Sex, drugs, rock and roll — and ultra-Orthodox Judaism. What else could you expect from an essay written by Matisyahu?
“Akeda, the Binding and Unbinding…the Long Walk Back,” published in Medium, tells the moving tale of the formerly Hasidic singer/songwriter’s journey to overcome substance abuse, his religious struggle, his Bob Marley obsession, and more.
But the best line in the entire text comes when he tries to describe a niggun, or Hasidic melody, in layman’s terms.
I was dedicating myself to the cause. I moved to Crown Heights and gave up on the world. Happiness would need to come from within. I prayed and studied and prayed and studied and mikva’d and drank vodka, and ate chicken and drank vodka and sang niggunim (Chassidic melodies that sound similar to the scene in Star Wars when the bad guy’s ship is arriving). I wore the uniform (black and white just like the ideology). I believed there was something wrong with me that needed to be eradicated. That wrongness inside could be purified if I just tried hard enough.
God exists and he has a sense of humor. Or at least the god of technology does. On Jimmy Kimmel Live yesterday, YouTube, TV and Twitter converged in a fabulous segment called Mean Tweets. Throw in some love-to-hate-them celebrities, and hilarity ensued.
Apparently, Mean Tweets is where Jimmy Kimmel sits celebrities down in front of a potted plant and has them read particularly, well, mean tweets that someone has posted about them. Ostensibly the message is to consider that celebrities are people with feelings, too. Really the message is that the more a celebrity can laugh at himself, the more likable he becomes.
To the Shmooze’s delight, Matisyahu was featured in yesterday’s segment, bringing this priceless series to our attention.
The clean-shaven singer in a loose white t-shirt barely resembles a 2006 snapshot of a bearded Hasid dancing merrily in a suit and shtramel. And indeed, Matisyahu today bears little likeness to his longtime “Chassidic reggae superstar” persona. While his transformation sparked much speculation in the blogosphere — Matisyahu dropped the bomb by posting a beardless photo of himself on Twitter last December — the choice was carefully conceived, as the performer tells the Times of Israel this week.
“There are so many rules in Judaism, and if you get into them and you get obsessed and you have the kind of life that I have, it can make you a very unhappy person,” Matisyahu told the Times in a backstage interview before a Stamford, Conn., concert last week. “It can make everything complicated and more stressful than it needs to be, so I kind of loosened the knots a little bit.”
First it was the beard, now it’s the yarmulke.
Matisyahu is currently walking around clean-shaven and with an uncovered head, and this is causing a lot of pain for observant Jewish fans who are lamenting what appears to be the once-Hasidic singer’s rapid slide in to secularism.
In case you missed it, the reggae performer posted on Facebook a photo of himself sans kippah, as well as another of him posing with rapper Wiz Khalifa, who appears to be smoking a joint.
Reggae star Matisyahu had two surprises in store for concert-goers who had come to see him perform at The Tarrytown Music Hall on February 16.
The first was the re-growth of his beard. No sooner had the singer’s famous facial hair disappeared than it was back again — though it will obviously take a while for it to reach its prior Hasidic-style length. Either Matsiyahu simply got tired of shaving or he has had a religious change of heart…again.
Never in the field of human barbery has so much been written by so many, about so few… hairs.
But it’s not only the Forward that has gone stark raving beard bonkers, over at religiondispatches.org they’ve taken some time off from theological niceties and geopolitical necessities to give Forward columnist Jay Michaelson some time to weigh into Beard-Gate.
The Washington Post explains how Matis no longer feels the need for rules, Billboard bemoans the loss of the first “chassidic reggae superstar” and Gawker leads with the Onion-esque stance that shaving off his beard is a publicity stunt.
Ironically, The Onion’s A.V. Club merely notes that Matis’s strange phrase to the effect that “you haven’t seen the last of my facial hair” might mean that his mustache might come calling at your door in 2012.
Seems like Matis might no longer qualify for the International Facial Hair Festival, which is a shame.
Reggae star Matisyahu has shaved his long beard, posted photos of his startling new look on Twitter, and is now saying that he is disavowing the Hasidic life he has led for the past decade.
Tuesday morning, with the photos, he tweeted a somewhat cryptic line that seemed to explain at least part of his new look:
At the break of day I look for you at sunrise, when the tide comes in I lose my disguise.
Later in the day he posted on his blog a statement indicating the magnitude of the change:
This morning I posted a photo of myself on Twitter. No more Chassidic reggae superstar.
As if Hasidic reggae singer Matisyahu’s bizarre “Miracle” (Hanukkah Song) video from this past winter wasn’t weird enough, he has now put out an equally bizarre one to promote his upcoming summer tour.
True, this new video thankfully has no nightmarish scenes featuring a toga-wearing Hellenists, Santa Clauses, Nutcracker soldiers or fighting hockey players in it, but viewers are left again asking, “What was that all about?”
In “Mustache Madness,” this new video, a couple is seen eating dinner together. Just as the guy starts breaking up with his girlfriend, a blond, obnoxious, mustached Australian appears to convince the guy that he can’t break up with his girlfriend just as Matisyahu’s summer tour is about to begin. Every time the guy tries to object to this outrageous intruder, the unwelcome guest zaps him and magically makes a different type of facial hair (think sideburns, mustache, soul patch, etc.) appear on his face.
Late on Tuesday night, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and rapper Matisyahu were speaking together outside of the men’s room at a Brighton Beach event hall.
The pop Hasidic rabbi, author of “Kosher Sex” and former star of TLC’s “Shalom in the Home”, and the Hasidic pop star, who once sang on Letterman in a fedora, had come to the heart of Russian Brooklyn to watch their mutual friend, Orthodox Jewish boxer Dmitriy Salita, win his 33rd career fight.
Salita, who boasts a professional boxing record of 33-1, has rebounded since his stunning defeat in the second minute of his December 2009 light-welterweight title fight against world champion Amir Khan.
Salita has fought three times since, winning all of his bouts. No longer just a boxer, the young Ukranian-born New Yorker also promoted last night’s event, as he has two previous boxing cards since September.
“A biracial Jewish former child star from Canadian television who’s a multimillion-dollar selling artist? You couldn’t create a better Canadian in a science lab.” That’s how one wag described rapper Drake, who made his debut as host of the Juno Awards — Canada’s Grammys — in Toronto last night. And from Drake’s red-carpet kiss with his kvelling Jewish mother to an appearance by a Semitic rock legend, the evening boasted a few Hebraic moments.
After escorting her son through the red-carpet gauntlet, Sandi Graham got a shout-out from Drake, who name-checked “my Jewish mother” in his opening monologue. Drake — nee Aubrey Drake Graham— was raised Jewish, bar mitzvahed and even went to Jewish day school, as the Forward has reported.
Responding to the question of who of the two rappers is more kosher, Matisyahu responds: “Drake is a pretty good man. He’s got his thing, but it’s different than what I do.”
Continuing, he says of Drake: “He’s Jewish, but he’s not representing Judaism. He happens to be Jewish just like Bob Dylan happened to be Jewish, but what I’m doing is really tapping into my roots and culture, and trying to blend that with the mainstream…[Drake’s] being Jewish is just a by-product.”
Matisyahu, born Matthew Miller, was brought up as a Reconstructionist Jew and attended Hebrew school. His music often addresses traditional Jewish themes, and occasionally contains Yiddish and Hebrew lyrics.
Despite Howard Jacobson’s slightly miserable interpretation of Hanukkah in the New York Times, the Jewish festival of lights has inspired YouTube moviemakers in recent years to make or post some fun videos.
Hanukkah wouldn’t be Hanukkah (or Chanukah, or Khanike) without Adam Sandler’s song, either the original, the Neil Diamond cover or the follow-up. Sandler embraced the anti-assimilationist message of the original story in which Greeks and Hellenistic Jews were indiscriminately attacked by a bunch of religious zealots. By looking to the ethnicity of some famous stars, Sandler just pointed out the Jewish jelly that filled those famous American doughnuts.
This year the video offerings seem to veer away from doughnuts, bypass the latkes and head straight to the dairy territory of Shavuot — cheese.
From the Snuggies advert, to Matisyahu’s adventure on ice and the Storahtelling story this year’s offerings are testament to the triumph of the humorless Hasmoneans. Granted Storahtelling is aimed at children but I only watched to the end for research; Matisyahu I watched to see if it was in fact Ali G in a beard; and Snuggies passed the clickaway test only because of a macabre fascination with the flammability of Snuggies (do the blanket-clad singers all die in flames from the hanukkiah candles or not? Click here to find out).
In fact the only compelling video I’ve seen this year is the Maccabeats “Candlelight.” Despite being a capella (not obviously a help, witness this Hanukkah song), derivative and featuring a group of Yeshiva University students who are not destined to grace the walls of teenage girls across the country, “Candlelight” is a lot of fun to watch. Plus it shows a dramatic restaging of the defeat of the Greeks about which Howard Jacobson was unconvinced. Unless the next candles bring us better offerings, for seven more days we remain Maccabeaten.
Watch “Candlelight” below.