On a starry night in November 1995, tragedy transformed rock star Aviv Geffen into an Israeli Gen-X icon.
The scene was a jubilant peace rally in the main square in Tel Aviv, where the Israeli musician was performing his ballad, “I Cry for You,” in front of a cheering throng of 300,000. After the thunderous applause had died down, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin hugged Geffen backstage, kissed him on the cheek, wished him shalom.
The musician was the last person ever to embrace the prime minister. Minutes later, gunshots rang out in the square, only yards from where Geffen stood. “I smelled the pistol,” Geffen said, during an interview with the Journal. Suddenly, the then-22-year-old singer found himself to be the national peace symbol for Israel’s youth, his song an unofficial national anthem.
It was an unexpected new role for a musician who was previously known as the bad boy of Israeli rock n’ roll. Geffen, now 26, performed wearing lipstick and mascara, and was reviled by the establishment for composing songs that trashed Israel’s most revered institutions.
The son of esteemed Israeli poet Yehonatan Geffen, and the nephew of Moshe Dayan and President Ezer Weizman, he had always been a rebel. In his teens, he was expelled from high school for scribbling subversive poetry on the walls; by 18, he had composed the first of eight best-selling albums, his moody, melodic songs dissing the military and advocating the rights of women, homosexuals and animals.
His biting lyrics, spray painted by fans all over Tel Aviv, made Geffen myriad enemies. The last time he visited Jerusalem without bodyguards, he was surrounded by an angry mob and had to be rescued by the police. Fanatics carved threats into his apartment door, such as “We’re going to slash your throat”; the death threats continue today.
Yet since Rabin’s murder, Geffen insists, he is mellower, gentler. His songs are less political, more intimate. “In Israel, we have so much pressure, it’s no use throwing oil into the fire,” he says.
Aviv Geffen will perform for the first time in Los Angeles Feb. 23, 8:30 p.m. during a solo acoustic concert in English and Hebrew at the El Rey Theater, 5515 Wilshire Blvd. For tickets, $30, call (310) 273-2824.