Month: September 2015

15: The Voice of Peace and The Masters of War

Back in the 70’s, Israel was introduced to a new and very unique media phenomenon: The Voice of Peace – a floating radio station. It was located on a boat, which was stationed in the Mediterranean, just outside Israeli territorial waters. The owner was Abie Nathan – an Israeli pacifist, who used the station to broadcast his relentless message of peace, much to the chagrin of the Israeli government (hence the positioning of the boat outside territorial waters). The station brought a mix of pacifist material and really really great music, all in English. The music was the latest and greatest in pop/rock, with modern-style DJs, something that was completely new in old-fashioned and conservative Israel. Every new hit in the world – we first heard it on the Voice of Peace and only weeks (sometimes months) later on Israeli stations. I know that as a teen, my generation simply abandoned Israeli radio stations and made The Voice of Peace our new home. We came for the music and got an earful of peace. My generation was never before so close to “abroad” as this station made us feel.

Naturally, since the goal of the station was to deliver the message of peace, it offered an ample daily dose of peace and anti-war rhetoric and music. One example that comes easily to mind: Give Peace A Chance:

There was, though, another song that was played on The Voice of Peace that made a great impression on me. It was a harsh criticism against “war-happy” governments, not mincing words. For a country like Israel that brought its children up on the ethos of heroism in war, the military as our defender and savior and our great leaders, who know how to protect us from the bad guys etc., hearing a song that decreed the leaders as cowards and criminals, sounded almost as blasphemy. Listening to the song felt almost like doing something illegal and associating with some sort of a criminal underground. But at the same time it already sowed the first seeds of doubt in my mind. Maybe our leaders are not so virtuous? Maybe there is another way?

I knew nothing about the song – not the name, not the poet, not the artist. It was a female artist and I was just fascinated by her deep, powerful alto, which made the message all that more ominous. When the Voice of Peace ceased operations in 1993, the song was gone for me. Not knowing anything about it, I had no way of finding it. But I never forgot it and always wondered about it and hoped someday to rediscover it. It took many years but I did, only a few years ago. To my surprise, it turned out to be a song by Bob Dylan: Masters of War.

Somehow that version by that mysterious lady was so good, it never occurred to me it wasn’t originally hers. Well, once I identified the song, it didn’t take long to find her cover. It was Odetta:

So here you are. I leave it to you to decide which version you like better.

On a side note: I just found out that several Voice of Peace veterans resurrected the station in a more modern setting – as an Internet streaming radio station by the same name. The Voice of Peace lives.

14: Engelbert Forever

Last Friday, my wife and I went to Reno, NV to see Engelbert Humperdinck. Yep, the famous Engelbert. Yep, live. Yep, he still performs. The man is 79 and he tours and performs like he was 19. Wow. I suspect when I’m 79 (if I even make it), I’ll be glad if I remember whether I already went to the bathroom today.

As I’m sure all people a million years or more old will agree, Engelbert was one of the great heart breakers of… the last million years, especially for girls. I don’t think I need to explain much about those great years when he was young and handsome and all. Young people will not understand anyway. So I will focus on the show.

First of all, the audience. Anybody who would look at the audience would determine that this was a special event for a retirement house. I think from all the people there, my wife and I were the youngest. It was really funny and amazing. Bent people, white hair, canes, limping, wheel chairs, the works. Some had nannies, some, younger family members, who “brought them in”. Right next to us was a young Asian couple, probably in their 20s. They didn’t know Engelbert but his dad was a great fan, so they bought him a ticket to make the old man happy. And they came along to see what’s the story with that dinosaur. They were very puzzled that it was very hard to get tickets for the show. In their young generation, they no longer remember (or care) who was the big star 5 years ago.

About the show itself. It ran nearly two hours with no intermission! That in itself is a big accomplishment. Physically, his age shows and it’s not surprising. In terms of his singing, his voice is still strong and good but I think it is now harder for him to maintain a note for a long time. He sings his phrases in short bits, generally in a lower scale, etc. to avoid challenging his chords too much. He can still reach high notes (and he did) but it seems to be harder for him and he didn’t do it much. Probably for the same reason, his singing was softer and sometimes was hard to hear over the orchestra, especially as he has the habit of moving the mic away from his face when singing more loudly (professionals usually do).

But honestly, at the end of the day, that was all minor stuff. He started to sing and we all got lost in the sound, the music, the memories, the emotions. The audience (remember: average age was probably 70) suddenly came to life, just like they were back in their 20s and it was all magic.  We yelled and whistled and waved hands and relived the dream. Humperdinck is very experienced and knows how to deliver a show. It was worth every cent and every minute, including the 4-hour drive in each direction. My wife even had a few tears.

A few interesting moments:

Humperdinck ran a video of comedian Eddie Izzard making fun of his name. Funny. Nice to see Engelbert took this whole name thing lightly:

Recently, Humperdinck finished a new album of duets. It’s called Engelbert Calling and includes hits with many big icons from the music world. In the show, he performed one of those songs – Something About the Way You Look Tonight – with Elton John. Engelbert sang his part live right there and then with Elton’s voice playing in a video on the screens. Was a nice trick. And I love the song and Elton John, so it was a treat all around.

During the show Humperdinck sang a song I didn’t know: How I love You. What a beautiful ballad. I loved the lyrics. Anybody old enough (as we all surely were) recognizes and appreciates the words and the emotions. Not sure how I never heard it before. So there you are, old Engelbert still teaches me things.

It turns out that Humperdinck has an old tradition in his shows that I didn’t know about: He uses red handkerchiefs to wipe his face during the show and at the end, he gives them out to people in the audience. Shortly before the end of the show, most of the people in the audience suddenly got up and rushed towards the stage, as if by some secret command. My wife and I were puzzled what was happening but decided to go with the flow and joined them. Since we were among the last to arrive at the stage, we found space only at the very side of the stage. I took that opportunity to shoot the last few minutes of the show. That includes the part when he started to give out those red handkerchiefs.

As you can see in the video, just by coincidence, he threw the last handkerchief more or less in my direction, as I was shooting. And you can see how at that very moment, the video becomes all crazy and blurry for a few seconds. You might imagine why. Yes, I caught it! What a cool bonus to a great experience. My wife just couldn’t be happier.

Engelbert Humperdinck-20150911

If you look carefully, you will see his signature embroidered into the handkerchief at the lower left corner (zoom in). Turns out this is a desirable collectible. Sellers are asking for hundreds of Dollars on eBay for these.

So there we are. A beautiful experience. Humperdinck is not young and we are very happy we had this opportunity to experience this legend.

13: Salvadorian Food and Israeli Soccer

This post was supposed to discuss music from El Salvador but things didn’t turn out this way. My “adventure” ended with no music but a good laugh. I thought I’d share it here.

Yesterday, I went to a restaurant in San Francisco that offers Salvadorian food. The Balompie Cafe is a simple, small, family-owned Salvadorian food restaurant. Made me feel almost like I was having lunch at somebody’s home in an El Salvador village.

Balompie Cafe, San Francisco
Balompie Cafe, San Francisco

Inside the restaurant, they were playing some music on the speakers and I thought maybe that was Salvadorian music. But upon inspection, I found out it was just general Latin music that you could select from a wall-mounted, modern, digital jukebox, like this:

digital jukebox

And the music selection in it was pretty uninteresting. So much for the music part 🙁

But while we’re at it, I will share something else that made me smile. If you look closely at the restaurant name in the restaurant sign in the picture above, you can see what is the second most important thing for them (after food). Yes, soccer. And indeed this is very noticeable inside the restaurant. They have a wall-mounted TV that plays… you guessed it, soccer games. But the more interesting part is the walls. They have a beautiful collection of scarves from famous soccer clubs hanging on the walls. There are scarves from all over the world: Bayern Munchen, Boca Juniors, Tottenham. All the big names. Very nice collection. And mind you, it’s very hard to find much interest in soccer in the US. Indeed you have to go to the Latin communities and places to get high on a good dose of soccer. That was a very refreshing experience which reminded me of the good old days back in Israel.

Anyway, I was enjoying checking out all the scarves when something caught my eye. I took a picture of it:

Balompie Cafe 09-06-15

There, right above the TV, in red. Do you recognize the scarf? Well, it’s probably hard for most of you as it is not in Latin alphabet. It’s in Hebrew. But even those who read Hebrew will notice a problem with it. A very funny one 🙂 I will leave it to you to call out what the issue is. I had a blast when I saw it and when I spoke about it to the restaurant staff everybody had a good laugh, including all the patrons.

Oh and the food? Well El Salvador sounds rather exotic but the food actually reminded me a lot of Israel, believe it or not. It had different names but tasted the same. Pupusas is pita bread, only made of corn, pollo guisado is what we call בשר מכובס ברוטב  (laundered meat in sauce) in Israel and the empanadas look and taste like Kibbeh. So all in all, I felt a bit like back home right in San Francisco.