Tuesday, April 24, 2007

With your host Arye

Anytown Graffiti
-- Pela's debut Anytown Graffiti

Make Another World
-- Idlewild's latest Make Another World

Our Earthly Pleasures
-- Maximo Park's second album Our Earthly Pleasures

What's the Time Mr. Wolf
-- The Noisettes' What's The Time, Mr. Wolf?

Because of the Times
-- King of Leon's third record Because of the Times

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

From Vietnam with love.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

[Continued from yesterday]

Chris Carrabba of Dashboard Confessional goes to beaches and, hence, is so not Jewish.

When I was younger, I would sometimes fantasize about being a rock star but it felt even more implausible than being an astronaut. Rock stars were reckless, confrontational personalities. Rock stars drank and did drugs and slept with many women. Rock stars said things in interviews that would upset their mothers. During my adolescence, I found it difficult to connect with any deviant behavior (which may explain why my first musical obsession was the safety found in Billy Joel, Elton John, Sting, and Don Henley). I also discovered that many musicians looked to disassociate themselves from their Jewish heritage: Robert Zimmerman changed his name to Bob Dylan. Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley both changed their names from Chaim Witz and Stanley Harvey Eisen, respectively. Scott Ian Rosenfeld became just Scott Ian of Anthrax and Leonard Cohen became a Buddhist. The list went on and on.

Perhaps I was over thinking it but I concluded that the only true way for a Jewish musician to become a rock star was to hide his Judaism. A sad revelation but only one that would be authenticated, in retrospect, with the introduction of Matisyahu (no doubt a talented young man, but as rock star as a yeshiva high school rebbe, albeit the cool one that told you stories about how he once smoked weed and listened to Zeppelin).

The most admirable aspect of emo is the encouragement of true, unrepentant expression. Emo asks that you hide nothing and express everything. Every girl that broke your heart—well, write a song about her. All the pain you’re feeling inside—share it with us so we can say, right on. I so know what you mean, man. But if there’s one self-perpetuating stereotype (out of many) that the Jews want to escape, it’s their propensity to complain.

I once went on tour with the now-defunct Gainesville, Florida punk band Hot Water Music for a Punk Planet profile. Gainesville, Florida isn’t exactly bursting with Jews, so our three-day interview sometimes transitioned into a Judaism for Dummies. The band proceeded to ask me all the questions that uninformed non-Jews love to ask like, the myth about sex through a hole in the sheet (not true), and explain to us the concept of kosher (no, a rabbi doesn’t just bless it). But one night while I was complaining about the difficulties of traveling on the road and sleeping on floors, one of the band members told me that I reminded him of Seinfeld.
And I thought about this for a while.
I had been complaining.
Seinfeld is a Jew.
He complains often.
Therefore, complaining is an inherent Jewish characteristic.

When most Jewish musicians make the decision to rebel against their heritage and religion and become debauched rock stars, they want to dissociate themselves completely from matzah and gefilte fish. This could either mean changing your Hebrew name, sometimes converting to a foreign religion, or, more often than not, stop being so goddamn whiney. Sure, that unattractive Judeo-quality works so well for Phillip Roth’s books and Ben Stiller’s movies but would you want to buy their records? And if I asked you who seems to be have had more fun throughout his career, would you pick Barry Manilow, who is unabashedly Jewish, or would you pick Lou Reed, who has broken just about every one of the 613 commandments (yes, even threshing on the Sabbath)? Now, stereotypically, being emo is too close to being Jewish and this is one reason why there are very few Jews in emo.

Getting back to Hopper’s essay, the journalist asserts that emo boys never grow up and, well, this time she’s right. “[Emo] is a genre made by and for adolescent and post-adolescent boys, who make evident, in their lyrics and dominant aesthetic, that their knowledge of actual living…is tiny enough to fit in a shoe box,” Hopper writers. Elsewhere, she calls the respective members of the scene “Peter Pan.” The guys I hung out with in my emo years rarely had jobs, drank a lot, woke up late, had no long-term plan, but were incredibly talented when it came to wasting time. It was almost an art I admired. It should have been on display in a performance art gallery somewhere entitled “Untitled (Too Lazy To Come Up With A Title)”. I became anxious by association, also envying their lasses faire attitude. How could they not know what they were going to do with the rest of their lives? How could they not want to get married and start a family today? Or yesterday? Their life style made no sense to me. Ever since I was a little boy, my father told me to be “a rich Talmud chuchim (wise man).” My school instilled in me an ambition to achieve and succeed and I should never be satisfied with complacency. I grew up believing that I would eventually have a job as a) an accountant b) a doctor c) a lawyer d) a psychologist or e) a rabbi (my older sister is C and my middle sister is D. Two-out-of-three ain’t bad).

Emo is a self-deprecating and self-defeating genre and its lack of ambition was preposterous to me. I had this one friend that could play guitar and I said, dude, why don’t you start a band?
He said, I dunno.
“I dunno,” he said. It blew my mind.
But this reason satisfied him. Would this boy ever be able to blossom into a breadwinner? Unlikely. Would he potentially wake up one day and decide that he had to sell-out to the man and get a corporate job because, gosh, Hebrew school and summer camp is so expensive? And never mind kosher—do you have any idea how much a rib roast is (like, $35 a pound)? Emo focuses so hard on the pain and the effects of bad things that it rarely seeks out a solution. The genre is so un-Jewish because it’s so unambitious (incidentally, you may have also noticed very few Asians in emo. But again, that’s another article).

Which brings me to my final points. When I say that it’s an inherent Jewish quality to be ambitious, I don’t mean that all Jews are driven to be rich. But, I can divide all the friends I currently have into two camps: the intellectuals and the businessmen (I do have one friend that works in non-profit but that’s a disappointment to everyone). Both are equally determined to succeed in their chosen profession but only one seeks a stimulation that won’t buy you a house in the Hamptons.

For the sake of this argument, I will only focus on the music industry. The intellectuals will be represented by Bob Dylan and the businessmen will be represented by Kiss. Bob Dylan, if you remember, disassociated himself from Judaism and even "converted" to Christianity therein recording three Christ-heavy albums, which, not coincidentally, all sucked. While truly deviating from Judaism, Dylan still truly succeeded in an intellectual sense. Scholars interpreted his lyrics. Politicians feared his rebel-rousing words. And women LOVED him even though he was unarguably not very good looking.

Kiss, on the other hand, is so preposterous and also as far from intellectual as possible. But admirably, Kiss is made up of businessmen. Like an Israeli car salesman, everything Kiss does is to make a buck. They sold everything from Kiss action figures to an actual Kiss coffin. If they tour again, they will be on their third "farewell tour." So as inherently unbrainy and sophomoriphic as Kiss is, they've earned enough cash to justify their deviant behavior. For every dollar that their sons made, Mrs. Witz and Mrs. Eisen could ignore the silly things like bursting blood capsules dripping from the mouth.

Now don’t get me wrong—there are intellectuals and businessmen in the emo movement but being identified publicly as one or the other is discouraged. When Death Cab For Cutie signed to Atlantic Records, a major label, fans cried, “sell-out.” When emo institution Vagrant Record (home of Dashboard Confessional, Alkaline Trio and the Get Up Kids) signed a distribution deal with Interscope, savvy kids smelled the suits from miles away. Misery and discomfort is this scene’s bread-and-butter and the second the kids don’t relate, well, time’s up. When My Chemical Romance, a then-relatively unknown band from New Jersey, sang “I’m not okay,” we believed them. But after they sold, 1.5 million records, you’re like, um, dude, trust me. You’re okay.

It’s probably not fair of me to dismiss a whole scene as anti-intellectual but if one were to sample the content of most emo songs, he or she would discover that my assessment is actually an understatement:

“Your best friend is not your girlfriend/ It hurts/ It hurts/ It hurts” – Angels & Airwaves’ “It Hurts”

“Well let me tell you this, I am shamelessly self-involved/ I spend hours in front of the mirror making my hair elegantly disheveled/ I worry about how this album will sell because I believe it will determine the amount of sex I will have in the future/ I self-medicate with drugs and alcohol to help treat my extreme social anxiety problem.” – Say Anything’s “Admit It”

“They call kids like us vicious and carved out of stone/ But for what we've become, we just feel more alone/ Always weigh what I've got against what I left/ So progress report: I am missing you to death.” – Fall Out Boy’s “I Slept With Someone In Fall Out Boy And All I Got Was This Stupid Song Written About Me”

Or, to put it more succinctly, as New Found Glory’s 1997 album title declares It’s All About The Girls.

After I read Hopper’s article, I started following her writing a bit more and even developed a small crush on her Punk Planet contributor’s photo. And in an odd and spontaneous move on my part, I wrote her a silly fan email introducing myself. Whatever. Like you never did that. Anyway, I waited a couple of days and slowly realized that Hopper would never write back. Granted, I was a complete random but I was also a fellow journalist. Surely that warranted a short response with the words “thank” and “you” included somewhere in the text. And had this been during my emo phase, I probably would have written a song about this detailing the pain of anonymous rejection and the harsh and cold detachment of strangers. But instead, I just picked up a book and read.

Monday, April 16, 2007


Joe Trohman of Fall Out Boy. So Jewish. So emo.

A few years back, I read an article by Chicago-based writer and feminist Jessica Hopper entitled Emo: Where the Girls Aren’t and it allegedly shook the insular world of emo. Granted emo is a sensitive genre (short for “emotional hardcore”) and shaking it up is probably easier than, let’s say, offending the world of death metal. Nevertheless Hopper’s allegation raised a pierced eyebrow or two when she stated, “emo’s yearning is not to identify with, or understand, but rather to enforce sexual hierarchy and omit women’s power via romanticide.” And while you may retort that all rock music is more or less sexist (and you would be right), Hopper contends that emo is the most problematic because it’s marketed at the impressionable foundation, or “the province of the young.” Unlike scantily clad teen pop stars or everything else on the radio.

But before I continue to modify Hopper’s supposition, I should define what emo is for those of you not reading this article from a computer in your high school library. Emo’s current wave (there have been three) consists of melodic punk rock rife with lyrics that read like diary entries. Most music snobs dismiss the genre as a worthless watered down version of its raw origin and despise the formulaic and predictable song structures. Their snobbery is validated by the formulaic and predictable song structures, but then again, these are the things that also make emo great. Others will belittle the genre because, comparatively, the earnest lyrics make Nicholas Sparks sound like Dostoyevsky.
Here is an example:
“Hands down this is the best day I can ever remember/
I'll always remember the sound of the stereo, the dim of the soft lights, the scent of your hair that you twirled in your fingers and the time on the clock when we realized it's so late and this walk that we shared together/
The streets were wet and the gate was locked so I jumped it, and I let you in/
And you stood at your door with your hands on my waist and you kissed me like you meant it.”

Incidentally, no musician wants to be identified as emo, particularly those in emo bands.

Nonetheless, I loved listening to emo and therefore spent a pretty significant period of my life in the hardcore/emo scene. I have some pretty fond memories of the good times wasted on some random dude’s rooftop getting wasted. And while Hopper’s point may have been somewhat valid, it’s also wholly inaccurate. I distinctly remember an abundance of women actively involved in all that romanticide and if I recall correctly, the boys were whining and writing songs about their pain because the girls were taking advantage of them. I spent more time consoling the freshly dumped, ego-stricken male than slapping him five for enforcing his sexual hierarchy.

However, Hopper is correct in suggesting that emo is not known for its diversity. But whenever I was at a show or hanging out with the members of this incredibly incestuous scene, it wasn’t the girls’ presence that was lacking. It was the Jews.

In retrospect, I had never felt more self-conscious of my Judaism than when I was emo. Sometimes I felt like a secret agent Jew infiltrating the inner sanctum of angsty gentiles. And the more I thought about it, the less it made sense. If Woody Allen, the quintessential Jew, had been a musical genre, he would have been emo. Boys with guitars were complaining about an obtrusive pain, over-analyzing the intentions of others, suspecting infidelities based on non-substantial neuroses. And the vocals are always akin to the high-pitched whining of an excitable grandmother. Ultimately, the only thing missing from emo was a lactose intolerance. So why was the genre so ideologically Jewish but yet so un-Jewish in practice?

I’ve been the music editor of Heeb Magazine for over three years, and in that time, I have had just about every Jewish musician pitched to me for a potential feature. There’s even been a coverage request for an artist that, while not being Jewish, had attended a Passover Seder the year before (seriously). Thus far, I’ve covered the gamut of styles—folk, metal, rap, prog rock, new wave, funk, rap, electronica, hardcore, and rap (Jews seemingly love rap, but that’s another article), yet I’ve never written about emo. This troubled me. I then decided to compile a comprehensive list of Jewish emo musicians because when you’re Jewish and into emo, this seems like the thing to do. I came up with five entries:
1 - Gabe Saporta of Midtown and Cobra Starship
2 - Ari Katz of Lifetime
3 - Mike Hanau of Halifax
4 - Two guys from New Found Glory
5 - The abbreviated name of popular emo band Jimmy Eat World is J.E.W. This only sort of counts but I think it’s still worth noting.

For additional research, I called my friend Andy Greenwald, the uncontested authority on emo, and the author of the emoest book ever Nothing Feels Good.
I told him about my list.
“Joe Trohman of Fall Out Boy is also a member of the tribe,” Andy said. “And he’s a good guy.”

So now we have six. Kind of.

Sunday, April 15, 2007



-- From hereon in, I shall refer to it not as a "nap" but as an "afternoon rest"

-- It's only okay to say "hos" if you, in the very least, know a couple.

-- A controversial radio segment should be broader. I mean, anyone can offend ten people.

-- Al Sharpton is a selfless man on the mission to eradicate racism. He is by no means interested in getting attention or publicity for his own afternoon radio show.

-- Viacom will protect freedom of speech just as long as it's animated.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007



One of Britain's recent pop imports is a waify, ambiguously gay man named Mika. The twenty-three-year-old singer was in Austin, Texas to win over the American press during SXSW and he was on-stage improvising a jokey cover of Shakira's "Hips Don't Lie." I stood there reluctantly listening to what could be summed up as a singular Scissor Sister. Really, nothing more than that. But as I debated with myself (yet again) over whether I should wait until the end of the set to leave disappointed, I noticed a rotund, baby-faced man with bright pink hair weaving through the crowd, standing on his tippy toes looking for the best view while simultaneously blocking the people behind him. It took me a few seconds but then I recognized this attention-hungry individual as gossip columnist Perez Hilton.

I left immediately.

For the uninitiated, Perez Hilton is an alias for Mario Lavandeira, a Los Angeles blogger that's somehow turned writing childish messages over paparazzi photos and abusing exclamation points into a well-paying job. It's not my intention to call Hilton out for his shallow existence--that would be too easy. After all, the man's name is inspired by the human embodiment of worthlessness (ironically, now, he's friends with Paris) and his website is nothing necessarily unique or outstanding. Anyone with a computer can steal photos from photo agency sites and scribble statements like "in love?" or "it's love" over them.

What concerns me is not what Perez does, but rather, the patronizing to him. Yesterday, Blender Magazine published a heinous article (or as Perez would say, "whoreanus") online titled Perez Hilton Is the New Pitchfork. The article, which not surprisingly withholds the author's name, asserts that Hilton has a burgeoning influence in the music industry.

From the article:
Perez Hilton: Gossip maven, party hopper, menace to celebrities...highly respected and influential music tastemaker? With recent Perez picks like Lily Allen and Regina Spektor breaking through to MTV and Billboard success, artists and labels are beginning to recognize the escalating value of coverage on PerezHilton.com. "The site is making a huge difference," says Monte Lipman, president of Universal Republic. And he should know—soul-singing Republic artist Amy Winehouse debuted on the album charts at a surprisingly high No. 7 with the help of Perez, which dedicated more than 30 posts to her talents and exploits since October.

I say this with full confidence. Perez has nothing to do with Winehouse's debut's success--her face was unavoidable and buzz was inevitable. She is enormously talented. But let's say hypothetically, we give him the credit for the soul singer's fame, or Spektor's or Mika's. It would be preposterous but let's go with it. Okay, so now Perez Hilton is the gay Pitchfork. You feeling it?
Neither am I.

Labels, while struggling with the ever-changing industry, need to remember that associating their newly signed act with someone of Hilton's caliber is detrimental. Gossip columnist come and go, but in many instance, they can write. The self-appointed Queen of All Media cannot write. In the background, I can hear the clock ticking until society sobers up and realizes that Perez is a poisonous, petty a**hole with his own Samsonite line of issues (what is it this time? Not loved as a child? Parents disapprove over son's homosexuality?). And when that time comes, the artists that he so enthusiastically endorses (I'm looking at you, the virtually unknown Jenny Owens Young) will try to Listerine strip the bitter after-taste of backlash. To avoid this, we need to remind ourselves regularly that this man is famous for writing about famous people like an eight-year-old child. If that child was retarded. And this is not the sort of person we want to give influential power to (because he also sometimes ends sentences with prepositions).

Yes, it's also entirely possible that Perez has decent reactionary ears--hey, Kirsten Dunst loves Radiohead--but this does not make him a tastemaker. Am I getting riled up over an anonymously written blog article on a magazine website not known for its content? Perhaps, but I assure the article's threats ("Lavandeira hopes to parlay his budding music industry notoriety into an "over the top" Perez-branded summer tour, a compilation CD and maybe even a record label.") are not far off. After all, there are a lot of stupid people in the music industry. Heck, how do you think this article got written?