One thing I will most surely not do in this essay is to speak about Jewish music.
That would be a separate subject, in and of its own right, and, with Hashem’s help, I will post on this subject another time.
However, I will ask: Is there any difference between a Jewish and not-Jewish musician?
Of course when I say Jewish, I’m not speaking of Irving Berlin, Leonard Bernstein, Bob Dylan, Paul Stanley, David Lee Roth, Geddy Lee, or Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel.
All of them were born Jewish, but their contribution to what is considered real Jewish music is sort of like second cousins twice removed. They contributed to the history of the world’s music, and as much as world music influences Jewish music, that’s about the level of their contribution to it. Most of them didn’t or don’t live the path of life of their ancestors, which make them Jews but not necessarily Jewish.
I would like to speak about musicians who sing at Orthodox Jewish weddings or who sell their CDs in Jewish bookstores.
There is no question in my mind that since Jewish music was always influenced by outside music, and vice versa. As I said this is not the topic here. The matter of what genre do we listen to, is taste and nothing else.
However there is another question: How are our musicians influenced by the secular world’s performers?
We all know that today’s entertainment figures have become the new aristocracy of the world. They and other performers are role models to the new generation. This has been the case for the past few generations.
The root of this phenomenon, however, goes back to the general history of Euro-American civilization. Somewhere within last couple of hundred years, this civilization burned out on accepting their authority figures. There is no priest, statesman, or sage whom the public will rely on his knowledge and wisdom. Even those words — knowledge and wisdom — have somehow become disliked, not “cool.”
The media are constantly bombarding us with completely worthless and irrelevant information about stars and idols. We can learn all the gory and personal details about their lives, from almost every source of information. The media feeds us with information about the performers, with or without these “stars” permission.
We just said “idols”? Hasn’t this word long ago acquired a new meaning? Many times, those new “idols” feel themselves like they are some new kind of god. They become cult-like or even kind of quasi-religious. They behave in a way that some tyrants of old would be ashamed of. The rules of common folk don’t apply to them, yet common folk ape at them thoughtlessly and with great enthusiasm.
Some of them are even talented musicians, but many wouldn’t be on the top of the list without constant scandals, wired outlooks, and wired performances. Everything for the show. Everything.
So … when I see a Jewish singer or musician performing in the manner of Michael Jackson or Mick Jagger, it makes me nauseous. If he thinks that so long as he doesn’t touch himself below the belt line, it’s alright — it isn’t.
Or maybe he will sing in the manner of some young boys’ band — nice and glamorous. It is still an ugly imitation of and manner of performance strange to the Jewish spirit.
A Jew aware of his Creator and Giver of all talents and capabilities understands the fact that he has nice voice and capacity to use it, but only for the pleasure of his fellow brothers. It is a gift from Heaven and nothing else. It is a gift, and as a gift it should be treated as such, with gratitude and humility.
I am expressing my private opinion and nothing more than that. I am not saying that a performance by a Jew should be cheerless or sad. Music has the amazing power to make almost everybody happy. And yes, it makes us move our bodies and that’s beautiful. It especially makes the music player’s or singer’s whole body and soul move. That’s how HaKadosh Baruch Hu created us and that’s how His holy servants enjoyed the gift of music — they were worshiping their Creator with it! It simply doesn’t have to be accompanied by strange Star-shtick.
Even among the greatest non-Jewish performers there are those who use their talent in the humble ways of whatever they value.
David Gilmour, Joe Satriani, Neal Morse, even Bono and countless of others realized that their ability to create doesn’t make them more than talented people. They are people who don’t have to suck glory from their fans and even then exist with severe depression. This, unfortunately, is the case for some performers. At least some of the very talented musicians among the nations don’t act this way. They can enjoy and make others enjoy their music without buffoonery and glamour and shtick so characteristic for the majority of the performers.
I purposely didn’t use any of the Jewish musicians as examples. It would be unnecessary and plain wrong. Whoever reads this essay can make his own cheshbon hanefesh (account of conscience), whether he is a singer, musician, or just plain listener.