They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them: they have made them a molten calf, and have worshipped it, and have sacrificed thereunto, and said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.
And the LORD said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people:
Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation. (Exodus 32:7-10)
Yea, a stiffnecked and intransigent people. Yet their music is so much easier on the ears come Christmastime than what has been polluting airwaves for the past several weeks. Recently I had to wait in a parking lot for thirty minutes while the local strip mall was blasting Christmas music through two enormous speakers at the building's entrance--yes, forcing not only customers but hapless bystanders to suffer through nu-alternative Christmas classics by The Trans-Siberian Orchestra and others. I complained, but was told the landlord liked it that way for the holidays. When I went inside and simply turned off the CD player that was responsible for this terrible infringement of my rights, I'm sorry I didn't take the CD with me; a few minutes later another employee went in, turned it back on, made it louder, and then locked the door.
MP3s, videos, and rants below the jump!...
However, if the proprietor had been playing, say, Naftule Brandwein's recordings from the early 1920s, reissued as King of the Klezmer Clarinet (Rounder, 1997), I think I could have handled it. Hell, I would have loved it. Or perhaps some of the classic Jewish songs set to rock'n'roll rhythms on Reb Shlomo's The Best of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach (??, 2002) for a more contemporary feel. Even the rather tawdry ditties on Theo Bikel's Sings Yiddish Theatre and Folk Songs (Elektra, 1965) would have left me quite happy. But The Trans-Siberian Orchestra? Who the fuck listens to that? (Well, a lot of people, actually--they sell a million albums a year.) Three things that should immediately tell you this band "doesn't know shit about rock and roll": 1.) they wear suits, 2.) they're all over 40, and 3.) they play Christmas music. One of the biggest scams ever put over on the American people in the name of holiday cheer.
Let's face it: Christian music is boring. Except perhaps for a well-executed Te Deum, quite moving and beautiful in its own right, the whole genre is wallowing in the tepid, self-satisfying indulgence that comes with having conquered and ruled the Western world for over 2,000 years. When I watched Cecil B. Demille's The Sign of the Cross (1932) recently, I found myself much more interested in the Roman decadence--the slinky rhythms at odds with each other and the permanently reclining bodies--than the naive and pious Christian community, their songs unified and monotonous, their bodies huddled together in a feeble attempt at monumentality. Even with the glowing success of Western Christendom, its music has produced little of value; only now it is louder, aided by electric guitars and, more volatile, electric violins. One could make an argument for gospel, but even this is more the product of the African-American community than the white, Anglo-Saxon tradition I am referring to. In fact, for the past 100+ years, it seems that only oppressed and minority groups (and a handful of eccentrics from the dominant classes) are capable of producing real musical art. As a professor of mine, Neil Christian Pages, once said: This would be a boring, boring country without homosexuals.
(As far as I'm concerned, the only Christmas album worthy of anyone's attention this year is David Peel's Marijuana Christmas release from 2008--quite popular on the blogosphere, and available here and here, though the owner of the latter blog felt it necessary to include Christmas-themed pornography in his .zip file. "Dope the Halls With Marijuana" indeed.)
Which brings me back to Jewish music and why we should be listening to it today. It's more fun. It swings. It has feeling and pathos and soul that isn't so preconditioned in its listeners by mass culture. There's none of that cloying sweetness, that disgusting Hallmark quality that reminds the listener that s/he is now the subject of an experience not really his/her own, but the abstract experience of abstract Masses. Christmas music is not unlike Dwight Macdonald's definition of kitsch oh so many years ago: "More sexy but not more sexual, the relation between the terms being similar to that of sentimentality to sentiment or modernistic to modern, or arty to art." Christmasy to Christmas. Hearing the mournful quality of Jewish music today can perhaps reverse some of this damage.
I'm by no means an authority on the subject. In fact, up until a few years ago I could number myself among the faction of self-hating Jews. Christmas music is the locus of a particularly embittering memory: being made fun of in middle school during the holiday season because Hebrew songs were "not in English" and therefore "retarded". For this reason, I've felt obliged to include Pussy Galore's anti-semitic anthem, "You Look Like a Jew", off their (classic?) LP, Groovy Hate Fuck (Vinyl Drip, 1987).
But the joke's on them! I don't see any "Radical Christian Culture" series around to compete with John Zorn's imprint in celebration of the Chosen People. Recently I've been going through the Tzadik catalogue, a few of my favorites in the Radical Jewish section being the folky Nigunim by Frank London, Lorin Sklamberg and Uri Caine (Tzadik, 1998), Children of Israel by Danny Zamir (2002) which is equal parts Coltrane and klezmer, and the odd sonic mysticism of The Alter Rebbe's Nigun by Oren Ambarchi and Robbie Avenaim (1999). Somewhat related to the Tzadik series, where he records as Raz Mesinai, is Badawi's classic album of Jewish-influenced illbient and dub reggae, Jerusalem Under Fire (ROIR, 1997).
Speaking of which, I feel that it's appropriate to include several reggae gems with this post considering the genre's Judeo-centrism. A few Zion-flavored MP3s by the likes of Prince Far I, Burning Spear and Garnett Silk appear at the bottom along with everything else.
If you're feeling particularly anti-Christmas today, I recommend one of my favorite films: John Waters' Female Trouble (1974), particularly this scene where a disastrous misstep in gift-giving acts as the catalyst for Divine's extended spree of crime, debauchery and... murder!
Also, this isn't by any means good. But it's rather amusing.
01 - Naftule Brandwein - Freit Sich, Yiddelach (Be Happy, Jews).mp3
02 - Naftule Brandwein - Der Yid In Jerusaleim.mp3
03 - Shlomo Carlebach - V'haer Eneinu.m4a
04 - Shlomo Carlebach - Samchem.m4a
05 - Theodore Bikel - Kalt Vasser.mp3
06 - Theodore Bikel - Doina.mp3
07 - London, Sklamberg & Caine - Belzer Medley.mp3
08 - Danny Zamir - Aley Giv' Ah Bagalil.mp3
09 - Oren Ambarchi & Robbie Avenaim - Atzilut [Emanation].mp3
10 - Badawi - Semetic Stepper.mp3
11 - Badawi - Mt. Zion Dub.mp3
12 - Burning Spear - Jordan River.mp3
13 - Garnett Silk - Zion In A Vision.mp3
14 - Prince Far I - Moses, Moses.mp3
15 - Pussy Galore - You Look Like a Jew.mp3http://www.megaupload.com/?d=T0YUK4H5