Category Archives: Punk

File Under: Overthinking music that I grew up with

A close friend of my sent me a message last week about a new album by Bob Mould, easily my favorite non-Jewish recording artist since 1984, along with a link to the album and track samples. I admit the last album I bought of this musician was back in 1996 and I’ll also admit that just last week I listened to his orignal band’s seminal work “Zen Arcade” while driving in the snow (hardcord punk seems to really go well with bad weather). I don’t often listen to his music these days, as it turns out, mostly by choice. Echos of Piamenta, Karduner, YBC, Carlebach, YHB (Yitzhak HaLevi Band) and some Diaspora tracks have a home in my iTunes (with a sprinkling of Talking Heads, Sonic Youth, and one Bad Religion song).

Well, as I looked at the names of the tracks on the album the last song’s title was familiar. I listened to the sample, and yep, I knew the song (rather well, it has been a favorite of mine for over 16 years via an accoustic concert bootleg). Those in the ‘know’ knew that it was originally slated to be on this artist’s first solo album but didn’t make the final cut.

I find it interesting that he chose now to put a song easily 20 years old on a new album…and from what I heard it’s exactly the same song . But then again, I have journal entries that are meaningful to me that I would not post on this blog. Call it ‘artistic license’, I suppose. There are things we reveal to many and many things we keep tightly in our ‘inner circle’. I guess, in this case, a musician’s choice to put a track ‘for the fans’ on an album is an added bonus for some. It’s sort of like telling that same family joke to your kids or wife, knowing that a smile will erupt.

It does give me food for thought about what things I keep to myself and what things should be revealed and the timing involved in both.

Looking for something else to read? I suggest these:
A Simple Jew: Another 40 Days – Reopening The Notebook – Part 1
Dixie Yid: A Special One Day Trip Down South (West)
Rechovot: The Mussar in messing with the Rabbi’s parking spot

Make your own Uberdox Post

Pick a, b, or c and have fun!!

The other day I was ________ and I was reminded about very deep mussar concept that is usually overlooked.
a) thinking about Star Wars
b) listening to an old hardcore punk rock album
c) reading either R Hirsch or R Dessler

Interestingly enough this concept was manifested in something my kids _______ last night before bedtime.
a) did
b) said
c) ate

I was then reminded of a story about ________ that had a profound impact on me when I was becoming Torah observant.
a) R Yisrael Salanter
b) R Nachman of Breslov
c) coffee

The story has to do with how we use our ________ to the best of our abilities.
a) time
b) unique talents
c) free wireless connections

This lesson isn’t really focused on so much in ________, but really starts at home.
a) the yeshiva/day school system
b) most blogs
c) your average kehillah

I guess, in the end, getting to know yourself can be a pretty difficult job. Thanks for reading. An actually post will be popping up soon.

Finally, something new

Firstly, thanks to those who check daily for a new post. Sorry it’s been a while.

While I do have several posting that are, like, 85% complete sitting as drafts in my Blogger Dashboard. I’ve been waiting for just the right topic to grab me and say, “This would be a great post.”

In truth, it was just an excuse not to write. I’m not really motivated to write, but I need to. For now this will have to do.

I had planned on posting something pre-Shavuos, but had a family situation that made any postings pretty much meaningless.

I’ve spent over 30 hours during the past two weeks on highways looking at the following printed word emblazoned on the back of semi-trucks: IF YOU CAN’T SEE MY MIRRORS I CAN’T SEE YOU.

As much as I tell myself that what others think about me doesn’t really matter, it’s only a 1/2 truth. To quote an influential hardcore punk icon, “Others matter, but only in the proper perspective. What really matters are the ones who love you”.

Certain aspects of who we are and what we do, say or write about are meant to be seen by others. If someone looking in a mirror can’t see you driving behind them, it’s as if you don’t exist. It does not mean that your existence is based only on being seen by everyone.

I’m a bit mixed up, I admit. I blog under my own name. I don’t hide the fact that I blog, but I don’t really advertise it either. I’ve let some friends know that I blog, others have no clue. I know of someone who would have really shepped nachas from what I’ve written. I, sadly, never shared this aspect of my life with that person.

If you think someone outside of the blogosphere might enjoy what you have to say take a moment and share before the moment is gone.

Music in my head

Well, it’s almost Log B’Omer and for me that means basically two major things: I can trim my beard and start listening to music again.

This year during sefira I did something I had not done before. Several years ago I heard an interview with Stephen King on NPR. He mentioned that he often makes a list of what CDs or songs he listens to on a monthly basis and sees if it influences what he writes. I thought that was a pretty cool idea at the time, but left it at that.

This year I tried to write down on, when I could, what songs popped into my head and what triggered them. Silence, or in my case, lack of listening to anything besides some acapella tracks and shiurim, tends to clean out my mind.

Certain songs kept popping in my head during the past few weeks. Lot of niggunim from Songs of the Rebbes by Piamenta and several instrumental songs also from Strings of my Heart. Reb Shlomo Carlebach’s songs got constant air-play in my mind, as did D’vekus.
I find it interesting that although I listen to more “modern” Jewish music, it was these older classics that I found myself humming.
Now, for the secular non-Jewish music..
As I mentioned, I tried to keep track of what triggered the music that came in my head. Here’s a random list and what prompted me to think of the song or lyrics:
“Driver 8” (R.E.M)- I was driving home from work as saw a kite stuck in a phone/power line and thought of the lyrics “powerlines have floaters so the airplanes won’t get snagged”.

“I am a Rock”” (Simon and Garfunkel)- As I was thinking isolation and The Lonely Man of Faith one day and this just crept in my brain.

“De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” (The Police)- playing with the 7 month old babyUberdox and listening to her babble.
“Until the End of the World” (U2)- My son told me that his baseball card collection would be around until the end of the world and automatically this song started up.

“I Don’t Know What You’re Talking About” (Husker Du)- One night after the kids had gone to bed I was thinking about Rabbi Akiva’s lost talmidim that we are mourning and these profoundly simple lyrics, “There’s more to life than being right and wrong. There’s something in between called getting along,” came to mind.

Finally, several songs by a certain seminal Brittish punk band- I heard a commercial on the radio for Virgin Atlantic Airways with a testimonial by guitarist Steve Jones.
What’s the point of all this? Well, even though most of these songs I haven’t listened to in almost a decade (with the exception of the Husker Du track), have stayed stuck in my head. It’s kind of scary when I think about it. A song tune or lyrics can re-surface in my brain after staying dormant for years, yet I have trouble memorizing pasukim from Chumash or Tehillim. As I wrote, it’s scary. I find this to be pretty good mussar for myself.

By the way, as I was thinking of a title for this posting the original choice was “What’s Going On (Inside My Head)”, but that is the title of a Husker Du track. Then I thought about “iPod of the Mind”, as a reference the poetry book “Coney Island of the Mind” by Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
Then it became “An iPod in my Mind”, but then the song “Carolina in my Mind” by James Tayor popped in my head and I don’t really even know all of the lyrics. Oy Vey!

Trying to find an outlet

It was two days before Sukkos. It was one of those mornings. I had been up late the night before (not blogging) and had not gotten too much sleep during the night at all. My morning cup of coffee wasn’t doing the trick. Then I had a thought…music. Not just any music, but two CDs by the most powerful energetic band I had loved during my formative teenage days…Husker Du.

Husker what? Please don’t bother doing a wiki search. Husker Du is Danish board game and means “Do you remember?”. It was a popular ‘memory’ game in the sixties, so I’ve been told.

Husker Du was also the name of one of the most influential Hardcore Punk bands from the early eighties, known for powerfully emotional lyrics filtered through their musical trademark, a ‘wall of sound’.

Now, over the years I have greatly cut down the amount secular music that I listen to. I have a strong taiyvah for music, specifically the genre I came of age with between 1985-1989, Punk/Alternative. I can proudly say that 99.5% of what I listen to in a given month is Jewish Music. On long car trips when the kids are asleep, we’ll listen to some classic rock tunes (along with some more current tunes), but that’s where I try to limit it.
That morning I felt that I needed an extra musical ‘kick start’ today. I stared at the two CDs most of the day. They sat on my desk between the Rabbis’ Sons, a C. Lanzbom, and several Piamenta CDs. I looked at them, heard the music in my head, visualized the lyrics in front of me, and struggled.

OK, what’s the problem? Just play the CD!. It bothered me that I felt a ‘need’ to listen to it. This has nothing to do with halacha /hashkafa / or frumkeit. I was debating if I needed to listen to it, or if I can find stimulation elsewhere. I was (am) troubled that I felt I needed to resort to non-Jewish music to get my day going. I can see a theme here concerning outside stimulation and our retreat into a Sukkah, where we control our own stimulation. I actually blogged about it when this struggle crept its’ way into my head. You can read, if you haven’t already, about that here.

When I became frum, I found it rather easy over time to change certain aspects of my lifestyle. To stop going out on Friday nights or eating treif was never really too difficult. These were never big issues for me. These, of course, are halachic issues. While certain aspects of character development were challenging (and still are), concepts like emunah, chessed, davening make sense. The urge to make a witty remark at some else’s expense is, at times, still a struggle.

What was, and still is, not so easy for me, was to get into Jewish music. (Please note, I didn’t write “stop listening to non-Jewish music”.) The first few power cords on an electric guitar, the overpowering base, the fasth drums…these elements were missing in Jewish music when I was becoming frum. For the most part they are still missing. I have a theory about that, but we’ll save it for the comments section, if there are comments.

This issue is a constant hashkafic struggle for me and I’ll explain why.

What we eat or the parameters of what we can do on Shabbos are clearly defined within Halacha. It’s the ‘grey areas’ like music that are at times an issue. I real issue for me had nothing to do with the style of music, or the lyrics (I was always careful about lyrics).

For me this issue is that once I get a taste for the music, it’s a challenge for me to stop listening. I simply want more. When I do stop, then I’m constantly left wondering why can’t I find a Jewish version of punk? Where’s the musical energy? Where was the intesity of a punk rock show? There are some options to listen to (see my blogger profile), but not too many.

At the end of day I made a choice. I chose to indulge in 2 minutes and 38 seconds of auditory memories. I picked a song that was about not wasting time and making the most out of life. A very positive message, I think. And I was impressed that I didn’t ‘cave in’ and actually play both disks. The idea crossed my mind all day.

I was (am) plagued by fact that I felt I needed to resort to non-Jewish music to get me going, as I entered Sukkos. The first night, while sitting in my sukkah I was truly happy. It was freezing, but also great singing and listening to other families sing in the neighborhood. The block behind us has 4 or 5 frum families and each family was singing. It was like an unplugged battle of the bands!!

During the week I went to two Simchas Beis HaSho’evos, “How could I go wrong, I thought?” Live music…a singer…a drummer…an electric guitar!! It was fun, loud, but it really didn’t give me the fix I needed. Something was missing.

Enter Simchas Torah. For me, this year was great. Mostly because I enjoy dancing with my kids and seeing my wife smile and enjoy the scene I make. Going to a few different shuls on Simchas Torah is kind of like a full day music festival with different stage locations. Each shul has their own flavor of hakafos. Every one sings slightly different songs, different niggunim, and the intensity of dancing varies from place to place. Back in high school. we use to dance, ok slam dance, in a circle…just the guys. It was a feather in one’s cap if you knocked over someone. Now, when I dance with guys (like on Simchas Torah) and I bump into someone I say, “I’m sorry. I hope you’re alright”.

Memories of concerts, cassettes, and CDs (most of them sold) are replaced with other memories: Singing V’li Yerushalyim (the D’veykus version) with friends in the Old City one Motzei Shabbos, hearing Hafachta by the Diaspera Yeshiva Band for the first time, the first time I saw Yosi Piamenta play at the Knitting Factory (before they moved Downtown), watching my kids sing and dance the last time we saw everyone’s favorite uncle…Uncle Moishy.
Gone are the combat boots (still in the closet until the first snow) and on is the black Shabbos hat. I choose to prove my independence and free-thinking though Torah, Avodah, and Gelimus Chasadim, rather than with safety pins, a can of Aqua-Net, and an in-your-face aversion to authority.

A good niggun, for me, does the trick 99.5% of the time. I often sing during day and always on my way home from shul. But, it’s that other tiny .5% of the time that gets me. For me, there’s still something that I have not found in Jewish Music. I’m just waiting for the amplifier to be plugged in. I’m trying to find an outlet.

This posting was partially inspired by fellow blogger A Simple Jew and, his now, classic posting, Trapped in the Lower Levels.

Anarchy in the Pre-K

It’s funny how certain items symbolize completely different things during different times in your life. Hashem (God) creates everything for a purpose.

In my youth the safety pin was the symbol of all things punk. All of us “hardercore than thou” teens wore safety pins everywhere. My trademark from 1985-1990 was a chain of 18 pins (chai) pinned to my black overcoat or my band-logo infested jean jacket. I wore my safety pin chain everywhere. It even made it through my freshman year at Yeshiva University, until I put it away before going to learn in Israel.
Why a safety pin? Good question. Perhaps the inner meaning of the safety pin was a symbol of the government? A citizen-friendly society could be held together with a government acting like a safety pin. Hmmm. Maybe a safety pin has the potential to be helpful or cause harm if used incorrectly. Hmmm. The answer isn’t so deep.

From Wikipedia:
Richard Hell (born October 2, 1949) is the stage name of Richard Meyers, an American singer, songwriter and writer, probably best-known as frontman for the early punk band The Voidoids. Hell was an originator of the punk fashion look, the first to spike his hair and wear torn, cut and drawn-on shirts, often held together with safety pins

The early punk rockers didn’t have enough money to sew their clothes, so they kept them together with safety pins. No hidden meaning. No big universal statement. They were just too cheap to get their clothes fixed.

Fast-forward from “nostalgia for an age yet to come” to September 2006. Specifically a few days before my daughter started, what they call in Chicago, Nursery. To me, nursery is where the baby goes after being born in the hospital. I prefer to all her class “Pre-K”, as she’ll be in kindergarten next year. We got a letter from the Morah telling us that each child is expected to bring tzedakka, charity, to school each day. The parents can either tape it to the child’s clothing or attach a bag with the coins to their child’s’ clothing with a…safety pin!

I smiled when I read this. The ultimate symbol of my oh-so-secular former lifestyle of individualism and rebellion is now an instrument used in helping my daughter learn about the mitzvah of tzedakka. How great is that?
For the record, the title of this posting was inspired by a T-shirt I saw.

Two of my favorite stories

Story number one:

A regular preppie teenager walks up to a punk rock teenager with a Mohawk and asks him ‘What’s Punk?’.
So the hardcore-punk teen kicks over a garbage can and say ‘That’s punk!’. The preppie teen proceeds to kick over another garbage can and says ‘That’s Punk?’ The punk kids looks at him, smiles, and says ‘No that’s trendy!” (Overheard during a late night high school party way back in 1988)

I love this story because it shows that it’s not only our actions that define us, but our attitude when we perform those actions.
We, Baruch Hashem, can give meaning and emotion to what we do. Mitzvah performance or our level of external frumkeit isn’t meant to be something ‘trendy’. To follow the crowd without thinking about what or why you’re doing something isn’t always the best plan. Plenty of people, myself included, fall into the trap of doing mitvah-related actions by rote or as another trend once in a while.
To put on Tefillin, make a bracha, hug your kid, learn a pasuk, say a kind word, clean for Shabbos, or braid a challah can be an empty action…or a meaning experience. It’s all about what you do and how you doing. By “how you do it”, I mean what kavanah you ascribe to your actions. Do do something with a sense of simcha is a wonderful thing. It’s actually pretty punk these days.

Story number two:
When Rav Dessler came to America in 1948, he met up with his son, Nachum Velvel in New York. Rav Dessler asked his son who had help him during his years alone in America? His son mentioned several people in New York along with Rabbi Eliezer Silver, the head of Agudah Israel and the rav of Cincinnati. Rav Dessler said, “We must thank him.”
His son offered to place a telephone call to Rabbi Silver, but Rav Dessler wanted to show personal hakaros hatov to Rabbi Silver. Nachum Velvel and his father then took a nine hour train ride to Ohio, arriving at 5:00 am in Cincinnati. Then went to Rabbi Silver’s home and waited on the porch to meet Rabbi Silver as he left his house for davening.
Rabbi Silver met his two guests when he woke up and they all went to shul and then back to the Silver’s for breakfast. After a bite to eat, Rabbi Silver said, “So, Rav Dessler, what brings you to Cincinnati?” Rav Dessler said that he had only come to show appreciation to Rabbi Silver for all he had done for his son.
Rabbi Silver thought about this and again asked, “So, Rav Dessler, what really brings you to Cincinnati?”
Rav Dessler said that he had no other purpose that to show hakaros hatov. Rabbi Silver asked, “Rav Dessler, what can I do for you?”
Rav Dessler, for a third time, repeated that he only wished to show gratitude to Rabbi Silver in person.
Rabbi Silver finally gave up and muttered, “This must be mussar.”
(Paraphrased from the Artscroll biography of Rav Dessler, by Yonoson Rosenbloom)

This is one of my favorite Rav Dessler stories. It embodies, what I think is the best of the mussar movement. I’m not even on the same radar screen as Rav Dessler, but I can relate to this story. My actions need to be in sync with how I live my life. This is what Rav Dessler (or any Adam Gadol) is all about. A simple “thank you” isn’t enough sometimes. We need to go out of our way (in Rav Dessler’s case he went nine hours out of his way) to do the right thing and put your money where your mouth is.
To show gratitude or do a chesed to a spouse, parent, teacher, or even a child who needs to be acknowledged is the right thing. For Rav Dessler, he felt he had no choice but to travel to Cincinnati. For me, walking across the street or just to the livingroom can make a big difference to someone. We have know idea what effect our actions can have on others. Have a great day!

Am I Less Deviant Now That I’m Older?

My wife and I had the pleasure of spending an amazing Shabbos with a very close friend of mine (and his brother) from my shanna bet year in Eretz Yisroel and college days. Shabbos afternoon my friend asked me a pretty simple question:
Am I less deviant (read punk, individualistic, free-thinking, non-iconoclast, etc) than I use to be? Good question. Although, I would have expected nothing less from him.

I have often wondered the same question myself. From the time I was in high school and became frum until now, how much have I changed? In terms of how I look, its a radical change. It’s rather easy to externally blend into a frum lifestyle. I pretty much look like most people on any given weekday or Shabbos. Years ago, I stopped trying to show my individuality by what I wore on the outside. If you met me, you’d think I’m a pretty normal guy. That’s because I am.His question did get me thinking, though. Have I changed or mellowed out over the years? Probably a bit of both. The conversation with my friend reminded me of two great quotes. Both of them are from an interview with Sonic Youth in SPIN magazine that I read back in September of 1992.

“If you’re not growing, then you’re not living.”
“At times, the most conservative people or ideas are really quite radical.”

We are defined by our thoughts, speech, and actions. I’m told that the Baal HaTanya wrote about this quite a lot. We should not be stagnate. Just as we are inclined to attach ourselves to Hashem through Mitzvah observance, our natural inclination is to grow. I believe the above quotes are a more modern day versions of this:
There is no blade of grass below that does not have a malach on high that smites it and says to it: Grow! (Bereishis Rabbah 10:6-7)
Something as seemingly simple like grass has an urge to grow. Something so basic, knows that there is more to life if you reach upward.

I gave this entry a lot of thought over the past few days. I think that there us much more room for individuality when you set parameters for measurable behavior. If one “marches to their own beat” then you don’t have any way to judge just how different you are than anyone else.

As I was writing this, I thought about Parshas Korach. I must admit, I really wasn’t thinking, but remembering Rav Soloveitchik’s view of Korach, as found in REFLECTIONS OF THE RAV . The Rav states that “Korach was committed to the doctrine of religious subjectivism, which regards one’s personal feelings as primary in the religious experience. The value of the mitzvah is to be found not in its performance, but in its subjective impact upon the person.” This was how Korach thought. Rav Soloveitchik felt that “there are two levels in religious observance, the objective outer mitzvah and the subjective inner experience that accompanies it. Both the deed and the feeling constitute the total religious experience; the former without the latter is an incomplete act, an imperfect gesture. The objective act of performing the mitzvah is our starting point. The mitzvah does not depend on the emotion; rather, it induces the emotion. One’s religious inspiration and fervor are generated and guided by the mitzvah, not the reverse.”

A few months ago felt compelled to actually submit something to in reference to a list I had seen a while back. I received the following response to my submission:This message was created automatically by mail delivery software.
A message that you sent could not be delivered to one or more of its
recipients. This is a permanent error. The following address(es) failed:
mailbox is full: retry timeout exceeded

Not good news for the Jews. I was pretty bummed. So I sent the email again. Same response.
In an attempt to answer the question that became the title of this posting, I submit the following:

My additions to “Top 10 ways you know you are a JEWISH HIPSTER”:
Your Itunes Library includes: Shlomo Carlebach, Shalsheles, Husker Du, C Lanzbom, Chaim Dovid, The Yitzhak Halevi Band, Rabbis Akiva Tatz and Moshe Weinberger, Bad Religion, and the Yeshiva Boys Choir
You turn “I Wanna Be Sedated” into a niggun
You quote the Kuzari and Kerouac in the same breath

You cancel your Rolling Stone subscription and start getting the JEWISH PRESS
Your cell phone ringer is a version of “Ki Va Moed” with killer electric guitar
On Sunday afternoons you Skateboard to Mincha, because the shul parking lot is good for shreddin’
Your wife’s mini-van’s radio is preset to both news-radio and the local alternative station
Your Shabbos Hat Box is covered with band stickers

When you hear the term “hardcore” you think of Black Flag and Novorodock
Your kids share your love of all things Piamenta

If you’re reading this (and you know who you are, because you went by a different name when you were younger) thanks. It was great seeing you again.