Sunday, May 13, 2007

One more for the Jewish Fringe: The Silver Jews

I've been trying for the last couple of posts to get my head around the idea of musicians on the fringe of mainstream music publicly identifying their bands with Judaism. (Check out my posts on The Jewish Legend and A Silver Mount Zion) If there really is a category here, then the third band that fits it is the Silver Jews.

The Silver Jews are a Nashville, Tennessee based indie-rock group led by David Berman. I've read a few different versions of how Berman, raised a secular Jew, came up with the band name. One (on Berman's Wikipedia page) claims that the band was named "in part after the '60s group Silver Apples and slang for blonde-haired Jewish people." The other (source lost or imagined) claims that Berman once misread a sign advertising 'Silver Jewelry." Either way, Berman's early music had no particular Jewish connection. After suffering through drug addiction and rehab, however, he emerged with a strong religions connection to Judaism. In an interview in the LA Jewish Journal Berman explains:
"That's part of the irony of the whole experience of turning to Judaism for me was that the name had always helped us ensure our obscurity in the music industry, and sometimes I'd thought the name was a burden, because it seemed so serious," Berman adds. "But now it's become an incredible blessing that I accidentally gave myself, something that became fruitful to me."
I find it pretty interesting to compare this story to the other two. In each, there is a mainstream (relative to the Jewish music scene) musician that has or develops a personally important connection with Judaism, a connection important enough to anchor the public identity of the band. But not a connection that brings with it the musical or thematic conventions that I associate with Jewish music. At least, not in an obvious or explicit way.

And good for Berman and Reichmann and Menuck. I'm excited to see any musician stand in the public eye proudly identifying themselves as Jewish, even if they are not a Matisyahu. Maybe especially if they are not. Matisyahu may be getting extra press because of his (to the music community) novelty value, but the Silver Jews, the Jewish Legend, and A Silver Mt. Zion won't (at least not much.) They could easily have kept quiet about their identity. It's exciting to see that they didn't.

Silver Jews - I'm Getting Back Into Getting Back Into You

Silver Jews - There Is A Place

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