September 18, 2019

Men who rock Israel’s history appear locally

Can the history of a nation be told through its music? If that nation has only been around for about 60 years, it’s conceivable.

This month it’s possible to follow Israel’s history — or at least the zeitgeist of its people — in Los Angeles through three very different sounds of rock, via artists whose music represent very different Israeli eras.

There’s the folksy, jaunty old-time tunes of Danny Sanderson, Gidi Gov and friends singing their “best of” from the 1970s and ’80s on March 11 at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza.

From the ’80s and ’90s, there’s troubadour and man of hope David Broza, flamenco-and salsa-influenced guitarist, performing with Badi Assad March 17 at UCLA’s Royce Hall.

And finally, the boy/man who represents in song the post-Rabin “candlestick generation” — teenagers who stood vigil for months after Rabin’s assassination — Israel’s androgynous bad boy and first celebrity draft dodger, the soulful Aviv Geffen, alone on March 8 at Laemmle’s Music Hall Theatre and with his indie band Blackfield on March 10 at the Knitting Factory in Hollywood.

“I remember you/I remember you from the supermarket … I remember you from third grade” doesn’t exactly sound like a national anthem, but the upbeat, humorous sounds of Kaveret — a top 1970s band that Sanderson and Gov formed in the Israeli army — and later Gazoz, which encapsulated a more innocent time for Israel. From the Beach Boys-like “Galshan” (“Just me and my surfboard”) to “Yoya,” a dance favorite at American religious celebrations (“I got a harsh sentence, condemned to death … hoping at least to change chairs because they say, ‘change of place brings you luck'”), Kaveret’s playful songs spoke of the small-town feel of Israel.

“It’s pure nostalgia,” said Sanderson of the upcoming three-week U.S tour. “I think the audience gives meaning where it wants — it can be very personal,” he added. “I see people stand when we’re playing songs, with tears in their eyes and it can be for different reasons.”

Sanderson, one of Israel’s top songwriters, who has composed music for many of the country’s musicians, doesn’t agree that the situation in Israel has changed since then. “Israel has always had problems. These are the same problems that haven’t been solved,” he said.
But these are not problems he or his bands of the past sang about.

Although Sanderson and Co. are all active in politics and speak out, their music isn’t political. They sing mostly about love. And friendship.

“I never heard the Eagles sing about politics,” he said.

Perhaps that’s what differentiates these musicians from some of the others who followed them (and even those who were of the same era).

David Broza, for example, who sings many different styles of folk-urban rock, plays in English, Spanish and Hebrew, with a variety of influences and themes, is best known for (and can’t escape) his ever-evolving anthem, “Yihiyeh Tov” (“Things Will Be Better”):
“Children put on wings and fly away to the army/and after two years they return without an answer/people live under stress looking for a reason to breathe/and between hatred and murder/they talk about peace.”

But Broza, a peace activist and the son of the founder of Neve Shalom, the only village where Arabs and Jews live together, is still hopeful:

“We will yet learn to live together, between the groves of olive trees/children live without fear, without borders, without bomb-shelters/on graves grass will grow, for peace and love, one hundred years of war/but we have not lost hope.”

The same cannot be said of the most famous singer of the next generation, nihilist and outspoken peace activist, Aviv Geffen. Although his song “The Hope” expresses similar sentiment (“We’ll bury the guns and not the children/so let’s try until things will be good “), his hopes, and that of the young generation of hopeful peaceniks, turned sour when Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was murdered at a peace rally in 1995. That night Geffen performed what was to become the anthem for Rabin, “Forever My Brother (Cry For You).”

Geffen hit the Israeli scene in 1990 and became known for Goth-like makeup, a Mick Jagger-like snarl and an often-discordant alternarock. He sang about love, betrayal, violence, peace, the army — which he publicly refused to enter — and became one of Israel’s youngest and most outspoken critics, or peace-pusher, depending on one’s perspective.

Although Geffen often sings about love, these are no jaunty love songs, but the searing pain of a rebel with a cause. His worldview tends toward meaninglessness (“There are no angels in heaven/just hell that makes you dream that there are angels in paradise/but there is no paradise and no heaven”) and melancholy (“We’re here and then we’re gone, Memento Mori/we are all alone/We’re all dying,” he sings in “Memento Mori,” the Latin phrase for “Remember that you will die”).

Geffen donated his time to Peace Now to sing an acoustic concert here.

“It’s hard to see the future, but I think that we, the artists, must come and stand strong, to play to show it’s really important. I hope our voice can be heard strong enough,” he said.

But Geffen is primarily touring America as part of his band Blackfield, an English band he formed with Steven Wilson of the band Porcupine Tree in 2000, in honor of their second eponymous album, “Blackfield II,” released this month. Although the band is named for the black fields remaining after war, Blackfield’s sound is more mellow — and melodious — than Geffen on his own. Blackfield has been likened to Pink Floyd — lush, liquid, lulling.

But Geffen’s wrist-slitting sentiment is often apparent in songs like “Pain” or “The Hole in Me” (self-explanatory). The band has received critical acclaim and is building a fan base — Geffen thinks they can become “bigger than Coldplay,” he brags. But without the context of Israeli politics and his solo cacophonous wail, it’s just music, not the voice of a generation.

But Geffen, who left Israel because he wanted to “sell more than 2 million copies” per album, believes that he can influence the world outside Israel.