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Sunday, October 31, 2004

More Free Music

A few more songs for the Psycho.Radio Playlist:

Just How Long- an original Blues tune based on Psalm 13, and
Carlebach-Freeway Jam- a very natural pairing of two very similar styles of music.

Another Psycho Toddler

I love this and this.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

More Strange Dreams

My dreams are getting more realistic. Previous ones have been surreal or bizarre, to say the least.

I don't know, maybe it's all this blogging about the Chevra lawsuit. It must be striking a chord, so to speak. You see, one thing I've kept out of the "official" history of my band is that we too went through a very tumultuous period. The recording of the first Kabbalah album led to a major split of the band.

I don't need to go into who was right or who was wrong (I still hold that I was right). We were a band with different personalities, trying to fuse our differences into a cohesive unit. The keyboard player was the "Lennon" of the band, coming up with grand ideas, and not caring how they got implemented. I was the nuts-and-bolts-obsessed "McCartney", worrying about budgets and overtime for recording sessions and musician schedules. Both of us were necessary in order for the project to get done. He became less and less of a presence in the studio as I took charge.

Inevitably we butted heads, and he split. A law student, the son of a prominent lawyer, he responded by suing the rest of the band. We fought it, but it left many bitter feelings. The album was great, and came in just slightly over budget. I haven't spoken with the keyboard player in 18 years.

During that time, I've listened to the music constantly. I don't know if he ever listened to it. It's been transferred to digital format, and it's on my website. I've thought many times about trying to contact him, to smooth things over. I wanted to say, "Look at what we did! Let's just get over it and be friends." In discussions with my former bandmates, I've always been discouraged from attempting it. "Who cares what he thinks?" "Why stir things up?" "What will it accomplish?"

Lately, as I've read of the Chevra and their Loshon Hora, I've thought about contacting him again. But I guess I'm worried that it will accomplish nothing more than another lawsuit. And who needs that aggravation?

So I had this dream last night. I've searched the web for his email address, and can't find one. Suddenly he shows up at my house, 1000 miles from where he's spent his whole life. He looks sad. I don't know what to say to him. I invite him over for Shabbos. After a while, I just look at him and say, "I'm sorry." And maybe it's not that I'm sorry about what I did. Maybe I'm sorry that whatever it was, whoever was at fault, it led to 18 years of animosity. 18 years where we could have shared in simchas and watching our children grow. Maybe could could have kept making music together.

Maybe it would have been great.

Ahhh, it was just a stupid dream.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Momentum lost

Well, I guess it was bound to happen.
My 13 year-old son quit piano lessons. We had him going for a few years, but this year has been hard, what with the Bar Mitzvah and his new responsibilities, which include an hour and a half at the Kollel each night. But I think the real issue was that his last teacher switched to Saturdays only, and we had to get him a new one. And this guy has been busting my kid's chops pretty hard. I think he turned him off. I mean, 4 weeks of 3 day yontifs, starting school and learning in the Kollel, and going into overtime preparing for the Bar Mitzvah, and this new teacher gives him a hard time about not practicing enough!

I did try to talk with the guy, but the damage was already done. My kid's got enough on his plate, and he doesn't need one more source of stress. I explained to my son that this will be his last possible year for lessons, since he won't get them when he goes away to Yeshiva. He understands, and he told me that he would rather work with me. So we're going to work on some of my old songs, and I'll teach him how to comp and do keyboard parts. And if it works out, we may do a little performance together (and with my daughter).

I've always felt that getting kids to study music was all about momentum (actually I think this is true about almost everything- exercise, learning, making minyan). If you can keep them going, they continue. If you let the momentum get lost, the game is over. It's kind of like starting a bar-b-que. You want to put enough lighter fluid on so that you can keep the flames going, but not so much that it blows up in your face. You hope that eventually the coals will catch and burn on their own. Until then, you try to keep the fire going by whatever means necessary.

Oh well. On the brighter side, my ten year old wants to take up flute.

Gigs...

I'm trying to work on getting a gig in Chicago over the next few months, maybe for Chanukah. David Margulis at Young Israel of West Rogers Park is working with us, but between his schedule and ours, it's turning out to be really difficult. We're trying not to compete with various other acts that have already been scheduled in the Chicagoland area.

We don't really want to play shmaltz-type bubbe gigs. Looking for a rock venue. So if you know of anyone who wants to host a really kick-tush Jewish Rock Band, let me know.

We're also working on a few Shlock Rock-related gigs for next year.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Psycho.Radio Challenge

The Psycho.Radio list on the right contains a song that has a bridge lifted directly from a Queen song. The first person who posts correctly the name of the song, and the name of Queen song that was ripped off, wins a free Murray's Bagel with non-kosher pickle!

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Definitions

Reading through my old posts, I'm surprised at how much Jewish jargon (Yinglish) has gotten into my posts. When I originally started writing this blog, I didn't know who would be reading, so I kept it as generic as possible. But it soon became evident that the most vocal of my readers were other Orthodox Jews, so I slowly started writing more about Jewish issues.

But it's obvious that there's alot of terminology in here which would be meaningless to a non-Orthodox or non-Jewish reader. So I decided to write up a list of definitions of words that I've used in my posts.

Initially this was going to be just another post that I would link to up in the right upper corner. But it got so long, that I decided to make it a web page and put it on the band site. You can still get to it here. And I'll stick it up in the corner too. I'll update it as I come up with more jargon.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

My Daughter's Voice

On the Fringe has an interesting diatribe on the Orthodox law of Kol Isha. I have to admit, I'm not too fond of that one (my school used to sell tickets to the Chassidic Song Festival, which had women singing). It seems like this was less of an issue in the 70s. Or maybe it's just the fact that I'm increasingly surrounded by right wingers.

Still, I find myself in the unenviable position of having to enforce a halacha with which I don't personally agree, but which if disregarded, would undermine my children's whole understanding of the binding nature of Jewish Law.

My daughter now takes guitar lessons with a woman teacher at the music store. She has been...pressuring is not the right word...suggesting that my daughter participate in a performance that her students are giving. My daughter is turning out to be a rather talented guitarist/songwriter. Unfortunately I can't really sanction her singing in public to men. I suggested that she speak with some of her teachers at school for some guidance. I'm her father, but I hardly consider myself to be a halachic authority.

If I give her carte blanche to do this, then I lose my authority to advise her about kashrut, shabbos an other things (don't think this doesn't become an issue with teenagers, even those schooled in the yeshiva system). Her teachers are mostly of the charedi persuasion, but there are a few involved in kiruv who understand these issues better. I think she was too embarrassed to bring it up.

I suggested that she play but not sing. I don't want to put her in the position of dictating to the non-Jewish teacher conditions for her performance ("make sure there are no men there..."). I think that would be hard for my daughter and create a chillul Hashem.

Bottom line is, I have to teach her how to be frum in this world, but still live a successful and fulfilling life. She has to know that, as Captain Kirk says, "there are a million things in this universe that you can have, and there are a million things that you can't have." Orthodox Jews who understand both sides of this are happy with their million. The others go astray. She has to understand her boundaries.

I expect the comments are going to fall into two camps. Those who call me a hypocrite for enforcing a rule which I don't like and which is out of touch with modern society, and those who call me a hypocrite for calling myself Orthodox but entertaining the notion that women's voices should be heard.

Mug Shot

On the outside chance that I can actually get away to attend my cousin's wedding in Israel, I've decided to try to renew my passport. I had my son take a picture:


On reflection, I have to conclude that the years have not been kind to me. Not that I was any great prize when I was younger. I think my wife went out with me because the good looking guys in the band were already taken.

Her response upon seeing the photo: "Nice shot, Mustapha."


Tuesday, October 19, 2004

The Chair


BAD chair!
Bad bad bad bad BAAAD chair!!

It should not require a degree in mechanical engineering to adjust a chair!

The Chain of Command

My wife (to kids): Nobody's getting a computer turn. This place is a mess!
(exit wife)
Boys to girl: Clean up the basement!
Girl to boys: No!
(time passes)
Boys to girl: Tell Abba we cleaned up the basement.
Girl to me: We cleaned up the basement
Me to girl: Tell the boys they need to do the kitchen and front room, too.
Girl to toddler: Tell the boys Abba says to clean up the kitchen and front room.
Toddler to me: Abba says to clean up the kitchen and...basement.
Me to toddler: I'm Abba.
Toddler to me: Yeah, you're Abba.
Me to Toddler: You need to tell the boys.
Toddler to girl: Abba says you clean the basement.
Girl (to no one in particular): Grrrrrr

Wife comes home.No computer for Abba.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Murray's Bagels

My neighbor, who is not Jewish, returned last night from a trip to New York City. He stopped by to drop off a big bag of Bagels from Murray's. My first reaction was, "I can't believe you shlepped this huge bag of...incredible smelling...bagels all the way on the plane back from NY!" My second reaction was, "Murray's...are they kosher?"

I never know what to do in these situations. The last thing I want to do is tell him, "Thanks, but I can't eat these." Staff and patients occasionally bring me stuff that they bake. "I used only kosher/natural ingredients, so you can eat it, right?" Sooner or later I have to let them down. Otherwise it keeps happening.

Anyway I thanked my neighbor profusely for thinking of me and accepted the bagels. Man, that's one think I hate about the Midwest...you CANNOT get a good kosher bagel. With the tough exterior and soft interior.

If anyone knows if Murray's Bagels in the Village is kosher, email me stat! Before they get stale or my wife gives them away!

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Psycho.Radio

I've installed a radio.blog player to the right (you may have to scroll). Right now it's got a bunch of songs from my old band. Most are available on my music website, others are exclusive to here. Let me know if you like it. If I get some positive feedback, I'll put up some newer stuff, and some of the live stuff.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Bar Mitzvah Review

I think my son will turn out to be a good musician.

I base this on his performance at his Bar Mitzvah this past weekend. No, it has nothing to do with his singing voice (which was sweet and clear...and LOUD), or his pitch (which was good).

No, my assessment is based on the fact that he demonstrated the two qualities that I think are essential to a good performer: confidence, and persistence.

You're probably thinking, "wait a minute; what about talent?"
Talent is nice, but it's really a minor part of the deal. What you really need is the ability to make people think you know what you're doing. Whether you do or you don't.

Confidence is the ability to get up in front of the crowd and not look nervous. To deliver your performance in the manner in which it was intended. I'm sure my son was nervous, but nobody could really tell. His voice was even, his speed was steady, and there was no hesitation in his performance. The gabbai told me that in all his years listening to Bar Mitzvahs, he's never heard anyone who sounded so at ease.

Persistence is the ability to keep going no matter what happens. You may forget a line, flub a note, whatever, but if you're a pro, it doesn't get to you. You just keep going. My son did a great job with this. I could tell that there were a few parts where he just didn't remember the tune. But I don't think anyone else could. He just kept going until he hit familiar territory.

To be honest, this last bit was what had worried me the most over the past few months. Early on, as I worked with him, he'd hit a verse where he couldn't remember what the trop (musical note) was. And he'd freeze up. He wouldn't be able to continue until he came up with the note. This is a lot like musicians who can't figure out what the next note is, or how to play it, and stop the song until they get it. You hear this with new piano players; the song is constantly slowing down and speeding up. At some point people reach an epiphany: that the momentum will keep them going and it will be alright. Or they don't. Those that do go on to be pros. Those that don't remain forever amateurs.

And so I drilled the poor boy for months, not to memorize the whole performance perfectly, because that's not always realistic, but to be able to roll with the punches and keep singing. That's what people remember. They remember who sounded like a pro, and who melted down on stage. After a while, he got it. And that's exactly what people commented to me about. "I heard someone yell out a correction, but your son didn't panic; he just repeated it and moved on. Wonderful!"

...

Ok, there was this one part, during the Haftorah. I had been standing right by the Bimah during the entire reading of the Torah (my son didn't look nervous, but I sure was). When he got up to the Haftorah, I figured I could sit down (because there's no memorization; all the notes are there). The night before, he was practicing the Haftorah, and he kept stumbling over the same few words (bozzezim or something). My mother noticed. She asked if this was going to happen the next day. I said probably, but he knows how to deal with it.

Well, he came up to the perplexing word...but skipped right over it. It took a line or two for people to notice that he was in foreign territory and then they started yelling for him to stop. I was behind him, in my seat, and I looked up to see his teacher looking through the book with him. They both appeared to be lost. After what seemed like forever, I saw my son slap himself in the forehead, and then he started up again. Just as strong and calm as before.

When it was over, I asked what had happened. It seems he had turned two pages instead of one, and just kept going. He was doing next week's Haftorah! It took a while for even him to notice, and then both he and his teacher got back to the right spot.

I think this would have been a show-stopper for most people. But you know what they say...

The show must go on.

Chupa

Got hired to play a Chupa (wedding ceremony) on Sunday. I used to do this as part of playing the whole wedding. Lately I've been getting hired just to do the Chupa, while a non-Jewish band does the rest of the gig. I play guitar, plus we have a violin and flute.

It's a pretty sweet gig. About 1/5 of the shlepping, but 1/3 the pay, and 1/10 the stress. I just have to put together sheet music for the other players.

I'm not a tremendous fan of The Chevra (overproduced), but one thing they do that I really like: They post sheet music on their website. So I downloaded their Mi Ban Siach for the ceremony. I wish more bands would do this (especially with the old standards).

Accents

It wasn't until I heard my 3 year old imitate her 4 year old cousin from NY that I realized what a thick accent my relatives have.

She said to me, "If you put the horsie in the tub, it will get roo-end." One week ago, she would have said, "rune'd," the Midwestern way (I just did an informal survey of my office staff, and they all say rune'd). But my mother, sister, brother-in-law and two nephews were over for the Bar Mitzvah and she's had very close exposure to them all.

Of course, my sister pointed out that we Midwesterners insist on calling a broooom a brum. And my mother has no idea what to do when my elder daughter asks for mayonnaise: "Mennaisse? What's mennaisse??"

And after 13 years in Milwaukee, I can't remember if my sister lives in Four-est Hills or Fahr-est Hills. But despite the fact that I went to shull and my brother-in-law went to shoe-ell, we luckily both ended up at the same place.

I myself have been told that I have no perceptible regional accent. I recently called a colleague in Boston who very obviously was from the Bronx. He, on the other hand, could not tell where I came from, even though we both graduated from the same Bronx medical school.

I suspect my lack of accent comes from the fact that I was raised not so much by a mother with a thick Polish accent (I had no idea that she even had one until I moved away from home) and a father with an equally coarse Brooklyn accent, as by TV. I spent so much time in front of the tube as a kid, watching sci-fi shows and sitcoms, that I really think that I learned to speak from listening to all that homogenized TV-land dialect.

I have also had a great knack for mimicry. As a kid, I did spot-on imitations of all my rebbes and teachers. In college, it was kung-foo movies and Monty Python. Now it's Strong Bad and Homestar Runner. Which is why, I think, after a while, I start to sound like the people around me. My kids are the same way.

So I shouldn't be surprised that my daughter is starting to sound like a New Yorker as she takes her bee-ath.


Wednesday, October 06, 2004

British Punk

I had a lovely discussion with "John" at the music store last night. He's a cool guitar-playing employee of the store who's sat 6 feet away from me every Tuesday evening for the past year as I've run through all the early 80's British Punk/New Wave basslines I could remember. Veddy British. I'm guessing he's about my age. For some reason, we've never exchanged more than the occasional 1 or 2 lines about equipment.

Last night we actually talked for a while. The accent is fun. Very upper class. Kinda like talking to John Cleese. I was surprised to find out how much we actually had in common. We talked about back pain and its relationship to musicians (especially guitar players), band dynamics, why it is that all the heavy lifting usually gets done by 1 or 2 band members, usually the ones with the vans.

I was surprised that he was actually in one of those British Punk type bands that I so admired. He usually makes no comment or sign of recognition when I run through Squeeze/Elvis Costello/Clash/Pretenders songs. Maybe that's a commentary on my skill as a bassist (or lack thereof). He told me he was friendly with the original drummer for Squeeze (my favorite band). Not the one on the albums. The one who left just before they hit it big. He got tired of shlepping them around in his van. I told him that I met Glenn Tilbrook last year (Squeeze's lead singer) and wouldn't stop shaking his hand until my wife pried us apart.

Of course, my daughter witnessed this whole exchange and it apparently has confirmed to her that I'm the biggest dweeb in the world. Hey, I'm getting too old to be cool!

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Tradition? Tradition!

Baynonim has an interesting post about traditions passed on from our ancestors, that may conflict with the current in vogue traditions. The comments are worth reading. Here's what I had to say:

Here's a coupla comments on the tradition biz:

1. When I moved out here, I davened only Nusach Ashkenaz. All the minyanim here are Sfard. I tried to keep Ashkenaz for a coupla years, but finally just gave up. Yom Kippur is really different. You know what? Big deal.

2. Over sukkos, we do the lulav in shul. I was taught to do it one way. The Rabbi here does it REALLY DIFFERENTLY. For a while I still did it my way. One year the Rabbi got up and said, basically, that it looks really bad to have a few guys swimming upstream, and really detracts from the beauty of the service.
He's right; watching all the lulaving waving in unison is truly a sight to behold. Maybe it was like this in the Bais Hamikdash. I got over it. I still do it my way at home, and teach the kids the same.

3. I stand during the repetition of the shmoneh esrei. Most people at the shul sit. I insist that my kids stand as well.

4. I don't wear any special hat. My kid's school requires a hat (black or chassidish) at Bar Mitzvah age, and a jacket. I've bought two Stetson's for the boys. They wear them to shul, but if they forget them, I don't make them go back for them, and when we're on the road, it's their choice. Does it look strange to
see the two boys with hats walking with their father without a hat? Maybe. Do I care what people think? Not so far.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Chabad vs Chabad

Milwaukee is a small town, as far as Orthodoxy is concerned. We have one boys High School. One girls school. One bakery. No pizza place.
But we have 2 Chabads. (Well, three, if you count the Messianic place, but they're in cherem now).

And, of course, they don't quite get along with each other. They compete for "resources" (ie affluent congregants). The youth director from the "new" Chabad saw us at our recent gig, and asked us to come and "rock out" his sukkah. So I gave him a price. Which he didn't care for too much apparently, since I never heard back from him. He was thinking more along the lines of "free food." Which musicians always appreciate, but not in lieu of cash money.

Oddly though, shortly after my last conversation with him, I got hired to play at the "old" Chabad. In 13 years of living here, I've never once been asked to play there. As my friend David Margulis says, "Ayn Tzadik be-iro (there's no righteous person in his own town)."

So we played there last night, and had quite a good time. We played with a few locals, going through the usual dinner and dance tunes (circa 1960). I got a little slap-happy with the bass (all that time in the music store is paying off). They kept plying us with liquor. At one point, when the Rabbi was telling his story, and I was playing a little background guitar, I felt the room spin a little. I turned to the singer, and we both started giggling.

At the end I asked if we could play some of our own stuff. So my guitarist did his version of Tzama. The younger guys really got into it. The elder Rabbi did not seem to enjoy it as much. My guitarist looked like he regretted the decision almost as soon as he started playing it, but being a pro, he kept going. Afterwards they asked for more, so we did our Carlebach/Beck jam.

They've already booked us for next year. Maybe we'll get free food. Anyway, tonight we're at Beth Jehudah.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Modern Orthodox in a Frummy Velt

One of the problems that I've had being among the few YU-educated Modern Orthodox who are surrounded by "frummies" is that increasingly I find myself being defined more by what I don't do than what I do. I don't wear a black hat or shtreimel. My kids don't have long peyes. We don't keep Cholov Yisroel. I don't keep 72 minutes after Shabbos. There's an increasing negativity which after a while starts turning me off.

My first week here (13 years ago), someone came up to me in Shul and told me my Kipah was too small. Though we've since become good friends (and I've moved to a leather yarlmulke) that has colored my relationship with the community ever since. Want to watch the Packer game? Go to the Apikores's house; he has a TV. Want to play a computer game, but your parents don't have any? We've got a network.

I don't focus on the good that I do, like keeping Shabbos strictly. Like the fact that I'm the only physician in a 5 mile radius who wears a yarlmulke to work, even though it may cost me business. Like not eating that amazing smelling Chinese food that the drug reps bring, even though no one would know.

I find myself less and less inspired by the black hatters and bekeshe crowd. I think sometimes I would be better off in less frum surroundings.

You know who has inspired me? A family friend, who once swore to us that he would never put his kids through a yeshiva education, who started learning in the kollel. That made me determined to get a chevrusa, though the needling of the frummies always made me want to keep out.

Lenny Solomon, who loves Rock and Roll and Star Trek, but insisted on taking an red-eye flight into Chicago before a gig, so that he would be able to catch a minyan there. After that I started going to minyan more.

Ruby Harris, who, during a break at an Irish Pub where we were playing, turned to me and asked, "Are you taking time to learn a little everyday? You should do Daf Yomi." That made me want to play in Bars more (just kidding).

I guess that brings me back to Modern Orthodoxy. I always liked that the people who were so into music and movies and books, were also so careful to make it to minyan and check for hechsherim. Maybe that brand of Judaism is disappearing. It would be a shame for it to go. Because it might end up taking people like me with it.

Bar Mitzvah, then and now

One week until my second son's Bar Mitzvah.
He's going to layn (Breishis), do the Haftorah, and give a Dvar Torah afterwards. Then a nice Kiddush.
No party. No disco. No foolin' around.
And I'm OK with that.

See, about 10 years ago, our Rebbe put the Kabosh on fancy Bar Mitzvah Parties. What was going on could only be described as an "Arms Race" to waste money. And the less affluent families just couldn't keep up. Nowadays, with the cost of East Coast Bar Mitzvah's rivaling Weddings, I'm glad for once that I live in a small town. Although it means I get hired for fewer paying jobs.

Still, I think back somewhat fondly to '79, the year of my Bar Mitvah. Sure, I had to layn, do Maftir and Daven Mussaf. But an awful lot of stuff went on that really had nothing to do with becoming a mentch or Yiddishkeit for that matter. Like the candle-lighting ceremony. And the John Travolta-white tux that I had to wear. And the Lee Miles orchestra playing the Hustle (which I did with my sister). And the split-screen movie featuring the Good Me/Bad Me that I can't show to my kids.

For my son, the real impact has been not the event of the Bar Mitzvah, but how it impacts his day-to-day life. Like the fact that he puts on tfillin every day, and got a new hat. And that we now have our very own Mezuman at home, and he can count for a minyan.

Isn't that what it's supposed to be about, anyway?