Monday, February 27, 2006

i love my dad

a lot.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

'we'll be invisible this christmas' - harry and the potters

tomorrow is my seventeenth birthday, so i thought i'd give you all a state-of-the-union.

it's hard to put my finger on what's changing, or what's changed about me. as recent as last year i would wake up the whole week of my birthday with a big smile on my face. inwardly i would call myself silly and selfish for feeling like this, but i'm telling you, i floated through the entire first half of february waiting to be ambushed with attention and love. on my actual birthday, i felt like magic actually existed. as much as i tried not to think about it, every two seconds part of my brain would shout: 'hey! it's your birthday! everybody loves you!'

this year is the first year i'm not home for my birthday, a fact which did not actually occur to me until my ex-roommate left me a note a few days ago that said, 'hey, your birthday's coming up, isn't it?'

and all i could do was stand there and stare, dumbstruck by the notion that someone remembered my birthday before i did.

it's been like that all week. i keep forgetting. i guess it's because when you're one person in an 800 person building you don't expect people to remember your birthday, and it becomes a day just like any other. also, when you're in a small town that stays pretty much static from day to day, your birthday is the one time of the year that the impossible can happen. something new. something exciting. someone could surprise you, and you don't even have to suffer the usual fifty-fifty chance of that surprise being unpleasant!

but around here, you need so much brain power just to keep track of everything you're supposed to have done and when. when i think of thursday, i don't think woo! 17! cake time! i think, woo! no class till 1:45! i can catch up on my journalism reading and take a really long time to eat breakfast!

and there is of course the inevitable downing factor, which is that 17 may be older than 16, but not so that you'd notice. apparently, some of my friends here have spread the word, because over the past week i've had a bunch of quasi-acquaintances wish me a happy 20th birthday. then we have to go through the humiliating age-haggle ("what, 19? no. 18? 17?! what are you even DOING here? you should be in HIGH SCHOOL!")

at the same time, though, i don't really feel like a kid anymore. before anyone gets their knickers in a knot, i'm not claiming to be an adult, either. as i've said somewhere, i think adulthood is a title you have to earn, and chronology has nothing to do with it. taxes, maybe. if you have an income and pay taxes, then i can see it.

mostly, i feel like an outsider...somebody watching a movie; an unseen audience. i don't really recognize myself a lot of the time. a few days ago somebody stopped me at a corner near times square and asked me how to get downtown. this is a stunt nobody would have tried to pull in my hometown, a place where i have lived for oh, fourteen years. it is a well-established fact that i still don't know how to get home from pic n save. yet i found myself answering this stranger clearly and concisely, without hesitation. i actually knew which trains go downtown. this weirds me out a little, as it is a decidedly un-me like thing to know.

but then, a lot of the things i do now are very un-me like.

i find myself sitting through meetings in board rooms with coffee and various personages in blazers and high heels discussing the ramifications of biased journalism on munich (really); taking the subway to discount stores that sell things cheaper than midtown; interviewing; copy-editting; debating politics on the radio; and watching football on the couch while knitting ("we all turn into our parents. it's inevitable"--the breakfast club).

and i do all of these as though they are reasonable things for me to be doing.

sometimes i feel like a stranger just walking through the halls of my dorm, looking at the pictures people have posted on their doors. which ones are decorated with mazal tov signs, and which ones have messages from their friends scrawled over their whiteboards. i walk up the 18 flights, thinking about all the people who i see everyday and know nothing about. i think about all their friends and their families and how they were raised, and how they're here now, in bio class, just like me, only so much different than me. and i see myself as they must see me, another one of the messier girls who stumbles into bio class out of breath with her hair disheveled and collapses at the back desk.

somehow, we all get along.

so that's the difference between this year and last year. last year, i was definitely me. and everybody was my friend and my family loved me and it seemed like at any moment something amazing could happen (quoth i the incredibles).

this year...

this year, i am not really sure who i am or what i'll be capable of next. not everyone is really my friend...and that doesn't bother me. my family still loves me, the last time i checked, and it means more to me now than it did then. and amazing things have come and gone without me even realizing that i'd lived through them.

and i'm beginning to realize that being here so young presents me with a distinct advantage: unlike every other kid who gets thrown into college cold, i get to observe for a round. by definition, i'm too young to play the marriage game; too young to get a serious job. but i'm still in the thick of it, watching people and noticing things. making notes. i think it'll be an interesting year, and hopefully, i'll get some hecka compelling writing out of the things i see.

until then, i will be where you lef me: markering up the last number on forms that ask for my date-of-birth.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

kabbalah rocks

((i originally wrote this for my school newspaper, which accounts for its clipped form and startling capitalization.))

So it’s a frozen morning in Milwaukee, and with a blanket wrapped around my shoulders, cookie dough waiting for me in the kitchen, I’m browsing through my dad’s cd rack. The house is abandoned: the kids are at school, my parents are at work. A morning of cookie-eating and laughing at sad ‘80s albums, I think—there are worse ways to spend the winter break, right?

After thumbing aside the expected medley of Duran Duran and Led Zeppelin, however, I make an intriguing discovery: a clearly hand-labelled CD titled “Kabbalah.” A glance at the back of the Jewel case confirms my suspicions. This is a relic of my father’s YU band-that-was, Kabbalah. My father’s played in a lot of bands; Shlock Rock when I was little, his own blues-and-rock act more recently. But I don’t remember hearing this album. Curious, I collect my cookie dough from the kitchen and pop the cd into the stereo.

Before I tell you what I found so fascinating about Kabbalah, though, there’s something I must explain. For a long time I’ve felt strange talking about my father’s YU band. It’s so easy for anyone to dismiss my enthusiasm with, ‘He’s her father—of course she likes it!’ Oh, if you only knew. I can’t help but laugh when I hear that because if you knew our history you’d realize that, however oddly, the inverse is closer to the truth.

My dad’s been recording and performing all my life. When my brothers and I were preschoolers, we used to dance around in the living room to Shlock Rock records. (Literally records—turntables and all.) But the songs were as familiar to me growing up as the wallpaper in the kitchen: something you know so well, you don’t even see it anymore. I guess it’s the same as religious children who are taught to daven from an early age. You know the words so well, you’ve no reason to stop and think about their meaning. My father’s music was a fact of life; to me, there was a stark difference between that and the kind of thing you laid in bed all night listening to over and over.

As a teenager, also, I dismissed my father out of hand. In the first place, he writes Jewish music, and I was bitterly disappointed in Jewish music by the time I was fourteen. In my day school all the kids listened to was Journeys, the Chevra, Lev Tahor, the Miami Boys Choir (possibly a different boys’ choir?). To me they all sounded the same: overdone, heartless and boring. I wanted music to say things I hadn’t thought of before, to be emotive, to understand me, to represent me, to capture moods and stories and ideas. Above all, I just wanted to hear something interesting. This was a need that Jewish music, or my concept of it at the time—with its cut-and-paste lyrics and computer-generated harmonies—could not fill for me. My father? Less than that. Throughout high school, the albums I sprawled across the nightstand under my stereo came from increasingly obscure artists. I think ‘eclectic’ is the nice term for it. My father, however, just thought I was nuts. Nothing I listened to was good enough for him. Either the chord progression was recycled, or it was too simple, or too strange. Anything I liked about a song was dismissed—he knew another band that did it first, and not only first, but better. Oh, how I fumed. I was just learning to play guitar then, and it frustrated me beyond words, that claim of ‘better.’ Why did more complicated mean better? Why did older mean better? I related to my new, simple songs; they meant something to me. Why couldn’t he hear what I heard? No, my father didn’t even understand what I wanted from music. There was no way his music could stand for me.

And, with that special hypocrisy unique to the self-proclaimed open-minded, I wrote my dad off.

Alright, fast forward back to winter break. I’m a little bit older and perhaps a touch less eclectic, but knowing my background, you understand that my dad would have to work pretty hard to score any points with me. Right?

Ok. Now that we have dealt with the dad issue, let’s proceed.

The album I played in my kitchen was really a random mix of two releases—“Kabbalah Classic” and “Kabbalah.” The distinction between albums is immaterial, though, because—hold on to your hat, Virginia—each song has a completely different style and structure than the next.

“Adon Olam,” for example, opens with a quiet, delayed arpeggio on the electric guitar. The bass line kicks in with the drums, and it has its own clear, simple melody. Not just the four notes necessary to anchor the other instruments in the song, but not either an overblown exercise in technical musicianship, it gives “Adon Olam” a distinct mood: the song has a slightly dark, introspective feel. Think of some of the more melodic 80s rockers: U2, the Police.

Then there’s “Va’ani,” with a layered intro of synth and a few ringing notes on the electric guitar that would make the Moody Blues proud. It eventually breaks down into a power-pop dream of harmonies, dangling guitar lines, and a bassline that bounces over the spectrum. The song fades out over another layering of synth and a saxophone solo that makes you feel the instrument’s sad and cheesy employment in the Chevra albums is undeserved.

And if you think you’ve got Kabbalah pegged now as a moody synth band, you’d be wrong again. Witness “Ashrei”, a two-minute fifteen-second clocker (most Jewish songs aren’t even started by then!) that simply rocks out Ramones-style. You’ve got your garage-rock guitars, a piano that tap-dances over the song, and a brief but wild solo that inspires air guitar. Not that you heard it from me.

The interesting thing about Kabbalah is their ability to carefully construct a song with its own atmosphere, its own idea—and not bloat it with meaningless solos. In stark contrast to the gaudy and garish albums with the biggest sales, they keep their songs simple, focused and intriguing. Each instrument has its own hooky line to play, and when they do solo, rather than hitting every note in the scale, they hit the ones you don’t expect them to play. And most of the time, you are pleasantly surprised.

Sitting in my kitchen over winter break, I know that I was. All the things I’d been looking for in Jewish music, on an old cd in the kitchen. Who would have thought.

Maybe I ought to score my dad a few points.

If you’d like to take a listen to the songs I referenced here, or other Kabbalah songs, or to read the band’s official and amusing bio, go to