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Archive for the ‘Music’ Category



On Discovering the Existence of The Westboro Baptist Church

Jan11

by: on January 11th, 2011 | 9 Comments »

Perhaps I have been hiding under a rock – maybe a good strategy, considering – but until today I was blissfully ignorant of the existence of The Westboro Baptist Church and its history of picketing rock concerts and a wide variety of funerals. Upcoming events include the funerals of the Arizona shooting victims and of Elizabeth Edwards. Members of the church are also infamous for picketing at the funerals of soldiers whose deaths they consider evidence of god’s wrath. Although the name of their website is http://www.godhatesfags.com/ it seems their god hates just about unconditionally, and hell is either overcapacity or infinitely expandable. Dante’s nine circles could never suffice for all the people the WBC believes the almighty has consigned to eternal damnation.

I tried to go to their website, just as I recently tried to visit Sarah Palin’s, to read for myself contents reported by the media. In both cases, my computer could not connect, although connection to other sites was no problem. I wondered at first (in paranoid Luddite fashion) if somehow those websites can screen people like me who want to spy on their activities or at any rate decry them. Then it occurred to me that maybe those sites are so trafficked that there is an impassible jam. Either explanation disturbs me.

My husband, who is a news junkie, just walked in and told me he had never heard of The Westboro Baptist Church, either. Unaffiliated with any recognized Baptist conference or association, the WBC was founded by Fred Phelps in 1955. According the Wikipedia entry, its modest membership (71 in 2007) consists mostly of Phelps’ family. Since 1991 the church has been actively involved in the anti-gay rights movement. Now clearly they have become experts at exploiting the media and attaching themselves to anyone with celebrity, including Lady Gaga whom they likened to “The Beast Obama.”

Lady Gaga counseled her fans not to engage with the picketers. In Arizona people will assemble not as counter-protesters exactly but as human shields for the mourners. Meanwhile Arizona lawmakers are drafting emergency legislation to prohibit protests at or near funeral sites.

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Portrait of the Polymath as an Old Man

Nov3

by: on November 3rd, 2010 | 3 Comments »

In my childhood, I wanted to know everything about everything, which I called “being a polymath”, because polymath was such an impressive word. I read omnivorously, and remembered almost all of what I had read. I was the star of my high school’s Reach For the Top team (short version: a Canadian high school Jeopardy). I knew all the songs on the top 30, every week, and could identify them from the first notes, to the amazement of my parents to whom all rock and roll sounded pretty much the same. Two long-remembered dreams from my childhood encapsulate this obsession. In the first, the happy dream, aliens come to destroy Earth (I was a big science fiction fan) but moved to pity, they choose one person at random and ask one question. If the question is answered correctly, Earth will be spared; if incorrectly, ZAP! They choose me; I know the answer. Everyone is awed and grateful. In the other dream, I go off to summer camp for two weeks, and when I come back I get a copy of the current top thirty. I look at it in disbelief. I don’t know any of the songs on it. I don’t even know any of the groups. I am in utter despair.

One of these dreams has come true, and – here’s a hint – it’s not the one with the aliens. I still read music reviews occasionally, and they’re about albums I don’t know by bands of which I’ve never heard. Even when they explain that the lead singer used to be in this important other band, I still don’t know him. Sometimes out of this vast ocean of ignorance there’ll emerge a familiar island, a new album by Paul Simon, or the Rolling Stones. But the waters of oblivion are rising, the islands are becoming fewer, and there are more and more column inches of reviews waving between them.

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Jesse Rifkin: Real “Bad Jew”

Jul8

by: on July 8th, 2010 | Comments Off

I’m a bad Jew,” a friend said, grinning ear to ear and then biting into a bacon-egg-and-cheese bagel sandwich. Even looking back on the Jewish gangsters of the 1920′s, socialist Jews of the 1930′s, hippies of the ’60′s and punks of the ’80′s, seldom has being a “bad Jew” seemed so trendy.

Time and time again, American Jews simultaneously act and critique their own actions, rigidly adhere to ancient precepts and then question them. As a community, we create the counter thesis to our own tradition through rebellion, with the rebellion itself long since becoming a tradition. The problem is that “bad Jews” don’t always play their part so well. Some don’t rebel against particular Jewish traditions or approaches to theology. Instead, they actively adhere to American Jewish cultural traditions — bagels and lox on the weekends, self-effacing humor, and political activism — while still claiming that they are somehow devious. How rebellious can conformity be?

True rebelliousness has been partially relegated to literature, where a set of young Jewish giants is replacing a generation of retiring ones. But how long can Jonathan Safran Foer‘s brilliant, if incessant, references to his sex life be considered truly rebellious? Are we losing our tradition of losing our tradition?

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Business Class Refugees: Kartick & Gotam

Jun13

by: on June 13th, 2010 | 2 Comments »

Who are these guys? Whatever are “business class refugees”? And, most of all, why should I care?

You should care because this album, Business Class Refugees, is a new and extraordinary music, created internationally, in ways that simply haven’t been possible till now. It comes out thirty years after “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts” the pioneering Byrne / Eno collaboration which used electronic ambience, and world music behind sampled vocal tracks, but assembled painfully in the studio through analog trial and error. Kartick and Gotam, known as K&G, also weave a beating net of electronic ambience, but overlay it with a stunning selection of Indian and south Asian musicians as foreground. And they do it live with visuals as well, though that comes later.

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Neil Innes: Pop Goes Your Culture

May3

by: on May 3rd, 2010 | 4 Comments »

All around the musical village
The alarm-clock chased the vulture.
The sands ran through the hourglass -
Pop! goes your culture.

…………..(old children’s song)

“Good evening,” said Neil Innes, as he stepped out onto the Hughes’ Room stage last Thursday. “It’s wonderful to be.”

He opened with “I’m the Urban Spaceman“, ended it after 30 seconds, smiled at the audience and said, “Thank you. That was a medley of my hit.” I laughed, though I remembered that he had started his show at Edinburgh Festival 20 years ago with the same song and line. But then he’d performed the whole song, and now it was just a thumbnail from his (and my) past.

I first saw Neil Innes in 1969 in Boston, when he was a member of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, a UK band of art-school graduates who were heavily into surrealism and dada art. They performed a 30 second Neil Sedaka parody called “Kama-Sutra“, a painfully extended blues song (“Can Blue Men Sing the Whites?”) in which Neil played a guitar with a four foot long neck, explaining sotto voce that, “this next song will feature a long guitar solo.” Other songs included an electric trouser press, and a female mannequin leg with built-in theremin, which made screeching sounds if you moved your hand close to it. There were about a dozen members in the band, and they were quite wonderfully manic.

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A Great Way to Keep Smiling in a Difficult Time

Jan22

by: on January 22nd, 2010 | 2 Comments »

Beyond the Pale

[Editor's Note: We are delighted to welcome Mark LeVine, Tikkun's longest serving contributing editor, to Tikkun Daily. Mark wears at least two hats and another one apart from musician is political prof and Middle East expert. His latest post at tikkun.org is "No Hope for Haiti" Without Justice."]

If the end of 2009 is any indication, 2010 is going to be a difficult year. Whether it’s the economy, foreign policy or just political and cultural pulse of America more broadly, a host of problems confronts our society from the political leadership to the average citizen that hardly anyone knows how or even wants to deal with honestly.

We need inspiration, and few things inspire people to action better than music. For my money, one of the best albums to get your year going in a positive way has to be Postcards, the latest release of the internationally acclaimed Klezmer/world music ensemble, Beyond the Pale.

Based in Toronto, Beyond the Pale’s sound is a paradox — acoustic yet explosive, grounded in Klezmer yet swimming in Balkan and bluegrass elements, with forays into everything from reggae to funk. With its blend of innovative original compositions with classics of the world music repertoire that group is surely one of the most accomplished ensembles on the world music scene today.

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It’s not surprising that Beyond the Pale hails from Toronto. The city has a strong Jewish presence, which has been joined in recent decades by a major influx of immigrants from around the world, making Toronto one of the most cosmopolitan and culturally diverse in the world. Eric Stein, the multi-instrumentalist (mandolin, bass, cimbalom, guitar) founder of Beyond the Pale and a leading figure in Toronto’s Jewish music scene, explains that the city and the Jewish music scene there lend themselves to opening up to other cultures, which is reflected in the group’s name. “‘Beyond the Pale’ obviously refers to the Pale of Settlement, but that’s the start, not the end of the musical journey we’re on.” Indeed, while Klezmer is the foundation for the music, the majority of the band is not Jewish, but instead hails from a diverse background, particularly the former Yugoslavia.

“Toronto has been an amazing place to develop our music. It’s one of the only places where a band of such eclectic makeup could come together and do what it does because of all the different musical traditions and the freedom and openness that our cultural environment in Toronto facilitates.”

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