But there's a strange thing happening. And it's wonderful, too. On the fringe edge of mainstream popular music there is a small but growing number of bands that have identified a meaningful connection between their music and some aspect of the Jewish experience. To the listener (to me at least), the connection is be elusive. There are no minor key wailings, no niggun melodies, no cantorial soaring, no Hebrew, Yiddish, Aramaic or Ladino and no references to Torah, Talmud, their favorite Rebbe, shtetl, or holiday. But, and this is what fascinates me, despite this ephemeral connection, the bands have chosen to make this connection part of their public identity.
So far I've run across three bands that seem to fit this model. I'll bet there are others out there, too. The ones I've found recently are The Jewish Legend, The Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La band, and The Silver Jews.
Take the Montreal avante-pop combo, The Jewish Legend. Led by Dan Reichmann, TJL has a spacey joyfulness that immediately reminds me of British New Wave and post-punk musicians such as David Bowie, XTC, and Robyn Hitchcock. I ran into their album, "Telepathy Now!" on Emusic recently and have been listening to it non-stop since. This stuff is crazy and joyful, a great combo.
In an interview with Toronto Now, Reichmann describes TJL like this:
I followed up with Dan via Myspace and asked him if he could comment a bit more on his Jewish connection. Here's his reply...
"One of my goals was to put the fun back into the whole music-making process. I felt the best way to do that was by re-engaging with my own musical language and experimenting with different instruments and constructs. There was always a lot of thinking going on with Tangiers, [his former band, - jack] and I wanted to get away from that for a while. "
Although it may not be obvious the first time through the jaunty jumble of tunes on Telepathy Now, which at times recalls some of Marc Bolan's loopy exchanges with Steve Took in the pre-glam Tyrranosaurus Rex years, there is actually a message that ties everything together... apparently.
"The album's lyrical themes have to do with my heritage as the grandson of Holocaust survivors. The whole notion of who I am and where I'm from wound up being the album's dominant theme which connects all the songs, although admittedly it's done in a cryptic way. There's a narrative that moves from Germany to North America in the 20th century with some vague references to the Middle East, but
I'm not dealing literally with any of the issues involved."
"I am Jewish, and certainly theres a lot of transmigrational pan everywhere mutli-spirit language informing that goes on on the record. Really im inspired by progressive Jewish spiritual energy and intention, as well as the diaspora condition etc."I think this public, but non-literal, connection with Judaism is just as important as the more literal Jewish music scene. I can't remember a time when musicians like Dan so publicly identified themselves with Judaism without following a more literally Jewish musical path. My impression is that this happens much more often in the fine art world, but I don't really know.
I'm going to write more about the Silver Jews and Silver Mt. Zion soon, but please go check out The Jewish Legend and let me know what you think.