The festival of Shavuot begins tonight. You all know what that means: time for a little holiday music. Herewith a mix of Peter Paul & Mary, Shlomo Carlebach, Shoshana Damari, Bob Dylan, some Ladino sacred cancon, some 1950s doo-wop and lots more, including a snippet of Mel Brooks.
The holiday comes seven weeks after Passover (hence the name Shavuot, or “Weeks”) and traditionally marks the day that the children of Israel, newly freed from Egyptian bondage, stood before Mount Sinai as a free people and received the Book of the Law, the Torah. In a way, it’s the birthday of the Jews as a nation of laws. So it has a special association with books and learning. In the Reform movement it’s the day of confirmation, or graduation from religious school.
It’s also Chag HaBikkurim, the Festival of First Fruits, celebrating the spring harvest. In the culture of modern Israel, especially in the kibbutz movement, the holiday is associated with songs about the land and the harvest.
I’m also throwing in a few songs about journeys in the desert. That’s a theme that’s more associated with Sukkot than Shavuot, but I like these songs.
First, to get us in the mood, here’s Peter, Paul and Mary singing the old spiritual, “Go Tell It on the Mountain.”
Now for a treat: We happen to have some live footage of the climactic moment when Moses received the Tablets of the Law and presented them to the people. Just kidding. Actually, this is Mel Brooks’ imagining of that moment, from his 1981 movie “History of the World, part I.” That’s Mel in the role and robe of Moses.
Here’s Avraham Fried with a marvelous Hasidishe version of “Torah Tziva Lanu Moshe” (“Moses commanded the Torah to us”). If you’re pining for the more familiar children’s ditty, click here.
It’s no secret that some of us aren’t satisfied with the traditional answers and continue to wonder where the book actually comes from. Here are The Monotones from 1958, asking that very question: “I Wonder Who Wrote the Book (of Love)”:
In honor of Bob Dylan’s 73rd birthday on Saturday (May 24), Maariv asked four Israeli singer-songwriters — Eran Tzur, Sun Tailor, Dan Toren and Uzi Ramirez — to write about the “defining moment” in Dylan’s influence on them personally “as musicians, artists and listeners.” Each brief contribution is accompanied by a musical clip that the artist chose to accompany his words (yes, they’re all “he”).
The article is here (Hebrew only). I’ve translated some excerpts, which I’m posting along with the clips they picked and links to a few selected clips by the contributors themselves. (The above photo, by the way, was taken by his ex-wife Sara in Jerusalem, where they were celebrating their son’s bar mitzvah at the Kotel. It appears on the inner sleeve of his Infidels album.)
Maariv’s Ohad Ezrati, introducing and describing the project, writes:
Besides his being one of the great musicians of all time, Dylan has established himself as a symbol of freedom and equality, of independent creativity and thinking outside established frameworks.
Hear Eran Tzur sing his “Hu veHi” (“He and She”).
In the summer of 1998 I was headed out for a long vacation on tropical island in southern Thailand and I took along Dylan’s new album Time Out of Mind, which had come out a year earlier.
I’d been on a long timeout from Dylan, and this captured me all over again. I remember trying to write under his influence. I came up with a song, “Blues for the North,” that follows the blues chord pattern of his “Highlands,” which closes the album.
Bob Dylan sings “Highlands”:
Sun Tailor (Arnon Naor)
“You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go.” The first time I heard it was on a train from Cambridge to London. I fell in love with it. It put words to what I was feeling then, in real time.
Dylan speaks of a love that comes to him after years of disappointment and longing, and he’s deep within a beautiful tale and yet finds himself thinking about the heartbreak that’s coming soon.
It’s amazing how it’s possible to write a song about love in the present that suddenly becomes a song of mourning for the future, and make it all sound so right and real.
Sun Tailor sings Dylan’s “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go”:
I was hoping to post Part 2 of the Passover concert before the first Seder and then log off for yomtov, but cleaning the oven took longer than I expected (don’t ask). So here it is. We’ve got some Psalms, some spirituals, some memories of Jerusalem and some visions of the Messianic Era.
This time we’ve got selections by Paul Simon, Arlo Guthrie, Phish, the 1980s supergroup Kolot Shluvim, Dylan & Baez, Chava Alberstein, The Melodians, Matisyahu, Meir Ariel, Blind Reverend Gary Davis and Abbott & Costello, plus a few more.
As you’ll recall, Part 1 took us through Magid, the Seder narrative, and up to the meal. Part 2 opens with Jon Stewart hosting Jason Bateman, a self-described “goy” who attended his first Seder and describes it to Stewart with a sense of wonder.
(It should be noted that Jon Stewart acknowledged after the break that he’d been wrong about the word chazerai, which has nothing to do with chazir and does indeed mean, as Bateman said, Tchotchkes, flotsam or junk.)
After the meal, of course, comes Birkat Hamazon, the blessing after the meal. Here are two of them.
The first picks up the spirit of the traditional Birkat Hamazon, giving thanks for the land and its bounty, inch by inch and row by row. Some people think the best way to hear “The Garden Song” is from the guy who wrote it, David Mallett. It’s fine, but I don’t think anyone will ever match Arlo Guthrie’s madcap rendition:
The second way to give thanks is in the spirit of the Israeli pioneers, via Chaim Nachman Bialik’s Shir Ha’avoda Vehamelacha, “The Song of Work and Labor” (“Who will save us from hunger? Who will feed us bread and pour us a glass of milk? O, who gets our thanks, our blessing? Work and labor!”) Sung here by the 1980s supergroup Kolot Shluvim, featuring (front row and top left) Gidi Gov, Yitzhak Klapter and Alon Oleartchik, all of Poogy fame; plus Shlomo Gronich, Yehudit Ravitz and Ariel Zilber. Also worth watching: a wonderful clip from 1937 of the song’s composer, Nachum Nardi, accompanying his first wife Bracha Tsfira as she sings “Shir Ha’avoda Vehamelacha.”
After drinking the third cup of wine, we open the door for Elijah the Prophet, hoping he’ll come this year to herald the messianic era. Here’s the Vienna Jewish Choir, conducted by Roman Grinberg, with a fine version of the prophet’s traditional song.
Bob Dylan laid out his messianic vision of the time of liberation: “The Hour That the Ship Comes In,” with Joan Baez at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. (I’ve uploaded this before. I’ll keep doing it until it hits No. 1.)
Next comes the holiday cycle of readings from Psalms, known as Hallel. Since it’s getting late, we’ll run through it with a single song that captures all the main themes of the Hallel in just a few lines. It’s the 1942 pop tune “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition,” words and music by Frank Loesser (“Guys and Dolls,” “How to Succeed in Business”), who donated all the royalties to the war effort. This 1943 version, by Kay Kyser (of College of Musical Knowledge Fame) and His Orchestra, hit No. 1.
Of all the tributes following the death this week of Lou Reed, the transgressive, subversive bard of the street-wild and deviant, one of the strangest is this celebration by British journalist Tom Gross, which appeared online in the National Review. Yes, that National Review—the conservative journal founded by the high priest of upper-crust propriety, William F. Buckley.
Perhaps even more than other American-Jewish rock stars such as Billy Joel and Bob Dylan, Lou Reed was fiercely proud of being Jewish — and included lyrics on behalf of Israel and against anti-Semitism in some of his songs.
I mention Reed’s Jewishness because not a single obituary I have read of him in the mainstream press mentions it, when for Reed it was an important factor.
The evidence Gross offers consists mainly of the mockingly bitter song “Good Evening, Mr. Waldheim,” from Reed’s 1989 album New York (video below, lyrics after the jump). But that’s actually plenty—only a handful of major American rockers have recorded even a single statement as proudly Jewish. (I think of Paul Simon’s “Silent Eyes,” Randy Newman’s “Dixie Flyer,” Bob Dylan’s “Neighborhood Bully” — and, arguably, “Highway 61 Revisited” and “Father of Night.” Others?)
At the same time, Gross is right to note that Reed appeared in Israel several times. He wasn’t quite the “frequent visitor to the country” that Gross makes him out to be, but he performed there repeatedly: he gave concerts in 1994 and 2000 and joined his wife Laurie Anderson on stage for a few numbers during her Tel Aviv concerts in 2008 (video after the jump). Not many American pop stars have appeared in Israel so frequently (though Dylan matched him—concerts in 1987, 1993 and 2011—and several private visits).
And though Gross doesn’t mention it, Reed involved himself in a public way in recent years in New York’s emerging downtown Jewish culture. That’s described lovingly in this appreciation in The Jewish Week by Reed’s friend, impresario Michael Dorf. Among other things, Dorf describes Reed’s appearances as the Wise Son at Dorf’s annual Passover Seder at the Knitting Factory.
What’s most curious about the National Review piece is how it’s captured imaginations on the right with its image of Reed the defiant battler against anti-Semitism. It’s been cited by several right-wing blogs, including the Breitbart-linked Big Hollywood and Islam-bashing arch-conservative Debbie Schlussel. Schlussel’s piece is particularly wacky — she seems delighted that Reed “defied” the boycotters to play Israel, though she’s dubious of what she presumes are his leftie leanings, wary of his countercultural ethos and judges him:
Lou Reed, “Good Evening, Mr. Waldheim”:
As we approach the holiest day of the year, I’ve put together a selection of songs that sum up the day and capture its spirit, at least for me. I’ve tried to follow the order of the day, from the introductory prayer to Kol Nidre, the Maariv service, some highlights of Mussaf, the Jonah story and finally Neilah and absolution. Some selections are traditional liturgy in particularly excellent musical rendering; others are American songs that capture the message and the flavor IMHO. Included are performances by Bob Dylan, Al Jolson, Barbra Streisand, Joe Cocker, Cass Elliott and Joni Mitchell, Cantor Yossele Rosenblatt, Leonard Cohen, The Beatles, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme and Louis Armstrong, among many others.
Note: Steve and Eydie are a late addition, erev chag. I don’t know how I forgot them, as you’ll see when you hear their tune. They close the concert. Eydie closed hers just a month ago, on the 4th of Ellul, August 10.
We start as evening approaches and we prepare to stand before the Gates of Heaven. You know the drill: It’s getting too dark to see, and we’re Knocking on Heaven’s Door. This is a live version of the Bob Dylan song, from his 1976 Rolling Thunder Review concert tour, and he’s joined by Joan Baez and Roger McGuinn. By the way, the most emotionally devastating version of the song ever recorded might be this one; it’s sung by Warren Zevon on his final album, “The Wind,” reflections on his own upcoming death of cancer, which came just 10 years ago, on September 7, 2003, at age 56, a few days after the album was released.
Incidentally, Dylan originally wrote and performed “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” for the soundtrack (here’s the original) of the 1973 Sam Peckinpah film “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.” At the time Dylan was living in New York and meeting with kibbutz aliyah shaliach Shaul Pe’er, who was negotiating for Dylan and his family to spend a trial year at Kibbutz Kfar Blum. But in late 1972 Dylan told Shaul he was putting the talks on hold for several months while he went to Los Angeles to make the film. He never left LA.
Next are the two most powerful versions of Kol Nidre ever committed to film, in my opinion. The first is the iconic rendition by Al Jolson at the climax of the very first talking picture, “The Jazz Singer,” in 1927. It’s a tale that closely parallels Jolson’s own life of a cantor’s son who runs off to become a pop crooner and finally comes home on Yom Kippur to fill in on the bima for his dying father.
The second is sung by the great cantor Moishe Oysher in the 1939 Yiddish film “Overture to Glory” (“Der Vilner Shtot Khazn” or “Vilna City Cantor”). It’s a variation on the “Jazz Singer” theme with Oysher playing a young cantor who is lured from the synagogue to become an opera singer, learns his son has died, loses his voice, takes to the streets and finally stumbles back into shul for one last Kol Nidre before dying. Not to be missed.
After Kol Nidre we enter the evening Maariv service, which more or less begins with the Maariv Aravim prayer, Blessed is He who creates night and day and arranges the stars in the heavens. This is Bob Dylan’s approximate translation of the prayer, Father of Night, sung here by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band:
We’re back for Week 2 of our High Holy Day songfest as promised, this time in two parts. Part One includes Bob Dylan, Cantor Yossele Rosenblatt and Joe Cocker, plus the legendary Cantor Moishe Oysher, Jerry Lewis (in a serious moment, sort of), Larry David and the Red Army Chorus performing with the Leningrad Cowboys. Part Two includes Barbra Streisand, Leonard Cohen, Abbott and Costello, Louis Armstrong, Israeli rocker Meir Banai and The Band, among others.
We start as evening approaches and we prepare to stand before the Gates of Heaven. You know the drill: It’s getting too dark to see, and we’re Knocking on Heaven’s Door. This is a live version sung by Bob Dylan, from a 1976 concert. Déjà vu: Joan Baez is again singing along, and verse 2 is sung, I think, by Roger McGuinn. (For a different perspective, try this version sung very credibly by the Red Army Chorus with the Leningrad Cowboys, or this one sung Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits, released in 1996 with an beautiful new verse written with Dylan’s permission by Scottish musician Ted Christopher in memory of the schoolchildren killed in the Dunblane massacre that year. Children from the village are singing backup.)
Off to shul. Do you have a ticket? Uh oh. Here’s a very, very funny clip (3:21 total) about a ticket scalper working the street outside the shul, Bad Karma on the Kippur, created for the 2008 L.A. Film Race by Men on the Streets. (And here is the episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm where Larry David picks up High Holiday tickets from a scalper and things proceed downhill.)
Next is the most powerful version of Kol Nidre ever committed to film, in my opinion. It’s sung by the great cantor Moishe Oysher in the 1939 Yiddish film “Overture to Glory” (“Der Vilner Shtot Khazn” or “Vilna City Cantor”). It’s a variation on the “Jazz Singer” theme with Oysher playing a young cantor who is lured from the synagogue to become an opera singer, learns his son has died, loses his voice, takes to the streets and finally stumbles back into shul for one last Kol Nidre before dying. Oysher joins in at 3:28.
The first Kol Nidre on film was in the very first talkie, “The Jazz Singer” with Al Jolson. I don’t have that piece of soundtrack, but here is the (partial) version Jolson recorded in 1947. For a complete Kol Nidre, you can’t do better than this one by Richard Tucker, the Lower East Side cantor who actually did become a famed operatic tenor. Note the fragment of Yaaleh Tachanunenu at the end. Here is a lovely Moroccan version of Kol Nidre sung by Erez Bitton. And for a peek at how the other half lives, don’t miss the renditions of Kol Nidre sung here by Perry Como and here by Johnny Mathis. Hey, if Irving Berlin can write White Christmas…
If there’s a Kol Nidre that comes close to Oysher’s for sheer pathos, though, it’s got to be the one that ends the 1959 televised version of “The Jazz Singer” starring Jerry Lewis. Following are the last 9 minutes of the show, with Jerry agonizingly torn between his big opening show and his papa’s pulpit. If you don’t have time for it all, the singing starts around 7:33.
O.K., so we did Kol Nidre and now we’re into the evening Maariv service, which more or less begins with the Maariv Aravim, Blessed is He who creates night and day and arranges the stars in the heavens. Up next is Manfred Mann’s Earth Band singing the Dylan version, Father of Night:
A new year approacheth, and it’s time for another holiday video concert. Actually, I’m doing two of them. This first one is a collection of songs that put me in the high holy day mood. The second one, coming next week, will include some holy-mackerel renditions of the Yom Kippur liturgy, including what I think might be the greatest Kol Nidre ever put on film and an Israeli rock ‘n roll version of a climactic moment in the closing Ne’ilah service.
But that’s next week. What I’ve put together right here includes songs on themes of sin, atonement, forgiveness and redemption, sort of in that order. It includes Bob Marley, Led Zeppelin, Connie Francis, an Irving Berlin number, a few gospel numbers, Nina Simone, Kinky Friedman and a unjustly neglected masterpiece from Bob Dylan ‘s early days. Also Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme singing Bashanah Haba’ah. And more…
Up first is a gospel number, “(Please Forgive Me, Lord) For the Wrong I’ve Done,” sung by the late, legendary Willie Banks and his Messengers.
“For the Wrong I’ve Done,” Willie Banks and the Messengers.
“Mama Tried,” country great Merle Haggard’s huge, breakthrough No. 1 hit in 1968, is a searing, more or less autobiographical statement about Haggard’s childhood poverty, the loss of his father and his (then recently ended) life of crime. Unlike the song, though, in real life Haggard was never sentenced to life, much less without parole. He did several stints in juvie and San Quentin for burglary, assault and repeatedly escaping prison, before hitting it big in music and giving up burglary. He received a full pardon from Governor Ronald Reagan in 1972, shortly after releasing “Okie From Muskogee.” He once told Johnny Cash that he had been with him at his famous 1958 concert in San Quentin Prison, and when Cash said he didn’t remember Haggard being on stage with him, Merle said, “No, in the audience.”
“Mama Tried,” Merle Haggard.”
Now we move on from sin to repentance and forgiveness. We begin with Connie Francis’s deep meditation on the meaning of contrition, “Who’s Sorry Now?” Kidding. Actually it’s a sardonic observation about the uselessness of apology in fixing a wrong that’s been done. It was written in 1923 by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby. Francis recorded it in 1958. It instantly became a monster hit and catapulted her to fame.
“Who’s Sorry Now?” Connie Francis.
Next is Nina Simone’s 1965 version of “Oh, Sinner Man (Where You Gonna Run To?).” It’s notable for its hypnotic beat and this recently created, powerful documentary montage that goes with it.