Thursday, December 23, 2010

Jews Who Love Christmas

So, because it's late on the night before this is relevant...let me just put this out there to the universe and see what you think. My friend Josh Lamar and I did a song called "I Hate Xmas." It's about how I actually sort of like Christmas.



And if you look deep enough, you'll be able to see some strains of when I was in high school and joined this Christian fundamentalist Bible Club and got really into it...or maybe not? What do you think?

(You can also download an mp3 of my live show from a few years ago that features the poem, along with, uh, an 11-minute jam (I promise it doesn't suck) with some musical people about killing mice.)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Singing and Dying

We love Regina Spektor -- I think that's been safely established. She has this Russian lion-in-pajamas thing going on where she's singing playful little lyrics in a soft singsongy voice, and then the moment comes (and this moment, in all her songs, it happens) -- catching you by surprise, with your pants down, just when you thought it was safe to curl up next to her -- and suddenly the song is all teeth and fangs, roaring down your door, throwing a wicked metaphor or a twisted simile, rocking and thrashing violently, the way only a piano player can.

It always happens, in every song. Sometimes it's a sudden switch of language, to French and Russian in "Apres Moi," or the drop of a delicate Jewish metaphor that you know she wrote thinking she'd be the only one to get it, but we're here, Regina, and we're listening, and we get it, too. And sometimes it's just the way she leaps into the microphone, ready to eat it, and gives the song a whole new energy.

This is Regina Spektor. Her new live CD+DVD, Live in London, was just released. It has 20 tracks, including a Guns 'n Roses cover (!) played with her string orchestra (!!). And each of those 20 songs are loaded with that moment, the moment of the bite.



I will admit to skepticism. I'm not one to fork over needed cash for an album full of songs I already have. But, along with the new material (including the song "The Call," a beautiful track which Spektor recorded for The Chronicles of Narnia--which made me do a doubletake; a Russian Jewish indie-rock hero recording a song for a Christian-fundamentalist fairytale adaptation made by Disney, the most massive corporation there is?--but she sells out in the most graceful and cool and still-righteous way there is, and it's a great song, and anyway, you can buy this recording and not have to give Disney any money) and the redone classics ("Eet," above, is electric, and "Dance Anthem of the 1980s" is awe-inspiring, especially Spektor's beatbox) all make it worth your while.

Okay. Deep breath.

But that singular spark of Spektor's -- the bite that I was talking about before -- it marks this disc especially. A few weeks after this recording, Daniel Cho, Spektor's cellist and musical director, drowned and died. And that eerie precedence fills every moment of this concert with a loaded, creepy, and beautiful foreboding. When you're playing a song with just a piano and some strings, there's a delicateness to the music, a sense that, if anyone were to stop playing, the song would fall apart. Maybe I'm just reading too much into this recording and this night, but I've been in bands before, and I know how much you're leaning on each other at every moment. And it feels like -- this night, or this moment, or something -- everyone's ready for something to break...and everyone is ready to catch each other when it does.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Losers. Goldbergs. Sale!

Last week! Next week, we're so back to normal...

Let's say you're looking for the perfect gift for the two coolest, nicest, and most interesting people in the world. And let's say you are a bit of a cheapskate -- but, for the sake of argument, let's say you don't want people to KNOW you're a cheapskate. What's a practical, easy, and brilliant way of getting two awesome presents for basically no money at all (or, alternatively, buying someone a gift and keeping one for yourself)?


Right now, buy my first book and my newest bookLosers and Never Mind the Goldbergs, for $12 combined. That's less than most single books cost -- unless you're living in Eastern Central Europe or something. Or the only book you read is the free newspaper they give out on the train.


To find out more about the books, go here for Losers or for Goldbergs. Or just ask me in the comments. All books come autographed (unless you specify otherwise), and all books come with free goodies, CDs or stickers or whatever I've got lying around. This deal will probably last a couple of weeks, but you probably shouldn't hesitate, because you will forget about it.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Tenth of Tevet! Stop Eating Now!

Today is a fast day, and it's a weird one.

The Tenth of Tevet, according to MyJewishLearning (you can read more here), is the day when the prophet

Yeheskel, together with the Jewish community forced into Babylonian exile, received news of the destruction of Jerusalem: "In the 12th year of our exile, on the fifth day of the 10th month, a fugitive came to me from Jerusalem and reported, 'The city has fallen' " (Yeheskel 33, verse 21). The Babylonian Talmud in Rosh Hashanah tractate 18B even purports that the fast should be held on the fifth of Tevet and not on the 10th: "And they equated receipt of the report of the destruction with that of Jerusalem's burning."
Normally, fast days almost never come on Fridays. I'd actually thought it was a halacha that you couldn't fast right before Shabbat -- and, in some cases, it really is; other minor fast days, like the Fast of Esther, get moved to Thursday or Sunday when they fall out on Friday. But Tevet is an exception, if a rare one (the last time this happened was 14 years ago). The reason is that the Tenth of Tevet is described as "עצם היום הזה ('the very day')," according to Yeheskel himself (who we like to call Ezekiel).

My latest Jewish nightmare came yesterday afternoon, via my father-in-law. At the end of a totally unrelated email, as a sort of throwaway P.S., he wrote: "Have an easy fast and spare a thought for us who have to wait till after 9pm to break it."

Now, he lives in Australia, where (as you might know) it's summer right now -- meaning that the sun sets later. So, where a fast day in America might end at 5 p.m., there it's going to go way into the night. Yesterday, I was sort of upset and totally spazzing, and only the good graces of our good Editorial Fellow Jeremy Moses kept me alive. "Want to go out to lunch?" he said.

We did. To an amazingly luscious, colorful, and totally explode-our-stomachs-huge Indian buffet. Jeremy did two trips; I did three. Whereupon we shlepped back to work, stuffed ourselves into our chairs (I barely fit) and I read the email from my father-in-law.

And I felt my stomach retch. I feared of tasting that delicious lunch all over again. How could I have forgotten a fast day?!

Of course, you already know the moral. Part 1: Yesterday wasn't a fast day, it's today. Part 2: Australia is something like 16 hours ahead of us. My father-in-law emailed me at about 4 a.m. (which, for him, is already mid-morning). And I'm still not perfect, but I'm working on it. We all deserve a second chance. Even if it happens in that Groundhog Day-like way of experiencing the same day twice, courtesy of Australian time.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Sweet Child of Mine, Please Shut Up

As someone with an OCD work ethic -- a perpetually cleaned-out email inbox, 10-minute "editing" sessions that end up being four hours long -- it's really difficult to deal with this strange notion of a crying baby, to which the normal rules of logic do not apply.

Something that worked 100% last time -- stroking her back, holding her just so, with one cheek smushed up against the crux of your elbow and the other draped loosely over the fingers of your other hand -- will have no effect whatsoever the next instance that she refuses to go to bed. And sometimes, doing one little thing -- like stroking her forehead just above her eyes -- will cause those eyes to grow heavy, sink, and shut in no time at all. Just one more way that G-d screws with our minds. And all the time she's crying, you are powerless to make it stop. You try and you try, but the truth is, she's the one who's going to decide when to go to sleep, not you. You just keep praying to yourself silently: Stop crying. Please, just stop crying.

But the thought that's been going through my head lately is of this story.

This is an awful thing to read, and unless you're one of those goth kids who still peeks at their own healing scars under a band-aid, feel free to skip to the next blog post.

It's a story about a Lebanese terrorist who was apprehended in 1979 after killing an Israeli policeman and bludgeoning his 4-year-old daughter to death with a rock.  He was freed in July, 2008, as part of a prisoner exchange between Israel and Hezbollah, shortly after I started being a professional Jewish blogger -- which meant that I was reading and writing about pretty much everything that happens to the Jews. Including this, which was a pretty big story.

But that's not the most horrifying part. While he killed the policeman and his daughter, the policeman's wife was hiding inside the walls of their house with their younger daughter. The baby was screaming, and the mother, while trying to quiet her, suffocated her in the process.

I have really bad luck singing lullabies to my kids. I get distracted by the crying and by watching them, and I can't think of any songs to sing. All the obvious choices -- "Rockabye Baby," "Dona Dona," "Sweet Child O' Mine" -- all go out of my head. I'm left grasping for whatever song I can think of, which is usually an Ani Difranco song, but has been known to be worse things. One night, the only song in my head was Ice-T's "Cop Killer," which I promise doesn't mean anything (I have good friends who are cops) but represents a period in my life when I was screaming a lot, too.

In some way, her crying is a reminder of our own mortality. We spend most of our lives not having control over everything, even our bodies, when they should be going to sleep but aren't. In another way, though, it's just my baby expressing her inner pissed-off-ness. I still stroke her back, but sometimes I force myself to take a mental step back and let her scream. It's all gonna be okay, baby. But that doesn't mean you can't express your feelings on the matter.

(Crossposted at Raising Kvell, which is where the picture comes from. The editor found it and I love her dearly, but it is kind of gross. Or maybe I'm just old-fashioned and expressing my subconscious heterocentrism and don't like naked dudes with chest hair? Sorry. Still true.)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Drinking on the Job

Being an editor at a Jewish blog has its perks. Sure, there are the long hours and lousy pay, but you get tons of review items in the mail. Usually they're book-shaped or movie-shaped. The other day, we got a beer-shaped package.



I don't know if you've ever had He'Brew Beer, which sounds like the sort of kitsch that your weird uncle would give as bulk Hanukkah gifts, but is actually an incredible-tasting microbrew from San Francisco. If you saw yesterday's Jewniverse, you'd know. And you'd know about the incredible Jewbelation 14 -- a blend of 14 malts, 14 hops, and 14 percent alcohol. Zowie!

(And, if you read my work blog, you know that most of the MJL staff are women. Weirdly, only the boys were around that day. Two of our editors having babies in 2 weeks might have had something to do with it. But apparently beer is good for increasing your milk supply, so we'll have to try this again once everyone's respective maternity leaves are over.)

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