Lou Reed dies at 71

Musician Lou Reed, the frontman for the band Velvet Underground as well as a solo artist, has died.

Reed, who was born to a Jewish family, died Sunday at 71. A cause of death was not made public.

He had a liver transplant last year after years of alcohol and drug abuse.

Reed, born Lewis Allan Reed in Brooklyn, N.Y., became influential in rock by blending art and music in New York in the 1960s through Velvet Underground’s collaboration with pop artist Andy Warhol.  The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll of Fame in 1996.

Reed quit the band in 1970 and focused on his solo career, which featured the 1972 hit song “Walk on the Wild Side.”

He visited Israel five years ago with his musician wife Laurie Anderson during her world tour.

Reed reportedly was coy about his Jewish roots. He was quoted as saying, “My God is rock ’n’ roll” and “The most important part of my religion is to play guitar.”

Israel’s guitar man

With a career spanning more than four decades, Israeli rock star Shalom Hanoch has often been compared to the likes of Neil Young and Mick Jagger. He has played a fundamental role in Israel’s music history as a pioneer of the country’s rock movement in the 1970s and has remained a pop culture icon ever since. 

Hanoch, 65, will perform at the Canyon Club in Agoura Hills on March 6 as part of his U.S. and Canadian Yetzia (Exit) tour with longtime music producer, arranger and keyboardist Moshe Levi, who has also worked with big-name Israeli artists like Rita, Aviv Gefen and Boaz Sharabi.  The tour, based on Hanoch’s 2004 live album of the same name, will swing through cities with large Israeli populations — Toronto, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis and New York —  and will feature classic hits such as “Waiting for Mashiach,” “Play It” and “The End of the Orange Season.”

Yetzia reflects a softer side of Hanoch. “I have a rock ‘upper’ side and this one, which is quieter, simpler and more intimate,” Hanoch said in a telephone interview from his home in Israel. “Both sides are dear to me.”

Hanoch’s fans range in age from their early teens to over 60 years old. There are those who have followed the singer, lyricist and composer since his early years, and younger fans who caught the Israeli rock bug from their parents. Hanoch is looking forward to entertaining his Israeli fan base all over North America with an intimate act consisting of a guitar, a piano and his legendary raspy voice, with backup vocals by Levi.

“This is an acoustic act in which we play songs closer to the way in which they were written, only piano and guitar, me and Moshe Levi.”

The pared-down tour gives Hanoch and Levi the creative freedom to perform the songs in different ways each night and vary the selection of music from Hanoch’s vast repertoire. The audience becomes an integral part of the concert’s flow: Hanoch encourages fans to shout out requests. Their enthusiastic participation inspires him, he said, as does the sight of several generations singing along to his music together. “It’s beautiful, and touching,” Hanoch remarked.

His music partner, Levi, has played with, produced and arranged for the rocker since 1981. “It’s not coincidental — we are a good match,”  Hanoch said.  “It works.  It works all the time.”

So what does the future hold for the spirited silver-haired rocker? New projects are in the works, and Hanoch enjoys mentoring as well as collaborating with other artists. This summer, he will be revisiting a special concert series in Israel, Four Stations, which groups material from his past albums into “stations” from certain periods of his career, including collaborative works with fellow Israeli music legend Arik Einstein. The series was performed last year and was a big hit. In marked contrast to the Yetzia tour, the production includes a full band and the shows take place in large venues.

“Spontaneous, close and intimate fits better with smaller venues,” Hanoch said, referring to his North American tour, “and I don’t enjoy it any less.  It’s closer to the heart.” 

Yetzia: Shalom Hanoch and Moshe Levi, March 6, 8 p.m. Canyon Club, 28912 Roadside Drive, Agoura Hills. Tickets are available at the Canyon Club box office, canyonclub.net; Noy Productions, (310) 202-3100; and Eema’s Market, 21932 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills, (818) 702-9272.

MUSIC VIDEO: Timofeyev Ensemble — ‘Shloyme’

You don’t hear new music like this too often—- especially with a Yiddish accent!

Natalia Timfoyeva (cello) and Oleg Timofeyev (guitar)

Oleg writes on YouTube:

A Musical Biography of a fictional character Shloyme, who survived through many calamities of the 20th century . . .


Four Ways to Hear the Days of Awe

The Days of Awe evoke many feelings, but my first thoughts invariably turn to the special music of these days. From the solemn, almost brooding melody of Kol Nidre to the lilting “High Holiday” tune that unifies the music of both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, there is much in which to delight.

Perhaps because this is the only synagogue music that many Jews hear all year, there are fewer alternative versions of the High Holiday liturgy than of, say, “Lecha Dodi” or “Adon Olam.” Still, these albums should help put you in a proper frame of mind.

Leonard Bernstein — “Symphony No. 3 (Kaddish)” and “Chichester Psalms” (Milken Archive/Naxos).

For all his conservatory training, for all the years as musical director of great orchestras, Bernstein was fundamentally a man of the theater; his symphonic and choral works owe more to the stage than to the recital hall. These two Jewish-themed compositions from the 1960s offer a reminder of his powerful sense of drama.

As performed by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic directed by Gerard Schwarz, the emphasis falls rather unflatteringly on the composition’s occasionally forced drama, amplified by Willard White’s stentorian delivery of Bernstein’s text (which the composer himself admitted was “corny”).

But nobody expresses yearning better than Bernstein: Think about the love songs from “West Side Story” or “Some Other Time” and “Lonely Town” from “On the Town.” The soprano solo, beautifully sung by Yvonne Kenny, in the middle of the symphony is one of the most moving examples of this emotion in all his work.

By contrast, “Chichester Psalms” is remarkably gentle, almost sweet.

Bernstein apparently disdained the piece for precisely that reason, yet it is one of the most effective expressions of both his Jewishness and his deeply spiritual side. This version, featuring Michael White, is quite handsome.

Available at www.amazon.com

Moshe Schulhof — “Moshe Schulhof Sings the Classics: The World’s Greatest Cantorials” (Emes Recordings)

There is a long-standing argument between composers and cantors over what is better to render honor to the Almighty: works that congregants can sing or more difficult, great music written for performance by great voices. To what extent is worship fundamentally participatory? Or can you also find spiritual satisfaction in merely listening?

A powerful argument on behalf of listening comes from recordings of the great cantors of “golden age” chazzans, the Rosenblatts and Sirotas and Hershmanns who dominated Jewish liturgical music in the first third of the 20th century. Schulhof, a powerhouse tenor, very consciously invokes that tradition, offering new renditions of recitatives by Moshe Koussevitsky, Yossele Rosenblatt, Gershon Sirota and others, backed by the Yuval International Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus under the baton of Mordecai Sobol. Schulhof has the same kind of big, operatic voice as his predecessors (although his top is a bit nasal) and if his recordings of these pieces are a bit studied, they are nevertheless impressive for their sheer pyrotechnics.

Available through Hatikvah Music, 436 Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles or www.hatikvahmusic.com.

Greg Siegle — “Vessels” (MindzEye Music)

Siegle, a young acoustic guitarist in the John Fahey-Leo Kottke vein, has turned his quick, expressive hands to Jewish music. The tunes he essays are mostly familiar ones from Shlomo Carlebach, but he gives them a refreshingly light reading. The result is a very pleasant diversion that should make its way onto a lot of turntables as a prelude to sundown and the holy days.

Available from gsiegle@pitt.edu.

Craig Taubman — “Inscribed: Songs for Holy Days” (Craig and Co.)

There is something about the intensity of the High Holidays experience that brings out the best in Jewish composers. Craig Taubman’s previous folk- and pop-tinged CDs have seldom displayed spiritual emotional heat, but “Inscribed” is a cut above his previous work. The production is less busy and Taubman allows his sweet, light tenor to carry more emotional weight. The simplicity of his tunes works to their benefit here, because the weightiness of the themes don’t require anything trickier. The result is Taubman’s best album to date, as befits the solemnity of the Days of Awe.

Available at www.craignco.com


Q & A With Mike Einziger of Incubus

Here’s what I used to know about Mike Einziger: that when he was 9, he played on the same soccer team as my good friend Mike; that he was the only kid in my second-grade class who could breakdance; that his mom makes great pizza bagels; and that he went to Calabasas High School. Well, that and the fact that he’s now the Jewfro-sporting guitarist for the multiplatinum-selling rock band Incubus.

I learned more about him during a one-week window between the end of Incubus’ lengthy European tour and the start of their U.S. tour in Atlantic City. A few days before his 28th birthday, the musician, who some have declared a “guitar god,” talked with me about breakdancing, Judaism, music and politics like he was still just the guy next door.

The Jewish Journal: I have to say, I still remember you as the only kid in Kadima Hebrew Academy’s second-grade class who could breakdance.

Mike Einziger: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

JJ: You only went to Kadima for a couple of years. Was it just for first and second grade?

ME: Yeah, till second grade.

JJ: Did you have any other Jewish education?

ME: Yeah, I had a bar mitzvah at Valley Beth Shalom, and I went to Hebrew school three days a week after elementary school.

JJ: Do you feel connected to Judaism these days?

ME: I do in certain respects. I think I’ve become more in touch with it the older that I’ve gotten. But still, to this day, I consider myself to be generally more of a spiritual person than a religious person.

JJ: What do you mean by that, exactly?

ME: I don’t follow the traditional ways of Judaism the way that I’ve seen other people follow them. But I do agree on many of the basic principles. I believe that you shouldn’t kill people and you shouldn’t steal and those kinds of basic moral values.

JJ: But you don’t practice?

ME: No, I wouldn’t say that I’m a practicing Jew.

JJ: No High Holiday services on the road or anything like that?

ME: I have before, actually. I’ve gone to services a couple of times while I’ve been on tour, but I’ve always felt like the most constructive type of prayer for me has been when it’s by myself. I’ve never really felt like I’ve taken very much away from being with other people. To me, being spiritual and praying is a very personal thing for me and I prefer to do it alone.

JJ: What prompted you to go to services on those occasions when you did?

ME: My mom. She’d [say], “I think you should go to services.” Not that I was opposed to it and somebody had to drag me. It’s something I feel I’ve done at times out of respect for my parents because sometimes it’s important to them.

JJ: So you’re the good Jewish son slash rock star.

ME: Yeah, I guess, to the best of my abilities.

JJ: In retrospect, the whole breakdancing thing would indicate that you were moved by music at an early age. What’s your earliest memory of music and its effect on you?

ME: Back in the breakdancing days I was really into playing piano and playing keyboards. I got into that when I was probably about 6 years old. But my mom is a piano player and has always been really, really into music. So I think from the time that I was born, I literally was born sitting on the piano bench next to my mom watching her play and sing songs. I was doing that for as long as I can remember.

JJ: When did you start playing the guitar?

ME: I picked up the guitar when I was about 8 years old, actually, in third grade. I was taking lessons for about a month, maybe two months, and I was really bored with it because I wanted to learn how to play rock songs. The teacher that I had just wanted to teach me children’s songs and how to read notes on the guitar…I was completely uninterested in it and I put it down after that, and then I picked it up again when I was about 12. I’d already spent enough time fiddling with the guitar on my own to be able to figure out songs myself. Once I’d learned a few songs that I’d wanted to learn I was completely hooked on it, and from there on out I just spent every second I had sitting in my room trying to figure out songs.

JJ: Do you remember what the first song was that you tried to figure out?

ME: Before I ever had any lessons, I just figured out how to play the theme song to “James Bond.” I’m not sure what the name of the song is, but yeah, I think that that was pretty cool.

JJ: Your music has been described as alt metal or funk metal. Do you think that’s accurate?

ME: No, I think those are very dated, very lazy terms…. On our last three records there hasn’t really been any metal and there hasn’t really been very much funk either. I think that those musical elements are definitely mixed in with our music at certain points, but I definitely would not describe our band as a funk metal band.

JJ: How would you describe it?

ME: It’s actually impossible for me to describe it because I’m playing it, but I definitely can tell you what I think it’s not. When people usually ask me, I usually just describe it as rock music, but to many varying degrees…. None of us has very much patience, so I think if we were to do one thing over and over again it would get boring very, very quickly.

JJ: People have said your new album “A Crow Left of the Murder” is more politically charged. Brandon Boyd, your lead singer, writes the lyrics to all of Incubus’ songs. Do you ever have a problem with what he writes?

ME: No, not at all, actually, and it’s funny the perception of Brandon’s lyrics being politically charged. I don’t think that’s necessarily true. We made a video that had a lot of politically charged imagery in the video, but the lyrics to the song were actually in no way connected to any kind of political view whatsoever. I think the song “Megalomaniac” is much more about social observations than political observations, but we hooked up with this … very talented director and she came with … this really political idea for a video and we thought it was cool. So we kind of let her run with that. It’s got a lot of striking imagery, a lot of anti-fascist, anti-war imagery … but then, all of a sudden, the song lyrics became this political statement to a lot of people. But we never set out with any kind of political agenda — except maybe to get Bush out of the presidency.

JJ: But barring that —

ME: As an afterthought, I think that guy sucks.

JJ: You and Brandon have been described as sort of the anti-rock stars. Is the lifestyle exciting for you or is it about the music?

ME: Honestly, it’s just about making music. I don’t have any interest in any of the sort of celebrity aspects of being in a band…. When I got to [premieres] or big parties and stuff like that, there’s always a red carpet where people are having their pictures taken…. Some people come off as, you know they’re just there having fun … and then there are a lot of people that come across, at least to me, as very egocentric and self-absorbed. I just prefer to stay as far away from that type of energy as humanly possible. Actually we have a song about that. It’s called “Megalomaniac.” People think it’s about George Bush, but it’s actually about the stars walking down the red carpet. No, I’m just kidding.

JJ: When you first went from being a band to being a well-known band, was that a difficult transition?

ME: It happened really slowly. It was kind of like watching your own hair grow. You don’t really notice that it’s happening, but at certain times you can look at a before picture and an after picture and take a step back and say ‘Wow, look how far we’ve come.’ It all happened so slowly that there was never that shock that I think maybe happens for most other bands that become successful.

JJ: Speaking of watching your hair grow, are you still sporting the Jewfro?

ME: Yeah, it’s going strong.

JJ: Can you explain the hairstyle choice?

ME: It’s not really a choice I have, actually. It’s kind of like — it’s nature. It’s what God gave me. It’s why I’ve been put on this earth.

Incubus performs at the Pond in Anaheim on Aug. 17, and at
the Forum in Los Angeles on Aug. 18.

‘Lucky’ Friends

Since they met at a mommy and me 13 years ago, Adam Schlesinger and Sean Abramson have been coming up with innovative schemes together, such as the time they sold novelty items like Whoopie Cushions and electrified hand buzzers. (They pulled in $100.)

But now the two recent graduates of Sinai Akiba Academy are onto something bigger and better. Their latest venture — a simple plastic guitar pick on a ball chain called “Lucky Pix,” selling for $10 — seems to be catching on.

Some high-powered connections forged through the boys’ parents landed them an appearance on Fox’s “Good Day L.A.” and placed some of their Lucky Pix around the necks of celebrities. Intuition, a trend-setting Web boutique known to cater to celebrities, is the sole outlet for Lucky Pix, giving the boys the kind of publicity and panache other retailers covet.

Schlesinger and Abramson, whose families are longtime members of Sinai Temple, are donating 25 percent of all sales to children’s charities.

“It was Adam’s idea to give to charity, and we thought that would be great,” Sean said. “By giving luck to others, you also bring luck to yourself.”

Both boys play guitar with Raw Material, a rock band at Sinai, and Sean says he has one pick he considers his “lucky” one that helps make his music come together. The boys researched the idea themselves, designed a logo and a found a manufacturer for the first several hundred picks in tortoise-shell brown, hot pink, turquoise and black.

Those have long since sold out and the next order of 2,000 is already on the way.

And the boys are about to meet a whole bunch of new teenage necks from which to hang Lucky-Pix. Both boys are attending Milken Community High School next year and Camp Ramah this summer.

“We’re really excited because this has a lot of potential for us to be able to donate a lot and help a lot of kids,” Adam said.

To view or purchase Lucky Pix, visit www.lucky-pix.com .

Words From the Old Ball Game

With Seth Swirsky’s Beatles-style haircut and soothing voice, one would probably hand him a guitar rather than a baseball bat. But if Swirsky — a pop songwriter who has written gold- and platinum-selling albums for artists like Celine Dion and Taylor Dane — were asked his preference, he might opt for one of each.

“I love baseball for the kind of background to our summers that it gives us,” Swirksy said. “It’s like a soundtrack to our great summers when we’re growing up.”

In his new book, “Something to Write Home About” (Crown, $25.95), Swirsky pays tribute to the sport that has played such an important part in his life. A collection of personal baseball memories written to Swirsky by everyone from Paul McCartney, to the grandson of the inventor of the Wiffle ball, “Something to Write Home About” affirms Swirsky’s assertion that “baseball connects us.”

Of all the letters in the book, Swirsky’s favorite is that of Jewish Dodger Shawn Green, recounting the time he found himself on the field with two other Jewish players around Rosh Hashana.

“The idea that three Jews were kibitzing at home plate in major league baseball is so great,” Swirsky said. “It was so particularly Jewish.”

The third book in a trilogy, “Something to Write Home About,” is the completion of an effort that began during the baseball strike of ’94 — around the time that Swirsky’s eldest son, Julian, was born. “I thought to myself, if I write to some players and they give me some interesting answers, I would love to save this for my son,” Swirsky said.

While Julian is only 9 years old, Swirsky hopes his son will one day appreciate the sport as he does.

“I go to a baseball game [regardless of] who I’m going with,” Swirsky said. “It doesn’t matter whose playing. If my dad wants to go to a baseball game, it is a yes, because men don’t ask each other to go to a park and have a picnic — that’s how men go to a park.”

Seth Swirsky will be signing copies of his book,
“Something to Write Home About,” on June 7 at 2 p.m. at Borders in Chino, 3833
Grand Ave.; June 8 at 2 p.m. at Borders in Glendale, 100 S. Brand Blvd.; and
June 12 at 7:30 p.m. at Barnes & Noble at The Grove, 189 Grove Drive. For
more about Swirsky, visit