Steve Vai and Israeli guitar hero trade shop talk

July 3, 2009 - 9:02 AM by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: coexistence, General, Music, Pop Culture 

With the media touting doomsday scenarios at every opportunity about a fracture between the Israeli government and US administration regarding the peace process, it’s nice to know Israelis and Americans can still make beautiful music together.

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Legendary American hard rock guitar virtuoso Steve Vai was in town this week, presenting his Alien Guitar Secrets masterclass to a Tel Aviv auditorium full of 1,500 adoring fans. While not my cup of musical tea, Vai, who in addition to an illustrious 20-year solo career, has played with everyone from Frank Zappa to David Lee Roth, was simply dazzling – both his guitar playing and his personality.

Accompanied by an Apple computer that spewed out pre-recorded backing tracks louder than Black Sabbath, the tall, lanky Vai simply wailed on his custom Ibanez axe. But the main part of the three and a half hour evening was Vai simply sitting and talking – telling stories about his childhood and career, fielding a multitude of questions from the audience, providing life philosophy on God, meditiation, goals as related to finding your inner ear to enable you to play guitar, if not like him, then at least like you, and simply providing a life-affiriming motivational pep talk to aspiring guitar players in the crowd. Vai was gregarious, self deprecating, funny, and wholly entertaining.

Sometimes he’d be talking about a certain style, technique or passage from one of his songs, and he’d smile and say, “wait, let me show you.” It was tres cool.

And he also talked about Israel, saying “People told me there’s fighting and tension and watch out. But I got here yesterday and my hosts graciously have taken me around Tel Aviv and we also drove to Jerusalem. And I have to say that this is simply a beautiful country. And you know what? I’m going to go back home and tell everyone! And next time, I’m coming back here with my band.”

To compensate for the lack of human collaboration, Vai and a half dozen lucky audience members (some handpicked by the promotor, some who won a lottery, and some Vai chose from the crowd) closed the evening by jamming on a guitar duel. Vai graciously toned down his prowess to let the local players show their stuff, but even he was dazzled by studio veteran Avi Singolda, who’s appeared on the albums of some of Israel’s top performers.

It was a rousing capping to a uniquely inspiring evening that will ‘vie’ as one of the most enjoyable ever spent in a Tel Aviv auditorium.

From high school into the frying pan

June 30, 2009 - 1:39 PM by · 3 Comments
Filed under: A New Reality, General, Israeliness, Life 

mortarHigh school graduations are a unique creature in Israel. They’re nothing like the solemn mortar board and cape graduation, and rented tux prom that I experienced growing up in the US. And thank God for that.

It’s almost like going to a musical. My daughter’s event took place last night at a posh events hall in downtown Jerusalem, equipped with a comfortable auditorium complete with state of the art sound and video systems.

And the show was dazzling. Because there’s no prom in Israel, the girls wore their slinky dresses, and even the boys tended to not wear t-shirts.

Some of the kids had travelled to Tel Aviv last week to lay down vocal tracks at a recording studio for musical extravaganzas they performed in between the speeches and awards. A professional director and producer helped the graduating class script and rehearse a 45-minute play that – within its humorous framework replete with cutting principal and teacher imitations – touched on national issues of tolerance, freedom of expression, and the schism within Israeli society as personified by the extremes of gay pride and haredi devoutness.

And then there was the de rigueur professionally made video recapping the year, including the class trips, the volleyball games, and the the events that make up senior year. And of course, the diplomas and special awards (my tear ducts started leaking when the daughter was singled out for an award for Excellence in Sports Achievement).

At the same time, I had to laugh at the background music someone chose to play while each student in the 5 classes of 35 kids was called up. Israelis usually ignore the lyrics of English songs, preferring to make their choose on the musical vibe. So, as our kids were receiving their certificates, we were treated to a Nina Simone soundalike performing easy listening cocktail jazz versions of songs like “Pride (In the Name of Love” by U2 with its lyrics “Shots rang out in the Memphis night,” and The Police’s “Roxanne” about a prosititute.

No matter, the evening was a grand success, and even though it lasted well over three hours, it remained engaging throughout. At midnight, a bus pulled up to take the graduates to a well-deserved all-night beach party at Nitznanim.

My lasting impression though, was watching the whole class hug and dance onstage after the grand finale in a show of elation. 99% of the graduates will be entering the IDF within the next year, the principal had announced earlier in the evening. Looking out at the boys and girls turned into men and women, there was more than a touch of sadness, knowing that this would be the last time they would all be together, that they were awaiting an unknown and potentially dangerous immediate future. High school is over – here’s your gun. Let’s hope they’re all around for their 25th high school reunion.

Michael Jackson mourned in Israel

June 28, 2009 - 11:39 AM by · 7 Comments
Filed under: Art, General, Music, Pop Culture 

Uri Geller with Michael Jackson.

Uri Geller with Michael Jackson.

As with every major event worldwide, there has to be an Israeli connection – even Michael Jackson’s death.

The British press has been full of interviews with Uri Geller, the Israeli psychic, who called Jackson his best friend. Geller says the stress of readying for a 50-show stint in London this summer may have contributed to his untimely demise.

‘He was in good shape. I’m not a doctor, but I can only assume he was under immense stresses and pressures, and you can ask any doctor, stress is a killer.’

Uri, 62, reckons Michael should never have agreed to perform 50 shows at London’s 02 Arena this summer.

‘The pressure of these concerts, putting under huge pressures, he was a perfectionist,’ Uri tells Sky News. ‘That could have been what did it. But that’s just my opinion.
‘I think it was a mistake to target 50 shows…3, 4, 5 maybe 10 shows is enough.’

Meanwhile, in Tel Aviv, where Jackson performed in 1993 on the second leg of the Dangerous world tour, fans gathered in Dizengoff Square in an impromptu show of sorrow for the musical icon.

“We connect to Michael not just through dance and music but also on a spiritual level,” one fan told Ha’aretz. “He supported peace, he supporting accepting people without discriminating based on religion or race. He is a kind of spiritual leader that we lost, and it’s tough. It’s heartbreaking.”

The fans lit candles and comforted each other and commisserated with each other.

Neor Zuberi, a 22-year-old musician from Tel Aviv, told Ha’aretz that Jackson had influenced culture, music, dancing.

“He also supported the IDF and visited an army base when he came to Israel. The things he did and the values he upheld influenced me. He inspired me to volunteer, like running a break dancing workshop in Sderot,” he said.

Watch a clip from Jackson’s show at Hayarkon Park in 1993 here.

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Taking a thong turn in Tel Aviv

June 25, 2009 - 8:43 AM by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Environment, General, Israeliness, Life, Sports 

bike-clubJust how cool is Tel Aviv? When The Israel Bicycle Association and the Tel Aviv Rollers decided to stage a protest ride to oppose the lack of government support for urban bike riding as well a bill that would stiffen a required helmet law for cyclists, they did it in style.

On Tuesday night, hundreds of cyclist and roller skaters donned thongs and rode through the streets of the city – with the final destination being a thong party at a local club. Watch some video footage from Israel’s Channel 2 here

According to The Jerusalem Post, two weeks ago, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation decided not to throw the government’s support behind the bill to encourage bike-riding as transportation. The bill would mandate the inclusion of bike trails in urban plans and would allow bikes to be taken on intercity public transportation like trains and buses. It would also smooth the way for specially designated parking areas for bikes, and incentives to employers and employees who made the bicycle a primary form of transportation to work. The bill suggested a budget of NIS 100 million to build bike lanes and parking areas.

As far as the helmet law, the Association says that the best way to keep bikers safe is not through requiring a helmet, but through making new separate bike lanes.

“The government doesn’t seem to really understand what biking is – a daily means of transportation for hundreds of people. It’s not just a hobby for a select few mountain bikers,” bike association head Yotam Avizohar said.

“In the three countries which have a similar Helmet Law to ours – Australia, New Zealand and South Africa – there’s been a sharp dropoff in riders. Whereas there isn’t such a sweeping law in Denmark or Holland, yet they are serious biking countries,” Avizohar added.

“The government doesn’t seem to really understand what biking is – a daily means of transportation for hundreds of people,” said Avizohar.

And it’s a great excuse to get out at night wearing only a thong.

Madonna to bring her friend Justin to Tel Aviv

June 24, 2009 - 9:05 AM by · 4 Comments
Filed under: General 

Those crazy Zionists Justin and Madonna

Those crazy Zionists Justin and Madonna

The Madonna juggernaut keeps on gathering steam. Owing to the demand of the Israeli public, not only has she added a September 2nd date to her scheduled September 1st concert in Tel Aviv’s Hayarkon Park, but it looks like there might be a sticky and sweet collaboration at the shows.

Yediot Aharonot reported that Justin Timberlake will be joining Madonna on her visit here – as a fellow Kabalah enthuiast. The story reported that Timberlake has been studying Kabalah at the London Center along with the queen of pop for some time, and he was eager to make his first trip to Israel.

As far as performing, the story sourced a member of the show’s production team saying that there might be some surprises onstage. There have been rumors about Timberlake joining Madonna onstage at the Sticky and Sweet tour debut on July 4th in London, but it hasn’t been confirmed. The two previously collaborated on the song “4 Minutes” from Madonna’s Hard Candy album.

If the rumors are true, it might prove a security threat to certain Israelis. The local paparazzi might not be able to cope with the burden of having two photogenic superstars here at the same time.

In addition, the British paper The Sun is reporting that Madonna is going to utilize her visit to Israel as a sightseeing vacation for her family, especially her newly adopted daughter Mercy. Currently, she’s spending time with her new addition in London.

“Madonna wants to give Mercy enough time to settle in to her new home. By September, she feels she will be ready to take the trip without danger of upheaval. The Wailing Wall (in Jerusalem) is a very sacred place for anyone with links to the Jewish faith, and she wants all the children to see it.”

Maybe it’s time to declare Madonna an official ambassador of Israel.

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