Saturday, December 26, 2009

Bob Dylan: Prophet, Mystic, Poet

Knockin’ on heaven’s door: Fifty years into Dylan’s career, Seth Rogovoy’s new book explores his Jewish influences.

There is a new book out about the former Robert Zimmerman regarding the Jewish influences on his music.  Seth Rogovoy's Bob Dylan:  Prophet, Mystic, Poet  was reviewed in this week's edition of the Jewish Week.  Dylan's influence over popular culture is immense.  Mosh-pitter, headbanger, and classical music fan alike can all hum a soulful "Blowin' in the Wind."  But there is no denying that Dylan is a part of the Whole Phamily and he has his Yiddishkeit to thank a bissel.  This book explores some previously unrevealed truths of the Jewish foundation of some of Dylan's songs.

Interestingly, Dylan put out an Xmas CD this holiday season.  Check out the Nation's blog for a discussion about it.  Or, more recently, Randy Lewis' coverage in the LA Times about Jews, including Neil Diamond, Barbara Streisand, Barry Manilow, producing Xmas albums.  The Whole Phamily think it's mighty fine that he's belting out these classics for the general American public to hear, especially since we now know that he remains a Yid through and through (no name change will will really change you).

What would Garrison Keillor have to say about all this?  There are elements of NPR that we enjoy (having been long-time fans of David Isay's various radio projects), but it's never been A Prairie Home Companion.  Despite that Dylan and Keillor share Minnesota as their home state, Keillor's angry, evil words in a recent issue of The Baltimore Sun sound downright antisemitic.

What's the deal with Dylan's name, anyway?  Zimmerman, his given name, translates as carpenter.  Somewhere back in the alter heim his family were wood-workers.  As we all know, Dylan took on the name of the poet Dylan Thomas.  Too bad his name wasn't Zingerman (which translates as a singer).  Then maybe he wouldn't have changed it, and surely he could've eventually had a nice deli sandwich (albeit treif) in Ann Arbor and reveled in shared family lineage.

Music has the power to move.  It touches one's inner depths.  It reminds us of happy times and sad.  It brings excitement to otherwise-mundane activities.  A good tune blaring out of the speakers of your best friends '63 Corvette brought you back to a time of freedom and youth.  We are glad to learn for certain that Bob Dylan, after 50 years, was indeed influenced by the biblical, Jewish prophet Isaiah in All Along the Watchtower .

And, we hope that his son-in-law, Peter Himmelman, talented musician in his own right, is kvelling.

Friday, December 25, 2009

From "Also Sprach Zarathustra" to Parshat Vayigash

How is this classical composition by Richard Strauss, inspired by a Friedrich Nietzsche poem, and brought to its colloquial nickname "2001" by Stanley Kubrick's film 2001:  A Space Odyssey at all related to the Whole Phamily?

As kids, we didn't realize at the time, but we were inculcated with its beauty through short animated films, and spoofs on the original film, on the ground-breaking children's literacy show the Electric Company.  Check out of one of these shorts.

 We saw countless clips like that, teaching us the beauty of  "ai," "oo," "sh," and the like.

As adults, we enjoyed skillful live performances of the song by Phish, one of the best live bands currently out there.  It only hit us yesterday (while our children were watching the Electric Company DVD), why we loved this song as children.

If you click to 5:40 on this performance (from 12/12/ the way, look at that date...weren't we just talking about the 11:11 Phenomenon a few posts ago?  For one of the first followers of the Whole Phamily, this number is surely significant), you start to get to the pinnacle of Phish's rendition.

Then we started thinking, does the significance of the name of this song mean anything?

We do not claim to understand much about the events of 9/11, but indeed it occurred during the year 2001.

Just a few posts ago, weren't we talking about Jewish geography and summer camp?

Earlier this December we were chatting, in person, with two friends of  Camp Haze, a one-week summer camp for children of 9/11 and those who have lost a loved one to illness or tragedy, at a Phish show.  What great work these folks are doing.  Dedicated to the memory of Scott Hazelcorn, who was a bond trader at Cantor Fitzgerald, and from other online coverage, Scott seemed like the kind of Jewish guy we would have met at summer camp.  We were interested in his name.

Hazelcorn?  Haven't known any others.  But, Korn, Kornfield, Korngold, Kornblit, Kornreich all ring a bell.  They all have the word corn/korn in it, which, for Jewish names translates as "grain."  Not a very uncommon word to have in an Ashkenazic Jewish name.  As everyone knows, grain is needed for sustenance and survival.

Which leads us to this week's Torah parsha, or weekly portion read in synagogue, entitled Vayigash, which concludes with our patriarch Jacob and seventy family members moving down to Egypt due to famine (lack of sustenance or grain) in the land of Israel (called Canaan back then) where the family had been residing (this is before the Jews became slaves, during a time when we were on good terms with Pharoah.  Yes, we were all friends at one point!)  We like Rachel Farbiarz's d'var torah on this torah portion.

In the parsha, due to the grains that Jacob's son Joseph stored up, the family as well as the Egyptians in the land will survive. Here's another explanation of Vayigash that sheds light on the story.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom.  Do you think Stanley Kubrick would be able to make any sense of this?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The 11:11 Phenomenon, or Numerical Synchronicity

The Whole Phamily has taken an informal poll of real-life friends, and asked if they have experienced the recurring phenomenon of looking at a digital clock and seeing their numeric birthday.  For example, if their  birthday is July 16th, they often look at the clock and see the numbers 07:16.

Apparantly other people in cyberspace agree, and to some, this is called the 11:11 Phenomenon.

What in the world does this have to do with the Whole Phamily, which is exploring the interconnectivity of Judaism, names and beyond?

We believe that everything is connected.  Indeed, Jonathan Safran Foer, with a totally funkadelic website that evokes interconnectivity, and one of the leading Jewish writers of our day, asserts that Everything is Illuminated in one of his novels.  There is something to be said for numbers and names and how they are connected.

We are certainly not expects in the Zohar, the book of Kabbalah that is traditionally studied by men aged 40 years and up (this is when it was deemed certain that a Jewish man would be well-versed in the Torah and could therefore handle the intensity of its deep world truths).  Obviously various popular culture stars (yes, you, Madonna) ignore that, but obviously people are seeking out truth in age-old wisdom.  Indeed, Jewish astrology is very real, and very much happening as we write and you read.

Doubtful that as large a group of our immigrant ancestors to North America from Minsk, Pinsk, the Pale of Settlement, Damascus,  Aleppo or Alexandria were exposed to these concepts as the Jewish community is today.  Yes, the scholars were educated in deep metaphysical mysteries of the world, but not the average mama of eight children trying to get food on the table.

Today when you think of a favorite number combination and then later see it as a total on a store receipt from buying your day's groceries, realize that it's not totally random, and Judaism has a lot to say about that.

Do you look at the clock a lot these past nearly ten years and see 09:11?

On a positive note, the Whole Phamily thinks it's great when the time comes up as 6:13.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Jewish Geography and Kevin Bacon

If you haven't yet heard about the famous game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, where you link an actor to Kevin Bacon through no more than six connections, then, as in the words of Martin Short as the flamboyant wedding coordinator in the remake of "Father of the Bride, "Welcome to the 90's, Mr. Bank."  The game is a take on the idea of six degress of separation, but when you're Jewish, that number seems sometimes to dwindle down to three or even two.

You might know it better as Jewish Geography.

C'mon, we all know you've engaged in a fun game of it in your lifetime.  Maybe you shy away from it now.  But, even if you're from Bozeman, Montana, you most likely have played.  Whether you're from Boca, Skokie, or Roslyn, whether you went to camp anywhere near Honesdale or Lake Winnipesaukee (Adam Sandler is from nearby), you've done youth groups like  Young Judaea, USY, BBYO, B'nai Akiva, or NCSY, we know you've done it.  Whether you were in a Jewish fraternity or sorority anywhere, but particularly at Wisconsin (Madison only, puh-lease!), Michigan (Ann Arbor, of course), or Indiana (are there even any other campuses where out of state Jews would seek out?), you've played.  What about any affiliation with Penn, the SUNYs (particularly Binghamton or Albany), Maryland, Brandeis or B.U.?

Still no?

If you've been part of any of the teen tour circuit, including American Trails West, Rein, or West Coast Connection, you know the game.

Jewish geography is like Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon amplified and on steroids, because you can be visiting your cousins in LA and run into a friend's aunt or uncle that you met a few years ago at his sister's bat mitzvah in the valley while strolling along Third Street Promenade.

The Whole Phamily is constantly learning about connections to friends of cousins of sisters of husbands' next door neighbors at their parents place in Bal Harbor.  The network can seem endless.

Wanna play?