Monday, April 14, 2008
I have transcribed a significant part of the above video below. The video opens with Reb Shlomo singing his L'Mikdasheich Tuv niggun, and at about one-and-a-half minutes in, his talk begins. The entire video is 6:40 minutes. Other videos in this series can be found here.
"I want you to know something: when I began my humble career, some people said, 'Oh, it’s the Jewish Elvis Presley!' Achhh – so disgusting! If he [Elvis] were to call himself the non-Jewish Shlomo Carlebach, on the very same day I would call myself the Jewish Elvis Presley. You know, the problem with us is, we always mix up everything - milchig [dairy] and fleishig [meat], sardines and chicken soup… [Reb Shlomo goes on to cite how this never happens in the plant or animal kingdom].
"As for me, when I was in Yeshiva, I was learning so much, not only did I not buy a newspaper, I didn’t even look at the headlines! I didn’t want anything in my head but the Torah. But then, I went to university, because I needed to be in touch with the world. But there’s one thing I never did: I never listened to non-Jewish music*. You might think I’m crazy, [but] I never heard the Beatles. I never heard the Beatles!
"The only thing I know is a Chassidishe melody. And believe me, we don’t need to pick up the rhythm. I love the non-Jewish world, the music is beautiful, but we don’t need to pick up the rhythm from them. You think the old Chassidim didn’t dance like wild?
"You know, when someone says the word Rock 'n Roll to me, it makes me feel very bad. I want you to know, without bragging, because if you have something which is a gift from G-d, you can brag about it. After the Second World War, there was no more Jewish music, 'cause all the Jewish composers…nebich - gevald! I’m sure they’re still composing great melodies up there, but we haven’t heard them.
"So miraculously, I got myself a guitar and began making up some melodies. And the world was so hungry, that whenever I made a new melody, after a few weeks, they were singing it all over the world…
"Baruch Hashem, today there are a lot of young people who compose melodies, but the only thing is, which is a little bit sad, they’re mixing milchig and fleishig. They do! You know, not every 'bang-bang' melody is a Chassidishe melody. You know what a Chassidishe melody is? A melody you can dance with, but also cry with.
"You know, the old Chassidim, when they were dancing, tears were flowing! Not sadness!! So deep, it’s so deep! You know, I bless you to be at your children’s weddings, bless me to be at my children’s weddings. When you marry off your children, your eyes are full of tears. You can’t believe it – Master of the World, thank you so much!!!"
*When I posted this in Hebrew on a Hebrew forum, someone immediately asked, what about the non-Jewish songs that he sang, like "Kumbaya"? I answered as follows. Let’s analyze his words. First he says that he never listened to non-Jewish music, then later he mentions that the problem is with the beat, the rhythm. He’s taken aback about being compared to Elvis Presley, and even the words "Rock 'n roll" make him feel bad. And he never heard the Beatles.
I’m fairly certain that Reb Shlomo heard non-Jewish classical music in his youth, having grown up in a cultured "Yekke" home in Berlin and Vienna [before coming to New York]. It’s also obvious that he heard at least some folk music - witness his singing not only "Kumbaya", but also "I’m on My Way to Canaan Land" and "Sinner Man". Apparently he found something positive in this kind of music, but not in the heavy 'bang-bang' [as he calls it] beat of Rock 'n Roll.
In 1961-62 I followed Shlomo back to an apartment in Forest Hills after a performance at the Forest Hills Jewish Center. He had one accompanist who was black and played the bongos and he introduced several 'non-Jewish' musical interpretations. There were some others there who had obviously come from Greenwich Village, where, of course, the music that was most preponderant was happening at that time and remember, Shlomo performed at the Village Gate at around that time.