The Arty Semite

Yo La Tengo's New Groove

By Laurie Kamens

The fuzzed out dulcet tones of Yo La Tengo ring out on “Fade,” the band’s 13th studio album in a long and storied career that stretches nearly 30 years.

Courtesy Yo La Tengo

Proudly hailing from Hoboken, New Jersey, the trio is composed of guitarist Ira Kaplan, his wife and drummer Georgia Hubley, and bassist James McNew, all of whom share singing duties.

A staple of the indie rock music scene, the band has a cavalcade of accomplishments under their belt, including several movie soundtracks, an outstanding record of philanthropy, and the rare honor of inventing their own Jewish holiday tradition.

Since 2001 the band has played all eight nights of Hanukkah at Maxwell’s, a small restaurant and music venue in their hometown, with a varied roster of music and comedy guests making special appearances each night. Each year the band plays fan favorites and covers of Jewish artists, donating all the profits from the concerts to charity.

A few days prior to the release of “Fade,” Kaplan spoke to The Arty Semite about the band’s annual holiday festivities, the joy of continuously making music, and not giving fans all the answers.

Laurie Kamens: How does it feel to have created a new holiday tradition with your annual Hanukkah shows?

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Music, Yo La Tengo, Laurie Kamens, Interviews, Fade

Q&A: Michael Ian Black on 'Doing it Right'

By Laurie Kamens

Speaking with The Arty Semite over the phone, Michael Ian Black paused and said: “That’s weird. I’m in the hotel hallway walking towards my room. On the carpet I see a pair of underwear and recognize them as my own. Now why in the world is a pair of my own underwear sitting in the middle of the hallway?” This is just another conundrum in Black’s daily life which, when he’s not working on a prematurely canceled Comedy Central series or writing sardonic tweets in 140 characters or less, revolves around his wife and two children at his home in Connecticut.

In Black’s new memoir, “You’re Not Doing It Right: Tales of Marriage, Sex, Death, and Other Humiliations,” he details the realities of marriage and raising children which, it turns out, are not always so great. Known for playing a caricature of himself on shows like “Stella” and “Michael and Michael Have Issues,” and as a pithy commentator on VH1’s “I Love the…” programs, in the book Black drops his persona as an infantile jerk. In a rare glimpse of the man himself, Black, born Schwartz, has written a memoir that is as beautiful as it is witty and incisive.

After solving the underwear mystery (he thinks it somehow go tangled in his coat earlier), Black talked to The Arty Semite about writing a serious book, his relationship to Judaism and coping with the reality of being Michael Ian Black.

Laurie Kamens: As a private person, was it hard to write a book that is so candid?

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: You're Not Doing It Right, Michael Ian Black, Laurie Kamens, Interviews, Comedy, Books

Friday Film: Maori-Jewish Director Taika Waititi

By Laurie Kamens

Getty Images

It was the highest grossing film ever in New Zealand, was nominated for the 2010 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury prize, and won the top prize at the Berlin Film Festival that same year. Now, New Zealand director Taika Waititi’s “Boy” is making its New York premiere at the Angelika Film Center. Based on Waititi’s 2003 Academy Award nominated short film, “Two Cars, One Night,” “Boy” is a dramatic comedy set in 1984 in a community of New Zealand’s indigenous Maori people. The film follows the highly imaginative, Michael Jackson-obsessed “Boy” as he is reunited with his recently paroled father, played by Waititi.

Waititi, who is of mixed Maori and Russian-Jewish descent, filmed the movie on location in his hometown of Waihau Bay, New Zealand. This is his second movie, following the romantic comedy “Eagle vs. Shark” in 2007, which stars friend and fellow New Zealander Jermaine Clement, best known from “Flight of The Conchords.” The Arty Semite talked to the Kiwi director about growing up in New Zealand, his childhood idol Michael Jackson, and serving double duty as star and director of his own movie.

Laurie Kamens: What was it like filming where you grew up, in Waihau Bay?

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Taika Waititi, Laurie Kamens, Interviews, Film, Boy

Q&A: Brittany Engel-Adams on Dance and Israel

By Laurie Kamens

Eduardo Patino

After taking just a two week workshop with choreographer Ohad Naharin, dancer Brittany Engel-Adams knew she had to move to Israel. Growing up in West Palm Beach, Florida, Engel-Adams, 22, started studying ballet at the age of 9. She attended the Bak Middle School of the Arts and Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts, in addition to taking extra curricular classes at Ballet Florida. After graduating from high school, Engel-Adams was awarded a fellowship to New York’s acclaimed Ailey School, where she studied for two years before being asked to apprentice, and later dance with, the Ailey II Company.

This past year, Adams took a workshop in Tel Aviv with Naharin, artistic director of Batsheva Dance Company and creator of a dance language called Gaga. The experience “transformed” her — so much so that she decided to make aliyah to pursue her dance career. Engel-Adams spoke to The Arty Semite about dance, Israel and growing up as a biracial Jew.

Laurie Kamens: What is “Gaga”?

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Ohad Naharin, Laurie Kamens, Interviews, Gaga, Dance, Brittany Engel-Adams, Batsheva Dance Company

A Girl Who Slays Dragons, but Stops for Shabbat

By Laurie Kamens

Mirka Hershberg is a normal 11-year-old Orthodox Jewish girl. She attends school, polishes the candlesticks for Shabbat, does her homework, gives tzedakah, fights trolls and dreams of slaying dragons.

Well, maybe not your typical 11-year-old Orthodox Jewish girl.

Written by illustrator Barry Deutsch, “Hereville” is the story of Mirka’s quest for a dragon-slaying sword. Originally drawn as a comic strip on Girlamatic.com, Deutsch recently developed it into a graphic novel.

Raised in the remote village of Hereville, Mirka lives with her father, stepmother, and eight siblings. Though her stepmother tries to instruct her in the “womanly arts,” including knitting and crocheting, Mirka has bigger dreams for herself that don’t include domesticity.

She wants to fight dragons.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Usagi Yojimbo, Mirka Hershberg, Love and Rockets, Liz Harris, Holy Days, Laurie Kamens, Graphic Novels, Hereville, Girlamatic, Comics, Comic Books, Books, Barry Deutsch




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