May 1, 2011
Who is Dr. Luke?
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.