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Monday, November 24, 2008

The Same Thing, Only Not

Here's the same exact interview I posted yesterday -- only, in Russian this time.

Мэтт: Да, безусловно - я считаю, что чудо здесь в безграничных средствах массовой информации . Возможность найти все, что угодно в любом виде. Опасность в Интернете, которая беспокоит родителей в том, что произойдет, если нажать на ошибочное Youtube видео и просмотреть порно? G-dcast - совершенная противоположность.

Thanks to Tanya, who is awesome -- and who started translating Losers into Russian. Now, what does Jupiter's name look like in Cyrillic??

20 (or 10, or 21) Questions

Brina, who runs the Young Adult New York website, has just posted one of the most intense interviews I've ever done. You'll see her format, and you'll be confused, and then it will all make sense -- she asks the author a question, and the author responds and then asks her a question, and it keeps going like that for twenty questions. So the interview's actually ten questions, I guess -- except that (a) both answering and asking reveal some surprising things about both of us, and (b) I manage to sneak an extra one in toward the end, as a precursor to my Sandman question.

Me: What are you working on now?

Matthue: I can’t get Jupiter out of my head, and even more the other characters [in Losers]. In one way Jupiter is about growing up with my best friend who just died, and then I wrote/am still writing this book about his death which is kind of about me and Anne Frank hanging out. … I don’t know if anyone will like it but me, but it’s my heart. I just took my heart out and stuck a bunch of knives in it and this is what I got.


G-dcast: The Interview

CK from Jewlicious just posted an interview that he conducted with me and Sarah Lefton about this little website we made called G-dcast.

The wonder of this is that it’s such a mediumless medium. It’s anything you want it to be. The danger of the Internet that parents are worried about is, what happens if you click on the wrong Youtube video and watch porn? G-dcast is almost the opposite. It’s like, you see a cartoon, which you think is going to be funny and snarky and irreverent — which, hopefully, it is — and then it ends up being a little bit hopeful and inspiring.


Speaking of which: New episode today! Courtesy of the Orthodox hip-hop M.C. Y-Love:

Friday, November 21, 2008

Hard Core Religion

The L.A. Times ran a piece a few days ago on Muslim punk-rock teenagers, which mostly served as an excuse to run a non-dairy-creamer story on how Muslim kids are wrestling with, and sticking to, the faith.

muslim punk roock kids?!?

The story is told from the point of view of Hiba Siddiqui, a 17-year-old girl in Texas, who's in a rebellious spot (she's not praying 5 times a day or dressing in hijab), but still trying to make sense of her religion. Her room is a pastiche of Rumi books and Nylon magazines.

There are a lot of perfect moments in the story -- a girl quoting Muslim rapper T.I.P. in her speech for Muslim Student Association president; a quote from a song in a book, "Muhammad was a punk rocker and he rocked that town." Another girl confronts her mother with the amazing book The Taqwacores, a Muslim punk-rock novel by Michael Muhammad Knight (which actually kick-started a genre of music) that offers insights like the following:

I stopped trying to define Punk around the same time I stopped trying to define Islam. . . . Both are viewed by outsiders as unified, cohesive communities when nothing can be further from the truth.

But the article's failure, in my opinion, is the same thing I encountered with (sorry, egotism) people writing about my Orthodox Jewish punk-rock book Never Mind the Goldbergs -- it's a lot easier to say "look! kids are rebellious! and still trying to be religious!" than it is to look at the intersection of the two and ask out why it's going on, or what it means. I mean, I'm a journalist too, and I know that the best stories are supposed to tell themselves, and the writer shouldn't let opinions creep in. Hiba sounds like a fascinating person, and I'd love to hear more of what she thinks of herself -- not just that she decided to friend Muhammad Knight and some taqwacore bands on Myspace.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

YA New York: 20 Questions with Matthue Roth

This was actually a pretty cool interview.

Me: Can you tell us a little bit about Losers, the book, not the people?

Matthue: Basically, my first book, Never Mind the Goldbergs, was my kind of idealized fantasy of the person that I’d like to be, if the person I’d like to be was a seventeen-year-old girl. … Jupiter is everything that I was at seventeen, although more so: He’s totally socially awkward, has relationships that exist entirely in his head, and he lives in a factory.

Question Two

Matthue: What did your bedroom look like growing up?

Me: I moved a lot, so I had a lot of different bedrooms, but one thing stayed the same throughout, which is that I plastered my walls with photographs of my friends; since I only had two or three friends at a time, the same people would often appear in the pictures.

Question Three

Me: You didn’t live in a factory growing up, but you did live in Philadelphia. What was your childhood like?

Matthue: I always wanted to live in a factory. I actually really wanted to move into the basement, which was a big area that had a few couches and a lot of pillows and some seventies furniture that no one had used for years. I thought the wall would be filled with books and the floors would be filled with gigantic Lego sculptures. I spent a lot of time alone as a kid.

read more >

Out of the Extraordinary

Today on Nextbook, I wrote an article about the brilliant Motown funk of the Israeli colony of Dimona, a Hasidic hip-hop duo with their own soul band, and Matisyahu's new opening act, marlon from shem's discipleswho isn't Jewish (actually, he's from Somalia, currently residing in Toronto) but whose name, K'naan, sort of has a Biblical ring to it, and whose mind-bogglingly good song "In the Beginning" definitely does. Click here to download the track, or listen to a bunch of stuff and read the whole article:

Dimona is a small village in the Negev, half an hour south of Beersheva. It’s an incredibly small town, less than three square miles, and since it’s in the middle of the Israeli desert, it doesn’t get much in the way of tourists. Mostly, Dimona is known for two things: its nuclear power plant, and its community of Black Hebrews, a group of African-American émigrés who left Chicago, followed the revolutionary leader Marcus Garvey to Liberia, and ended up immigrating en-masse to Israel in the late 1960s.

The community is featured sporadically in Jewish newspapers, mostly as a wacky story about unconventional Israeli immigrants. The thing most reporters don’t usually write about, however, is the town of Dimona’s unlikely profusion of pop and soul singles in the 1970s.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Post-Open Mic Post

exhausted. shrilled. my body feels like a piece of wood that's been left in the sun too long....

but so exhilarated. josh was profound and michael was hilarious and elana's cover of "samson" was beautiful and elisa albert's reading was searing and brilliant and jeremiah kicked me in the ass and made me realize, i need to pray more. and harder. and like my life depended on it, because it does.

plus, dvora said that she'd breakdance next time. (i know, officially it's just breaking.) and there's actually going to be a next time. i'm excited.

Saturday in Philly!

The wonderful Alex DiFiori made a great poster for the Saturday show. Go here to see the original graphic, print out a zillion copies of them, and give them to all your friends (or at least to Dr. Pavel, the president of Central High School at Ogontz & Olney Aves. -- see if it makes his eyebrows shoot off his face). I love the graphite-pencil look. Old school, like when people did tests in No. 2 pencil (and hell yes, I still write my books longhand).

matthue and prowler in philadelphia

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Word Jam. Music Jam. Gooseberry Jam.

Tonight at the 92Y Tribeca, I'm hosting the (hopefully first) open mic! Jeremiah Lockwood of The Sway Machinery is playing a set, and Elisa Albert, author of The Book of Dahlia, will be reading. A few months ago, it was one of those Shabboses where I'd ODed on writing, and now that I couldn't write anymore, I just wanted to read manically. So I took Elisa's new book, which I'd been wanting to read for a while (her first collection made me actually like Philip Roth, a feat which I'd deemed impossible), and started reading.

And I didn't stop.

The sun was coming up, which seemed particularly noteworthy considering the novel's content. It's a funny, wry, more-wise-than-it-seems look at a girl who finds out she's dying. It's not at all what you'd expect, which is odd to say, considering we basically have every expectation in the world loaded up in our heads when it comes to dying. But the agony of going out to eat with your parents after a brain scan, and the sort of perverse joy in ordering the most expensive thing on the menu, is one of those tiny details that is meaningful and beautiful and terrible all at once -- and that's exactly what you'll find from her.

Sign up for the open mic at 7:30, and have a quick drink with me. Show begins at 8:00 promptly.

Also, the director's-cut commentary to Chapter Four of Losers is up! Read about stealing lines from hip-hop songs, gay teenage bartenders, best friends dying on you, censorship in Candy in Action, and featuring a special music video courtesy of Ludacris.

Another Cure chapter. The song "A Night Like This" is a beautiful song in its own right, track 8 on "The Head on the Door," which some poet-friends in Melbourne performed a track-by-track jam of poems influenced by the songs. But there's another Cure song that my best friend Mike put on a mixtape for me that was just Robert Smith's voice and a brilliant string section and tympani drums that's called something like "Other Nights Like This" -- the handwriting was scratchy. I never remembered to ask him, and now it's too late. Now the tape's broken, and I keep googling the first words, but I can't find anything.


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Open Mics & Matisyahu

Gearing up for the 92Y Open Mic, and I'm just nervous -- half that nobody's going to come, and half that it will be mobbed. We actually did a really amazing open mic last year in the dead of winter -- 10 people showed up, and it turned into a tremendous verbal jam session between poems -- but the fact that Actual Amazing Author and Legendary Musician are both showing up makes me fret. Just praying.

matisyahu speaksSpeaking of praying: my interview with Matisyahu is up:

If the songs on "Shattered" veer in directions that are surprising to the artist's existing fans, "Light" abandons the path entirely. The first track, "Master of the Field," was released as a free download on Matisyahu's Web site. It treads on ground both familiar and new, with classic Chasidic (and, yes, Lubavitch) metaphors -- the titular master is a reference to the Jewish month of Elul, when the king comes out to greet his subjects on their territory. Musically, it borrows from the confines of his previous work (reggae-tinted keyboards, infectious pop hooks, a beatboxed transitional bridge) but a little before the two-minute mark, the song explodes into a totally different vein. It's not pop music, it's not experimental, but it manages to retain its catchiness while paring down to little more than a drum-and-bass beatbox and a chanted chorus.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Chasidic beatboxing keeps Matisyahu moving

Matisyahu is in a delicate place right now.

hasidic beatboxing phenomenon matisyahuNot emotionally (although in conversation he is raw and perceptive -- he always seems to know what you're thinking, and he's two steps ahead of the question you're about to ask) and not physically (on the night we speak, he's in Norfolk, Va., where soon he will play to a packed crowd of 1,500 in a refurbished 1920s theater). On Nov. 18 he'll be at the Club Nokia in Los Angeles.

Careerwise, however, he's straddling a chasm.

On one side is the possibility of being a one-hit wonder -- his debut single, "King Without a Crown," appeared on all three of his albums to date, and after a strong first few weeks on the Billboard charts, his most recent record, the major-label debut "Youth," fell quickly from sight.

On the other, Matisyahu holds a lucrative contract with Gary Gersh, who manages Beck and the Beastie Boys. His tour is progressing swiftly, new buzz for his upcoming CD is positive and strong, and his upcoming eight-night run in New York concerts over Chanukah is as eagerly anticipated as anything he's done.

But the most persuasive evidence for the longevity of the iconoclastic Chasidic Jew can be found in his new album, "Light," scheduled for release in February. It's a departure from straightforward reggae as well as an experiment in storytelling and pop music. It's also a more intricate statement about God than even his fans are accustomed to hearing.

Last month, the label released a four-song E.P., "Shattered," which finds Matisyahu backed by straightforward hip-hop beats, Postal Service-like indie-tronica and even spoken word (but the good kind of spoken word).

"Smash Lies," the first song on "Shattered," combines an oud, orchestral samples, a Timbaland hip-hop beat and the artist himself ducking in and out of harmonies, preaching and vocal percussion -- and, by that last part, I mean beatboxing, but also a new technique in this song that jumps from beatboxing into rapid spitfire vocals and back again. "Two Child One Drop" takes cues from dance hall queen M.I.A., with a wild, uneasy tape loop floating through the groove.

And "I Will Be Light" is a sad and playful acoustic song, driven by a chorus of oy yoi yoi's, but sounds more like an amiable barroom singalong than a perfectly harmonized chorus ... in other words, a new Matisyahu.

Reinvention is kind of becoming the theme of his life. Partially, the responsibility for this new sound falls upon his new songwriting partners, including an oud player, a hip-hop beatmaker and a teenage reggae prodigy.

Partly, however, it's Matisyahu who signaled this new direction.

"When I started out, I sang in a Jamaican accent," he says as matter-of-factly as if remarking that he sings at all. "But most of what I'm listening to these days isn't reggae. I've also been taking lessons, developing my voice."

What is he listening to these days? Mostly, Ephraim Rosenstein.

Rosenstein, whom he refers to as his "teacher/mentor/friend," is a Jerusalem-based therapist and educator. Together, they studied the Tanya -- the fundamental book of Lubavitch Chasidim, through which Matisyahu started becoming religious -- and studied its ideology together with the ideology of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, another Chasidic teacher, as well as other philosophers.

"We would take themes like Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, repentance, and then break down those themes as ideas, as single words," Matisyahu said. "And then we'd bring in stories."

Some of the stories were biblical. Others, like the proliferation of child slavery and the genocide in Darfur, were more current.

Gradually, the stories built into a cohesive narrative. Matisyahu tells the story like a novel, or maybe like a folktale: Two children in Africa, coerced into serving as soldiers, sneak away from their army and escape across the desert. For much of the story, they're lost in the desert -- just like the narrator of "The Tale of Seven Beggars," a Chasidic story originally told by Rebbe Nachman.

"Each idea became a chapter, and from those we would write songs," Matisyahu tells it. In his studio in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, his longtime guitarist Aaron Dugan would start playing and Matisyahu would jump in, beatboxing -- "We'd run for an hour without stopping," he said.

Often, when they would play back the music, he said, they'd both be struck by the darkness. From there, the duo brought in other collaborators. Matisyahu flew to Jamaica to record with Sly and Robbie, generally known as the top-shelf reggae rhythm section, as well as Stephen McGregor, a reggae producer who's still in his teens.

"People are like, 'He's lost his reggae thing; he's not reggae anymore' -- it's ironic, it's this 17-year-old kid who's producing Sean Paul and the Fugees."

His list of collaborators on "Light" also includes Ooah, a hip-hop producer and member of the Glitch Mob, as well as the oud player from Idan Raichel's band. Yehuda Solomon, lead singer of Los Angeles-based Moshav, was also brought in to add world-music-sounding Hebrew vocals over Matisyahu's English vocals.

If the songs on "Shattered" veer in directions that are surprising to the artist's existing fans, "Light" abandons the path entirely. The first track, "Master of the Field," was released as a free download on Matisyahu's Web site. It treads on ground both familiar and new, with classic Chasidic (and, yes, Lubavitch) metaphors -- the titular master is a reference to the Jewish month of Elul, when the king comes out to greet his subjects on their territory. Musically, it borrows from the confines of his previous work (reggae-tinted keyboards, infectious pop hooks, a beatboxed transitional bridge) but a little before the two-minute mark, the song explodes into a totally different vein. It's not pop music, it's not experimental, but it manages to retain its catchiness while paring down to little more than a drum-and-bass beatbox and a chanted chorus.

Matisyahu doesn't expect everyone to grasp the multilayered story on his album, or even to understand his new direction completely. "In the end, when someone listens to the record, they won't hear that story," he said. "When my sister-in-law first heard 'Two Child,' which is a song about a boy dying in the desert telling a girl to carry on, she was like, 'What girl is this about? It's not about my sister ...'" He laughs. Then, with a measure of sobriety, he adds: "Other people say, 'He isn't writing Jewish songs anymore.' They don't realize it's about the world. It's about everything."

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

11/11, but i wish it was 10/4

Okay, ixnay on the Long Island action. I know it kind of sucks -- all of a sudden, the person who was going to give me a ride isn't giving me a ride, and it's two hours and a surprisingly expensive train ride.

back from Los Angeles. two red-eye flights in 24 hours can knock a boy unconscious...or at least play havoc with at least three of his five senses. it's weird to rebound from rock stardom right back into a day job (and by "right back," i mean plane, subway, office). los angeles was amazing -- there were the obligatory celeb sightings, a hotel room that i wish i'd remembered to photograph (the entire room was done in pale purple and white, and they'd wrapped 50 old distended books in matching jackets) and C.J. pulled up in his car and we recorded two new Chibi Vision songs in his car outside Steven Spielberg's mother's restaurant when the whole neighborhood went black. I was staring at a giant multicolored neon tower when the power finally went back on.

it was glorious.

I'm not Radiohead's biggest aficionado ever, but this site is doing a bunch to convince me. Perhaps because the mp3s are free (and I could buy several Radiohead albums for the price of the train ticket to Long Island), or it might just be my recent obsession with live albums (roots! mike doughty! i just love listening to people who are being listened to by an entire room of people; it's captivating and almost cultlike).

oh, and laura bush is looking into a book deal. but i thought she already had one.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Art of the Memoir: Live in Long Island

Back from LA, and tons of stories to tell. But first, here are details on my reading Wednesday:

322 New York Ave. Huntington Long Island


Find out what it takes to write and sell your life story from trained professionals who've actually done just that. Memoirists David Henry Sterry (best-selling author of Master of Ceremonies* and talent scout for Levine Greenberg literary agency), Jewish memoirist Matthue Roth (Yom Kippur Go-Go) and agent extraordinaire Arielle Eckstut (Putting Your Passion Into Print) will show you how to write and sell your memoir.

They will read from their memoirs. Then they will discuss the joys and the perils, the agony and the ecstasy of writing and selling the stories of your life. Making a narrative of events of your own life, dealing with issues of privacy and the lunacy of family, figuring out how to navigate the stormy seas of the publishing world, are all topics that will be bandied about. This will be followed by a Q&A session. All questions will be answered.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Genre Benders

matthue rothMy new Nextbook column is up, featuring Yoshie Fruchter's Pitom, NX2, Eprhyme, and everything else that's new and Jew.

Four years ago, Yoshie Fruchter came to New York and plunged into the avant-garde jazz scene that revolved around those clubs, watching local legends like Shanir Blumenkranz (who can coax just about any sound in the universe from a bass guitar) and multi-instrumentalist percussionist Kevin Zubek work their magic.

Now, they’re both in his backing band.

It’s hard to come up with the right word to describe Fruchter, who fronts the band Pitom, and whose debut record, named for the band, is available this month from John Zorn’s Tzadik Records. The album takes the characteristically absurdist and often improvisational jazz that Tzadik bands are known for and adds more than a measured dose of power-chord punk.


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Did you vote for this man?

the generations of obama

I actually love staring at this picture and thinking, "This is the president-elect of the United States of America."

Transitions of Power

Welcome to the new world. In his last few months as a lame-duck president, Clinton declared a huge territory in Alaska to be a national park, and could therefore never be drilled or mined, and it was impossible to be overruled.

I'm kind of fearful for what Bush might do with *his* last few months in power. (Or maybe, like Judaism says, I should judge favorably -- he could always devote billions to cancer research or starving children.) And I'm kind of excited about Obama, and if any of the totally unreasonable superhuman powers we've girded him with over the past few months come true, maybe he'll be able to protect us from whatever madness Bush has in store.

Meanwhile: somebody should make a reality TV show about Osama Bin Laden's pacifist, cougar-dating, dreadlocked son, Omar Osama, who is asking for asylum in Spain. Spain? There doesn't seem to be any logical reason, except that, when I was researching Candy in Action, I discovered Spain has one of the most reliably all-night party junkets in the world.

She's 55, he's 27, and he really is a rebellious son. He says he's proud of his father's name, but keeps urging his father to "find another way." There should be some cracks to be made about how his new wife is old enough to be his mother, but considering his father has four wives and anywhere between 12 and 26 children, she's also old enough to be his sister -- which, at least theoretically, makes it less bad (or less hot, depending on your point of view).

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