Tikva Records has been sending out a weekly email newsletter about the goings on at the December-only location in San Francisco’s Mission District. Click through below to read the fourth issue in full, and enter your email address in the section to the lower right, in order to receive future emails from Tikva Records and the Idelsohn Society.
And check out the calendar of the remaining events occurring at Tikva Records in San Francisco throughout the month of December.Read More and Comment
There is one more night of Hanukkah and then one more night beyond that of the Tikva Records store in San Francisco..
Both will be hosted by Jeremiah Lockwood, the New York musician best known for his work with the band the Sway Machinery. The nights, together titled the Mystical Lights of the Guitar, will put him together with special guests. On Tuesday, December 27, it will be Greg Ashley (of Gris Gris) and Lewis Pesacov (of Fool’s Gold, who performed at Tikva on December 7), and on Wednesday, December 28, it will be Luther Dickinson (Black Crowes, North Mississippi Allstars) and Ethan Miller (Comets On Fire, Howlin Rain).
Lockwood, speaking from home in advance of the shows. talked about creating rock music out of the cantorial tradition, about the inherent Jewish-ness of ethnomusicology, and about what we can expect from his pair of concerts.
Tikva Records: Tell us a little bit about your relationship with the musicians you’ll be performing with.
Jeremiah Lockwood: Having a chance to play with Luther and Ethan will be a real thrill. I am really looking forward to it. I met Ethan when we did the second Mazeltov Mis Amigos shows — he was on that, as well. We didn’t really play together, but we were hanging out. I met Luther a long time ago, when I was a teenager still, when I recorded on a friend’s record, the singer-songwriter Kieran McGee. I was playing with him and we recorded at Sun Studio, which was a wonderful experience, and Luther and his brother, Cody, also played on the record. We were hanging out with them. That was fantastic, a deep wealth of music from that part of America. At that age, that was my primary focus, studying old blues records.
Tikva: One way of understanding the Tikva Records project, and more broadly the Idelsohn Society, is that Jews, having been early and great collectors of blues and jazz and bluegrass, are now turning that enterprise on their own recorded culture.
Lockwood: I think Jewish people have always been on the the innovation end of ethnomusicology. I mean, Jews in a way invented it, kind of literally: Curt Sachs, the pioneering German-born ethnomusicologist, was a Jew. And Jews were using similar techniques to use Western musical notation and ideas about how to explain music. They were using that to explain their own music, using Western notation to transcribe Jewish music from an earlier time. This idea of taking the technology of the host culture or the present moment and using it to self-analyze is kind of deeply embedded in Jewish thinking.
Tikva: Do you have a sense of how the two Tikva Records shows will differ?
Lockwood: The first night I am going to do a solo set, and maybe some stuff with Lew from Fool’s Gold. The second night is going to be a round robin. I’ll play a song, then we’ll play a song together, more of a psychedelic folk jam.
Tikva: So you’ll be exploring the outer realms?
Lockwood: We’ll be exploring realms of consciousness, certainly.
Tikva: That will be good to do with all the candles around. Is there a Jewish part of the psychedelic experience you’d could touch on here?
Lockwood: My music is connected to Jewish cantorial music, spiritual music — my band Sway Machinery does a lot of interpretations and covers of old 1920s and ‘30s records, old cantorial music, and so I am going to do some pieces that are kind of from that realm of thought, and we’re working on some pieces — Ethan and I — including a Jewish piece, Hanukkah-themed, that’s going to be a psychedelic experience, absolutely.
Tikva: The audiences for the Tikva Records shows thus far have drawn, it seems, from two broadly defined realms: from music fans, and people coming for the Jewish experience.
Lockwood: That’s sort of normal for me. The Sway Machinery has done a bunch of Jewish-themed events in the past. One of the best things we’ve done is this concert we did on the night of Rosh Hashanah, and it was like taking old Rosh Hashanah liturgy as performed by great cantors of the early 20th century, and then reinterpreting and turning it into this … like, a rock concert, basically. People there, I would say, were maybe half music lovers and half coming to it as an expression of their Jewish roots, their version of going to services for Rosh Hashanah. It’s good to cover all the bases.
Tikva: Was anyone from the latter audience taken aback?
Lockwood: From the Jewish world? People who aren’t going to like it don’t come, obviously: It’s a show with electric guitars on a holiday. It’s not halokhe — people who don’t want that won’t come.
Tikva: What is your personal Jewish upbringing?
Lockwood: I didn’t really grow up religious. My family was secular. The funny thing is, my grandfather was a cantor, and my uncle was a cantor. My grandfather managed to avoid being occupied with issues of identity simply through the charisma with which he expressed his Jewishness and his Americanness. That was enough to sustain the family in the illusion that everything was OK.
Tikva: When you say everything is OK, you mean…
Lockwood: It was a manic century and a half. There had been a certain stasis, religious identity being the primary way of begin a Jew, and that then interacted with other modes of living: secular humanism, being an artist, being an intellectual. These are spheres of spiritual intellectual expression that run parallel to the more ancient mode.
Tikva: When you talk about your grandfather’s charisma, you mean that he walked through life proudly, but that in contrast a later generation maybe hid a little?
Lockwood: Yeah, hiding is a big part of the way people deal with the discomfort of being both of a subculture and also alienated from it. There’s a lot of hiding from both from one’s family — though not for me so much — and expressing the extent to which they were no longer observing, but also someone who is ill at ease with themselves.
Tikva: That’s a nice way to put it, in that it is about something that while perhaps endemic to the Jewish experience isn’t solely part of the Jewish experience — it’s something that people who come to the Tikva Records shows for the cultural aspect may themselves experience in their own lives.
Lockwood: The culture is the great wealth of why it is interesting, why we need to look at it. Stories, music — those are things we cannot do without. You can’t exist without your stories, and we try to find ways to express those stories that are true, and that come from a sense of urgency, of compulsion.
Check out the Tikva Records calendar for more information about the two events.Read More and Comment
I’ve always wanted to work in a record store. In the original fantasy, I’m rocking a mohawk, combat boots, and a DIY ball gown featuring a T-shirt from X’s Under the Big Black Sun.
So … this is not that store. This is Tikva, where I get to spin mid-century Jewish vinyl all day. Here we turn people on to Jo Amar, have critical conversations about diaspora culture, swoon over cantorial divas, and sing along with Yiddish workers’ choruses.
Some people know the records by heart and others are neophytes but dig the covers and want to hear the groovy sounds. It’s been great to learn more about this music every time someone opens the door off Mission. I take pictures of people who buy music in the store and want to say a few words about it.
You should come by and visit, also — be a part of the eternal commentary! Here are some of the people who have stopped by:Read More and Comment
In advance of her show on the third night of Hanukkah at Tikva Records, Rebecca Bortman spoke with us regarding details of the performance. She also explained that the pop band with which she has long been associated, San Francisco’s My First Earthquake, is a band no more. Still, fans of the group will be happy to know that Earthquake guitarist Dave Lean, who also figured prominently in its Hanukkah video, will be playing with her. Bortman talked about growing up in a KKK-heavy region of the country, about doing battle with the pervasiveness of Christmas music, about being courted in YouTube comments, and about covering a cover version.
Tikva Records: Please recount the story of your popular Hanukkah song, “Fa La Freezing.”
Rebecca Bortman: It came out three years ago and it was our band’s first video and got the most attention. I guess maybe that’s sad we didn’t get much after the first one. We’ve gotten attention, but not as much — it has over 300,000 views on YouTube. It’s based on a song I had to sing in fifth grade choir. It’s about hot chocolate. In fifth-grade choir we sang this song with funny hand motions about wanting a hot cup of cocoa, and one of my roommates in San Francisco — I have four roommates — who is much more of a religious Jew than me, heard the song. I could never remember how it ended, so he decided to end it “with a marshmallow or two, even though I am a Jew.” I would just sing that all the time. And the band thought it was kind of funny. They wanted to record it. That’s the strange start of that song.
Tikva: This Tikva Records project is about, among other things, assimilation, and assimilation cuts both ways: American Jews becoming more homogenous, but also looking back into one’s heritage. Was that Hanukkah song an anomaly or the tip of an iceberg?
Bortman: Definitely the tip of an iceberg. Trying not to get too heavy: I grew up in a county in southwestern Pennsylvania that had the highest KKK membership of any county in the United States.
Tikva: Good job there, not getting too heavy.
Bortman: Sure thing, any time. So, even though I was growing up close to Squirrel Hill, which is one of the biggest Jewish communities, I personally experienced a lot of anti-Semitism, being one of only two Jews. So, I have always been a little more secretive than the average Jewish person about my Judaism. When the song came out it was, like, “OK, Bortman, you’re outed,” for better or worse. You can scroll back through the comments on the YouTube video and see everything from neo-Nazis to gentlemen proposing marriage.
Tikva: How did that work out?
Bortman: I was not harmed by any neo-Nazis or nice Jewish gentlemen. We did a follow-up song that. There’s another element of the first song: in the second verse I talk about how my birthday is two days before Christmas, which may contribute to my curmudgeonly attitude toward the holidays in general. I really hate Christmas music, and its pervasiveness. So we wrote another holiday song in an effort to not have just Christmas-centric music. It’s more “everybody get along for the holidays.” Equal opportunity holiday enjoyment.
Tikva: Who will be playing with you?
Bortman: It’s my bandmate, Dave Lean, on guitar. He’s in the Hanukkah video with me. Our band kind of broke up this fall.
Tikva: I’m sorry to hear that.
Bortman: But it was instigated by me, so I am probably the least one deserving of an “I’m sorry.” So, Dave is the guitarist from that band, and we’re going to be playing four songs we wrote together and two covers. It will be our vocals, his guitar, and our friend, Dana Goldberg, who is singing and playing the xylophone with us.
Tikva: Can you name the two covers you’ll be playing at the Tikva event?
Bortman: Sure, sure. We are doing a cover of the Maccabeats. I believe the song is called “Candlelight.” And then “Personal Jesus.”
Tikva: Johnny Cash’s version of the original Depeche Mode song is grewat.
Bortman: It’s definitely a cover of Johnny Cash’s cover.
Tikva: Was that a song you were a fan of before hearing the Cash’s version?
Bortman: I guess the easy twist that perhaps we are doing is by changing it to be more about Jewish metaphors. In my public school, we learned about Christ figures. And I think a case can be made that song is more about S&M than about finding Jesus. That’s why it’s interesting. It’s also a beautiful, simple song. I can’t take any credit for thinking of it. Dave, our guitarist, he’s an expert noodles, and he started noodling it.
Get free tickets to Bortman’s December 22 show here. Check out the full list of Tikva Records Hanukkah 2011 events.Read More and Comment
Tonight is musician Dan Lebowitz’s second night at the Tikva Records store in San Francisco. And it’s his second night in two ways. It’s his second performance on the Tikva stage — which is to say, the back of the main room — and it’s the second night of Hanukkah.
This past Saturday night, he led a crack band through two sets of tributes to the famed Jewish writers who made the Brill Building synonymous with great songs (“Love Potion No. 9,” “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’”), and tonight he’s playing a Hanukkah show. (The photos on this page, by Susan J Weiand, of susanjweiand.com/rockpics, are from Saturday night.)
Lebowitz, who is best known as a member of the Brushfire Records band ALO (Animal Liberation Orchestra), spoke with us, after a rehearsal, about how adaptable the Brill songbook is, about growing up Jewish in the South Bay area, and about the centrality of holidays to his upbringing.
Tikva Records: First, to borrow a question from another Jewish holiday: How is tonight different from the Brill Building night?
Dan Lebowitz: Tonight is different, definitely. With the Brill Building night, we had a concept: the music of the Brill Building songwriters. Specifically what I wanted to get across was this idea that we were paying tribute to the songs, not the performances, which is really paying tribute to those Jewish songwriters. We interpreted them, we jammed them out, and we tried different feels.
Tikva: Yeah, country versions, reggae versions.
Lebowitz: Yeah, country, all this stuff. It was to say, “Hey, you can play this song any way you want.” Get some musicians together with a good song, and there you go. That was a real concept, and it guided everything. Tonight is a Hanukkah show, a band of musicians I play with, and we’re mixing it up. We’ll play originals and some covers and holidays songs, and a lot that aren’t holiday songs. It’s fun — a celebration.
Tikva: The question we have asked just about everyone, in the course of this Tikva Records blog coverage, is this idea of assimilation, about the extent to which their faith is remote from, or part of, what they do.
Lebowitz: It is in that culturally I definitely grew up Jewish and feel very Jewish, but I wouldn’t say it’s a big guiding force in my music.
Tikva: Wil-Dog, of Ozomatli, said something about how his memories of Jewishness as a young child made the term synonymous with “hiding.”
Lebowitz: You know, that’s an interesting take. I grew up in the South Bay, the Bay Area — one of the things that’s unique about Judaism is there’s this cultural component and this religious component. I would say most people I know are cultural Jews, not religious Jews. I am pretty open-minded when it comes to religions. I am not subscribing too hard to anything specifically, except my belief in goodness. [Laughs] But I feel Jewish because of my culture, the story of my great great grandparents coming over on the boat, down to my grandparents, down to my parents. The holidays were celebrated in my house, and we always identified as Jewish. The hiding thing is interesting. I can relate. I didn’t have a lot of Jewish friends growing up. We went to synagogue for Hebrew school, but in my actual school there were just a few Jews, but none of them did music, and most of my friends were through music. I didn’t hang out with that many Jewish kids. It wasn’t a big thing outside of family, but in my family it was a deep deep current
Keep an eye on the Tikva Records calendar for all the events happening throughout the month of December.Read More and Comment