up the actual holiday itself, lest I be smote by god, an executive decision was made that Arbitribe would go on official holiday vacation for the week. And so I schlepped up to Washington Heights to spend chag by The Ginger Man and S, and good times were had by all. However, that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t thinking about what to write the whole time, and so without further ado, this:

We are in a very interesting time of year right about now, musically. The 4-6 week stretch coming right around late May/early June is a unique period for an avid music fan, and it is also quite important. Its uniqueness lies in the fact that it is not technically significant on its own; it’s only noticeable because it is the one time on the musical calendar that has nothing special about it, kind of in the way darkness is noticeable only in that it’s an absence of light so you can’t see anything. It’s the time when bands embarking on early summer tours have had the albums they’ll be touring behind out for a month already and when bands embarking on late summer tours won’t be releasing their albums for another few weeks. As such, a musical vacuum of sorts is created. To fill the void, we music nerds generally pick this time to revisit some old favorites that don’t get nearly enough airtime anymore due to all the new stuff that’s been released.

During the 2011 version of my annual perusal of my musical back-catalog, I happened upon two bands that fall into the same category, Israeli Bible Prog Metal. Orphaned Land and Amaseffer are both comprised of Israelis, and they write prog metal concept albums about biblical stories. It’s pretty awesome to be able to start a long night drive home from Jersey with an 11 ½ minute epic about the 10 plagues followed by a 3-song musical interpretation of the Mabool clocking in at just under 20 minutes. Around the time that happened (Saturday night, three weeks ago, just in case you were wondering), I decided my next post would be about music, specifically music and how it relates to Judaism. Conveniently enough, Orphaned Land and Amaseffer (that’s an Americanization of Am Haseffer i.e. people of the book, by the way) offer a wonderful segue into the topic I would like to discuss in that vein.

To begin (because the last three paragraphs weren’t a beginning, duh), I’d like to relate a story that ticked me off, cuz hey, why not get right to the rant? It was about 5 years ago that I was first getting into types of metal other than the loud screamy kind (thanks for the prog, Sim), and during that time is when I first discovered Orphaned Land. There was a song I heard that I really liked and wanted to play for a former friend who had given up a lot of non-Jewish music over the course of the previous few years, citing a modified “you are what you eat” philosophy as his reasoning. While I respect and understand that, I figured that a song by a Jewish Israeli band about the biblical flood should have been alright. One day while we were driving around, I started the song, mentioning that it was a Jewish band but not exactly typical. He was really digging the song, but then something snapped during the first chorus, at which point he shut the song off and told me he didn’t want to hear any more of it. I asked why and he told me it wasn’t Jewish music and he didn’t want to expose himself to it. I asked what wasn’t Jewish about it, and he told me it wasn’t in Hebrew.

Am I the only one who has a problem with that? I mean on principle; it’s not like I was pissed because I didn’t get to finish my song. Let’s look at the facts here: We have Orphaned Land, a Jewish Israeli prog-metal band, and a guy who was a fervent metal fan in a previous lifetime but has since sworn off non-Jewish music. What I have trouble understanding is how a song by Israeli Jews about the biblical flood “isn’t Jewish” just because it isn’t in Hebrew. Hebrew doesn’t automatically mean a song is Jewish. Anyone ever heard of Synergia? Or better yet, Subliminal?

I get that this is just a minority opinion of one guy who I don’t even speak to anymore because he’s gotten so holier-than-thou that he thinks I’m a bad influence, sinner that I am, but I’ve encountered similar situations that all come back to the same core issue: Jews…um…errrrr…I gotta be honest I don’t even have a clue what the driving force behind this one is, it just comes back to more of questions. Why is it that when my friend wants to walk down the aisle at his wedding to the theme from Jurassic Park, a gorgeous orchestral piece, he gets shot down by his mother? Why is it that one of the songs sung in my other friend’s shul on Shabbat is actually a modified version of a Christian church hymn, but when he gets up to lead the davening he gets shouted down for trying to introduce the Skywalker Theme from Star Wars? Why is it that when yet another friend introduces a song to the Shabbat table and everyone digs it, it’s not allowed to be sung again once someone discovers it’s track 8 on an Orphaned Land album, ignoring the fact that it is actually a traditional Sefardi pizmon that’s been sung by Jews for centuries?

Whatever, I guess it’s just another question about Jewish closed-mindedness that I’ll never understand, and yes, I’m well aware that there are obviously going to be exceptions to that rule (as anyone who knows my dad can tell you), but I can only speak from my own experiences. Maybe can someone enlighten me? I just don’t get it. This isn't me being angry and stuff, just confused. To me, as you have already read, music is about how it moves you and moves through you. If a song is going to move you, why does the source matter?



Song of the Day: Wave of Babies - Animals As Leaders

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