Saturday, December 28, 2013

Arik Einstein, a story of Israel

The sudden and unexpected death of the Israeli artist and performer Arik Einstein, on November the 26th 2013, had shaken Israeli society to its very core. This icon of Israeli culture was famous as a singer, songs writer, and an actor. Israeli society hasn’t been this unsettled since the murder of Prime Minister Yitzhack Rabin, on November 5th 1995. Therefore it is not a surprise that Rabin Square in Tel – Aviv became the main center of spontaneous public displays of grief.

Arik Einstein.
January 3 1939  -  December 26 2013 

To the outside world he was explained as, “Israel’s Frank Sinatra.” This description might be true in the sense that both men are now immortals, but it is hardly accurate. Frank Sinatra represents the rise of urban America into its current status in the popular American culture. Arik Einstein on the other hand represents the final evolution of Israel’s secular culture into the normal popular culture typical to all western democracies. One that is independent from religion, nationalism, and military life, but not disconnected from them. There are many parents to this transformation, in the music scene Arik Einstein is one of its three main fathers.

The memorial in Rabin square

Until the 70’s the music scene of the Israeli secular culture was dominated by military bands established to provide entertainment for soldiers and civilians on the front lines, as well as at the home front. While the conformity of their material is far less from what many westerners would expect out of military entertainment, there was still a lot more freedom in the civilian life. And since the 50’s, under the wings of this freedom, an independent secular music began to grow. Centered mostly in Tel – Aviv, it reached its tipping point in the 1970’s.  Until then most Israeli performers had musical background in the military. Since then most of the Israeli musicians, and musical performers evolved outside of military life. In night clubs, cafes, weddings, and bar – mitvahs, as well as high-schools and youth centers; practicing their music wherever they could; be it their parents' basements or garages, or in unused bomb shelters that make up the underground floors of many of Israel's apartment buildings.  With a few exceptions these are familiar stories of musical careers, (and failures) from all over the world. And the late Arik Einstein, himself a veteran of a famous army band, is one the main agents of this normality. But alongside all this common ground his songs also contains the uniqueness of Israel. This is why I choose this title, “Arik Einstein, a story of Israel”. And these are some of the songs I believe demonstrate that.

Ani ve ata neshane et haolam.“Me and you, we’ll change the world,”
A song that speaks to the Don Quixote in many of us, myself included. “They’ve said it before us, never mind, me and you, we’ll change the world.”

Atur mitzkhekh zahav shakhor, “Your forehead is crowned in black gold”

This is one of the most powerful love songs in Israeli music. I wish I could translate it properly, even just one line. But I cannot.

Yoshev be San Francisco al hamayim, “Sitting in San Francisco on the waterfront”
The experience of living in a foreign land: everything is beautiful, but none of this mine. On t.v Dr J. is tearing the baskets and Kareem Abdul Jabbar is touching the sky. But I wish you were here with me….suddenly I want to go home. This is a loose translation.

Ima Adama, "Mother Earth."

A bond to an ever forgiving land
This is from a time it when was not considered unusual for a left wing peacenik to be connected to the land of Israel, and feel its embrace; and for a rightwing believer in the vision known as, 'The complete land of Israel,' to crave for peace.

Lama li lakakhat lalev,“Why should I take to heart”
But the simplest way to translate is to say, “Why should I care so much.” This is a voice from a young generation asking the older generation to lay off the heavy goals, so they could live their own lives and make their own mistakes.

Uf goazal, “Fly fledgling”
... and then this generation grow up, and their own children have left home. They knew this would happen, so with all the pain they wish them success. Just to be careful from the eagle out there.

Sa leat, “Drive slow”.
This song is a story of two guys and a radio in an old car driving during a wet night. Talking about what is wrong with their lives, worried about another terror attack from Gaza, and listening how their favorite soccer team lost another match, again. And to think, these were just the seventies.

Arik Einstein's has a far greater number of songs to his name than this skinny list.  All can be arrange and rearrange to tell a story of Israel.