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…)