Zimmer Museum adds second day camp in Westwood


A camp at the Zimmer Children’s Museum that has exposed more than 400 children each summer to art, music, science, nature and magic — not to mention Jewish values — is being expanded to a second location this year. 

Starting in June, Camp Zimmer, which has hosted children ages 3-8 for the last four years at its home on Wilshire Boulevard, will begin offering additional programming at Sinai Akiba Academy. The camp at the Westwood-based school will include classroom learning, time on the playground and weekly Shabbat services for families every Friday. 

While the Shabbat aspect is new this year (and available only at the Sinai Akiba location), Belinda Vong, associate director of play and learning at the Zimmer, said the camp doesn’t focus solely on Jewish things, it also emphasizes more universal values.

“We’ll highlight social responsibility, caring for people, animals and the environment, and helping the community,” Vong said. “We weave in those concepts through our activities.”

Kids learning about nature and the importance of caring for the planet.

The variety of classes that will be taught include “Rock, Pop & Roll,” which is about music history. Campers will hear about modern art and music, decorate their own guitars and make instruments. In “Lights, Camera … Create!” participants will learn about different genres of film and take on the various roles of production to make short animations. The kids will delve into optical illusions and perspective art and see a performance from a guest magician for the “iMAGICnation” program. 

At the Zimmer, which is housed at The Jewish Federation Goldsmith Center, campers also will have the chance for interactive playtime on the two levels of the museum. They will excavate fossils and pinpoint and classify early animals and plants during “The Dino Dig,” and hear about Los Angeles transit, waste, water and food in “Smart City: My L.A.” 

Camp at the museum runs from June 20 through Sept. 2; the cost is $325 a week for museum members and $350 a week for nonmembers. At Sinai Akiba, the camp goes from June 20 to Aug. 19, with a cost of $350 a week for members and $365 a week for nonmembers. (There is an early bird discount before April 15 for both locations.)

Families who want their children to attend but can’t afford it can apply for assistance. According to Vong, the camp awards scholarships to 10 percent of families, and half or full tuition is covered. 

The Zimmer also has a spring program in two sessions held from April 18-22 and April 25-28. They include arts and crafts, music and playtime. The cost is $325 per week for museum members and $350 per week for nonmembers.

Vong said what makes the camp itself unique is that it allows children younger than 4 to participate, goes until September, when Jewish day school is officially in session, and has a deeper message behind its teachings. 

“We focus on having fun but also on the importance of building community and working together. Those are the life skills that are extremely important as the campers grow older,” she said.

One parent, Valerie Weiss, has sent her 7- and 4-year-old daughters to the camp. She said the camp is “stimulating and innovative, and the kids come home learning amazing things about science, music and art. There are real high concepts that they learn in an experiential way.”

One year, her daughters made “artbots,” which were art-centric robots they built themselves. The creations, which could draw, were composed of motors and magic markers. 

The effect, she said, has been very positive for her children.

 “They connect ideas that they wouldn’t necessarily learn about at such a young age,” Weiss said. “The camp is fun and positive, and it really follows the philosophy my own family has about education.”

From Jewish roots, band sprouts afro/new wave wings


Luke Top and Lewis Pesacov of Fool’s Gold are surprised they don’t have a larger Jewish fan base. Most of the songs on the band’s 2009 self-titled debut are in Hebrew, vocalist Top was born in Israel, and earlier this year the band played Jewlicious, a music festival for Jewish college students.

“We kind of thought that it might happen, and it totally didn’t happen,” lead guitarist Pesacov said.

However, the L.A.-based band has steadily raised its profile among indie music fans over the past five years. Santa Monica radio station KCRW embraced Fool’s Gold, and a variety of publications gave its Aug. 16 sophomore release, “Leave No Trace” (IAMSOUND Records), high marks for its marriage of African rhythms and new wave sounds. The band will headline the Troubadour on Sept. 29, and, starting in November, it will join the Red Hot Chili Peppers on tour in Europe.

Top says he sang primarily in Hebrew on the band’s first album because of his insecurities as a vocalist. He thought he could hide behind a language that most people can’t understand.

“It’s a little veiled, you know, the Hebrew. People don’t understand it, and there was a little bit of security in there,” Top said.

By singing primarily in English on the latest album, Top said he’s pushing himself.

“I think the idea was just, ‘Don’t hold back.’ To go all out,” he said.

Top and Pesacov, both 31, first met during high school — Top attended Cleveland High School in Reseda, and Pesacov went to Hamilton High School in Los Angeles. The pair started Fool’s Gold as a musical side project in 2006, as a way to explore their common interests in African music (Congolese, Ethiopian, Eritrean and Malian), progressive German rock and ’80s synth pop. Over the next five years, the band evolved into a collective that at one time featured 15 members. On its most recent tour, Fool’s Good was left with its current lineup: Top, Pesacov, drummer Garrett Ray, multi-instrumentalist Brad Caulkins and percussionist Salvador Placencia.

“We were five people on tour, the smallest band we’ve ever been, and we were like, ‘This kind of works.’ More people started to listen, and it sounded better than ever,” Pesacov said.

Last year, from Christmas Day to New Year’s Eve, Top and Pesacov rented a house near Joshua Tree National Park, where they jammed and developed ideas for “Leave No Trace.” A four-month recording process in Los Angeles followed. The result is a more concise and radio-friendly effort, featuring the lead single, “Wild Window,” in which Top plays a funky bass and Pesacov offers a jangle pop sound.

Fool’s Gold’s sound doesn’t lend itself easily to classification.

“Some listeners have commented that their songs sound as if ’80s alternative band The Smiths were jamming with Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti,” KCRW music director Jason Bentley said in an e-mail interview.

Like Chasidic reggae star Mat-isyahu, Fool’s Gold lets Judaism inform its music rather than become its music, said Rabbi Yonah Bookstein, director of the Jewlicious festivals.

“They’re not setting out to make Jewish music in any way, shape or form. But their roots, their ethnic and religious and cultural background, influence their music,” Bookstein said.

Top, who immigrated to the United States from Israel when he was 3 years old, sings in Hebrew for one of the new album’s more uplifting songs, “Tel Aviv.” In the lyrics, Top negotiates the idea of having two homes, while craving a return to Tel Aviv, his birthplace. He sings in Hebrew, “I was born in Tel Aviv… I laid down on the sand,” and then switches to English, “I reach for you.”

“Am I Israeli? Am I American? I wanted to write a song kind of touching upon that, referencing my experiences going back to Israel and being here,” he said. “It’s pretty literally talking about being in both places.”

Top has also wrestled with his level of Jewish observance. He isn’t religious, but he said his family “had a small window where they were trying to be more Conservative and Orthodox.”

Pesacov, a native Angeleno who performs with drummer Ray in the band Foreign Born, said he grew up in an interfaith family with a Jewish father and a mother who wanted to convert to Judaism. And though he wanted to explore Judaism, his father discouraged him.

“I wanted to have a bar mitzvah as a kid and my dad’s like a hippie who did not believe in religion,” Pesacov said. “But it’s funny, because I grew up with all Jews in Los Angeles. I probably recognize myself as more Jewish than I am Christian.”

Arts in L.A. Quarterly Calendar: Cultural events through Feb. 2009


ALTTEXT

Robert Dowd — Pop Art Money — See Jan.17 listing

DECEMBER

Fri., Dec. 12
“Laemmle Through the Decades: 1938-2008, 70 Years in 7 Days.” It must have been an extraordinarily difficult task to select only seven films to represent the rich and diverse history of the Laemmle Theatres chain. But someone did it. For the next week, Laemmle’s Royal Theatre in West Los Angeles will screen the seven most iconic foreign-language films to have graced the company’s silver screens, each one representing a different decade of its existence. The lineup includes “Children of Paradise” (1945, France), “La Strada” (1954, Italy), “Jules & Jim” (1962, France), “The Conformist” (1970, Italy, France and West Germany), “Fanny & Alexander” (1982, Sweden), “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” (1988, Spain) and “Y Tu Mama Tambien” (2001, Mexico). Films will screen several times a day. Through Dec. 18. $7-$10. Royal Theatre, 11523 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles. (310) 477-5581. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.ecogift.com.

Sat., Dec. 13
“Smokey Joe’s Cafe.” With a long list of Top 40 favorites, such as “Hound Dog,” “Jailhouse Rock,” “Yakety Yak,” “Stand by Me” and “On Broadway,” this musical mishmash of Leiber and Stoller hits is ideally jubilant for the holiday season. Since its 1995 premiere on Broadway, the 39-song revue has been nominated for seven Tony Awards, won a Grammy Award for the legendary duo’s songs and featured special appearances by megastars such as Gladys Knight, Gloria Gaynor and Rick Springfield. Starring in this NoHo production of “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” are DeLee Lively, Robert Torti and a host of other talented stage veterans. Special performances include tonight’s opening night gala and two New Year’s Eve shows, one with a champagne reception, the other followed by an all-out party with the cast. 8 p.m. Wed.-Sat. Through Jan. 4. $25-$150. El Portal Theatre, Mainstage, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. (818) 508-4200. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.benjamintrigano.com.

Sat., Dec. 13
“Moonlight Rollerway Holiday Jubilee.” Charles Phoenix is addicted to thrift store shopping. Luckily for us, Phoenix has put together a collection of the goodies he has found. Now, Moonlight Rollerway, which calls itself Southern California’s last classic roller rink, is presenting Phoenix and his quirky, retro holiday slide show. The viewing event will be followed by a roller-skating revue spectacular, featuring 75 championship skaters and celebrating the entire year’s holidays, including Cinco de Mayo and Valentine’s Day. Snacks and an after-show skating party are included. 8 p.m. Also, Dec. 14 at 3 p.m. $35. Moonlight Rollerway, 5110 San Fernando Road, Glendale. (818) 241-3630. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.mbfala.com.

Sun., Dec. 14
Los Angeles Children’s Chorus Annual Winter Concert. There is an Academy Award-nominated documentary about this choir. It has toured Brazil, China, Italy and Poland, among other nations. And since its inception in 1986, the chorus has performed with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and the Los Angeles Master Chorale. Approximately 250 talented and dedicated children between the ages of 8 and 12 make up the LACC. The angelic voices of these preteen choristers will bring to life works by composers such as Aaron Copland, Pablo Casals, Randall Thompson and J.S. Bach in a winter concert inspired by literary luminaries Robert Frost, William Shakespeare and others. The program follows the 2008-2009 season theme, “The Poet Sings,” and features a varied selection of classical, folk and contemporary pieces. 7 p.m. $24-$42. Pasadena Presbyterian Church, 585 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. (626) 793-4231. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.lamoth.org.

Mon., Dec. 15
Reel Talk: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” Stephen Farber, film critic for Hollywood Life magazine and The Hollywood Reporter, has been treating audiences to sneak previews of the industry’s hottest films for more than 25 years. The veteran film buff concludes this year’s preview series with a fascinating film adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story about a man who is born in his 80s and ages backward. Starring Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett and Tilda Swinton, the odd tale is already making waves and is set to hit theaters during prime-time movie-watching season, Christmas. The screening will be followed by a discussion with members of the filmmaking team, including Oscar-nominated costume designer Jacqueline West. 7 p.m. $20. Wadsworth Theatre, 11301 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (213) 365-3500. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.lacma.org.

Tue., Dec. 16
Carrie Fisher presents and signs “Wishful Drinking.” It’s not easy being an action figure before you can legally drink a beer, but that didn’t stop Princess Leia from having one, or two, or many more. Fisher’s first memoir, adapted from her one-woman stage show, is a revealing look at her childhood as a product of “Hollywood in-breeding” and her adulthood in the shadow of “Star Wars.” After electroshock therapy, marrying, divorcing then dating Paul Simon, a drug addition and a bipolar disorder, Fisher still manages to take an ironic and humorous survey of her bizarre life. Meet Fisher and get a copy of her book signed at this WeHo book haven. 7 p.m. Free. Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. (310) 659-3110. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.ticketmaster.com.

Fri., Dec. 19
“Peter Pan.” Tinkerbell, Captain Hook, pirates, Indians — we know the cast of characters well. But how many of us have actually seen a full production of J.M. Barrie’s classic fantasy play, “Peter Pan” — especially one that features the complete musical score by Leonard Bernstein? Composer Alexander Frey — who helped reconstruct portions of Bernstein’s score that had been previously lost for a special CD — is flying in from Berlin to conduct the live orchestra. 7 p.m. Tue.-Sun. Through Dec. 28. $30-$70; $10 (seniors and students). Lobero Theatre, 33 E. Canon Perdido St., Santa Barbara. (805) 963-0761. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.ticketmaster.com.

Wed., Dec. 24
“49th Annual Los Angeles County Holiday Celebration.” Los Angeles’ biggest holiday show, featuring 45 groups and 1,200 performers, is a proud tradition — and it’s absolutely free! Running approximately six hours, the holiday extravaganza features the county’s cultural diversity. This year’s highlights include hip-hop group Antics Performances, South Bay Ballet and Grammy-nominated Lisa Haley and the Zydekats. Audiences will have the opportunity to listen to sounds and see sights from the world over, including Asia, Africa, South America, and the Middle East. For those of you who can’t make it to see the event in person, KCET-TV will also be airing the event live. Sponsored by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors and produced by the County Arts Commission. 3-9 p.m. Free. Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at the Music Center, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (213) 972-3099. http:www.holidaycelebration.org.

Arts in L.A. Quarterly Calendar: Cultural events through November 2008


SEPTEMBER

Fri., Sept. 12
“A Blessing to One Another: Pope John Paul II and the Jewish People.” Angelenos can explore the legacy of one of the Catholic Church’s most beloved popes in a new Skirball Cultural Center exhibition. Through artifacts, photographs and audiovisual recordings that first appeared at Cincinnati’s Xavier University only weeks after the pope’s death in 2005, visitors can explore the life of Pope John Paul II and the historical and personal circumstances that led him to aggressively reach out to Jews worldwide. Pope John Paul II was the first pontiff to enter a synagogue, recognize the State of Israel and formally apologize for the Catholic Church’s past treatment of the Jewish people. The Skirball will also offer several public programs related to the exhibition: an adult-education course on “Jesus and Judaism” and film adaptations of biblical epics, among others. Through Jan. 4. $10 (general admission), free to all on Thursdays. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.thenewlatc.com.

Sat., Sept. 13
“Speech & Debate.” The town is Salem, Ore., and, as in countless other American cities, teenagers are on the prowl for like-minded adolescents via the Internet. However, the three teenagers who find one another in “Speech & Debate” don’t just bond over music, books and movies, but are linked through a sex scandal that has rocked their community. The three adolescent misfits do what anyone else would to get to the bottom of the scandal: form their school’s first speech and debate team. Check out the West Coast premiere of the play, which critics are calling “flat-out funny.” 8 p.m. Thu.-Sat., 2 p.m. Sun. Through Oct. 26. $22-$28. The Blank Theatre, 6500 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 661-9827. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.plays411.com/ragtime.

Sat., Sept. 13
Camarillo Art & Jazz Festival. Camarillo is offering visitors a one-day extravaganza filled with music, artists and gourmet food, all culminating in an evening concert under the stars. The 2008 Camarillo Art & Jazz Festival will include gospel and bluegrass music, a farmers’ market and more than 50 artists showcasing their work. By evening, retro-band Royal Crown Revue will warm the stage for a secret, Grammy-nominated headliner. 8 a.m. (farmers’ market), 10 a.m. (music and art walk). $20-$60. 2400 Ventura Blvd., Old Town Camarillo. (805) 484-4383. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.apla.org.

Fri., Sept. 19
“Back Back Back” at The Old Globe. There’s nothing poignant about professional athletes using steroids. Or is there? Old Globe playwright-in-residence Itamar Moses delves into the controversial topic and takes the audience beyond the newspaper headlines and congressional hearings to the sanctuary of sports — the locker room. With humor and insight, Moses unfolds the stories of three major league baseball players who struggle to compete in the unforgiving world of professional sports, as well as balance their personal lives and professional images. The up-and-coming playwright has “clearly demonstrated tremendous talent along with a willingness to tackle complex ideas in his plays,” said The Globe’s Executive Producer Lou Spisto. Moses’ other works include “The Four of Us,” which won the San Diego Critics’ Circle Best New Play Award last year and “Bach at Leipzig.” 8 p.m. Tue.-Sun. Through Oct. 26. $42-$59. Old Globe Arena Theatre, James S. Copley Auditorium, San Diego Museum of Art, Balboa Park, San Diego. (619) 234-5623. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.nhm.org.

Sun., Sept. 21
KCRW’S World Festival. A remarkable, eclectic lineup marks the last week of KCRW’s World Music Festival. Ozomatli toured the world, engaging audiences with its blend of Latin-, rock- and hip-hop-infused music, as well as its anti-war and human rights advocacy. The multiethnic group headlines this special night at the Hollywood Bowl, along with Michael Franti, a former member of the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, and his latest band Spearhead. Mexican singer Lila Downs as well as Tijuana’s premiere electronic band, Nortec Collective and its members Bostich and Fussible, will make it impossible for anyone not to get something out of the mix. If you haven’t had the chance to catch this spectacular summer concert series, don’t miss this last opportunity. 7 p.m. $10-$96. Hollywood Bowl, 2301 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood. (323) 850-2000. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.lfla.org/aloud.

Wed., Sept. 24
Brad Meltzer signs “Book of Lies.” The New York Times best-selling mystery writer is back with a riveting new thriller that links the Cain and Abel story with the creation of Superman. Young Jerry Siegel dreamed up a bulletproof super man in 1932 when his father was shot to death. It may sound like a strange plotline, but trust Meltzer, who has written six other acclaimed page-turners as well as comic books and television shows, to produce a great read. The novel is already receiving major buzz and you can get in on the action in a variety of ways: By watching the trailer on Brad Meltzer’s Web site (yes, the book has a movie trailer), listening to the book’s soundtrack (yes, the book has a soundtrack) and by coming to a reading and book signing by the author. 7:30-9 p.m. Free. Barnes & Noble, 16461 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 380-1636. ” target=”_blank”>http://arts.pepperdine.edu.

Sat., Sept. 27
“Skinny Bitch: A Bun in the Oven.” If there is one thing that doesn’t ever get old, it’s mocking our own culture. Authors Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin do just that in their newly released “Skinny Bitch: Bun in the Oven,” a sequel of sorts to their best-selling cookbook “Skinny Bitch.” The book is a guaranteed laugh riot and today’s in-store reading and signing could offer a sassy twist as the two authors show up in the flesh to dish about expecting mothers. And don’t be fooled, just because the subjects of this book are in a more fragile state of mind, Freedman and Barnouin refuse to make any exceptions to their insightful and illuminating critiques. 2 p.m. $14.95 (book price). Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (310) 659-3110. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.jamescolemanfineart.com.

Sat., Sept. 27
“Jack’s Third Show.” Long hair, dramatic eye shadow and electric guitars return for an ’80s afternoon. Billed as a benefit for autism education, radio station JACK-FM stages an edgy blend of retro and new wave rockers. Billy Idol joins Blondie, The Psychedelic Furs and Devo for a musical bash that will have you dancing all day long. 2 p.m. $29-$89. Verizon Amphitheater, 8808 Irvine Center Drive, Irvine. (213) 480-3232. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.931jackfm.com.

Sat., Sept. 27
Museum Day. Art and cultural institutions are hoping to attract folks from all walks of life by making them an offer that’s hard to refuse: free admission to museums across Southern California. Sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution, this event gives art lovers and art novices alike the opportunity to visit venues from the Getty Center to the Craft and Folk Art Museum, free of charge. Natural history and science museums, like the California Science Center are also participating in the event. Regular parking fees do apply and advance reservations are recommended for some exhibitions. For a complete list of participating museums, visit ” target=”_blank”>http://www.museumsla.org/news/asp.

Sat., Sept. 27
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s 40th Season Opening Gala. L.A. Chamber Orchestra’s first musical director, Sir Neville Marriner, will conduct its current director, Jeffrey Kahane, in a piano solo to celebrate its 40th year. A symbolic bridge between the orchestra’s past and its future, expect to hear classical masters Beethoven, Schumann and Stravinsky, followed by dinner, dancing and a live auction for patrons. 6 p.m. $35-$125 (concert only), $750 (full package). The Ambassador Auditorium, 131 S. Saint John Ave., Pasadena. (213) 622-7001, ext. 215.

A Mensh on the radiowaves to recovery


One afternoon in 1989, Ricky Leigh Mensh hid out in his car in a parking garage in Bethesda, Md., paranoid after a five-day cocaine and booze spree.

“I had experienced so many consequences as a result of my addictions,” Mensh, now 48 — and 19 years sober — said as he prepared to debut his syndicated “Recovery Radio Live” program on KLSX 97.1 Free FM this week. “I had been in and out of jail, broken bones while drunk, broken my nose several times in bar fights — even had developed gout. I had become so paranoid after 13 years of using that I would lock myself in my townhouse and not come out for days.”

Mensh had not slept for five days on that afternoon in 1989 when he realized he was “a cadaver waiting to happen” and phoned his grandmother from a pay phone for help. Forty-eight hours after that “moment of clarity,” he said, he checked into a rehabilitation center and has been sober since.

He went on to become a prominent music industry executive and a voting member of the Grammy Awards — and now he is hoping to offer addicts moments of clarity similar to his own with his “Recovery” program, which premiered locally this week and will continue to air Saturdays from 11 p.m. to midnight on KLSX.

“The show is designed to feel like a 12-step recovery meeting on the air,” Mensh said from his home base in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. “Our primary goal is to reach out to those who are still [using], as well as to people in recovery, their friends, families and co-workers.”

Mensh acts as the show’s brash, charismatic host and says he studied past and present recovery shows while developing his unique format. His polished but personable program includes interviews with medical experts, such as Dr. Drew Pinsky (“Celebrity Rehab”); celebrity recovering addicts like bassist Nikki Sixx of Motley Crue; drug-related comedy bits; music inspired by addiction and treatment (think Aerosmith’s “What It Takes”); conference-calling listeners to share stories; and scholarship giveaways to the C.A.R.E. 30-day treatment program in North Palm Beach, Fla. (the regular price tag: $22,000).

Pinsky has lauded the show as “the embodiment of recovery” and as a powerful example of the way the media can be used to transmit the message of recovery.

On the air, Mensh often shares parts of his own story, which began as he grew up in and around Washington, D.C., attending his maternal grandparents’ Orthodox synagogue.

“But unfortunately, my mother married not one but two violent men,” he said of his father and former stepfather; beatings and severe emotional abuse were de rigueur. Two days after Mensh graduated high school, he found his suitcase packed in the living room along with a note that read, “Get the f— out.”

He fled to the efficiency apartment he had already rented for the summer and was showering the next morning when a roommate offered him a lit bong through the shower curtain.

“I took my first hit, and it filled the black hole inside of me that all addicts feel,” he recalled. “It set me free from all my anger, and made me feel more comfortable in my own skin.”

Over the next 13 years, Mensh snorted cocaine (sometimes off the turntables at his disc jockey gigs), added acid and Quaaludes to the mix, and imbibed to the point that he blacked out, only to awaken in a ditch or a stranger’s car or bed. Although he managed to hold down radio jobs and even to found several profitable businesses during those years, his disease eventually spiraled out of control. In 1989, Mensh’s therapist, who had also treated John Belushi, told him that the only difference between Mensh and the late comedian was that Belushi “was dead, and you aren’t yet.”

His first day of sobriety was March 25, 1989.

Cut to August 2007, when Mensh — who by then had been voted one of the 30 most influential people in music by Source magazine — was mortified by a tabloid TV show about celebrity addicts such as Britney Spears.

“The shows were ridiculing these people, whom I see as sick, as fodder for their revenue,” he recalled. He also perceived that stars like Spears were using (or encouraged to use) “recovery” as a way to gain publicity for their latest albums or films.

“The tabloid media was bastardizing our beloved 12-step programs, and I wanted to do something to portray them in a positive light,” he said.

The result was “Recovery Radio,” which got its start on a Palm Beach station and is now in multiple markets. The show is expanding to include other kinds of addictions (on Super Bowl Sunday, the topic was gambling, for example). And plans are in the works to do live shows from Los Angeles — such as broadcasting from a 12-step meeting in a federal prison — and in other cities.

“As a Jew, it’s important to me to reach out to other Jews,” Mensh said. He cites the perception within the Jewish community that Jews don’t tend to be addicts, which “made me feel like even more of a schmuck while I was in rehab. There’s also the idea that Jews are too smart to abuse drugs and alcohol, which is part of the B.S. I told myself to keep me in denial while I was using.”

“We want to reach out to people who are still sick and suffering, whomever they may be,” he added.

The source of häMAKOR — it’s all in the family


When Israeli band häMAKOR headlined the Israel Day Concert in Central Park, front man Nachman Solomon walked onstage with an Israeli flag draped around his shoulders and blue-and-white souvenir sunglasses tucked into his jeans pocket. As the band launched into their melodic rock tribute to Jerusalem, “Im Eshkachech,” the 21-year-old singer and rhythm guitarist urged the sun-baked crowd to “get moving,” and concertgoers obliged.

This infectious energy — which will be on display when the band plays The Mint in Los Angeles on June 28 — also comes through on the group’s self-produced debut CD, “The Source” — that’s häMAKOR, translated — which features a progressive mix of electronica and trance fusion. The pulsing synthesizer, steady drumbeat and distorted guitar sound like frenzied club music, and the vocals evoke Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam.

According to Ben Jacobson, a Jerusalem Post freelance music critic and founder of jerusalemite.net, a Web site covering Jerusalem’s music and nightlife, häMAKOR occupies an unusual position in Israel’s music scene.

“There’s a real void here in Israel for alternative Jewish rock that’s creatively edgy — they’re one of the few doing it,” he said. “häMAKOR has a very outside-the-box approach to their Jewish identity. A lot of bands posture themselves to court a religious crowd and others avoid the issue. There’s a lot of spirituality in their music, a lot of liturgy and Jewish philosophy in their lyrics, but they’re not ramming it down your throat. It’s accessible to everyone, even non-Jews.”

Jacobson, who has been writing about häMAKOR from its inception in 2006, is struck by the group’s unusual sound.

“They mix all of these different things — if you describe it on paper it sounds like it should be a terrible, disgusting salad with ’90s grunge rock, trance, folk and classic rock, but when it all comes together, they pull it off, and it’s really great.”

Growing up on Moshav Me’or Modi’im, the community in central Israel founded by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, Solomon was surrounded by musicians. His father, Ben Zion, co-founded the Diaspora Yeshiva Band; his oldest brother, Noah, launched Soulfarm; and three other brothers — Yehuda, Yosef and Meir — formed the Moshav Band.

“I guess it was a career path,” Solomon said. “My dad being involved, we naturally took it over.”

Solomon started playing piano at age 4. “When I was 6, I had a band with a couple of my friends, and I’ve been shredding music ever since.”

He also performed with his family in a band called Ben Zion Solomon and Sons and played Carnegie Hall when he was 13.

Solomon formed häMAKOR when he was 19. “In high school I played just with my dad. I’m kind of a shy boy, so it took me awhile to push myself and do it.” Like many rock front men, he releases his timidity in performance. “When I’m onstage, I’m in my own world, doing my thing,” he said.

Aptly, the singer was named for Chasidic leader Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, who incorporated joyful song and dance into ritual observance. For Solomon, the principal songwriter, connecting to divinity is a recurrent theme. As he sings on the title track, “The lion will roar to remind us of the one above.”

This dedication to music and spirituality impressed häMAKOR drummer Jono Landon, a 29-year-old Toronto transplant who made aliyah (immigration to Israel) two years ago.

“Aside from great musicianship, I need the right intent behind the music. I believe in Nachman. He’s trying to make music for the right reasons,” Landon said.

In the bluegrass-inflected song, “Just Smile,” Solomon expresses his faith and confidence in divine providence: “I’ve got my sunburned face/And I’m looking just a little bit bluesy/Because when it ain’t my day, my week, my month or even my year/I think I’ll just sit back, cut back, relax and let God do his thing.”

Explaining how häMAKOR creates unusual sonic effects, Solomon said, “Ben Frimmer, who’s also the keyboardist, plays what’s called a Virus. It’s like a keyboard, but it gets psychedelic sounds for a trance element.”

Bassist Jonathan Fialko, who was raised in Texas and made aliyah six years ago, grew up playing in bands spanning genres from blues to country. New lead guitarist Bruce Burger, a recent oleh (immigrant) to Israel, blends seamlessly with the band’s eclectic musical personality. Also known as RebbeSoul, Burger played a mix of world beat, rock and jazz with his namesake band in the Bay Area.

Like their material, the band’s venues are wide-ranging. Last year häMAKOR played Fat Baby, a Lower East Side bar, and the Upper West Side’s Carlebach Shul. For the mixed secular and religious bar audience, they played hard-rocking tunes off their album and covered classics from The Who and Grateful Dead. At the shul, they performed a kumsitz (sing-along) style, Carlebach-heavy show.

Last Chanukah, häMAKOR headed to Poland. Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich, who recruited the band for a 10-city tour, said, in an e-mail message, that “häMAKOR is filled with neshama (soul) and hitlahavut (enthusiasm). They excited old and young, Jew and non-Jew.”


häMAKOR: ‘Im Eshkachech’ live @ Shemeshfest 2007

Remarkably for an Israeli band, five out of the CD’s eight songs are in English. Hebrew songs include liturgical standards “Eliyahu Hanavi” and “Im Eshkachech” and an original composition, “Malachim.”

“When we started, our core audience was American kids who came to study in Israel for a year, so that’s what we aimed at,” Solomon said. “For me, it’s more natural to write in English. In the moshav I grew up in, they’re Americans that made aliyah. I only spoke Hebrew in school.”

Currently, häMAKOR plans to conquer dual markets, creating English-language songs for mainstream rock fans and Judaic music for the religious crowd. Their latest single, “Illusion,” will soon be released on Bigwheel, a new Israeli media company founded by Geva Kra Oz. “Illusion” is a classic rock tune infused with electronica that explores timeless themes of overcoming challenges and finding love.

While häMAKOR courts mainstream success, Landon says, “That’s not the most important thing. The music is a means to teach people around the world about spirituality and how to connect to their creator. If it happens, it’s all from Hashem.”

Israel to rock the Kodak but hoping for more glam


There’s no shame in the Shondes’ melodious yelling


MUSIC VIDEO Lauren Rose – ‘Hava Nagila Baby Let’s Dance’


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It didn’t make Britain’s Top Ten Christmas records, but it’s still a killer version: Lauren Rose sings ‘Hava Nagila’ like you’ve never heard it—or danced it—before!

Comedy singer drawn to Jewish thought — but not shul


It is commonplace that the best comedy is essentially serious. Of course, clichés often have an underlying truth, so maybe that explains why Rob Tannenbaum, one half of the comedy-music duo, Good for the Jews, playing at the Knitting Factory on Dec. 14, is both a very funny guy, and nevertheless someone who discusses his work in surprisingly sober terms.

OK, he discusses it in sober terms some of the time. On the other hand, when asked about his Jewish upbringing in WASPy Fairfield County, Conn., the 32-year-old Tannenbaum replies with an ear-to-ear grin: “What Jewish upbringing? ‘Connecticut Jew’ is an oxymoron. I come from the land of the Izod yarmulke.”

Then he gets serious,

“I was a ‘bar mitzvah’ Jew,” Tannenbaum admits. “But I believe my personality and my sense of humor are deeply Jewish. In fact, I’m Jewish in every way except my religion. I guess ‘real’ Jews would call me a Christian.”

Probably not, although they might call him an apikoros (apostate). The simple fact is, like so many other secular Jews, Tannenbaum feels drawn to Jewish thought, Jewish ethics and Jewish cultural efforts, but not to synagogue.

“The things I love [about being Jewish] have to do with my friends and family,” he says.

But he is completely committed to the idea of Jewish identity, so much so that several years ago, while fronting a punk band — “of no great significance,” he adds with a rueful smile — he was so miffed by the omnipresence of that other December holiday that he wrote a song, “It’s Good to Be a Jew at Christmas.”

“It’s a protest song about identity and pride,” Tannenbaum says. “And that’s how it started.”

The song ended up on a compilation of Jewish comedy songs, “with a song by my hero, Mel Brooks,” he notes proudly.

“The turning point in my songwriting was going to see ‘The Producers’ on Broadway,” Tannenbaum says. “There I was in a theater full of tourists who were laughing at songs about the Holocaust and the Nazis. I felt liberated.”

Tannenbaum is probably better known as a rock critic, the music editor of the magazine, Blender, than as a singer-songwriter-humorist. Or you may remember him as one-half of What I Like About Jew, with former Rockapella frontman Sean Altman. That was the project that brought him some prominence in Jewish circles. It also brought some tsuris (trouble) when the pair split up.

“It wasn’t a happy breakup,” he admits. “Talking about what happened would turn this into a different story. Look, thousands of rock groups have broken up; that’s what happens.”

Both he and Altman have continued in the comedy and music vein. Each still performs some of the songs they wrote together.

Several of those songs, and the new ones Tannenbaum is writing on his own or with his new musical partner, David Fagin, may hit the occasional raw nerve, like the sex-obsessed bar mitzvah ballad, “Today I Am a Man”; the minihistory lesson, “They Tried to Kill Us (We Survived, Let’s Eat)”; or his new anthem, “Shiksas Are for Practice.”

“We don’t expect consensus,” he says. “Not everybody is going to find every song funny.”

But he tells a story about receiving some important validation from a friend, “the only child of two survivors of Auschwitz,” he says. “She came to one of our shows, and I have some material about the difficulties of being a German Jew. This is the person I know who has experienced the most suffering from anti-Semitism, and she found joy and hopefulness in those jokes. If she finds a joke about German Jews funny, that’s all the license I need.”

At the same time, though, he readily acknowledges that others may not be so relaxed.

“As a college-educated Reform Jew, I understand that some people may feel I’m not entitled to speak on some subjects,” Tannenbaum says. “The Jewish people are not monolithic, and I’ve had dialogues with people after our shows who have misgivings about the material.”

The one area about which there can be no argument, however, is the comfort level of his partnership with Fagin, who is also the lead singer, guitarist and songwriter for the Rosenbergs, a highly acclaimed power pop band.

“I met David at an event sponsored by Heeb,” Tannenbaum recalls. “He was performing, and I was emceeing. I’ve been a big fan of the Rosenbergs, so afterwards, I called him up and said, ‘Let’s start a band.’ I knew he was a great singer and musician, and the songs he wrote for the band were witty, but I didn’t know he was funny, too.”

Given that they’re in the middle of a 13-city tour over 17 days, he’d have to be funny.

But when you ask Tannenbaum if his forays into Jewish humor have affected his sense of Jewish identity, he gets serious again — serious and bit flummoxed.

“Yes, it has … but how?” he asks earnestly. “I went to shul for the High Holy Days this year for the first time in a long time. Was I looking for new material?

“Look, the stuff we’re doing brings me into pretty intensive contact with the Jewish community. It requires me to think about what it means to be a Jew. If you can accept the idea that someone can be a practicing Jew without being observant — well, I’ve spent a lot of time practicing my Judaism. And my sense of Judaism has developed. I guess I’m an Orthodox version of a secular Jew.”

Which may or may not be funny, but it’s certainly serious minded.

Good for the Jews will be playing the AlterKnit Lounge at the Knitting Factory Hollywood, 7021 Hollywood Blvd., Dec. 14, 7 and 10 p.m. For information, phone (323) 463-0204 or visit http://www.knittingfactory.com.

For listening, for giving — klezmer and its cousins



Romashka Live at Joe’s Pub

After two consecutive years of a mailbox clogged with new Chanukah music, this year seems to have produced a drought of latkes-candles-and-dreidel epics. No matter. There are plenty of terrific CDs around that will make good gifts for those who do the December festivities thing, or you could buy them for yourself (you selfish thing).

There is a phrase we use in my house to denote any music that makes you move your lower limbs almost involuntarily. We call this “wiggle music,” and the following selection features some very potent examples of the genre. If a winter dance is on your agenda, you could do a lot worse than to throw a couple of these in your CD player and hit shuffle. Or better yet: “wiggle.”

Metropolitan Klezmer, “Traveling Show” (Rhythm Media)

There used to be two complaints about live rock albums. Either the band played their greatest hits exactly as they had on record (Who needs a live recording that’s nothing but a reprise of the studio, only with the mistakes intact?) or they indulged their arty sides with long, dull solos. Old-line klezmer wasn’t as much of an improviser’s art as, say, jazz, but contemporary New Klez is much more so. And that means a live set like this new one from the Metros is welcome. The band swings hard, everyone has ample solo room and plenty to say. There’s even a track from Eve Sicular’s other band, Isle of Klezbos. In short, this is what a live set should be: great fun.

http://www.metropolitanklezmer.com/.

The Polina Shepherd Vocal Experience (featuring Quartet Ashkenazim), “Baym Taykh” (Oriente)

This dazzling new recording is a distinct change of pace from what I usually hear (I get to listen to a lot of new Yiddish music, which can be a positive or a negative depending on the recording). The songs are all originals, composed by Polina Shepherd and sung by Shepherd and a quartet that includes her and husband Merlin Shepherd (who also contributes memorably on reeds and guitar), Yana Ovrutskaya and Evgenya Slavina. This is elegant chamber music that dances nimbly from postmodern a cappella to jazz to art song without missing a beat. A beautiful, frequently moving CD. You can’t dance to it, but you can listen for hours without losing interest.

http://www.polinashepherd.co.uk/

Blue Fringe, “The Whole World Lit Up”
(Craig ‘n’ Co.)

These guys have developed an ardent cult following, and it’s not hard to see why. With their hook-filled soft rock featuring inflections of The Beatles, The Eagles and The Byrds, Blue Fringe has found a plausible vehicle for their religious feelings, and their music is both thoughtful and danceable. Not my favorite genre, personally, but they do it well. I prefer the rockers, especially when the lead guitarists — to borrow a phase from boxing — let their hands go. Nevertheless, a satisfying set from a rising band.

http://www.bluefringe.com/

Gail Javitt, “Like a Braided Candle, Songs for Havdalah” (self-distributed)

A nice idea for a record, compiling songs relating to Havdalah, and the result is a pleasant if unexceptional recording. Javitt has a sweet Debby Friedman-like voice; I wish she would use the lower part of her range more because it’s quite expressive, while the top is a bit thin. The material is a solid mix of the familiar (“A Gute Voch,” “Birhot Havdalah”) and the somewhat more unusual. I’m particularly fond of the Sephardic “Hamavdil” that opens the set.

http://www.zahavamusic.com/

Klezamir, “Warm Your Hands” (self-distributed)

Fourth album from this excellent Massachusetts-based quintet sees them proceeding without vocalist Rhoda Bernard. The result is a more instrumental-oriented set, but like their previous CDs this opens with a butt-shaking number, “Undzer Nigundl,” powered by a strong rock beat from drummer Keith Levreault. After that it settles into a more traditional groove, but the results are very satisfying.

http://www.klezamir.com/

Romashka, “Romashka” (self-distributed)

A wildly swinging set from this excellent Gypsy-cum-klezmer-cum-Balkan-brass-band aggregation. I saw Romashka live in a superheated little bar about a year ago and I was curious whether any recording could capture their insane level of intensity. From the rocketing opening of “Mariana,” the first cut on their new set, through some smoldering, smoky vocals by Inna Barmash to a pounding “Moldovan Batuta,” this is as full of energy and thrills as any studio set can be. Particular kudos to Ron Caswell, whose tuba provides a bouncing dance floor for both this CD and the Slavic Soul Party set reviewed elsewhere in this column.

http://www.romashka.net/

Chana Rothman, “We Can Rise” (Oyhoo)

Here’s a promising debut from Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Chana Rothman. She offers a heady mix of liturgically based hard folk-rock and reggae-inflected and hip-hop informed rockers, all originals. She reminds me of a young Basya Schechter without the Middle Eastern influences, and her best writing (“Ana,” “Gates of Justice”) is quite good. Her rapping isn’t quite there yet — too many eccentric rhythmic choices that disrupt her flow — but I’m definitely looking forward to watching her evolve.

http://www.chanarothman.com/

Slavic Soul Party, “Teknochek Collision” (Barbes Records)


This is a wildly swinging amalgam of Balkan brass band, Gypsy and klezmer elements, with as many swerves and twists as a mountain road. The fusion of disparate elements is seamless, not a surprise if you consider how much these various traditions share. As the band’s name suggests, this is great party music, so grab a bottle of Slivovitz and a friend and dance.

http://www.slavicsoulparty.com/

Reflections on the occasion of the New Year


Summer Highlights

The month of Elul is all about reflection. It’s an opportunity to look back and discover more about ourselves, a chance to recognize how we were transformed by moments and people. Elul is like a spiritual film review, where the elements of our life story are analyzed and our behavior within the frame is pondered and critiqued.

Reflecting on this past summer, I realize I wrote a whole load of critiques. Memorable for being the summer that spawned The Calendar Girls’ blog on The Journal’s Web site, my first full season in Los Angeles also entailed a bed-rattling earthquake, a summer without central air and 32 cultural events that were pondered, pontificated on and penned. Fifty-five blog posts later, you can assume two things: my collaborator, Dikla Kadosh, and I did not go on vacation, and it’s time to cut the criticism and celebrate the cream of the crop.

In the spirit of the New Year (and Madonna’s current frolic through Israel), I’m calling for a holiday — a celebration — Calendar Girls’ style. Here are excerpts from our best-of-summer picks — and if you happen to disagree, get thee to the blog and tell us!

Israeli Folk Dancing

David Dassa’s innovative approach to a traditional art mixes hip, modern melodies with a side-stepping folk funk. It’s fresh, fun and a full-body workout that rivals yoga:

“The thing about Israeli dance is, you have to know the steps…. It looks easy, flowing and simple, but it sounds like this: TO-THE-MU-SIC, sway to-your-right, shuffle-step, pivot turn, and walk 2-3-4, now spin-to-the-outskirts and clap, clap, clap, switch-your-dance-partner. Spin to your neighbor! … Now, cha-cha! Cha-cha!”

Rita

The sexy, Israeli singing sensation rocked the roof off American Jewish University’s Gindi Auditorium. In an intimate setting of loyal, learned fans Rita’s rendition of “Jerusalem of Gold” was hauntingly personal:

“The audience … knew every word to every song she sang. They not only sang along, they danced in the aisles, called out requests, reached out to touch her as she strolled through the auditorium, and stood clapping and roaring for several minutes, begging for more even after Rita and her 8-piece ensemble concluded their encore. The adoration was palpable.”

Los Angeles International Film Festival

This is where Hollywood industry meets international artistry and indie eccentricity. With a remarkable array of film genres, styles and scene-stealing parties, this fest is worth the wad of cash that gets you an all-access fastpass. 2007 faves:

“The Champagne Spy” about “an Israeli Mossad agent … living a lavish double life as a wealthy ex-Nazi horse breeder,” and “Constantine’s Sword,” in which “former Catholic priest James Carroll traces the confluence of religion, politics and violence from Jesus’ crucifixion to the present day.”

Nashuva

Rabbi Naomi Levy’s inclusive and intimate community makes for a soulful monthly Shabbat service that is musical, meditative and spiritually magical:

“Set inside the barn-like atmosphere of Westwood Hills Church … a 12-part band is flanked by an understated but engaging leader and a spiritually hungry crowd packs the wooden pews. Rabbi Naomi and her band invite the community ‘to return’ … to nourish their souls in release, to stand and sing away the chaos of life and welcome the blessing of Shabbat.”

“Sight Unseen”

A provocative play layered with the complexities of the human experience, this dramatic work astounded, despite a sparse audience of seven:

“Full of emotion and wit and thought-provoking content. It was full of intensity and complexity. It was full of dialogue. And subject matter: modern art, love, identity, Judaism, wealth, marriage.”

“Damage Control”

The captivating Emma Forrest read a vivid tale of the heartbreak that drove her into the arms of a seductive and consoling tattoo artist. Her first book as editor contains essays written by women reflecting on the intimate relationships they have with their beauticians:

“Emma Forrest read her pretty prose to a small crowd surrounded by books; her cadence flushed with a crisp English accent, her voice so soft it alluded to the vulnerability of a woman with a secret.”

Friday Night Live

A group of foreign scholars visiting Los Angeles to study religious pluralism in America imbued one musical Shabbat service with a spiritual solemnity that unified multiple nationalities, ethnicities and religions:

“Until Friday, I had never recited the Shema next to a man wearing a kufi atop his head…. All eyes were on the visitors and I wondered how they were feeling as they experienced this lively, musical romp through the Sabbath. I couldn’t help but think: If this is the first or last time they ever set foot in a synagogue … what will they think about how we pray?”

Deenna Goodman and Dov Rosenblatt

These uber-talented musicians are reinvigorating rock and roll. With dreams to return modern music performance to the spirited collaborative of road-life and festival gigs, and if their talent is any indication, they’ll achieve this once-real fantasy:

“Sporting workman’s pants and a camel-colored beret … [Dov] sang sweet songs with his honey voice, pure and delicate, while his bandmate ‘C’ Lanzbom ripped out aching riffs on the electric…. Deena unleashed the full force of her vocal coloratura — and this gal makes Aretha Franklin sound timid. Her voice is this explosive, sultry sensation and her Joplin-styled performance is the perfect complement.”

MUSIC VIDEO: Moishe Skier Band — ‘Baruch haShem’


It’s Police-style power reggae as the Moshe Skier Band rocks ‘Baruch HaShem’

Socalled music, mythic characters, legal pugilism, Kirk again, open casting call


Saturday the 9th

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The Greek myth of Orpheus and his wife Eurydice is a tale about love, life and death. When Eurydice dies, her bereaved husband follows her down to the underworld, the realm of Hades, and with his angelic singing, convinces the god of death to return Eurydice to the world of the living. The only condition is that Orpheus not look back at his wife as they make their way home. At the last minute, he violates the rule and his wife fades away. “Sliding Into Hades” is playwright Aaron Henne’s modern exploration of the myth, dealing with our own attitudes toward mortality.

Thurs.-Sun., through June 17. $12 (under 25), $22.50 (weeknight), $25 (weekend). Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 477-2055. ” border = 0 vspace = ‘8’ alt=”Robert Shapiro”>

Radio personality and serial bad boy Danny Bonaduce will go head-to-head with high-profile attorney Robert Shapiro (see photo) in a charity boxing match this evening. The “Sports Sweepstakes” fundraiser benefiting Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services promises to be quite punchy — with Monty Hall of “Let’s Make a Deal,” Olympic gymnast Mitch Gaylord, fabulous prizes and three sanctioned bouts. I’ve got my money on Bonaduce — the former “Partridge Family” member destroyed fellow child stars Donny Osmond and Barry Williams (a Brady) in previous charity boxing events.

5:30 p.m. $1,250. Beverly Hilton, 9876 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 996-1188.

Tuesday the 12th

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Wednesday the 13th

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Thursday the 14th

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Friday the 15th

After eating a large Shabbat meal you often want to do nothing more than sit back and be entertained. And entertained you shall be by Barry J. Hershey’s “Casting About,” a documentary chronicling the agony, frustration and hilarity of casting calls, told from the perspective of a filmmaker. In the vein of “American Idol,” footage includes interviews, monologues and audition sessions with more than 350 actresses trying out for a dramatic role.

Various show times. $7-$10. Laemmle Music Hall 3, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 274-6869.

Meshugga Beach Party plays ‘Tzena Tzena’


Crazy Jewish surf music from the Bay Area

The operatic model of a punk rock major satire


Mixing punk rock and opera may be about as heretical as it gets, yet that is precisely what Julien Nitzberg, librettist and lyricist of “The Beastly Bombing,” now playing at the Steve Allen Theater, has done.

Despite being the grandson of Austrian composer Hans Knauer, who conducted his own operetta, “Eva,” in front of Kaiser Franz Josef, the Bronx-born Nitzberg was first drawn to the punk scene. He sported a mohawk in high school where he founded a literary journal titled Piss With Ink. He played “noise guitar with the emphasis on guitar” for a “hard-core punk band in the line of the Dead Kennedys.”

“We played superhard, superfast, superloud,” Nitzberg said, pointing out that his band also earned the reputation of being “allegedly a Republican punk band” because they wrote songs like “We Love Reaganomics.”

No one will accuse him of being a Republican any longer, nor will anyone miss the irony, indeed sarcasm, of “The Beastly Bombing,” a mock Gilbert & Sullivan-inspired opera that lampoons our current Republican president and his two daughters, while also poking fun at white supremacists, Al Qaeda and Chasidic Jews.

Yes, Nitzberg, who is Jewish, does not spare Jews from his wit and has even written one jaunty song with the refrain, “I hate the Jews.”
Stephen Schwartz, composer of “Pippin” and “Godspell,” was apparently so offended by Nitzberg’s politically incorrect opera that he referred to it as the “most morally unredeemable musical he had ever read.” According to Nitzberg, Schwartz said that he would try to prevent “The Beastly Bombing” from finding a venue.

Ultimately, Nitzberg did find a willing sponsor in Amit Itelman, artistic director of the Steve Allen Theater. Itelman embraced the musical’s Sept. 11 parody, just as he had once embraced provocateur Bill Maher by producing “The Hollywood Hell House,” a production that starred the host of “Real Time,” who was famously fired by ABC after saying that the Sept. 11 pilots did not lack courage.

Just as former punk rocker Nitzberg has returned to his pedigree in opera, so has Roger Neill, who composed the music to “The Beastly Bombing.” Neill had also grown up as “a thrasher” on guitar.
“My heart is of a head banger,” he said. Yet before finding the electric guitar at the age of 12, Neill had played flute and piano and began composing classical music at 10. Many years later, he got a doctorate in musical composition from Harvard.

Neill met Nitzberg in the mid-1990s, when Nitzberg was directing his own script for the film, “Bury Me in Kern County.” The underground film, which the press material refers to as a “white trash black comedy,” toured the festival circuit, playing at South by Southwest and Palm Springs among others. It represented the first collaboration between Nitzberg and Neill, who composed the score.
Their present collaboration, “The Beastly Bombing,” may make for a funnier evening than a night at the Improv or the Groundlings.
Nitzberg, who believes that irony should never be dead under any circumstances, writes with a kind of literary diction that is rare in the theater. How often does one hear lines like “Ablophobia is fear of palindromes”? Or, “I’m agog, they don’t know about ZOG”?
ZOG stands for Zionist Occupation Government. It is the acronym used by the musical’s two white supremacists and two Al Qaeda operatives, all of whom plan to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge. Their plans are interrupted when they fall in love with each other and with two ditzy presidential daughters, who introduce them to the drug Ecstasy.

Only Mel Brooks has tread this far, but Brooks didn’t have his president, unmistakable with his gray hair and fly-boy outfit as a George W. Bush prototype, dance a waltz with a lascivious gay Jesus. Nor did Brooks have a Catholic priest, wearing red women’s underwear, speak openly of molesting young boys.

In short, Nitzberg and Neill skewer every sacred cow imaginable while writing a series of catchy, raucous tunes. Some titles like “I am the Bravest President” conspicuously recall Gilbert & Sullivan (“I am the monarch of the sea”), but the songs are far too subversive to be other than a wry homage given “Julien’s crazy lyrical content,” Neill said.

A “superannuated Echo Park punk rocker” with an “Old World Austro-Hungarian sensibility,” in Neill’s phrase, Nitzberg will always straddle the worlds of punk rock and opera. And he will never lose his sense of humor.

As Nitzberg said, “I want people at my funeral to be making jokes. I want them to put hoops in the water and afterward use my body to play Skee-ball.”

“The Beastly Bombing” plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. at the Steve Allen Theater, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., through Nov. 18.

For tickets, call (800) 595-4849.

Photo by Kim Gottlieb-Walker

P. F. Sloan: does he still believe we’re on the ‘Eve of Destruction’?


“Eve of Destruction,” the famous folk-rock protest hit from 1965, isn’t usually regarded as a specifically Jewish song. Or even a religious one, for that matter.

It’s a litany of anguished complaints about the problems of the temporal world of the time — civil rights marchers repelled in Selma, Ala., the imminent danger of nuclear war, the threat from a militant “Red China.” It struck such a chord with a teenage audience worried about the future that it reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, a youthful crie de coeur against the political status quo. It became an extraordinary pop-cultural event in its own right.

But the long-missing-in-action writer of “Eve of Destruction,” 61-year-old Los Angeles resident P.F. (Phil) Sloan, cites his studies of Jewish mysticism as a key source of inspiration. After decades of fighting physical and mental illnesses that ended his professional career, Sloan is back with a new CD, “Sailover,” recently released on Hightone Records. Only his sixth album since 1965, it includes versions of “Eve” and other songs he wrote in the 1960s, plus new folk-rock compositions. And he performs at Largo in the Fairfax district, where he grew up, on Sept. 27.

After his bar mitzvah at Hollywood Temple Beth El, Sloan’s rabbi recommended him for early kabbalah training, especially study of the mystical writings and Torah interpretations in the Zohar.

“It is rare because you’re supposed to be 40 [to study],” Sloan said, speaking by phone from Chicago where he was performing at a club. “My rabbi suspected I was an old soul.”

He studied for about 18 months, he said, providing him with “a greater, deeper understanding of Judaism and its relationship to people.”

But at the same time, Sloan was also interested in rock ‘n’ roll. In 1964, while still a teenager, he and friend Steve Barri wrote and recorded “Tell ‘Em I’m Surfin'” as the Fantastic Baggys. His “P.F. Sloan” persona appeared in 1964, when in response to President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, he wrote several protest songs, “Eve of Destruction,” “The Sins of the Family” and “Take Me for What I’m Worth.” It took a full year before the growlingly, deep-voiced singer Barry McGuire, fresh from the New Christy Minstrels, released “Eve” on L.A.’s Dunhill Records — also Sloan’s label — and it became a hit.

Sloan feels the song was “directly attributable” to his kabbalah studies.
“The song was a divine gift,” he said. “I was given information about the history of the world through that song — not that that’s unusual in mystical Judaism. It was quite a wonderful gift at age 19 to be given that. I knew it was special and knew it would change things.”

Sloan sees the song as his dialogue with God.

“I say to God that ‘this whole crazy world is just too frustrating,’ and then God says to me, ‘But you tell me over and over and over again about these problems I already know,'” he said.

“It’s an endless dance around this razor’s edge about what God is saying every time I sing this song,” Sloan explained. “He’s telling me, ‘Don’t believe we’re on the eve, I’m not going to allow it.’ And then other times when I sing it, I get the message he’s going to allow destruction to happen. Every time I sing it, I get an insight into what’s going on.”

Sloan’s parents moved from New York, where he was born as Philip Gary Schlein, to Los Angeles for his mother’s arthritis. But when his father had trouble getting permission to open a downtown sundries store under his name Schlein, he changed it to “Sloan” to avoid anti-Semitism.

Working with Barri or alone, Sloan wrote hits for other pop stars in the 1960s, including “Secret Agent Man” for Johnny Rivers, “Where Were You When I Needed You” for The Grass Roots and “Let Me Be” for The Turtles. But his attempts at becoming a successful singer-songwriter like his idol, Bob Dylan, didn’t work out. He says his record company was reluctant to support him at the time and that he signed away his songwriting royalties.

And from roughly 1971 to 1986, he said, he was incapacitated by undiagnosed hypoglycemia that led to depression and catatonia. He lived with his now-deceased parents until they found an apartment for him and helped him get nursing care.

But in 1986, he also started visiting Sai Baba, a controversial Indian guru who claims healing powers, at his ashram. He has gone back every two years and slowly started to recover. He said by 2001 he felt good enough to start performing again. In 2003, for instance, he participated in a tribute concert to Jewish religious singer and songwriter Shlomo Carlebach at Congregation Beth Jacob.

“I’m now walking 1 1/2 miles a day,” Sloan said. “I have a huge amount of energy. It’s like God has touched me and just given me a tremendous amount of love and energy. I feel like I’ve been reactivated.”

P.F. Sloan will be at Largo, 432 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles. Doors open at 8 p.m. $5-$20.

For more information, call (323) 852-1073 or visit

Spectator – Teens Band Together in Music Battle


There is nothing like a battle to bring a people together.

At least this is the hope of Brian Greene, executive director of the Westside Jewish Community Center (JCC), as he plans the Los Angeles area’s first citywide Jewish Battle of the Bands.

“I believe that there needs to be a place where Jewish teens from various schools and denominations can gather … music is a way that that can happen,” he said.

The Nov. 4 event, which Greene describes as “an effort to make the Westside JCC a relevant part of Jewish teen life in Los Angeles,” is scheduled for 7 p.m., at the community center.

Any bands with Jewish members are encouraged to submit demos before Sept. 1 in order to be considered for the battle lineup. The event is geared toward embracing any and all forms of “the musical expression of Jewish teens,” Greene said.

Competing bands will be evaluated by a panel of judges expected to include music industry insiders, and winners will be awarded prizes including Sam Ash music merchandise gift certificates. Sam Ash Music Corp. is sponsoring the event, along with the Jonathan and Faye Kellerman Foundation.

Greene has motives that go beyond the music: He hopes the battle will bring together teens from all denominations and schools, fostering the kind of Jewish unity that the JCC has already kindled in its preschool and senior citizen patrons.

“Teens by their nature are not denominational,” he said. “I hope [this concert] is creative way to spark an interest among teens as to this being a place that can host events for the teen community.”

Similar citywide musical battles have met with much success in the Jewish communities of Vancouver and Miami, among others. Such an event, though, seems tailor-made for Los Angeles, the entertainment capital of the world.

So grab a microphone — and rock on.

The event will be held Nov. 4 at 7 p.m. at the Westside JCC, 5870 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. $5. Only five bands will be able to compete. Send demos to: Battle of the Bands c/o Westside Jewish Community Center 5870 West Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90036 For more information, visit ” target=”_blank”>www.myspace.com/wjccbattleofthebands.

 

Pink Floyd’s Waters Caught Red-Handed


“No thought control.”

The famed lyrics from rock band Pink Floyd’s much beloved “Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 2” make for a powerful statement regardless of context. Scrawled last week in red paint on a concrete segment of Israel’s security fence in the Palestinian town of Bethlehem by Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters himself, though, the poignancy of the verse is undeniable.

Waters visited Israel to play a concert June 22 at Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam (literally Oasis of Peace), a cooperative Jewish-Palestinian Arab village between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Originally scheduled to perform at the much more mainstream Hayarkon Park in Tel Aviv, Rogers moved the concert to the fields of Neve Shalom in response to pressure from pro-Palestinian musicians.

“I moved the concert to Neve Shalom as a gesture of solidarity with the voices of reason — Israelis and Palestinians seeking a non-violent path to a just peace between the peoples,” Waters said in a press release.

According to the Jerusalem Post, the concert in its makeshift venue drew more than 50,000 attendees and became the cause of one of Israel’s worst traffic jams to date. Waters performed the album “Dark Side of the Moon” in its entirety, along with many of Pink Floyd’s greatest hits, including “Shine on You Crazy Diamond,” “Wish You Were Here” and the especially iconic “Another Brick in the Wall.”

“We need this generation of Israelis to tear down walls and make peace,” Waters told the audience before his post-midnight encore.

Waters’ performance received much acclaim in Israel, but it is his spray-painting stint at the security fence in the West Bank the day before the showcase that is making lasting waves there and abroad. The artist’s paint and pen additions to the already graffiti-laden wall marked Waters’ first stop after arriving in Israel. According to reporters present at the Palestinian town of Bethlehem when he made the markings, Waters likened the barrier to the Berlin Wall, adding that “it may be a lot harder to get this one down, but eventually it has to happen, otherwise there’s no point to being human beings.”

The musician’s deliberately provocative gesture prompted right-wing activists Baruch Marzel and Itamar Ben-Gvir to call for the artist’s detainment.

The pair submitted an accusation to the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court June 23 alleging that Waters destroyed Israel Defense Forces property, according to Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Israeli authorities have not yet issued a response to the singer’s graffiti or to Marzel and Ben-Gvir’s retaliatory petition.

The fence that Waters dubbed “a horrible edifice” is being constructed in the hopes of preventing Palestinian suicide bombers and other attackers, who have killed and wounded hundreds of Israelis in the last six years, from entering Israel proper.

Additional information courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency, The Jerusalem Post and Ha’aretz.

 

For Musicians, It’s Good to Be Labeled


When Chasidic reggae-rapper Matisyahu sold 350,000 units of his new album, “Youth,” in the first weeks after its release, he redrew the rule book for marketing Jewish music.

Or, more accurately, Aaron Bisman and Jacob Harris, his now former managers and heads of JDub Records, the singer’s erstwhile label, redrew the rule book.

That had been their intention all along, and Matisyahu’s sudden departure from the JDub fold will have no apparent impact on their plans. Bisman and Harris simply will shift their energies to Balkan Beat Box, SoCalled, the newly signed Golem and other artists in their growing stable of Jewish hip-hop and rock musicians.

“This has all been the result of many years of plotting and planning,” Bisman confided last month in the label’s surprisingly quiet and tidy office in Greenwich Village.

Truth be told, it can’t have been that many years of plotting and planning — Bisman and Harris are only 26.

Their youth is actually one of the advantages they bring to the crowded independent-record label horse race, a race in which they are one of several new players with a distinctly Jewish slant to their choice of artists. Along with other Jewish-oriented labels like the L.A-based Jewish Music Group and the artist owned and driven Modular Moods, JDub is combining an uncanny ear for new sounds with an understanding of new media that makes these small companies big players.

Bisman and Harris grew up together in Scottsdale and Phoenix, Ariz., and music was always at the center of their career choices. After they moved to the East Coast, a third friend, Benjamin Hesse, cut a record, and they began trying to sell it.

“It was quality music, great songs,” Harris says. “It sounded good and we got to thinking…”

“…Who would put this out?” Bisman says, finishing the sentence for his long-time partner. “Wouldn’t it be cool to hear this at the Mercury Lounge?”

Around the same time, they befriended a young singer who was becoming involved with the Lubavitchers — Matisyahu.

“We really believe in high-quality Jewish music, so we began to think actively about what our definition of Jewish music was,” Bisman says. “We looked at what John Zorn was doing with Tzadik, his label. He would give an artist $5,000 and allow them to do what they wanted. Jewish Alternative Music was just closing its doors; their art was awesome, but the marketing was awful.”

With those two benchmarks available at the outset, Bisman and Harris began thinking through what JDub could be.

“We wanted to position our label so that it would have a chance of reaching a real audience,” Bisman says. “So we came up with a few simple guidelines. We wanted bands that would play comfortably in secular spaces, not just the JCCs and synagogues. We wanted artwork — record jackets, posters and so on — that would be appealing. And we wanted to stay away from klezmer at the outset, because that niche was pretty much sewed up and would limit us to an older audience.”

In short, JDub would try to make music that would appeal first to the founders’ cohort, the audience that they knew best and which, frankly, is the most active music-buying public.

More than that, though, JDub wouldn’t just release the records and kick the acts out on the road to fend for themselves.

“I had made some connections, I had been out on the road, frankly a little too much, and I know how to manage an act,” Harris says. “We wanted to be able to do everything for the bands we sign.”

“It’s not just about putting out a record,” Bisman says. “We want to make sure our artists are long-term successes and don’t burn out.”

The marketing plan Harris outlines was simple: “We speak to our peer group and other kids. We realized that if we do more events we would brand ourselves even before we had records to sell. Then you have an audience waiting.”

That strategy tied in nicely with their desire to use Jewish music as a way of bringing the community together, so nicely that the label is now a nonprofit Jewish organization, funded in part by UJA-Federation in New York, with a similar relationship in the offing in Los Angeles.

“We have a mailing list of 5,000-6,000,” Harris says, “They’re young, cool and have quality, and these are people that Jewish organizations need to, want to reach.”

Both Erez Handler, who owns and runs Modular Moods, and David McLees, one of the two heads of the Jewish Music Group, express a little good-natured envy of JDub’s nonprofit hookup.

“They don’t have some of the financial pressures we have,” McLees said in a phone call from Los Angeles. “We have to turn a profit faster than they do. But I think they do fine work. They’re very focused.”

Handler, who records on his own label as DJ Handler, notes that Modular Moods isn’t really “a Jewish label, but a lot of our music that gets attention is Jewish music.”

He points out that only two of the label’s 10 artists are overtly Jewish. But Modular Moods was the force behind last fall’s Sephardic Music Festival in New York City.

“I like doing Jewish music or non-Jewish music, as long as it’s good music,”

Handler, who is an observant Jew, says. “You get to collaborate with more people when you don’t allow yourself to be pigeonholed.”

Like Harris and Bisman, Handler is 26 and says that the target audience for Modular’s releases “has always been myself and my friends from college. College-radio style, people who are searching for new music, not just one style but music fans with diverse tastes.”

Modular Moods’ artist list includes Juez, a high-energy jazz-funk band with a klezmer tang; African American Jewish rapper Y-Love, and alt-rockers Bellflur.

Jewish Music Group’s artists include satirical rapper Chutzpah, the Moshav Band, Connie Francis and Don Rickles.

Connie Francis and Don Rickles?

“Richard Foos and I worked together on Rhino Records for 18 years before we began JMG,” McLees explains. “We’re from the mainstream and we’ve got one foot in the mainstream and one in the niche market. That’s what sets us apart from JDub or Modular Moods.”

That and the fact that he and Foos are in the their mid-40s.

“We want to take the Jewish out of marketing Jewish music so that our artists have a chance of crossing over, but we also want to distribute the other way, to reaffirm their Jewish identity,” McLees says. “We have everything from Don Rickles to David Broza and Debbie Friedman, from the Moshav Band to Jackie Mason. We’re tying to hit all the different strata that Jewish music includes, everything from an Orthodox religious group to cultural Jews.”

As a result, unlike JDub and Modular, JMG has made a particular effort to place their records in Judaica stores throughout the country.

Harris characterizes Modular’s vibe as “more DIY than ours,” and JMG’s as more mainstream, but all three labels express admiration for one another and single out artists in their competitors’ stables that they like.

Handler is quick to sing the praises of Balkan Beat Box.

“I think they are the artists that could have a lasting career,” he predicts.

With Balkan Beat Box, the band is actually composed of musicians from different backgrounds playing a mix of a lot of cultures, and I think that is something very strong, as opposed to throwing this one style over this other style.”

“JDub does great stuff,” McLees says. “I think their first priority is to find something Jewish and break it into the mainstream. We should all be grateful for what they did with Matisyahu.”

Does that mean that Balkan Beat Box could be looking at platinum somewhere down the road?

It is impossible to answer that question. After all, that was the one thing that Bisman and Harris hadn’t planned on before.

Balkan Beat Box will be appearing at the Israeli Independence Day Festival at Woodley Park on May 7 at 3 p.m.

JDub Records is on the Web at www.jdubrecords.org; Modular Moods is at www.modularmoods.com ; Jewish Music Group is at www.jewishmusicgroup.com. For more information on the Israeli Festival, visit www.israelfestival.com.

George Robinson is the film and music critic for Jewish Week; his new book, “Essential Torah,” will be published by Shocken Books in fall 2006.

 

Cultural Mix Inspires Revenge’s Warfield


Get out a pen and the map to Los Angeles. Now, draw a crooked line from the dense neighborhoods of South Central to the suburb-hubbub of North Hollywood. No, this is not a story about a Metro route but rather one about familial roots. Justin Warfield, the monotone-voiced, seductive lead singer and co-songwriter of the local nouveau and dark-wave group, She Wants Revenge, has roots that stretch across the city, and truth be told, he really doesn’t feel any tinge of revenge these days, because his band’s moody, dance-club-beat debut self-titled album has not only conquered the radio waves nationally, but is about to take on the avid audience at the Coachella Music & Arts Festival this weekend, too.

The music of She Wants Revenge is a mix of light and dark tones, soft and harsh feelings and complicated sexual innuendo. Taking a peek behind the public mask, Warfield is more than ready to get into those complicated feelings.

If one person could embody the diversity of Los Angeles’ cultural mix, it may be Warfield. The product of a Jewish mother with a Russian-Romanian lineage, who lives in North Hollywood, and a Southern, African American father, who lives in South Central, he always felt a little on the fringes as a kid. “When I was growing up, it seemed like I was the only person experiencing such a drastic sharing of cultures. But since then, I’ve talked to a number of people, and because of the liberal and progressive nature of the entertainment industry in New York and Hollywood, there are more of us than I thought.” In fact, Warfield developed a friendship with rock star Lenny Kravitz because of their shared backgrounds — Kravitz’s father is a Russian Jew and his mother is a Bahamanian American.

Whatever the outside world thought about Warfield’s “different” family, inside the walls of his grandparents’ beach house in Malibu the two cultures were completely unified, Warfield remembers. “Every summer we’d have my dad’s side of the family from South Central meet up with my mom’s side of the family from Brooklyn, and we ate together and laughed together, like any other family.” And to this day, Warfield still finds comfort and “a feeling of being with grandma,” when he sees a group of elderly Jewish women eating at a table next to him.

“I grew up around Jews from Coney Island and Brighton Beach who all lived during the Depression. My mother’s father inherited a business from his father, a well-known eatery on the Lower East Side of Manhattan called, Sammy’s Romanian, and my grandmother’s father was a cantor and a kosher butcher.” And although Warfield wasn’t bar mitzvahed and never went to temple, his family did celebrate some of the holidays. But Warfield contends that he doesn’t regard Judaism so much as a religion but more as a way of life.

“When people ask about the darkness or sadness expressed in our music, although there is no obvious connection between the lyrics and Judaism, it does make me think of sitting at the dinner table with my family, because if you grew up around the kind of Jews I know, there’s a certain sense of humor that they all have. One moment, you’re laughing while you’re eating, and then, two seconds later, tragedy will creep into the conversation, and then, in no time, you’re all laughing again. Humor, food and tragedy, what could be more Jewish?” Warfield laughs.

The mere fact that someone so seemingly happy as Warfield would end up making minor-chord dance dirges is, in itself, ironic, especially when you find out that he was introduced to hip-hop at an early age because of his father’s job in the rhythm and blues and rap music industries. Even Warfield’s first full-length solo musical output titled, “My Fieldtrip to Planet 9,” was a hip-hop album.

So how did he end up writing songs with DJ Adam 12, (whose real name is Adam Bravin) the other songwriter of She Wants Revenge? Warfield, a self-proclaimed skateboarder, met the slightly older Bravin at a junior high party, where the latter was spinning ’80s new wave music. But it wasn’t until years later — at the suggestion of a mutual friend — that they teamed up to make music and what resulted was She Wants Revenge. Their music is inspired as much by pop-rock royalty, Prince, as by those British goth-fathers of rock, Bauhaus.

The pair will get a chance to bring their music to the masses this weekend at the mega seventh annual Coachella festival near Indio. Warfield is excited about being part of a festival that features the best in new- and old-school alternative bands. Coachella is a great stepping stone for any band with the desire to become a household name — for it, 50,000 people camp out for two days in the blistering desert sun to catch some rays, while tapping their toes to hottest names in rock.

Warfield promises that those coming to see them will be happy with their time slot, which is a highly guarded secret up until the day of the show. He’s also hoping that after this performance, the music of She Wants Revenge will be a secret no longer.

Karla S. Blume is an arts writer living in Los Angeles.

Spoof Rockers Pen ‘UnOrthodox’ Tunes


Two minutes into a What I Like About Jew concert, singer Rob Tannenbaum hears chairs scraping and feet trudging toward the exit.

“We tell people, ‘Look around, because not all of you are going to be here until the end,'” says the band’s co-founder, Sean Altman.

Never mind that the Boston Globe called the musical comedy duo “racy and funny and smart and affectionate … for a generation of fully assimilated Jews who grew up on punk rock and ‘South Park.'” The chair-scrapers apparently do not appreciate the band’s hillariously crass, politically incorrect, subversively funny and X-rated musical chutzpah, which makes Adam Sandler look like a choirboy. Consider “Reuben the Hook-Nosed Reindeer,” who is forced to buy Santa’s toys wholesale; the circumcision ditty, “A Little Off the Top”; and “Hot Jewish Chicks,” who put “the whore in hora.”

“They Tried to Kill Us, We Survived, Let’s Eat,” adds dandruff and acne to the list of Passover plagues.

The artists, who have performed together for seven years, will play for the first time in Los Angeles on April 20 and 21 at Tangier Lounge in Los Feliz. The revue will include a performance by Jewish comic Morgan Murphy (a writer on “The Jimmy Kimmel Show”) and songs from the band’s new CD, “UnOrthodox.”

What I Like About Jew is more irreverent than unorthodox, which is typical of artists immersed in what critics call the bourgeoning “hipster Heeb” movement. Like Jewcy T-shirts and the “Jewsploitation” flick, “The Hebrew Hammer,” their work sets out to replace images of the neurotic nebbish with an new persona: the cocky, hard-ass Jew.

“We’re having fun rejecting, embracing and acknowledging the stereotypes,” Altman, who is in his 40s, says from his Harlem brownstone.

“Our music appeals to Jews who connect to their roots by watching edgy comics like Sarah Silverman and Jon Stewart,” Tannenbaum, also 40-something, says from his Manhattan office. “People have criticized hipster Heebs for being glib and superficial and not getting Jews into synagogue, but we don’t have a cattle prod, which is what we’d need to get these Jews into temple. What we can do is share with them some of our own experiences about post-assimilationist Jewish identity.”

Actually, the musicians have lured Jews into shul, when they’ve played the occasional synagogue gig. Rabbi Lia Bass scheduled them for a concert at her Conservative, Arlington, Va., shul in 2005 — in part to draw a younger demographic to her congregation.

“The band has its pulse on the unaffiliated Jewish community,” she explains. But she was sure to warn congregants “that the show was raunchy and that they should come at their own risk.”

Rabbi Chava Koster wasn’t sure she’d be able to sit through her first What I Like About Jew concert at a club several years ago.

“But it proved to be an eye-opening take on American Jewry,” recalls the spiritual leader of Manhattan’s Reform B’nai Israel-The Village Temple. When the act later played at her synagogue, “people first squirmed, then you heard furtive laughter, and then roaring at the jokes about Christmas envy and factory bar mitzvahs.”

“Today I Am a Man” mocks the bandmates’ own bar mitzvahs, both of whom were so secular, “mine almost had a pork bar,” Tannenbaum says.

Tannenbaum met Altman at Brown University, where the two were (and still are) a study in contrasts. Altman, a professional musician and former front man of the band, Rockapella, is 6-foot-5, jovial and happily married to an opera singer he met on the Jewish online dating service, JDate. Tannenbaum is shorter, with a wicked wit, a day job as music editor of Blender magazine and a grudge against the 18 women who consecutively rejected him on JDate.

What I Like About Jew began in 1998, when Tannenbaum showed Altman a song he had written after performing in a punk-metal band in order to write about the experience for Details magazine. It was a December dilemma diatribe, satirically sung like a Nat King Cole ballad, which cheekily cites a certain anti-Semitic slur.

The impressed Altman immediately invited Tannenbaum to perform the song with him at a downtown Christmas concert, where the club’s manager dourly approached them during intermission. Some patrons had been offended by their use of the K-word, the manager said. Undaunted, the musicians enunciated the epithet even more clearly during their next set.

“I thought, ‘African American rappers aren’t afraid to use the N-word; gays aren’t afraid to say, “fag,” but Jews are still terrified of the term, “kike,”‘” Tannenbaum recalls. “It’s part of that old Jewish fear that if you stand out, someone’s going to take you to Auschwitz. But we wanted to deflate the power of the slur by not making it taboo anymore.”

The performers decided to stand out during the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal by writing “Hanukah With Monica,” which describes “Eight whole days of goin’ nuts/on the presidential putz.” The clever ditty received national radio airplay in 1999 and put the band on the Manhattan club circuit.

The musicians went on to play sold-out crowds and receive mostly rave reviews everywhere, from the Village Voice to the Washington Post. (“If I were a rich man, I’d plunk down the cash to see this show,” The New York Times quipped).

Their repertoire now includes “J-Date,” where “everyone’s funny and everyone’s smart/and 20 pounds heavier than they say they are.” “Let’s Eat” mocks the musicians’ own ignorance about Judaism: “We were slaves to pharaoh in Egypt; the year was 1492. Hitler had just invaded Poland. Madonna had just become a Jew.”

Then there’s “Jews for Jesus,” which came about when the songwriters mused that while they’re unobservant, they haven’t sunk so low as to become Christian. The Ramones-inspired tirade attacks the sect with punk rock vitriol: “Jews for Jesus, I wanna chop you into pieces … I hope you get lots of diseases. You’re born again, that’s nice. Stay dead — that’s my advice.”

But while the performers are bad boys, “We’re bad Jewish boys, which means we’re not really so bad,” Tannenbaum insists. True, there are those chair-scrapers and the reviewer who couldn’t decide if the Rat Pack-style “Chicks” was racist or misogynistic.

Altman insists the song is affectionate in both ways: “We present the characters as buffoons, like Archie Bunker in ‘All in the Family,’ so you can’t really take them seriously.”

What I Like About Jew will play the Tangier Lounge, 2138 Hillhurst Ave., Los Angeles, April 20 at 7:30 p.m. and April 21 at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. Tickets are $15. For tickets, contact (323) 666-8666 or www.virtuous.com. The “UnOrthodox” CD is in stores.

The “UnOrthodox” CD is in stores or can be purchased online at www.whatilikeaboutjew.com.

 

Rocker Grrrl Memoir Charts Swift Decline


Zeroing in on 30, rocker Jen Trynin gave herself an ultimatum: either make it now or get out of the game.

Her youthful looks belied the years she spent slogging through the Boston music scene without much to show for it besides too many hangovers. Having graduated from what she called the “Sunday-through-Wednesday-night-folk/acoustic-chick-band wasteland” to the edgier world of indie rock, Trynin decided it was time for her dues paying to start paying off. Either that or grow up, get a real job and, in the process, mollify her Jewish parents, a lawyer and a psychologist, respectively.

And then a funny thing happened on the way to obscurity. Trynin’s musical talent — and an attitude as snarly as her Gibson guitar — intersected with the female singer-songwriter zeitgeist of the early ’90s, precipitating a bidding war for her among major labels. At the dawn of the Lilith Fair era, the Oberlin College creative writing and philosophy graduate suddenly found herself courted by industry titans such as David Geffen and Danny Goldberg, former manager of her heroes Nirvana.

For a brief moment, Trynin was the Next Big Thing. And then it was all over.

“I was the big signing that year, and my record company tried to make me successful as quickly as possible,” she said in a phone interview from her suburban Boston home. “But nobody thought about what would happen if it didn’t work.”

Now older, wiser and happier, Trynin has drawn on her experiences to pen a moving memoir devoid of bitterness but filled with hard-nosed truths about the music industry. Leavened with wit and written with the sharp observations that characterized her best lyrics, “Everything I’m Cracked Up to Be: A Rock & Roll Fairy Tale” (Harcourt) is a heartbreaking account of her journey through what she calls “the belly of the beast.” Stitched together with the help of old journal entries and phone messages saved on her answering machine, Trynin’s memoir possesses a near cinematic quality that captures the stench of the smoky, beer-stained clubs she often played and the rollercoaster ride that was her career.

And before the fall, there was the ascent.

In 1994, Trynin self-released “Cockamamie,” a pop-tinged album that generated a tidal wave of interest among music industry execs hungry to land a promising female artist. The frenzy to sign her grew even more desperate when the suits realized they were competing against one another. Suddenly, managers, entertainment lawyers and music label presidents, who, just months earlier, had refused her calls, materialized at gigs with big smiles and bigger promises.

“Hello, Jennifer Trynin. You should go with us because we’re small or we’re big or we have other successful acts just like you or we don’t have any other acts like you,” Trynin writes of life at the height of Tryninmania. “We’re the best, best, best and I know you must be hearing this all the time, but I’m sincere, I’m genuine, I get it: your record/voice/songs/real deal/special/substance.”

Labels put her up in four-star hotels; flew her first-class, and flattered her like a prom queen. At Mercury Records, an exec handed her a bat and encouraged her to take a whack at a piñata hanging from a light fixture. When Trynin did, large gumballs emblazoned with, “Jennifer Come With Us,” fell to the ground. Geffen told her that she reminded him of Linda Ronstadt.

And then there was the Goldberg seduction. After praising “Cockamamie,” the then-chief executive of Warner Bros. Records told her that he missed the personal connection he had with Nirvana’s lead singer, the late Kurt Cobain: “I was just thinking how if you go with Warner Bros., that maybe I’d have a chance to have another relationship like I had with Kurt, you know.”

Those magical words, combined with a generous deal that netted her a nearly $1 million advance for three records, persuaded Trynin to go with Warner Bros.

Given her newfound buzz in the rock world, her overbearing-but-loving Jewish mother stopped hinting that she had wasted her life by not working at Goldman Sachs or The New York Times or by teaching at Harvard. Trynin also felt a certain amount of pride in finally getting to the big leagues.

But Trynin felt less than exhilarated. What if she lacked the energy or talent to truly make it? What if the journey to the major labels turned out to be more meaningful than the arrival?

Trynin’s misgivings would prove prescient. Warner Bros. head Goldberg left soon after her signing, leaving Trynin without her biggest and most powerful booster. Soon thereafter, she found herself on an endless tour of faceless clubs in faceless cities, subsisting on booze, cigarettes, junk food and an ill-fated affair with her hipper-than-thou bassist. At every stop, a long-lost boyfriend or friend or friend of a friend wanted to reminisce about the good old days, wanted a piece of her.

As a Jewish woman trained to speak her mind, Trynin alienated some Warner Bros. execs by questioning their marketing and advertising strategies, and by her refusal to play nice-nice with them or anyone. The wear and tear of her nomadic existence on the road to nowhere made her even crankier. When a persistent fan encroached on her space, she whipped out a pen and surprised him by signing his nose. (She later learned that her unwitting victim was a DJ.) During a visit with a clueless disc jockey who vanished after spinning her quasi hit, “Better Than Nothing,” Trynin rebelled against the inanity of it all by interviewing herself, playing the dual roles of DJ and Jen Trynin.

“So Jen, about how long do you think we’re supposed to be doing this solo interview thing?”

“Not very often,” I said, craning my head around hoping that someone, somewhere in the station, might actually be listening to the broadcast and come help me out. “In fact, it’s getting a little spooky in here.”

“Is it?” I said. “How so?”

“Well,” I said, “I’m feeling a little like I’m in the end of that movie “Westworld,” like this station is run by machines who just look like human beings and they’re all short-circuiting somewhere out in the back, and any minute now Yul Brynner is going to come crashing through that plate-glass window and kill me.”

Trynin’s shenanigans didn’t endear her to her record company. None of that would have mattered, though, if “Cockamamie” had gone platinum or at least gold. But the album stalled, despite Warner’s marketing muscle, a slew of gushing reviews and the imprimatur of taste-maker Rolling Stone, which, touted “Cockamamie” as Hot Debut in its Hot Summer issue. Ticket sales for her concerts fell off, and a planned European tour never materialized. Just a year after her much ballyhooed arrival, the Wall Street Journal used her as an example of new overpaid, over-hyped artists who failed to deliver.

After a much-needed break and reassessment of priorities, Trynin laid off the booze and cigarettes and recorded a second album. “Gun Shy, Trigger Happy,” like her first effort, garnered stellar reviews, with Entertainment Weekly picking it as the No. 2 Record of the Year, behind U2’s “Pop.” Unlike the first time around, Trynin dropped her attitude and made nice. But 1997 wasn’t 1994; her time had passed. When Warner Bros. declined to release to radio the single, “Writing Notes,” a personal favorite, Trynin finally realized her bosses had moved on to the Next Big Thing. Her records, like her career, would soon languish in the bargain bin.

So dispirited, burned out and disillusioned did she become that she accepted a buyout to not record her contractually guaranteed third album. Two years would pass before she picked up a guitar again.

What went wrong? Well, superstar Alanis Morissette burst onto the scene around the same time as Trynin. Signed to a Warner Bros. subsidiary label, her success diverted away attention and sales. Trynin also said the company’s marketing approach veered from selling her as a sensitive singer-songwriter to a tough-as-nails rocker chick, sending consumers a confusing and muddled message.

But she also looks inward for an explanation.

“To be a rock star, you just really have to believe you’re the [stuff], even if late at night you have doubts,” she said. “You need super confidence to the point of narcissism. Although I’m incredibly self-involved, I don’t cross that line. If you don’t, you’re just an artist.”

Trynin has since reclaimed her life. She took courses at Harvard Extension, got married, penned her memoir, which, she said, allowed her to “neutralize the past.” She also joined a local band, singing back-up vocals and playing rhythm guitar. Music became fun again.

Three years ago, Trynin gave birth to a baby girl, prompting her to re-examine her Jewish roots. Although married to a non-practicing Catholic, Trynin is considering raising her daughter Jewish. Unlike other faiths, Judaism is “not fake and false. There are no silly bunnies,” she said, adding that the religion’s bedrock values, including its emphasis on questioning authority, also appeal to her.

Trynin said she has few regrets. She would even make the same choices, because they led her to her current contented place. Still, Trynin misses imagining a future rich with rock-‘n’-roll fantasies.

“The loudest silence of all is the absence of my old daydream, the one where I used to picture myself in the future, sauntering through the streets of some city, freewheeling, beautiful, unafraid,” she writes. “What I miss most is no longer having the dreamy vision of myself floating somewhere on the horizon. Because the truth is, once my future finally arrived, I was still just me – a little nervous, kind of plain, always preparing for the worst.”

 

Israeli Superstars Rock the Diaspora


Lo Ozev At Hair Avur Af Echad Anachnu Shnayim Tamid, Beneynu

(“I won’t leave the city/not for anyone/we are two, always/between us, one God.”)

— Shlomo Artzi and Shalom Chanoch, “Live at Caesaria”

Don’t believe everything you hear. Two of Israel’s greatest rockers — Shlomo Artzi and Shalom Chanoch — are leaving Israel, albeit briefly, pairing up for a joint three-concert tour to promote their new album, “Live at Caesaria,” in New York, Miami, and Los Angeles, homes to Israel’s largest expat communities.

Although Israeli stars have toured America for years — consider Idan Reichl’s recent popularity at the Kodak Theatre — this tour will be the Israeli equivalent of say, Billy Joel and Elton John touring together. These two Israeli mega-singer/songwriters have produced hundreds of pop songs over more than four decades, and they continue to sell out concerts despite their advancing ages — both are nearing 60.

But unlike Joel and John, who are increasingly relegated to “soft rock” and appeal primarily to their original Gen-X and Baby Boomer fans, the Israeli rockers still enthrall their original fans from the 1960s and 1970s, even as they have captured the hearts of later generations. (This is particularly true of the blue-eyed, dimpled Artzi, who still draws a bevy of screaming, belly-shirted young things rushing the stage at his concerts.)

Part of the pair’s cross-generational appeal is, of course, due to the fact that Israel is a small country, without much room for niche markets: Rock is rock. (Not like America, with its hundreds of Grammy categories). But it’s also because the two men, in a way, are Israeli rock. No, they are Israel: Chanoch was born in 1946, and Artzi was born in 1948.

Chanoch jumped to fame when he teamed up with that other great Israeli star, Arik Einstein, in 1967. In the 1970s Chanoch became a star in his own right, but for the next years continued to write songs performed by other Israeli artists.

Artzi got his start in the army band and in 1975 was chosen to represent Israel at Eurovision. He lost the competition, and soon after recorded “He Lost His Way,” which was meant as a last hurrah, but instead reignited his career.

Each of the artists’ songs have flooded the radio waves for nearly five decades, a soundtrack, of sorts, to Israel’s many wars, casualties, celebrations, assassinations, and shifting moods — from hopeful to cynical and hopeful again.

“There has not ever been another man/like that man,” Artzi sang on the tribute album made following the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, a song that became a mantra for the mourning peace camp.

In 1985 Chanoch came out with his humorous “Mashiach Lo Bah” — which became a pop sensation and later entered the lexicon, with its typically Israeli cynical chorus: “The Messiah isn’t coming — and he isn’t phoning, either.”

Neither artist’s lyrics seem particularly religious: (Consider Artzi’s song, “Here and There”: “Here and there the Messiah’s plane flits about/when will it land near us on the shore? She says: He who believes in lies will be disappointed.”) But their ironic faith reflects the tone of much Israeli culture. Many of their songs are about love, about friendship, about wars, and always with a little politics thrown in.

Last summer, Artzi and Chanoch performed together in the amphitheater in Caesaria, in Northern Israel. There, Chanoch played one of Artzi’s most popular songs. “Suddenly when you didn’t come/I felt like this.” Artzi later said it was best performance ever of the song. In turn, Artzi sang one of Chanoch’s songs, and a joint performance was born. After 42 performances in Israel, the duo comes to America (New York’s Beacon Theater on March 5; Miami on March 8; and Los Angeles’ Kodak Theatre on March 11).

One problem with tribute albums, where artists sing another artist’s song, is that a fan has to be able to let go of the original version to appreciate strangers singing the familiar song. (Does one really want to hear Kate Bush singing “Rocket Man,” on the Elton John tribute album “Two Rooms”?)

It can be disconcerting to hear the two singing each other’s top hits on the album.

And yet, after five decades on the Israeli scene, their songs have become such a fabric of Israeli society, their fans overlapping, their voices sounding increasingly similar as age takes its toll (let’s not forget the smoking) that it seems somehow only fitting for Israel’s two great icons to merge their playlists.

And besides, in concert, they’re singing all the songs together.

Like this one, written by Chanoch, performed first by Einstein.

Kama Tov Shebata Habayta/Kama Tov Li’rot Otcha Shuv …

“How good it is that you’ve come home/How good it is to see you….”

The March 11 concert at the Kodak Theatre starts at 8:30 p.m. $47-$147. 6801 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. For tickets, call (213) 480-3232.

 

Spectator – Movie for ‘Rent’


More people can afford “Rent” this month, thanks to Revolution Studios. The production company brings a film version of the Jonathan Larson rock opera to movie theaters this week, directed by Chris Columbus and starring most of the original Broadway cast.

Set against the backdrop of New York’s East Village in the late 1980s, and based on Puccini’s opera, “La Boheme,” “Rent” tells the story of bohemian artist friends struggling with poverty, heartbreak, drug addiction and AIDS.

Perhaps because of its gritty, real themes and characters, the show has been credited with generating interest among younger generations in musical theater. “Rent” is currently the eighth longest-running show in Broadway history, with a fan base affectionately called “Rentheads.”

Notably absent from the film creation is show creator Larson, who died of an aortic aneurysm on the eve of the play’s first preview. Larson’s sister, Julie, is the film’s co-producer, which should ease fans’ minds about the filmmakers’ desire to do justice to a show that has won both Pulitzer and Tony awards.

Indeed, the sound and feel of Broadway’s “Rent” are intact, even while the music assumes a slightly edgier rock core, and some dialogue is spoken rather than sung.

Jewish Rentheads can also rest easy, as the little nods and throwaway lines Larson wrote for Jewish character Mark Cohen are still there, too. Mark still mentions his bar mitzvah, and talks about learning to tango with Nanette Himmelfarb, the rabbi’s daughter at the Scarsdale Jewish Community Center.

The filmmakers also kept the part where Mark’s mom calls him on Christmas to wish him a happy holiday. That may sound strange, but actor Anthony Rapp, who reprises the role from Broadway, explained that Mark’s character was drawn from Larson’s own experience.

“I know that Jonathan did celebrate Christmas in their house, but I think they also had a menorah,” Rapp said.

This loyalty to Larson’s vision is a hallmark of the film.

“We’re here to serve Jonathan and the play,” said Tracie Thoms, who plays Joanne in the film. “And we’re here to serve all the fans who were touched and moved and saved by the play.”

“Rent” opens in theaters Nov. 23.

 

Shticking It to the Classics


My 5-year-old thinks “My Yiddishe Mama,” the soulful ballad immortalized by Sophie Tucker in 1928, is a rock anthem. The version he learned didn’t come from a dusty old record, but from a CD released in 2004 by the group, Yiddishe Cup, called “Meshugeneh Mambo.”

This is not your grandmother’s Jewish music. Like other recent Jewish parody CDs, “Meshugeneh Mambo” carries on the tradition of Jewish humor popularized by such forbearers as Mickey Katz and Allan Sherman. Although the lounge acts of the Catskills have all but vanished, a few intrepid souls are bringing a modern brand of Borscht Belt humor to a whole new generation.

Yiddishe Cup’s album combines soulful klezmer ballads, doo-wop and, of course, Latin flair. The title track sets the tone, promising “No frailech [joyful] hora can compare/ to shaking your Yiddishe dierriere/ to the lovely Mesugheneh Mambo.”

The group’s rendition of “My Yiddishe Mama” throws in homage to James Bond’s “Goldfinger” and the theme song to “The Patty Duke Show.” Listen closely and you will hear spoofs of “Star Trek,” “The Wizard of Oz” and “The Outer Limits” scattered about in the traditional melodies and remakes of comedy routines created in the 1950s.

Newer artists like Yiddishe Cup have learned from the old comedic masters that classic Jewish humor relies on cleverness rather than anger. The best comics “tell a story that is visual and makes you think,” said Simon Rutberg of Hatikvah International on Fairfax Avenue. “Using the word ‘shmuck’ doesn’t make it Jewish.”

Instead, skilled artists allow listeners to recognize themselves and the universal truths behind the tales and tunes.

One artist who stresses ruach (spirit) over raunch is Michael Lange. The director, whose credits include “Life Goes On” and “The X-Files,” has released several titles under his Silly Music label. In November, Lange will release “A Kosher Christmas,” a collection of popular yuletide melodies coupled with decidedly Jewish-themed lyrics. It’s a strange experience indeed to hear the traditional orchestrations — think bells, trumpets and choral harmonies — as singers croon about litigation, food, guilt and family (categories that Lange refers to as “the four cornerstones of the Jewish experience.”)

In “Such a Loyal Son Am I,” a take-off on “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” a mother and son alternate kvetching about one another: (Him:) Not so easy with this mother/Still a loyal son am I. (Her:) Not a doctor like his brother/Such a shanda [shame] I should cry. “Greensleeves” is re-imagined as “Greenstein,” an ode to the singer’s childhood crush, Tiffany Greenstein.

And, of course, food plays a significant role, as in “Harvey Weisenberg” (to the tune of “Good King Wenceslas”): “[which] Soup would he pick, wondered he:/Lentil, borscht or chicken/As he ate he thought with glee:/This is finger lickin’….

Lange previously created two Broadway musical parodies. “Goys and Dolls,” released in 2002, uses the original melodies of “Guys and Dolls” to tell the story of a young man who begins dating a non-Jewish woman, while “Say Oy Vey” re-imagines “Cabaret” as the story of two seniors who find romance at synagogue bridge night.

Musicals are also the targets of spoofs created by the group Shlock Rock, whose founder, Lenny Solomon, hails from a long line of cantors. Their 2003 release, “Almost on Broadway,” transforms “Maria” from “West Side Story” to “Tekia”: “Tekia! I’ve just heard the sound called Tekia!”

Shlock Rock boasts 23 albums to its credit, ranging from original compositions to children’s music to parody. The group’s nine other parody CD’s display an impressive range of musical styles, Judaic knowledge and humor. In one, for example, Paul Simon’s “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover” becomes “49 Days to Count the Omer,” while in another, “Livin’ La Vida Loca” by Ricky Martin morphs into “Learning to Do the Hora.” And you’ve got to wonder what kind of mind would think of transforming the Beatles’ “Lady Madonna” into “Rabbi Akiva”: “Rabbi Akiva had straw for a bed/Love thy neighbor like thyself is what he said.”

While they’re amusing to listen to, be forewarned: The lyrics stick with you. So when the time comes for my son to join his kindergarten classmates for the annual holiday assembly in December, he’ll be easy to pick out. He’ll be the one singing “Goys Rule the World.”

 

Hit Biblical Jackpot at Timna’s Mines


When you ascend the rose red pillars towering over the Arava desert, you hardly expect to look down upon the biblical Mishkan. But that’s exactly what you’ll find replicated at Israel’s picturesque Timna Park just outside Eilat.

Stretching across the desert near the Jordanian border and about 18 miles north of the Gulf of Eilat, Timna once played host to ancient Egyptians, Midianites and Amalekites. Today it welcomes visitors seeking to explore this unique nature reserve.

Timna Park is home to fascinating geological and archaeological finds such as the “mushroom” rock, stone arches and “King Solomon’s Pillars.” It also boasts the world’s oldest copper mines, ruins of work camps, workshops for copper smelting, mining shafts, smelting furnaces and even an Egyptian miners’ temple. In modern times, the now-defunct Israeli Timna Mining Co. operated there.

At the park’s main entrance, you can watch an audio-visual presentation in English. From there it’s a short drive toward the striking sandstone pillars, which are named after King Solomon — although no evidence confirms he ever ran the copper mines here. A Christian group in Germany developed the life-size model of the Mishkan that now stands at the base of the pillars and donated it to the park. Admission to the tent requires a nominal fee in addition to your park admission). If you’re interested in gaining a sense of the dimensions of the ancient tabernacle, it’s well worth it, though you’ll likely find it a bit kitschy.

Following biblical prescripts in Exodus, Chapters 25-30, a sacrificial altar is located in the foreground, complete with a ramp and a decorative minaret. A few feet away is a massive copper-colored washstand where the Kohanim, or high priests, washed before preparing offerings.

The nearby ohel moed, or tent of meeting, also follows biblical designs. Gold-painted cherubim decorate a series of panels that are woven from sky blue, dark red and crimson threads.

Unlike the original, this modern version of the Mishkan boasts a small generator to provide climate control for two plastic mannequins. One is dressed as a Kohen in his priestly attire and the other as his Levite assistant. There are also gold-painted models of the menorah, incense altar, bread and various utensils as described in the Torah. A cloth partition separates the main chamber from the smaller Holy of Holies, where a gold-painted model of the ark is decorated with two cherubim facing each other.

We were led through the exhibit by a Christian volunteer from the Southern United States, which made our experience a bit surreal.

Later we climbed the stairs cut into the massive pillars and took in the spectacular view of the tabernacle, the surrounding mountains and the huge desert plain. As we followed an easy footpath, we noticed Egyptian carvings in the flat walled surface of the mountain. And as we continued down another staircase, we arrived at the Miners Sanctuary of Hathor, the Egyptian goddess of mining. Founded during the reign of Pharaoh Seti I (1318-1304 B.C.E.), this pagan temple served members of Egyptian mining expeditions and their local co-workers.

From there we drove a small distance to the “mushroom” rock. A combination of erosive forces of water and wind created this unusual pillar with a huge boulder resting atop it. The surrounding area is filled with ruins of copper mines, as well as small kernels of naturally occurring minerals. Sifting through the dirt, it’s easy to find real pieces of copper that have become oxidized with a pretty green patina.

Archaeologists who excavated Timna from 1959 to 1990 discovered that mining continued there from the late Neolithic period through the Middle Ages. Its heyday occurred during the reign of the pharaohs of the 14th-12th centuries B.C.E.

As the Egyptians lost control of the region in the middle of the 12th century B.C.E., they abandoned the Timna mines and the Hathor temple. Midianites remained there briefly, removing Egyptian imagery from the sanctuary in order to make it their own. Archaeologists discovered beautifully decorated Midianite pottery, metal jewelry and a copper snake with a gilded head reminiscent of the serpent described in Numbers 21:9.

Scholars believe the evidence of Timna’s sophisticated Midianite culture lends credence to the biblical narrative of the meeting of Moses and his father-in-law, Jethro, a high priest of Midian as mentioned in Exodus 18.

These are just a few of Timna’s highlights. Swimmers will want to visit the lovely man-made lake. The visitors’ center attracts guests of all ages.

And hikers will enjoy the abundant trails, camping privileges and expansive tranquility.

Timna Park is usually open daily from 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. in summer and until 5 p.m. in winter. Even in spring, temperatures can be quite extreme, so remember to time your visit to avoid the blistering midday sun.

You’ll appreciate having a car to explore this massive park, although it’s not necessary for travelers in strong physical condition.

Guided tours are available. Camping is permitted by prior arrangement only. When you enter the park, you can rent a personal audio guide, fill souvenir bottles with colored sand and watch an audio-visual demonstration of ancient copper production.

For more information and to reserve a campsite visit timna-park.co.il. The writer’s trip was sponsored by Israel’s Ministry of Tourism.

 

Spectator – Rock ‘n’ Roll of Ages


“Litigation is one of the sincerest forms of flattery,” said David Segal, co-founder of Jewsrock.org. Shortly before the Web site — which originally used the phrase, the Jewish rock and roll hall of fame — was to go online earlier this year, Segal and partner Jeffrey Goldberg were slapped with a trademark infringement suit, by that other Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame, the one in Cleveland.

After much back and forth, a compromise was made late last month: the Jewish hall of fame turned into the Challah Fame, and the site’s address changed to the non-trademarked Jewsrock, which just opened for business. The sleekly designed site is devoted to Jews who rock, including Alecia Moore (Pink), Lou Rabinowitz (now known as Reed), not to mention more celebrated boychicks such as Neil Sedaka. There are essays about rock’s luminaries and their Jewish connections, such as an excellent meditation by Goldberg on Bob Dylan, Reed and Jewish rage. The two even hired a genealogist to try and find Semitic branches in the family of their idol, Bruce Springsteen (no luck there).

It all began in 2001, as Segal, then the Washington Post’s pop music critic, was looking for an angle that would connect popular music to the Anthrax scare in the news. Such an angle soon presented itself in an interview with Anthrax’s front man, Scott Ian; after the story ran, Segal got a call from his longtime friend, Goldberg, then The New Yorker’s Middle East correspondent, who made a guess about the rocker’s ethnicity.

The wittiness, the irony, the hypochondria — “I bet that guy is Jewish,” he said.

The two did some snooping, and discovered that Ian, né Scott Rosenberg, was very much a Jew. This prompted an idea: Why not a Web site hailing all the secretly Semitic legends of music? As they raised funds — primarily from the Natan philanthropy network — they stressed that they viewed their site as a cool conduit designed to make disinterested Jews interested again.

“We wanted to present a view of Judaism that’s not too nerdy, not too glib, not too academic,” Segal said.

And the lawsuit helped put their enterprise on the map.

“One moment we didn’t exist, and then … there were stories in 30 newspapers about us,” Segal said.

Article reprinted courtesy The New York Jewish Week.

 

Saved His Soul With Rock ‘n’ Roll


 

Rock ‘n’ roll saved Gary Stewart.

It’s not that he ever felt desperate enough to end his life, but music played a major role in keeping him out of the abyss. The Beach Boys’ masterwork “Pet Sounds” made him realize that others shared his feelings of loneliness, alienation and despondency. Listening to the Clash rail against injustice in short, angry bursts of energy helped him vent his rage. The cerebral musings of Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello and the Talking Heads taught him that things aren’t always as they seem, and that truth, beauty and art often reveal themselves in mysterious ways.

For more than 35 years, Stewart has lived as a disciple of rock ‘n’ roll — with a dollop of soul, funk and country thrown in for good measure. Ever since he built a radio in junior high electric shop and tuned in to the late, great 93 KHJ, Stewart has passionately spread the word — literally.

The new chief music officer for Apple Computer and former senior vice president of A&R at Rhino Records, Stewart has left an indelible mark on pop culture in the past quarter century, even if he is largely unknown outside the industry. His work has rescued talented artists from obscurity, taken listeners on a wild musical journey from raucous ’50s rock to sultry ’70s soul and beyond, and rehabilitated the reputations of once dismissed artists.

“I would love to be remembered as someone who turned people on to great music, art, culture or ideas that they otherwise wouldn’t know about,” he said.

At Apple, Stewart oversees the newly revamped Essentials Section that catalogues artists’ best songs. Until recently, Stewart worked at Rhino. There, he and other music maniacs transformed the company from a niche player that put out novelty records to one that popularized box sets, anthologies and greatest-hits packages with high-quality art work, extensive liner notes, rare photos and an obsessive attention to detail.

Seated in his cozy Santa Monica home, a black-clad Stewart looked and acted the part of the music junkie he is. With the enthusiasm of a teenager, the 48-year-old musicologist gushed when discussing his favorite albums. Stacks of Rolling Stone, Uncut, Magnet and other music magazines weighed down a coffee table. An estimated 5,000 CDs fill his record room, which, the single Stewart half-joked, have impressed more than a few women visitors “who were equally unimpressed during my high school and college days.”

Stewart analyzes, dissects and consumes music with the zeal of a Torah scholar, always striving for deeper meaning and understanding. His affability notwithstanding, he trusts his instincts and won’t compromise his beliefs for the sake of consensus. Too much is at stake. That meant no Bangles or Squeeze on a recent ’80s box set, no matter how much he loved the bands or how hard his Rhino colleagues lobbied him. The reason: They weren’t alternative enough.

“I’m a ‘no thank you’ kind of bully,” Stewart admitted. “In the end, I’ll say this is how it’s going to be, which I think is a necessary ingredient for good art.”

A self-described workaholic, he has produced or co-produced 400 CDs ranging from the ’60s pop group The Turtles to country rocker Gram Parsons to the recent deluxe reissues of his favorite artist, Costello.

In recent years, Stewart has taken listeners on a veritable journey through the music of the second half of the 20th century. His 10 Rhino box sets include the bestseller “Nuggets: Original Artyfacts From the First Psychedelic Era, 1965-1968,” “No Thanks! The ’70s Punk Rebellion” and 2004’s “Left of the Dial: Dispatches from the ’80s Underground.” A third volume of “Nuggets” is slated for a summer release, and a compilation of overlooked girl groups from the ’60s — Stewart’s final Rhino release — will appear later this year.

“He has an amazing knowledge that blows my mind,” said Richard Foos, Rhino’s cofounder and current chief executive of Shout! Factory, which reissues DVDs and CDs. “From The Beatles on, he knows, in incredible detail, music from every year, whether popular or unpopular, underground, alternative, whatever.”

Stewart’s work has helped rescue greatest hits and anthology collections from dusty car wash bargain bins and elevate them to respectability on the shelves on the nation’s biggest retailers, said Bill Inglot, a producer who digitally remasters CDs for Rhino and other Warner Music Group labels. Whenever a 23-year-old buys a Ray Charles or Doobie Brothers record, Stewart and his colleagues at Rhino deserve an assist for “helping to spearhead an appreciation for great old music and bringing it to new generations of young people,” said Inglot, who has collaborated with Stewart on hundreds of projects.

Stewart, a cultural Jew who attended Sunday school in his youth, takes pride in his heritage and its emphasis on fairness, justice and improving the world. In that tradition, he has contributed both time and money to causes close to his heart. For years, Stewart has served on the board of the progressive Liberty Hill Foundation, which helps combat poverty and injustice in Los Angeles. At Rhino — a company founded by Jews so committed to tikkun olam, or healing the world, that employees had time off for community service — Stewart headed a committee that encouraged volunteerism and philanthropy.

His religious background might have shaped his philanthropic impulses, Stewart said, but he sees little connection between it and chosen profession. Indeed, references to The Sex Pistols, The Sonics or The Slits never appear in Jewish liturgy.

On a subconscious level, though, Judaism seems to have influenced him. As in his philanthropic endeavors, Stewart passionately roots for the underdog. It offends his sense of fairness and justice that some great acts have failed to receive their due. As much as Stewart enjoys Elvis Presley or The Rolling Stones, nothing gives him greater satisfaction than turning people on to cool undiscovered music.

That’s why Stewart gives friends free CDs of beloved, under-the-radar artists like the Pernice Brothers. Or why he toiled so hard on the recently released career retrospective of Roky Erickson, a veteran singer who made a ripple in the ’60s with psychedelic rockers The Thirteenth Floor Elevators before a drug bust landed him in Texas mental institution.

“He has rescued countless artists and their music from the dustbin of history and brought them back to public consciousness,” said Steve Greenberg, a long-time friend and president of Columbia Records in New York.

Stewart grew up in middle-class Mar Vista, a ’70s version of an “Ozzie and Harriet” neighborhood with manicured lawns and well-tended houses. His father worked as an electrical engineer and his mother taught arts and crafts. In many ways, his was a typical childhood. Stewart was neither the most popular nor least popular kid in school and enjoyed hanging out with friends.

What separated him was his love of music.

At 13, he bought his first album, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Cosmo’s Factory.” The band’s dirty, swampy sound spoke to him. Hooked, the young Stewart began making weekly pilgrimages to the Do-Re-Mi record store. He rarely left without an armful of records. In time, Stewart had assembled one of the best music collection’s at Venice High School.

His knowledge of rock would help him land a job at the venerable Rhino Records shop on Westwood Boulevard and forever change his life.

The year was 1977. Stewart, then a college student at Cal State Northridge, found himself at the West Coast’s epicenter of the burgeoning punk/new wave movement. Hired as a Rhino sales clerk and later promoted to store manager, he remembers Devo dropping off the group’s first single and Alice Cooper and Bryan Ferry sightings. When New York’s Ramones swung by during tours, an awed Stewart and his colleagues showered members with free discs. (Twenty years later, Stewart would co produce the group’s 2000 two-disc greatest hits, “Hey! Ho! Let’s Go! The Ramones Anthology,” a lauded collection that some say played a role in the band’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.)

“I caught something that was the equivalent of the birth of rock and roll, the British Invasion, the Summer of Love or any great movement,” Stewart said of his time at the store in the late ’70s. “I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.

Stewart’s encyclopedic knowledge didn’t go unnoticed. After Rhino launched a record label, his bosses named him head of sales and later a vice president of A&R. To keep his edge, Stewart listened incessantly to music and prowled local clubs scouting talent.

His obsessiveness made him a highly valued employee but also an occasional nuisance, Rhino cofounder Foos quiped. Sometimes, Stewart would insist on delaying a set until Rhino could license just the right tune. He often prevailed. Good thing, too.

“He has impeccable taste,” said Shawn Amos, a former Rhino director of A&R and a current Shout! Factory vice president. “In many ways, he was the heart and soul of Rhino.”

But Stewart’s heart and soul occasionally trumped his common sense.

In the late 80s, he signed a garage rock band to the Rhino label at the height of synth-pop revolution. Though critically lauded, the group never clicked with the record-buying public. Stewart also managed a band called The Last, although he had no prior managerial experience. Despite Stewart’s huge financial, emotional and time investment, his efforts failed to secure the band a major-label record deal; The Last broke up.

“I remember them very well. My bank account remembers them very vividly,” Stewart said, with a laugh. “But it was a good clean-out. I was part of getting across good music.”

His fidelity to music has taken more than a toll on his net worth. Without going into much detail, Stewart said he has made many sacrifices for his career. He has never married.

Still, Stewart said his time at Rhino made it all worth it, even if his 27-year tenure just ended.

Although he declined to say anything negative about his former employer, several former company executives said life at Rhino slowly changed after media titan Time Warner fully acquired it in 1998. They said that although still a wonderful place, especially compared to other record companies, Rhino grew more corporate and bureaucratic.

When the company moved from its Westside office to Burbank in 1999, Stewart didn’t make the trek over the hill to the Valley. Instead, he became a consultant, a position he held until last year.

These days, Stewart devotes all his energy to Apple and iTunes. Like the teenager who used to make a weekly treks to Do-Re-Mi, the song remains the same for him.

“Yeah, it’s a little weird being so much older than most folks at concerts or record stores, but I’m not the only person who still loves rock and roll and culture who’s over 40,” he said. “If I can’t be excited about religion, then I shouldn’t have the job I have.”

 

7 Days In Arts


Saturday

Aaron Samson wrote and stars in “Not Dead Yet,” a piece inspired by his grandfather’s memoirs of his Russian past: working for Leon Trotsky, the consequent threat of execution by Russia’s communist regime and his quick escape to the United States where he began a new life. The one-man show follows the journey of a grandson, Jacob Samson, back to Russia to find his roots and the missing pieces of the story his grandfather Leo wrote down. It plays today at the Elephant Lab.Runs Saturdays, through Sept. 18. 8 p.m. $10. 1078 Lillian Way, Los Angeles. (323) 878-2377.

Sunday

Might wanna throw some buttered popcorn into the picnic basket tonight for the Hollywood Bowl’s movie night program, “The Big Picture.” John Mauceri conducts the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra in selections from MGM/UA movie scores, as scenes from the films are projected on the Bowl’s giant screen. The James Bond series, “Rocky,” “The Pink Panther” and “West Side Story” are some of the featured films.7:30 p.m. $3-$88. 2301 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood. (213) 480-3232 (for tickets).

Monday

Horn in on High Holiday fun with shofar-making activities this week. The Hebrew Discovery Center holds a Shofar Factory Party on Sunday for kids ages 5 and up, while Calabasas Shul holds a shofar-making workshop at the local Albertsons today.HDC: Sept. 5, Noon. $7 (per child, include slice of pizza and refreshments). (818) 348-4432. Calabasas Shul: Sept. 6, 5-6:30 p.m. $5 (per shofar). (818) 591-7485.

Tuesday

The Mexican Jewish community isn’t one that gets much ofa spotlight, but for filmmaker Guita Shyfter, it made sense to focus on her ownroots and community. “Like a Bride” (“Novia Que Te Vea”) is the result. Thefilm’s uncommon subject matter is made more unique by its treatment: the storyof two women friends coming of age in 1960s Mexico City is told primarilythrough dialogue in Ladino and Spanish, with some Hebrew and Yiddish, as well.It is newly released on DVD. $17.96. www.amazon.com

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Wednesday

Klezmer goes upbeat in the latest CD by Yiddishe Cup,”Meshugeneh Mambo.” Six parody tracks pay tribute to klezmer comedian MickeyKatz, with the rest offering up original or reworked “neo-Borscht Belt klezmercomedy” tunes, and the titles say it all: “K’nock Around the Clock,” “I Am A Manof Constant Blessings” and “Second Avenue Square Dance.” $15. www.yiddishecup.com .

Thursday

Sports nuts despair not. With the close of this summer’s Olympic Games also comes the opening of “Game Face: What Does a Female Athlete Look Like?” at USC Fisher Gallery. The exhibition features photographs of women from the 1890s to today participating in sports from hunting to ping-pong to soccer. Creator Jane Gottesman has compiled images from myriad sources, including the Associated Press and various renown photographers including Ansel Adams, Robert Mapplethorpe, April Saul and Annie Leibowitz.Runs through Oct. 30. Noon-5 p.m. (Tues.-Sat.). Harris Hall, 823 Exposition Blvd., Los Angeles. (213) 740-4561.

Friday

The Nuart goes behind the music tonight, presenting the L.A. premiere of “End of the Century,” a documentary about the seminal punk rock band, The Ramones. From their interpersonal disputes to their struggles for fame, the doc takes a hard look at the hard-living band that arguably failed to achieve the recognition they deserved until long after they’d split.11272 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 281-8223.

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