22 March 2012

No. Thank You, Idan Raichel

For helping me get my swerve back. Intellectually speaking, of course. Dirty birds.

The first semester of the pro-track program I flailed around feeling, to mix metaphors, both lost at sea and high and dry. During the holiday season, by chance, my supervisor at the fair trade store (yep, I'm a hippie!) decided to jettison the cheesy Putamayo world music cds for Pandora. So, she was giving them away to customers and employees.

The first time I ever laid eyes on an Israeli had to have been in 1994 a few months before I turned 19. It was the summer after my first year of college. I'd like to say I didn't gape or stare or find it incredibly novel to know an Israeli, but I can't be sure. There's a good chance I didn't because I met people from Thailand, Japan, Korea, Nepal, Turkey, the Netherlands, and France that summer, too. And I had been socialized to think that nearly the entire point of going to college was fleeing one's small-town background pell-mell to meet and take up with people different from oneself.

One of the world music cds being exorcised by my supervisor was an Idan Raichel Project cd. I'd heard of him, so I adopted it--even though I knew from experience that Israeli pop music can be rather...hit or miss at best. I bought a cd by Aviv Geffen, Israel's biggest pop star during the 1990s, when I was studying abroad at Tel Aviv University in 1996. I understood hardly a syllable of it. And the melodies were unpolished to ears that knew from 1980s new wave and 1990s indie rock. I have a theory about Israel's pop music: it's the result of Israeli society's domination, socially, culturally, economically, and politically, by people descended from Eastern Europeans.

In 2001, Etgar Keret, Israel's most important writer under 50, was an International Writing Program participant at The University of Iowa. His now-wife Shira Geffen came along with him. I was standing outside the Iowa Memorial Union with them. Etgar introduced me to Shira. "Are you related to Aviv Geffen?" I snickered, showing off my knowledge of Israeli culture with a simper. "He's my brother," Shira said. Needless to say, I felt like a complete idiot.

But back to our friends of the Idan Raichel Project. I played the cd later that evening at home and liked "Shuvi El Beyti" immediately for the keys. Listening to it almost obsessively later, I realized I liked the melody, which is simple, but rather sweet. No, I don't know what it means. Except, well, like, "Come back to my house," is about what the title means. So. Draw your own conclusions.

Continuing to listen to this song and "Bo'i"--repeatedly--with headphones reminded me how beautiful Hebrew is. I remember sitting in a classroom at Tel Aviv University ignoring my Hebrew teacher to write (English) poetry. Leaving no biblical allusion behind, I described Hebrew as "spiced wine." Hey. I was only 21. But listening to the Idan Raichel Project cd reminded me that Hebrew is exciting and, I would venture, pretty seductive to hear. We just don't have consonants like that in English.

Reconnecting with my love of Hebrew led to other reunions--famously, my Israeli literature in translation binge during the winter holiday. A switch I had forgotten had been flipped. I got involved with UW Hillel's Israeli Film Festival--one of the best weeks of my life. Then I decided to start watching Israeli films in the comfort of my own home with friends. See where this is going?

I'm doing my story for 880 about Israeli film, likely, more specifically, the Heymann brothers--who have, of course, done films about Idan Raichel Project and Aviv Geffen. No, I didn't just make that up. It's true. Israel's a small country.
It happens that Idan Raichel's new joint will be in, uh, Platteville, next month. (Oh, and Etgar Keret and Nathan Englander will be doing something together in Chicago next month, too.) Yes, I know all this synchronicity is, like, weird, but welcome to my life. Maybe I'll go. I owe him many thanks.