Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Groggers. Holding a fun-house mirror to Orthodox Jewish life.

To paraphrase one of my favorite rock critics, (Paul Williams "Rock and Roll The 100 Best Singles"), there are two primal rock and roll traditions.... angry stupidity and cheerful stupidity. But there's a counter tradition too, smart stupidity. The court jester. The smart guy (or gal) playing dumb. Sometimes with snarky bite, like Jello Biafra and the Dead Kennedys. Sometimes with nerdy-bafflement, like They Might be Giants. But always that sense that you'd better press rewind and listen to that one again. They just said something that needs to be heard.

The first time I heard The Groggers, I didn't press rewind. The song was Get, and the band bumbled along with a power-pop finger shake at a guy who didn't deserve his girl. A well-played Orthodox novelty song, but (to my ears at the time) nothing more. I wasn't hooked yet. But tonight they sent me their new video "Upper West Side" and they got me. Court Jester. Smart Stupidity. Press Rewind.

Check it out

"Upper West Side Story" - The Groggers

Under the wide eyed naivete of singer/songwriter L.E. Staiman's vocals, is some sharp satirical bite. The phrase "I want to live on the Upper West Side where the girls always stay 29, accountants by day, speed daters by night" was delivered deadpan, but dead on the mark. (As are the hysterical West Side Story "be cool" finger snaps in the video.)

Ok, now go listen to the even better Groggers ballad "Eishes Chayil." I winced when I saw the title. Eishes Chayil, the Woman of Valor, is a regular motif in Orthodox pop music. Derived from a (sometimes touching, often awkward) Shabbat ritual, the Eishes Chayil pop song is usually over-earnest and condescending in it's celebration of the vague awesomeness of the Jewish woman. (Here's Orthodox crooner Yaakov Shwerky singing a representative example.) The Groggers skewer it beautifully. Staiman's version pushes the vague detachment of the Eishes Chayil concept as far as it will go... straight into a Weird Al Yankovic-style voyeuristic creep-fest. "If you ever need me... I'll be right out your window."

In a post on Frum Satire that went up this morning, Heshy Fried lauded them for being a Jewish band that didn't spend their time singing about religious topics, but instead sang about (Orthodox) Jewish life. That's true, and Fried's right that the Orthodox community needs more bands like that. But I think that misses the point a bit. The Groggers aren't singing about frum life, they're holding up a fun-house mirror to it.

Under their dumb lyrics are a smart insiders critique of Orthodox life. And that's brave thing to do. Smart stupidity. Court Jester. Rock and roll.

Update: I forgot to mention that The Groggers debut album "There is no I in Cherem" dropped in August. Go get it.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Coda....A Short Film

Coda is a short film in the making about music and identity. The storyline (see below) points to the main character being a violinist who loves klezmer though the bit of music she plays in the film clip below doesn't sound particularly klezmer inspired to me. But it's a neat piece and I'm looking forward to seeing the final version. The film-maker is running a Kickstarter fundraiser right now, so if you like what you see consider helping out.

Coda Test Shoot

"CODA is the Graduation Film of Writer/Director Jonathan Tomlin from the MA Filmmaking Course of the London Film School. In particular, this film is concerned with the relationship between self-expression and self-preservation. The struggle to survive is as important to an artist as her instrument or her talent. An extraordinary artist is someone who can transform suffering into inspiration and vice versa.

This film strives to travel the world through music and reach audiences with a story that can be felt across any border and in any language. Music is a universal language with as many styles as there are cultures in the world. Music is at the core of CODA’s narrative. There is no dialogue and no subtitles. The film will run approximately 10-12 minutes.


The story of a classically trained Violinist travelling through Eastern Europe in search of a deeper connection to music and to her own life. She has chosen to live as a full-time Traveller and Street Performer (Busker) leaving behind the rigid confinement of her Classical formation in order to push the boundaries of her life and her music. She plays with exquisite technique, but her style is as varied as the stamps on her passport. She is particularly inspired by Jewish Folk music, known as ‘Klezmer’. Whether it’s expressing joy, sadness or anger Klezmer is as intricate as it is emotional.

One morning, while playing in a busy train station in Budapest the Violinist encounters two characters: A Young Girl and an older woman. The Girl is enamored by the Violinist’s performance and by her proud and strong presence. The Older Woman watches the performance too, but she appears resentful of the Violinist who has decided to play on the exact spot where the Woman comes to beg for money. Passing men and women drop coins into the violin case, but take no notice of the Beggar. After the concert the Violin is stolen and the Violinist’s self-sufficient, carefree life quickly spirals out of control as she desperately tries to reclaim the instrument of her inspiration."