New Christmas Cheer from Rabbi Rosen

As I’ve long since confessed my love for Christmas songs, I’ll give a plug for my favorite new Christmas album of the year: “Quality Street: A Seasonal Selection for All the Family,” by the great Nick Lowe. I’m digging his take on some old faves, lesser-known gems as well as some great new originals. I’m guessing his new song “Christmas at the Airport” is destined to be a seasonal classic – a fabulous bossa nova ballad that transfers the aching Christmas longing from “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” to a lonely commuter socked in at airport terminal:

It looks like Christmas, Christmas at the airport/I should be at the table/with all my kith and kin/It looks like Christmas, Christmas at the airport this year/Don’t save me any turkey/I found a burger in a bin.

Great stuff! And while I’m at it, I’ll offer up another chestnut from Bob Dylan’s inscrutably wonderful 2009 album “Christmas in the Heart” (described by Pitchfork Magazine as a collection of “mostly traditional renderings” delivered with a “craggy, get-off-my-lawn snarl.”) Click below for his wacked out video of “Must Be Santa Claus” (which seems to be set at a Christmas party in an egg-nog soaked halfway house.)


On Sukkot: Turn and Turn Again

On Sukkot eve, some selections from Ecclesiastes to help you celebrate this time of our rejoicing…

a generation goes a generation comes
but the earth remains forever
the sun rises the sun sets and
glides back to where it rises again
southward blowing turning northward ever
turning blows the wind
on its rounds the wind returns

all streams flow into the sea but
the sea is never full
to the place from which they flow
there they will flow back again

(Ecclesiastes 1:4-7)

Must Listen for High Holidays: Galeet Darsahsti

Check out the latest musical offering of Persian Jewish singer Galeet Dardashti – a taste of her new live performance, Monajat.

From her website:

Monajat is inspired by the poetic prayers of Selihot, recited during the month preceding Jewish New Year. It is a time-specific concert and program that takes place during a period of deep reflection and spiritual preparation. In the project, she re-imagines the Selihot ritual in collaboration with an acclaimed ensemble of musicians, an electronic soundscape, and dynamic live video art. Monajat is a Persian word meaning an intimate dialogue with the Divine. Using Persian melodies and Hebrew texts, the work pays homage to her grandfather (Yona Dardashti, the most renowned singer of Persian classical music in Iran in his day). She performs some of the Persian piyutim (liturgical songs) traditionally chanted as part of the Selihot service, as well as other liturgical and non-liturgical Hebrew and Persian poetry set to new music. Through electronics, she defies time and performs with her grandfather.

Dardashti’s Persian-Jewish musical hybrid is nothing short of sublime. If you’re tempted by this preview, check out her album “The Naming,” in which sets her unique musical sights on stories of Biblical women.

People You Should Listen To: Azam Ali

I’ve been listening non-stop the past two weeks to the music of Azam Ali, an Indian/Persian vocalist who is gifted with one of the most ethereal, transporting voices I believe I’ve ever heard.  Ali specializes in sacred music and sings them in a dizzying variety of languages.

You should give a listen – a great place to start would be her first solo album, “Portals of Grace,” which combines Judeo-Spanish and Arabic songs with medieval songs from France, Galicia, Brittany and Sweden. (!)

Click above to hear Ali’s version of the Sephardic ballad “La Serena.” Sublime.

In Remembrance of the Buddhist Beastie Boy

Like many people across the country and around the world, I’m mourning the untimely loss of Beastie Boy Adam Yauch (aka MCA).

While Yauch may have attained popularity as one third of a group of New York Jewish rappers who got their start helping at least one generation of suburban white boys “fight for their right to party,” his personal spiritual evolution into Tibetan Buddhism was one major reason the Beasties’ music ended up going in such amazing and ever-surprising directions for over a decade.

RIP MCA. In remembrance, here’s an excerpt from MCA’s 1994 interview with the Buddhist Journal, Tricycle:

Yauch: The bottom line of all the problems on this planet and that all human beings are working on is this basic misconception of not-enoughness, feeling like we’re not enough. This is some strain of that, of feeling that if the dharma is presented in this way, or if these other people become interested in this or get excited about it, it’s going to take something away from me. It’s this basic misconception, this feeling of not-enoughness.

Tricycle: Do you see any difference for your own generation?

Yauch: One of the monks said something that’s relevant here. He noticed this huge separation in America between the kids and the adults that doesn’t exist where he comes from, and that there’s a real polarization between adults and youth. Where they come from, when there’s a celebration—or a dance, or a party, or music—the little kids and the grandpas are all dancing and singing together. That’s something this country could definitely grasp hold of. Our polarization of that is more extreme than it needs to be.

Tricycle: Are you hopeful about your generation?

Yauch: I’m pretty hopeful about the evolution of humanity in general. I think that all of us here on the planet at this point have come into these lifetimes and into these bodies because it’s a crucial time in the evolution of the planet and humanity. It’s a transitional phase, and I think that everyone has come in at this time to be a part of that, to be part of the Big Show.

PS: To the uninitiated: Adam is the one with the backwards cap…

Ce Lo Reimagines “Imagine” (I Wonder If He Can?)

And now some thoughts on one of the most significant religion stories of 2012…

I’m talking, of course, about the upheaval caused when Ce Lo Green sang John Lennon’s “Imagine” in Times Square on New Year’s Eve and changed Lennon’s line “and no religion too” to “and all religions true.”

Wouldn’t you know it, outrage ensued. From the Twittersphere, predominantly:

“Cee-lo ruining John Lennon….not everything needs a remix. Although the message is relevant,” wrote a reader named D’Nai. Said @kevinkieninger: “Cee Lo. There’s some songs you just don’t cover. Like anything by the Beatles or John Lennon.”

“The whole point of that lyric is that religion causes harm. If “all [sic] religion’s true” it would be a pretty bleak place,” remarked @geekysteven, summing up Lennon’s anti-religion philosophy.

Ce Lo later tweeted a semi-apology for compromising Lennon’s universalistic ethic:

Yo I meant no disrespect by changing the lyric guys! I was trying to say a world were u could believe what u wanted that’s all.

My thoughts?  To be honest, my first reaction was to note that we’ve defintely gone down the rabbit hole when Ce Lo Green, the singer of a massive hit single called “F**k You”, is now somehow in the position of saving religion from John Lennon.

Personally speaking, I’ve always found that particular line less galling than the verse “Imagine no possessions/I wonder if you can” – especially when you consider that Lennon, the owner of a psychedelic Rolls Royce tricked out with a telephone, refrigerator, television and double bed, actually recorded this song from his 72 acre estate in Tittenhurst Park. (Interestingly enough, when Neil Young performed “Imagine” at a post 9/11 benefit concert, he actually changed that line to the more humble “Imagine no possessions/I wonder if I can.” From what I recall, no one seemed to mind it at the time.)

Hey, at the end of the day, it’s a mellow ditty that dreams a universal dream of a world that lives as one. Just settle down and stop bickering already…

New Musical Greetings for Hanukkah!

Happy first day of Hanukkah! If you’re looking for ways to light up this dark season, here are two gorgeous musical Hanukkah greetings courtesy of Pharoah’s Daughter. Check out these great versions of  Hanukkah classics “Maoz Tzur” (above) and “Al Hansim” (below). Both were filmed at the 2008 Rabbis for Human Rights – North America Conference in Washington DC.

(Anyone else growing weary of the utterly overused yet still somehow requisite German-folk setting we Ashkenazim use for Maoz Tzur? I’m going with this one when I light the candles tonight…)

Basya Schechter Sings Heschel!

Been listening nonstop lately to Basya Schechter’s new album, “Songs of Wonder.” I’ve long been a big fan of her and her band Pharaoh’s Daughter – I particularly love the way she effortlessly synthesizes so many different kinds of world musical influences to create Jewish music that is both original yet somehow utterly authentic in its energy.

In her new solo effort she has set the Yiddish poems of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel to music. If you didn’t know the venerable Jewish theologian/civil rights activist had written poetry, you’re probably not alone. As it turns out, Heschel wrote them when he was just 26 years old and still a doctoral candidate in philosophy at the University of Berlin. They were published in a wonderful bilingual edition in 2007 – according to the Amazon review:

(This) is the intimate spiritual diary of a devout European Jew, loyal to the revelation at Sinai and afflicted with reverence for all human beings. These poems sound themes that will resonate throughout Heschel’s later popular writings: human holiness, a passion for truth, awe and wonder before nature, God’s quest for righteousness, solidarity with the downtrodden, and unwavering commitment to tikkun olam. In these poems, we also discover a young man’s acute loneliness, dismay at God’s distance, and dreams of spiritual and sensual intimacy with a woman.

For her album, Schechter assembled a posse of the best of the best musicians from the downtown NYC Jewish music scene and recorded ten songs that melded the young Heschel’s spiritual yearnings to her trademark eclectic Jewish sound. It’s a fabulous, mesmerizing album.

If you’re like me and you live outside subway distance of the Upper West Side/Lower East Side, just click above to see her performing “My Song.” (The music starts at about 1:07). And you should check out this very thorough piece on her by the Forward’s Alexander Gelfand.

For Elul: All Things Must Pass


For your Elul viewing/listening pleasure:

Here is a clip from the “Concert for George,” which was held in November 2002 on the first anniversary of George Harrison’s death. It was a star-studded affair organized by his family and arranged as a benefit for Harrison’s charitable foundation.

Among the many memorable moments in the concert was this performance of Harrison’s solo classic, “All Things Must Pass” sung by Paul McCartney. I find it quite moving to listen to the spiritual message of the song, doubly meaningful on this particular occasion. (Not to mention watching Harrison’s son Dhani – the spitting image of his father – playing backup guitar.)

All things must pass
All things must pass away
All things must pass
None of life’s strings can last
So, I must be on my way
And face another day

Now the darkness only stays the night-time
In the morning it will fade away
Daylight is good at arriving at the right time
It’s not always going to be this grey

Alt-Country Theology: A Tutorial

Check out two very divergent takes on grief and loss by two wonderful alt-country singers: “The Duel,” by Allison Moorer and  “God is in the Roses” by Roseanne Cash (from her brilliant album “Black Cadillac,” one of my favorites.)

Both are profoundly personal reflections on God after the death of a loved one. I’m deeply moved by both, even if they express bereavement with radically different emotions and points of view.

I’d love to hear reactions.

“The Duel”
by Allison Moorer

In this cemetery mist
Stands a newborn atheist
Even if you do exist
You’re far from almighty
Flesh and blood’s a sissy fist
Death’s a gold glove pugilist
And everyday it’s hit or miss
That’s what I believe

I stared at my polished shoes
In front of your wooden pews
Prayed and prayed don’t let me lose
What my heart adores
Are miracles old-fashioned news
No healing hands were ever used
Faithfulness was my excuse
Tell me what was yours

I don’t know how many rounds
Are left in me ‘til I stay down
And there’s no telling where I’m bound
But one thing I’m sure of
The king of kings has lost his crown
It’s buried here in marble town
In the god forsaken ground
With my only love

“God is in the Roses”
by Rosanne Cash

God is in the roses
The petals and the thorns
Storms out on the oceans
The souls who will be born
And every drop of rain that falls
Falls for those who mourn
God is in the roses and the thorns

The sun is on the cemetery
Leaves are on the stones
There never was a place on earth
That felt so much like home
We’re falling like the velvet petals
We’re bleeding and we’re torn
But God is in the roses and the thorns

I love you like a brother
A father and a son
It may not last forever and ever
But it never will be done
My whole world fits inside the moment
I saw you be reborn
God is in the roses
And that day was filled with roses
God is in the roses and the thorns