The rambling thoughts of a Modern Orthodox Chassid (whatever that means). Contact me at emansouth @

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Rockin' to the Lord

Time to respond to the email I received that took issue with my post on a couple of Jewish rock bands playing at YU after they played at BB King's, a trief (unkosher) nightclub in Manhattan.

To make it easier to understand my response, I quote the email again. I will respond in italics, point by point.:

"I take issue with your post about the kashrut of Jewish bands performing at non-kosher venues.

1. Musicians don't often have a choice about where they get to play, especially if they get paid to do it (which is how they feed themselves and their families). Jewish rockers have even fewer choices, and in the world of rock music, BB Kings is a choice gig. They would be misguided not perform there, and one might argue irresponsible if they have financial obligations to family or charities for which they perform."

The statement "musicians don't often have a choice about where they get to play" is misleading. It's true that they might not get to play at venues like Madison Square Garden, Giants Stadium, Carnegie Hall or even a Young Israel but they certainly do get to choose (or turn down) gigs that they feel are inappropriate. The reader seems to be suggesting that as long as he is getting paid, a Jewish musician owes it to himself and his family to take the gig. That is a slippery slope. Where do you draw the line? If a musician knew for sure that the venue was a den of drug use would he be obligated to take the gig?

"2. In case you hadn't noticed, most young Jews don't hang in the Bais most Saturday nights. They're out at the clubs. If we can bring any yiddishkeyt into that atmosphere, we do something to stem the tide of assimilation and light a spark of identity (or maybe keep it lit) in those who attend the shows. Many of those attending these shows aren't even shul-goers or observant- they're more casually, culturally affiliated Jews who are either seeking something more or a connection their shul doesn't provide, something that straddles their modern sensibility, passion for their identity and that ultimate of chassidic touchstones, music. You of all people should realize how effective this sort of kiruv is."

Let me quote verbatim from a review at Adiel of a gig that took place at BB Kings (Thanks to DM for the link). Is this the kiruv and Yiddishkeit the reader is referring to?

"so i went to this concert in midtown at a place called "B.B. King" which is a blues bar during the week. tix were like 25 buckeroos but very well worth it. they had 1) Blue Fringe, 2) Moshav Band 3) Soul Farm. i couldnt believe my eyes and ears with what went on there. when i first got there, Blue Fring was finishing off their gig. they sounded OK. then there was a 15 minute break. during this time i walked around thinking about how really out of place i was. everyone around me was a teenage pisher pretending to be drunk and pick up ppl from the opposite gender. so i'm too old for that. but also - there was the fact that i havent been to a concert in ages -- so i felt awkward about the whole thing.
the leader for the moshav band is this guy who grows his hair long and has a beard. i thought he would be kind of yeshivish, but he dressed in girly clothes and danced with 'spasms' like he wuz on drugs. at one point between songs, he siad that since your supposed to light menorah at home and they lived in israel, the BB King bar would be their home for the night, so he lit menorah ON STAGE. wild. then in the middle of one song, he was trying to get the crowd a little more hyped up, so he said "everyone say 'dreidel'....'latkees'..." etc .. it was pretty fun. C Lanzbom was playing with them even though he is mainly with Soul Farm (formerly known as Inasense - i THINK). does anyone know if he was ever a part of Diaspora?
its amazing what u can do with music.
btw - the whole time, there were guys and GIRLS jumping off stage and into the crowd hoping to get carried around somewhere. this was toooo funny. one weird looking fellow who had a beard, payos, and tzitzis on the outside, was dancing with EVERYONE and acting like he was high on something really nice.
then soul farm came on stage. oh my gosh. these guys rocked the house. i happened to like moshav band better, but everyone was wild with these guys."

"Those who argue that Jewish rock bands performing at rock clubs take Jews away from the fold are imitating ostriches and are not cognizant of the realities of today's youth culture, which does impact our youth. THEY ARE GOING TO GO OUT ANYWAYS. We should take appropriate action and support the bands and promoters who go out and provide cultural context in clubs with contemporary Jewish music, no matter how derivative or secular, with our thanks and checkbooks open."

There is a school of thought that holds that any music is "kosher" so long as you put Hebrew verses to the melody. (This applies both in the so-called Jewish rock world as well as the "Boro Park Rock" world. The Boro Park JM scene is even worse because the musicians with the Armani suits and shiny black shoes truly believe that they are elevating the music by putting pasukim against them when in fact they are lowering the pasukim by putting horrible tunes to them (then making it worse by adding techno-garbage and dancing around the stage like N'Sync and other boy bands.) But that's a different topic for another time.)

I have been to supervised gigs in SHULS where kids snuck in alcohol (and presumably drugs) and got out of control drunk. Many of the kids that go to the gigs at these clubs are teeny boppers who are completely unsupervised and get into things that are very "unkosher". I'm not blaming the musicians for what happens but I don't want to hear that we should be thanking them for providing a kosher Jewish cultural context. That isn't what is happening. Who is the ostrich?

If these bands want to play at BB Kings that's fine. America is a free country and they can do what they want. But why are places like the YU student council putting their stamp of approval by inviting these bands to play?


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