Posted Joshua Neuman
Ezra Furman, who recently released his third LP, Mysterious Power, lists 50’s/60’s rock n’ roll, early punk and Jewish theology among his biggest influences. The album’s title track can be seen not merely as a song about the search for love, but also as a search for the divine: “I need you/Call me up right now/I’d call you but I don’t know how.”
“God is a concern of mine,” Furman tells me, “that search for the mysterious and the infinite.” You have to listen carefully for it, but that concern gets articulated throughout his latest album: Whether in “Wild Rosemarie,” when he invokes “God as a shepherd wandering the hills looking for his lost sheep” or on “Hard Time in a Terrible Land” when the singer positions himself for “the good Lord to open His hand.”
“I’m incorrigibly Jewish. I write so many songs, but the ones I end up bringing to the band [backup band, the Harpoons] often tend to have a confrontation with the ineffable.”
Tonight’s show is 21 and over. 8:30 p.m. (doors). $10. The Satellite, 1717 Silverlake Blvd., Los Angeles. thesatellitela.com.
Watch a video of the band’s Bob Dylan-esque single, “Take Off Your Sunglasses,” from their 2008 album, “Inside the Human Body,” below.
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May 6, 2011 | 7:52 am
Posted by Rob Eshman
I predict that The City University of New York will rescind its decision not to honor playwright Tony Kushner with an honorary degree at its commencement.
Based on the objection of a single board member, Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, CUNY withdrew its offer to KUshner, the Pulitzer Prize winning playwright of Angeles in America. Wiesenfeld singled out Kushner for a handful of critical statements Kushner has made about Israel over the years.
According to The New York Times:
Amid calls from CUNY faculty and staff members for the board to reverse its decision, Mr. Kushner said in an interview that he believed the trustees had slandered him and owed him an apology. Even if the board was to reconsider and approve the degree, Mr. Kushner said, he would not accept it.
According to a podcast of the Monday meeting and accounts from two CUNY officials who attended it, one of the 12 trustees present, Jeffrey S. Wiesenfeld, objected to John Jay College’s submission of Mr. Kushner for an honorary degree. Mr. Wiesenfeld described viewpoints and comments, which he ascribed to Mr. Kushner, that he had found on the Web site of Norman Finkelstein, a political scientist and critic of Israel.
Mr. Wiesenfeld, an investment adviser and onetime aide to former Gov. George E. Pataki and former Senator Alfonse M. D’Amato, said that Mr. Kushner had tied the founding of Israel to a policy of ethnic cleansing, criticized the Israel Defense Forces and supported a boycott of Israel.
Let’s put aside the idea that a university bases its decision and stakes its academic image on the whims of one opinionated, ill-informed, non-expert board member. That’s embarrassing enough. TWhat CUNY needs to do is issue a statement saying that after a deeper review of the evidence, the university finds that Mr. Kushner’s views on Israel are complicated, nuanced, provocative, and within the bounds of civilized debate.
Exhibit A is what Kushner told me at an onstage talk I had with him at AMERICAN JEWISH UNIVERSITY in November 2007. (Fascinating that the conservative American Jewish University would invite Kushner to discuss his views, while CUNY balks):
...Kushner embraces uncertainty. “I have very mixed and complicated feelings about the state of Israel as a Jewish American,” he said on Monday evening, “and I’m furious at being represented as this kind of marginal crazy who’s plotting to destroy the state of Israel. I think everybody harbors their own secret doubts, or at least most of us do, and everybody’s afraid to say them, because the orthodoxy is policed with such violence and vituperation.”
Kushner and director Steven Spielberg endured a wave of criticism from some within the Jewish community who felt their film “Munich” stretched too far in trying to humanize Palestinian terrorists, or in trying to insert moral quandary into the minds of Israelis assigned to kill those terrorists.
I asked Kushner why Mamet, among others, finds his position so unpalatable. “It’s because they’re trying to defend the indefensible,” Kushner said. “It’s trying to uphold the reality you can’t uphold. It’s a cartoon version of Middle Eastern politics that almost no one in the state of Israel recognizes. There’s easily 50 percent of the Israeli population that’s progressive.”
I’m not sure of that number, especially in the wake of the Hamas takeover of Gaza, but Kushner was clearly still feeling the sting of “Munich.”
“I can’t feel neutral about the state of Israel because I’m a Jew,” Kushner said, “and I would like to see Israel survive and prosper. I absolutely don’t believe in single-state solution. I believe in a two-state solution. I’ve never anywhere on earth said I believe Israel should be forced to give up its identity as a Jewish state ... that obviously wouldn’t work. It would be the end of Israel.” But Kushner attacked those who disagree with what he considers his more thoughtful approach to Israel’s conflict.
“[David Mamet’s] view really almost goes to neighborhood street gang turf war, the people on the hill and the people in the valley. It’s like that Billy Jack anthem. You can’t talk in those terms.”
Let me reiterate for Mr. Wiesenfeld: “I’ve never anywhere on earth said I believe Israel should be forced to give up its identity as a Jewish state ... that obviously wouldn’t work. It would be the end of Israel,” Kushner said.
Not that a man being honored for his superb playwrighting needs to pass a Likud litmus test, but if that’s not kosher enough for CUNY, what is?
This trend to punish Jewish artists for holding views on Israel that do not comport with the right-leaning pro-Israel crowd has got t stop. CUNY can take a brave and necessary stand here, recognizing that Jewish history is full of courageous thinkers whose once radical views were eventually seen as correct. They’re called prophets.
As I wrote in a column about yet another artistic boycott last year, “Should we really be saying, in the center of America’s creative community, such formidable artists are beyond the pale of the Jewish communal support? Kushner’s ideas and writings are of more lasting value to the Jews and the world than any number of JCRCs, and Theodore Bikel does more for Jewish life and culture in a year than most Jewish organizations do in their lifetimes. When the big tent of Jewish life gets too small to cover those two, I’d rather stand outside.”
You can read the whole story here.
You can hear Kushner speak about his feelings on Israel here.
May 4, 2011 | 3:14 pm
Posted by Lauren Bottner, Hollywood Jew contributor
The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles have chosen their 10 finalists for the Next Big Jewish Idea contest and the competition for $100,000 continues. Nearly 112,000 votes were cast for more than 300 submissions during the first round of voting. Read more about it at JewishJournal.com
The finalists include the top five vote-getters along with the five chosen by a panel of judges. The final round of voting opened on May 2 and will end on June 3. Place your vote for your favorite Idea by June 3rd at thenextbigjewishidea.com.
But then there were the other ideas. In doing research for my article, I came across some not so big submissions. Feel free to vote on my list of Not-Next Smaller ideas.
Here are the top 10 Not-so-Big Jewish Ideas
1. J-Eureka: Young professionals from across the world will meet in Stockholm to explore the tough questions about Judaism and it’s basic principles. It’s touted as idea-based Judaism where Jews come together to debate ideas.
Kind of using your third genie wish for more wishes…
2. Project Connect: Teaching healthy relationships to prevent Jews from a) choosing not to get married, b)getting divorced, or c) marrying non-Jews.
All Singles-by-Choice Beware!
3. Find your soul & your mate similarly bemoans the lack of Jewish babies. Through workshops and lectures, the hope is that single unaffiliated Jews will recommit to the religion, find their b’sherit, and crank out the babies. “For those who require more intensive help, a matchmaker will be available for one-on-one guidance”
In need of more intensive help? I wonder what exactly that looks like.
4. JewishGeography. You’re from Middle-of-No-Where? Oh, do you know my third cousin twice removed’s hairdresser? Something-stein? It’s the old game gone virtual using social media tools for instant connection and community.
Maybe I’m confused but I’m pretty sure EveryJew.com/Facebook/Twitter already does this. I didn’t realize there was $100,000 for it.
5. My Not-so-Big Not-Very-Fat Dinner. Let me sum up. Eat and learn about Judaism.
6. Togetherness: Go visit churchs with your Christian friends. Return the favor by inviting them to Jewish bingo.
And the way this helps the Jewish community would be??
7. Spiritual Fitness: A gym just for Jews that displays psalms on treadmill screens for every mile walked.
So rather than calories burned, I will be redeemed by “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels. I may tell all my bones.” Psalm 22. 14
8. Wallenberg – Have you heard of Him? The idea is to shoot a documentary asking strangers on the street if they know who Raoul Wallenberg was. For all of us who’d flunk the quiz: He was a righteous Gentile who saved over 190,000 Jews during the Holocaust.
In other words, Have you heard of Him? Nope
9. Dance wherever you are. This would be a national arts festival on Rosh Hashanah, complete with music, dancing, art exhibitions and storytellers focused on diversity.
Maybe it’s just me, but my rabbi might protest if I turn cartwheels during the shofar blowing.
10. Kosher 2.0: Not Your Bubbe’s Kosher. Seeing as many Jews choose not to keep kosher, it must be time for Kosher 2.0. Let’s reimagine the concept of Kosherness and write a more modern version. The proposed new name? “A Manifesto for Modern Jewish Conscious Consumption”.
A Manifesto created by humans that erases the laws of Torah. Oh we’re skating on thin ice.
May 1, 2011 | 9:51 pm
Posted by Susan Freudenheim
The enormous sense of jubilation at the death of a man, a very evil man, Osama Bin Laden, curses through my soul, and I see that reflected in the crowds being shown on television. And yet, I feel compelled to second guess my own joy. It is legitimate to feel joyful and to celebrate the vanquish of a man who, himself, celebrated hatred, who killed and taught others to kill ruthlessly. Who was evil in a way comparable to Hitler, for his level of disinterest in the welfare of innocent victims.
But even as we celebrate, I think how much better this would be to have been able to hold a trial in a world court for this man, to have had him answer to a different kind of justice. This in no way vanquishes the pride I have that American operatives appear to have accomplished what seemed to be impossible. To capture this elusive man, using intelligence agencies working together. I only wish that justice could be done outside the war zone.
We have all been subjected to innumerable indignities as a result of this man. May we who sought justice now come together over this victory—to celebrate our president and the forces that serve us all, from the armed forces, to the CIA, who took this on. And may we find some way forward in healing the world.
May 1, 2011 | 1:13 pm
Posted by Orit Arfa
Lucasz Gottwald is a good Jewish doctor. He goes by “Dr. Luke”, and he’s an MD—a Doctor of Music, with a specialization in neurology and addiction. (Although Dr. Dre may have been the first to achieve this degree.) Dr. Luke is famous for crafting melodies that get stuck in the heads of millions, songs that release neural impulses that make people want to get up and dance like the teenagers they are—or aren’t. Last week he won ASCAP’s Songwriter of the Year award along with his dream-teamer, Swedish pop maestro, Max Martin, for his whopping success on the pop charts.
Dr. Luke is behind the megahits of Katy Parry (from “I Kissed a Girl” to her latest “ET”) and Britney Spears (from “Circus” to her latest “Till the World Ends”). He’s responsible for the rise of Ke$ha, having produced her debut chart-topping party anthem “TiK ToK” with fellow Jewish producer, Benny Blanco (whose publishing company is called “Matzah Ball Music”). TiK Tok made headlines when IDF soldiers posted a YouTube video of them breaking out in a flash mob to the song while patrolling the streets of Hebron, to the consternation of their IDF commanders.
Dr. Luke wasn’t available for an interview when I attended the ASCAP Expo that took place at the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel this past weekend, where he gave a master session on songwriting. He is guarded like royalty, and the extent of his Jewish upbringing and identity is shrouded in mystery.
The surname “Gottwald”, according to some online sources, could go either way: Gottwald was an English baptismal name meaning ‘the son of Godard’ as well as the Anglicization by Ashkenazi Jews of Jewish surnames. It could also be a German composite of God (got) and rule (wald). “Lucasz” recalls an apostle, which lends to some sort of Christian connection. According to Wikipedia, the young Lucasz certainly wasn’t a good Christian at St. Luke’s School in Manhattan; he got kicked out. He had a stint at as a drug dealer (which obviously contributed to his studies on addiction).
But in a cover story interview with Billboard, the former house guitarist of Saturday Night Live attributes his quest for pop perfection in part to being a “neurotic New York Jew.” According to the article, Dr. Luke also makes house calls to artists desperate for a hit because he seems to have gotten the formula for a pop hit down to a science.
And as a good (and, turns out, neurotic) Jewish doctor, he has messianic tendencies. His latest hit “Till the World Ends” off Spears’ seventh album, Femme Fatale, remixed recently with Ke$ha and Nicki Minaj, describes the end of the world, the battle between Gog U’Magog, when the forces of good continue to dance even as the battle towards Messiah rages on (well, the verses don’t say that exactly). With its apocalyptic “Oh! Oh! Ohs!”, the chorus brings the listener to a state of euphoria, the kind a hero gets from conquering the forces of evil.
At his master session at the ASCAP Expo, Dr. Luke opened up his ProTools production session to dissect the anatomy of Spears’ latest hit. The image of the session over the large screens drew oohs and ahhs from the crowd of aspiring songwriters. The track’s 178 audio channels running down the session (Dr. Luke said he usually exceeds 150 channels) make the track look more complex than a movement of a symphony.
In the video excerpt below taken by my FlipCam in the back of the room, Dr. Luke isolates the “End of the World” file: the static-y sound that breaks the song down the middle. It’s what the world will sound like when it’s over—but will the world really end? The sound bounces back with the “Oh! Oh! Ohs!”, silent at first, and then builds up into a powerful crescendo that gets people wanting to joyfully wave their fists in the nightclub air.
With his songs infecting the bedrooms of teenagers (and of fun-loving adults) and nightclubs around the world—in America, Israel, Europe, and I wager even the most strictest of Islamic countries—Dr. Luke is more like the German meaning of his surname, “a God ruler.” I can imagine even the most religious of schoolchildren stealing a moment from their studies to go on to YouTube and shake their booty to his songs with the intention they should apply to their prayers.
And when the IDF soldiers stopped in the tense streets of Hebron—after hearing the call to Muslim prayer—to dance to Ke$ha, it wasn’t a military indiscretion or degradation of their IDF service. It was a proclamation of why they’re gonna fight—or why they should fight ‘til they “see the morning light”: to have the freedom to dance, to sing, and to enjoy life.
So as long as good Jewish doctors are mixing up good pop elixirs, the world will go on.