I am a Yid. I like to rock. Veitur!

- [ Tuesday, June 29, 2004 ] -
It's friggin' summer outside!
After shivering in my office for a few hours today, where the AC blows down my neck, I took a walk outside. I walked in the park next to my work, between the highways and under the O'Hare flight paths. I did four laps, equaling roughly one and a third miles. It was nice, but I miss the old days, before the day job.

I miss summer vacation. I miss playing with the ant-hill while the normal kids were playing sports. I miss driving a crappy truck in camp. I miss sweating in the sun. I miss summer.

Now summer is just another time of year. It's easy to differentiate; it's the time of year when the office is cold.

Disturbing Israeli Observation
I try to avoid politics in my blog, because it unnecessarily divides intelligent people who would normally get along. I hope I don't dirty myself too much with what may be unpopular views.

I just read about the latest synagogue destruction in Israel. This is not the first shul to be torn down. Some may say it's "illegal," but legality seems to be pretty arbitrarily enforced in Israeli politics. There are a lot of illegal structures, more hazardous to the residents and to the outlying communities as a whole, both Arab and Jewish. But the Israeli government found it necessary to tear down this shul in the dark of the night with no one around.

On the other hand, even in the extreme cases of weapons-cache, actively-shooting-terrorist sheltering mosques, you'll find both the U.S. and Israel hesitant to even risk damaging the mosque.

Why is Israel so eager to tear down shuls?

- [ Sunday, June 27, 2004 ] -
Hookah and the Nakhla scam
Smoking is bad. Sometimes good people do bad things. I like to smoke.

I quit smoking cigarettes over a year ago and I don't plan on starting again. Some people like cigarettes so much that they have a rough time with the concept of never enjoying a cigarette again. I have a system that works very well for me. I schedule a single cigarette every few months. I can enjoy the planned cigarette and I don't even think about supplementing that single one with another. Like I said, it works for me.

A controversial activity in which I still partake is smoking hookah (AKA nargilah, hubbly-bubbly, shishah). I have about one per day. Sometimes more, sometimes less. It's all the rage in the middle-east, including Israel.

Some may think it's just as bad and may say that I might as well smoke cigarettes. I don't think it's a healthy activity, and in the future I may curb these activities as well. What I do know is that since I quit cigarettes and increased my hookah consumption, I feel better. I don't cough randomly during the day. I don't need to take cigarette breaks during the day. I don't feel edgy towards the end of Shabbos. Hookah doesn't provide the same fix as a cigarette. You can feel the tobacco when you smoke it, but it is many times less powerful and is filtered through water.

A little something for the kiddies that are reading this and are perhaps considering smoking hookah as a harmless activity: Smoking anything is bad for you. The tobacco for hookahs is 100% unregulated by any government body. I don't know what good filtering the smoke through water does. I haven't seen any scientific surveys on this method of smoking. Smoke at your own risk. You lose nothing by not smoking anything at all.

The Nakhla Scam:
Nakhla Tobacco Company is the largest and most popular hookah tobacco company. The tobacco that is popularly used for hookahs is a blend of tobacco, molasses and fruit. Very smooth, tasty and altogether enjoyable.

The price of hookah parts and hookah tobacco in the U.S. is approximately three times the cost in the middle-east. The only places in the U.S. to purchase this tobacco is online or at sketchy bodegas and head-shops. A legitimate tobacco store will not sell it. Especially since is 100% unregulated by any government body. Being that it is unregulated, no one pays any taxes on it, tobacco tax or otherwise.

Nakhla must have been getting cocky, and decided that a quick way to make more money would be to short their customers. Selling 250 gram packages that in actuality contain somewhere between 133 and 145 grams. Let me rephrase that, they are selling their customers short by almost 50%! That is unacceptable behavior for any kind of drug-dealer and a shitty way to do business.

After months of suspecting as such, and giving the benefit of the doubt and being lazy, I decided to not get ripped off anymore. I stopped buying online, because I can't even imagine the pain in the butt it would be to get a fair deal. I walked into one shady headshop near my house and picked out several boxes. I casually mentioned that I thought they were light and asked if I could try out one of their drug-scales (it is, after all, a shady head-shop). The flunky behind the counter didn't seem to care either way and charged me only for the tobacco he sold me, not for what was on the label. I recommended they tell their distributor. Fat chance. I came back a month later and they were still selling for the same price.

So now whenever I buy tobacco there, I have to bring my calculator. Everyone else that wants it will have to pay regular price for product they are not getting. I'm posting this with the hope that other Nakhla customers can negotiate fair price for what they are getting.

If I wanted, I can bring down the whole U.S. operation for all sorts of fraud. Internet sales can be shut down with mail fraud. Every box should have to be subject to tobacco taxes and various customs regulations. The upside would be more reliable product. The downside would be the more likely, unavailability of their product.

I suppose I'll turn Nakhla in when I learn to make my own molasses-fruit-tobacco. I hope the day is soon.

In the meantime, I want to ask every Nakhla customer to be a pain in the butt to the dealer and insist he tells his supplier. Writing complaint letters isn't a bad idea either.

- [ Friday, June 25, 2004 ] -
Dumb Quiz Phriday
In case you're missing the quizzes while SklarO is out Phishing, Dumb Quiz Phriday is here...

Silent in the Morning! You're a peaceful and steady
person who doesn't like too much chaos or
change. Your ideas and plans steadily build
until you are able to complete them, so very
little can get in your way, and you tend to be
able to keep your mind on several things at
once and still keep on track, even when Divine
Creation squashes you with fear.

Which Phish Song Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

- [ Thursday, June 24, 2004 ] -
Videographer Etiquette Lesson
The videographer at a recent wedding I attended needs a lesson on invisibility, respect for the moment and respect for the people enjoying the moment. Maybe he also needs a zoom-lens.

One sign that you are too close to your subjects is when you spill the cup of wine under the chuppah by bumping into it. Another sign is spilling it again.

I saw him navigate himself through the dancing circles by looking only through the viewfinder. He hit several people in the face with his camera. He got entirely too close to some women in this fashion, also. I hope the footage he got were worth it.

Public Service Announcement
The first dance set is the essence of your wedding. That's what counts. If you have to fight for one element, fight for this.

All your guests are there. Everyone still has all their energy. I'd recommend 55 minutes. Take no less than 45 minutes. Do not let the caterer, band or wedding coordinator try to make-up time at the expense of this set. Make sure the people in charge are clear on this. You are the king/queen. Make it happen.

-advice given to me for my wedding by Shpeezer

NOTE: This is a general statement, and not a complaint about an actual event. This was not a problem for either wedding I attended this week.

Two Weddings
I went to two very different weddings this week for two very different couples. Both couples are good friends of mine. Both couples are Jewish and Orthodox. Although, you could possibly describe one couple as a little "unorthodox." I wish them all the heartiest mazal tov. And wish both couples, a long, healthy life together, filled with joy, yiddishkeit and lots of kids.

One wedding reception was at a fancy hotel downtown, the other was in a shul. Obviously, there were vast differences in budget. That did not make one wedding more beautiful than the other.

Both wedding ceremonies were held outside at lakefront parks. Thank G-d, the weather was beautiful for both.

The difference that I found most interesting was the third dance set. At all the Orthodox weddings I have been to, the main dancing is done during the first two dance sets. The third set can be iffy. It's often used to satisfy a member of the wedding party who requires music other than the standard simcha dancing music, usually done during the first two. Sometimes this is purposefully done after bentching so all the 'respectable' folks can leave and the party animals can get-down.

At one wedding, the rockin' wedding band (a rare-wedding gig by evën sh'siyah) left the stage for an our favorite Black Sabbath cover band, Bloody Sabbath (Matt Kanter on drums, Mark Sugar on guitar, Yosef Nathan on vocals and Sh|aye Robe|son on bass). All the members are friends, involved in completely separate musical projects. They haven't played together in over two years, and without practicing, took the stage at the chattan's request. They played a few songs, note for note and totally rocked. The chattan (who is, as they say, "metal as all hell") jumped on stage and played along side the band on the percussion kit. Everyone else was just bouncing around and singing along in front of the stage, rocking out. Including the kallah, who was having the time of her life. Rock on!

If you think this is inappropriate for a Jewish wedding, perhaps you should also consider the dreaded mixed-dance set.

At the other wedding, they played the dreaded mixed-dance set. I believe that this is the same secular music played at all weddings, Orthodox or not. I can usually be referred to as a party-pooper for disliking this set. I would still have to be drunk from the tish in order to thoroughly ignore how much I dislike these songs.I'd rather do the chicken-dance. The overwhelming majority of people still at the wedding really enjoyed this set. The dislike of this style dance-set is my own. I'm not as much halachicly offended (it does make me feel weird to dance to it) as I am musically offended.

Sometimes this dance set can contain wildly inappropriate songs to the lucky ignorance of most party-goers. For instance, at my own wedding, we had a third, mixed dance set. There was a mix-up with the timing and number of pieces so the set they played didn't exactly have all the nice songs we requested. One of the songs played was, "Brown Sugar." I love the Rolling Stones, but there is a time and a place for everything. Some might find the lyrics quite tasteless ("Brown sugar, just like a black girl should"). Who wouldn't be proud to have a song about master/slave s*x at their wedding? As it turned out, this wasn't an issue with a single other person besides me. None of the guests thought twice about it.

Eishet Chayil
I would like to compliment my very own eishet chayil (woman of valor), on the amazing sheva-brachot she put together for last night. She made a ton of healthy, incredibly tasty food. Everything was perfect. All our guests, including the chatan and kallah, appeared to have a good time.

It's been a long week so far: bachelor party, wedding, practice/cooking, wedding and sheva brachot. I hope clean-up goes quickly tonight, as I anticipate the serious need to sit down and put my feet up. It's been an excellent, but very tiring week.

- [ Friday, June 18, 2004 ] -
(X-posted at CohenHead)

- [ Thursday, June 17, 2004 ] -
Beastie Boys copy-protection nonsense
Via Memepool:

There is a hullabaloo about the new Beastie Boys CD. Apparently, there is a copy-protection built in, that when played on a PC or Mac, installs some kind of copy-protection software on your system, without your permission.

Discussions on a security board, and the Beastie Boys board.

Searching into it a little more, without leaving my desk, I found this statement:
Ian sez, "Hi, I'm not sure who posted re: Beastie Boys copy protection, but I just spoke with Mike D and their management and they wanted me to pass along that a) This is all territories except the US and UK -- US and UK discs do not have this protection on them; b) All EMI CDs are treated this way, theirs isn't receiving special treatment; c) They would have preferred not to have the copy protection, but weren't allowed to differ from EMI policy."
I'm posting this confusing story, without any real knowledge either way, because I anticipate reading only half the story on all the Jewish gossip blogs. Maybe this will prevent some people from jumping the gun and reporting based on rumors that all copies of the CD are evil.

Will someone who purchased this CD please report about their CD playing experience?

Here are some topics that have been addressed to death, and I don't need to hear about them:

From what I've seen so far... all signs point to US versions being okay to copy and play on the computer.

JPost reviews the latest
I first saw the J-Post article linked from The Town Crier. I read it, and wanted to post about it, but I was too lazy. Besides, a musician doing reviews on other music is one thing. But a musician doing a review on a music review is completely out of hand.

So I did nothing. And then I saw BlogInDm making a couple of the same observations I was going to make. Dammit!

I see nothing wrong with a musician doing a commentary on a review of a music review. So here it is.

He gets the album 9 years late and makes guesses about Yossi's biography:
Legend has it that Yosi was a bona-fide mizrahi guitar protege before becoming a ba'al t'shuva
"Protege" means student. I don't think you have to rely on "legend" to determine that he was a student. I think the word the author means to use here is "prodigy." Prodigy means young genius. I think with enough research, it might be possible to find at least one eye-witness account of Yossi being a genius. "Legend has it" is usually reserved for a vague, wild story, like Robert Johnson selling his soul to the devil.
Avi plays a truly mean rock flute, though I'm probably the first to compare him to Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson.
He also probably coined the phrase, "Hassidic Hendrix" while in the shower this morning. I think he also took credit for inventing the word "music."
Enough about the 10th grader who reviews music there. I recommend the NEW album. It's a two CD set called "Live in New York City" and I've seen it in the Jewish bookstores. It's a compilation of the best songs collected from his club shows from the last few years. That truly captures what the band is capable of. J-Post might want to watch for it to come down the pipeline in another 8 years.

- [ Monday, June 14, 2004 ] -
Mazal Tov, Ari and Sarah!
When you're above a certain level on the frumometer (rhymes with "thermometer"), there is no "boyfriend-girlfriend." Only awkwardness at family events.

Awkward no more! Now there is only "fiancé!"

Mazal tov to my brother, Ari, and his "friend," Sarah Mischel, on their engagement and recent entry into official couplehood.

- [ Friday, June 11, 2004 ] -
"Like a lighthouse shining out over a sea of crap."

As previously mentioned, I saw Shaggs:Philosophy of the World last night. It was awesome. Truly a tragic story with many lessons to learn.

My wife likes musicals, and I was worried that I hated all musicals. I guess I just have trouble taking dancing street-gangs very seriously. Although I'm not as accepting of live musical theater as a form of entertainment, I can still appreciate the good ones. This one is really good.

If you are still wondering, "Who the heck are The Shaggs?"...
discography, lyrics, liner notes, bios...
Official Site of The Shaggs and Dot Wiggin
Some of the lyrics are especially revealing.

Before having gone to see the musical, I loved the story. It's just so tragic with plenty of opportunity for comedy.

I thought the subplot about the boyfriend, Kyle, was a little tacked on. I also thought that Austin Wiggin (the dad) seemed a little too stereotypical and could have seemed a little more "real." The three Wiggin girls were played perfectly. The mom was the saddest character.

After seeing the play I definitely saw truth in the statement from the liner notes of "Philosophy of the World," as written by Austin Wiggin: "They are sisters and members of a large family where mutual respect and love for each other is at an unbelievable high." Their love for each other and trust in their dad is their saving merit. If they didn't love each other so much, the play would merely be poking fun at them.

The play featured actual music from The Shaggs, re-enacted music of The Shaggs and a lot of original songs with a complementary feel. Most of the originals were pretty good and weren't too show-tuney. Especially since the orchestra consisted of only the rock pieces (guitar, drums, bass, keyboards).

The best musical scene took place in the recording studio where they recorded their album. The focus shifted from Shaggs' and Austin's perspective where the music was really rocking to the studio engineers' perspective with the actual music, where they had their hands on their faces.

The title of this post is a quote from the play. The girls performed in public for the first time at a talent show. The girls were really scared because they thought, correctly, that they performed horribly. Austin Wiggin ran backstage and completely raved about how beautiful their performance was. In his rave, he commented about how all the other acts were nothing and that their act was "like a lighthouse shining out over a sea of crap." Much like this musical is above all others.

NOTE: The real Shaggs' music, itself is good for only a few minutes at a time. And being on drugs helps. I was listening to the album while I was writing this and I had to shut it off. If you're not careful, it can make you pretty crazy.

- [ Thursday, June 10, 2004 ] -
K'dushah Concert
K'dushah (a part of the cantor's repetition of the shmoneh esrei) during services on Shabbat morning is not the time for a concert.

I've heard some very beautiful k'dushahs, led by great chazzanim. There is a lot of room in the davening for song. k'dushah is among the peaks of concentration and participation in for the congregation during the prayer service. All within hearing distance must stand with their feet together. All other private and personal prayer is temporarily ceased. Any conversation is strictly forbidden. All eyes should be in the siddur or closed.

K'dushah, in cantorial circles, has become the Superbowl halftime show
. Except the audience has to stand in place, with their feet together, concentrating on the holiness of the moment without talking for the duration.

There is a concept in halacha (Jewish law) called, "tirchah l'tzibur" - "labor to the congregation." It's in the Shulchan Aruch ("whoever lengthens their t'filah doesn't doesn't do a good thing because of torach hatzibbur" Orach Chayim, 53:11) and the Talmud (When Rabbi Akiva would daven with the tzibbur, he would make it short because of torach hatzibbur. When he would daven alone, people would find him in one place at the beginning and another place at the end because of all the bowings. Brachot 31a). Basically, the temperament and patience of the congregation is something to take very seriously.

There is never an excuse for an eleven minute k'dushah. Especially from a guest chazzan at my congregation with no competing Orthodox services that day for several miles. A chazzan should lead, not perform. Members shouldn't have to be forced to spend Shabbat away from their homes in order to avoid this type of thing.

It's a common sense issue. My friend, Rabbi Josh Yuter, told me, "there is a difference between davening being long and davening feeling long."

Thanks to Reb Yuter for the halachic sources and slick quote.

UPDATE (6/15/04): I want to make things a little more clear. The only Orthodox shacharit minyan in the neighborhood was hijacked by a cantorial-fan with money and our wonderful board of directors with full support of the Rabbi. There is no early minyan at my shul. No alternative minyan at my shul. A breakaway minyan was attempted for mussaf and thoroughly quashed by "The Man" like a weak rebellion. There is no Orthodox shul within miles.

- [ Wednesday, June 09, 2004 ] -
Piamenta bootleg, 5/8/04 Chicago
Here is the link to the Piamenta show at the Note, in Chicago on 5/8/04.

My review of the show.

My recording came out a little distorted, but Olaf's is perfect. Thanks, Olaf.

- [ Wednesday, June 02, 2004 ] -
Artist as Critic
This blog is, essentially, a personal blog. I write posts that may resemble musical promotions, music reviews and news articles. It's because I'm very interested in music.

It's really great that lately, this blog has been getting me access to music I wouldn't have been able to get before. I get recommendations, secret music links, and demos.

I am in the Jewish music industry. I have friends in the Jewish music industry and the other music industry. I am on friendly and working-terms with many more.

I really enjoy listening to and watching Jewish music. And I also like to comment on it. I'll recommend some things and not others. I may criticize things, too. I hope not to trash anybody's art too badly and I'll try to stay on fair ground. I will try to be constructive in my criticism despite my wanting to be a passionate consumer and consumer advocate.

Don't forget, this is a personal blog, and I'm just a person.