109: Daniel Zamir, ‘Shir HaShomer’

Posted by jeff on May 7, 2019 in History, Israeli, Jazz, Song Of the week

This is a story about shifting gears, about accelerating tempi, about breaking through to the other side, and about new modes of perception. It’s also a story about the early days of Zionism, about nostalgia for childhood, about Lubavitch Hassidut, about prodigality, and about having fun.

And it’s ultimately about jazz. But it going to be a bit of a journey till we get there.

In the 1910s and 1920s, the north of Palestine, the Galilee, was sparsely populated by indigenous Arabs. Hundreds, then thousands of Jewish settlers came to settle unoccupied land, but the locals were notably, often violently inhospitable. In1909, a handful of hotheaded settlers formed HaShomer, a sort of Jewish Defense League. They rode horses and tried to protect the settlers, but were limited to chance encounters and small skirmishes. In the 1930s, the Jewish settlement movement upped the ante by establishing a number of kibbutzim, often using the Homa uMigdal (wall and tower) method (putting up a watchtower and fence overnight, because Turkish rule recognized this as a structure and forbade its destruction). In 1938, Emmanuel Linn (lyrics) and Benjamin Omer (music) prepared a song, ‘Shir HaShomer’ (Song of the Watchman’) for the Channuka party of Kibbutz Mishmar HaEmek, one of these Homa uMigdal settlements.

The song exalts the tenacity of the settlers in holding tight to the land, symbolized by the watchman standing on the tower on high, ready for any marauding attackers, dizzy with love for the very land he is guarding.

מֵעַל הַמִּגְדָּל סָבִיב אַשְׁקִיפָה,
עֵינִי תִּגְמַע מֶרְחַקִּים,
אֶרֶץ רוֹגַעַת בִּדְמִי הַלֵּיל,
הוֹי, שׁוֹמֵר, מַה מִּלֵּיל?

חֲלִיל רוֹעִים יָרֹן
גּוֹלְשִׁים עֶדְרֵי הַצֹּאן,
מַה לִּי וּמִי לִי עוֹד, כְּנַעַן?
רוּחַ מִיָּם הָמָה,
בֵּין שִׁבֳּלֵי קָמָה,
מַה לִּי וּמִי לִי עוֹד, כְּנַעַן?

סַהַר עָלָה מִן הֶהָרִים
הָעֵמֶק עָטָה עֲרָפֶל
אֵי שָׁם נוּגוֹת הַתַּן מְיַלֵּל
הוֹ, שׁוֹמֵר, מַה מִּלֵּיל?

From up on the tower I shall watch afar,
My eye shall drink in the distances,
The land is calm in the dead of night,
Oh, watchman, what brings the night?

A shepherd’s flute shall rejoice
The flock spilling down the hillside,
What more could I want,Canaan?
The breeze from the sea whispers,
Between the sheathes of wheat,
What more could I want, Canaan?

The moon rising above the hills,
The valley covered in mist
Somewhere a jackal gently wails,
Oh, watchman, what brings the night?

The music of the song reflects the contrast between the frightful night (the verse) and the joyous day (the chorus). The verse is slow, tense, vaguely East European (Russian/Yiddish). The chorus is bouncy, forward moving, drum-driven, confident. The New Jew.

The song became a quintessential expression of the entire Zionist ethos. A boy born in 1950 to an insurance agent and an electric company clerk in urban Petah Tikva, catching just a phrase of the song, becomes in his heart and mind that courageous Israelite from a generation earlier, a reality already hardly imaginable. Sabra children heard these songs as they suckled. They copiously copied and memorized the words in the fourth grade, and sang them and danced to them at their parties at age 13, at 18, at 23, in their hearts and minds still at 60. The song is part and parcel of the very essence of the Israeli self-image.

I consulted with five Sabas, aged 70 to 40, about the cultural connotations of the song. Every single one of the five remarked with a nostalgic smile, “Oh, now it’s running through my head.”

The key phrase, by the way, comes from Isaiah 21:11– שומר, מה מלילה? שומר, מה מליל?. It’s a poetic turn of phrase, something along the line of ‘Oh, watchman, what brings the night? How are you? How are we? Is there danger approaching?’ Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Daniel Zamir, Red Sea Jazz Festival (Photo Itamar Grinberg)

I was fortunate enough to catch a set at the Red Sea Jazz Festival a few years back by the very fine soprano saxophonist Daniel Zamir. Daniel (b. 1981) went through a typical secular high school experience in Israel, then moved to New York and was caught up in John Zorn’s Jewish avant garde free jazz scene. He also became involved in the Chabad (Hassidic) movement, and subsequently returned to Israel. He has evolved into a consummate artist presenting a mix of cutting-edge jazz, klezmer, and no little degree of Israeli-ism.

I’ve known lots of Chabad ‘hozrim b’tshuva’ (adopting a religious life-style). A common trait among virtually all of them is that they maintain their interests and involvement in a wide variety of fields of interest, secular and religious. They don’t cloister themselves. Their Lubavitcher adherence rarely supplants their life in the world outside. But it seems to me that their Chabad ideology always takes a certain primacy, a priority. The Rebbe always has the last word.

I don’t know exactly how Daniel shuffles his very rich deck. I hope to have the chance someday soon to have a nice sitdown with him and try to sort it out. But I’m fascinated by the fact that with all his Lubavitcherkeit and free jazz mentality and Americanism, his music continues to lean so faithfully on his (secular) Zionist roots. He dedicates a CD to Gilad Shalit. He uses songs from “Eretz Yisrael HaYafa” (“Songs of Good Old Israel”) as source material. It isn’t to Ornette Coleman or the Modzitzer Rebbe that he goes – it’s to Naomi Shemer and Benjamin Omer.

Let’s go back to ‘Shir HaShomer’ for a moment. What was the very basic drive that brought the earliest settlers to leave their homes and families and religion in the shtetl and recreate themselves as the New Israelites in a desolate, unwelcoming corner of the Levant? It was the desire to determine their own destiny, to leave behind the life of the persecuted prey, to achieve a self-reliant independence that would enable them to raise their children in security. Not without fear, because they were living within that Homa uMigdal (wall and watchtower). Why is ‘Shir HaShomer’ such an iconic expression of that state? It’s because the verse expresses all the fear that was inherent in their shtetl life (fears that were all too soon realized beyond imagination), segueing into the ‘raucous’ chorus (well, for the 1930s that was a pretty rip-loose rhythm) engendered by the empowerment of freedom.

Red Sea Jazz Festival, 2011 (Photo Itamar Grinberg)

Leaping from the constrained to the unfettered. That’s not such a foreign concept to jazz musicians, is it? Is it not what Miles Davis does when he plays a chorus of the melody of ‘Bye, Bye Blackbird’, and then moves from it into an improvised, personal exploration of new, free musical vistas?

So it seems to me that when all those folk-dancing Sabras are gently, smoothly swaying to the rubato verse, and then, Whoo! comes the break-loose chorus, they’re expressing the history of their forefathers that brought them toIsrael.

Nitay Hershkovitz

And it seems to me that when Daniel Zamir drinks from that well, he’s drawing from the very same impulse. Except that now we’re witnessing one very slightly-built soprano saxophonist standing on the shoulders of a couple of giant traditions, Zionism and jazz.

Here’s a clip from a studio version of ‘Shir HaShomer’ from Zamir’s 2002 CD “Amen”. Accompanying him are Daniel Freedman on drums, Omer Avital on bass, and the brilliant Omri Mor on piano, here still in his teens. Zamir writes in the notes, “Omer and Freedman do great work here maintaining the exact structure of the song, but it’s the minute deviances here and there that lead to new, unexpected places (see the end of Omri’s solo). Omri, as is his wont, isn’t flustered by bothersome signature changes from 5/8 to 4/8 and 3/4 and back; he unleashes his wrath without blinking and finishes up with a charming flourish. The brave route the whole group takes throughout the song ends in a massive release that was totally unplanned.”

Gilad Abro (Photo David Rubin)

And that’s just the tame studio version. Fast forward to the 2011 Red Sea Jazz Festival. Put Daniel as the opening act in front of several thousand sympathetic listeners thumbing their noses at the terrorist attacks which threatened to cancel the festivities, lots of af al pi chen (‘despite everything’) in the air.

Listen to Daniel’s warm and winding arpeggios, exploring, probing, breathing a stubborn vitality into this old tune. It’s hard to hear heartthrob Samurai bassist Gilad Abro on this low-resolution recording, but to see him is to recognize him as the heart of the group, pumping blood and energy and excitement into the mix. Listen to Zamir’s generosity as he gives the stage to his young band members. The very talented young pianist Nitay Hershkowits takes the forefront at 3:50, working the melody with the utmost respect, kneading life into it with such persistence. He also learned the song in kindergarten. But probably not in that 11/8 tempo, or whatever it is, that 21-year old drummer Amir Bresler is cooking.

Amir Bresler

At the beginning of the second part, Daniel brings back the melody, but now with a fever, raising the stakes, the four watchmen racing the pulse. And then at 4 minutes from the end, Messrs Zamir, Hershkowitz and Abro lay out, comping for young Amir. This isn’t a drum solo, it’s the climax of a drum concerto. He provides the coup de grace, a stunning, dizzying personal statement as the culmination of Zamir’s reading of ‘Shir HaShomer’ and the tradition from which it arises.

The kid is a drummer genius. I know that’s an oxymoron. I don’t remember ever hearing a drummer with such a sense of musicality, a composer’s sense of structure, an arranger’s sense of texture. He’s twenty-one and a half. He finished the army half a year ago, and is currently working in bassist Avishai Cohen’s trio.

These four young Israelis are singing together in a profoundly expressive musical voice, fully aware of the tradition from which they’re coming, fully exploiting the freedom this tradition has given them to express in their own vibrant, young voices the excitement of break-loose Whoo! Their grandfathers, I believe, would be proud.

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146: Hamilton Camp, ‘Pride of Man’

Posted by jeff on Sep 14, 2012 in History, Personal, Rock

Hamilton Camp — Pride of Man
Gordon Lightfoot — Pride of Man
Quicksilver Messenger Service — Pride of Man

The Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1563)

Last week we wrote about ‘Early Morning Rain’, a song written by Gordon Lightfoot (b . 1938), the Canadian folksinger-songwriter whose muscular acoustic guitar/string bass/soft drums trio greatly influenced Bob Dylan (“Bringing It All Back Home”, “John Wesley Harding”). This week we’re going to talk about an obscure but fascinating song from 1964 by an obscure but fascinating songwriter which eerily presages 9/11 both graphically and conceptually: Hamilton Camp’s ‘Pride of Man’.

Flash of fire ten times brighter than the day…

I’m an old-school meat-and-potatoes kind of guy: if I can’t hold it or chew it, I don’t want to hear about it. I read no science fiction or fantasy. But what can I say? ‘Pride of Man’ (©1964 by Hamilton Camp) vividly describes the September 11 attacks (©2001 by al-Qaeda).

The song was a minor hit in 1966 for Gordon Lightfoot on his debut album, and in 1968 for Quicksilver Messenger Service (one of the leading San Francisco bands together with Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead).

Hamilton Camp

Who is Hamilton Camp, you may ask. I admit I had only a foggy recollection of him from Back Then (but then most of my memories from BT are pretty foggy). It turns out Bob Camp (1934-2005) was evacuated from London during the Blitz and became a child actor in Hollywood.  He played in a trillion movies and TV shows, including a messenger boy in the 1953 version of “Titanic”, the uncredited second clerk in “The Graduate” (although I looked and could only find Buck Henry at the desk) and  in two episodes of “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” as Leck, a Ferengi) and sang folk music with Bob Gibson and by himself.

He changed his name to Hamilton after joining the Subud spiritual movement, founded in the 1920s in Indonesia, now with 10,000 followers worldwide (including Jim>Roger McGuinn). “His soul had an argument with itself and the side that won decided to stop killing itself, to stop singing for release and to start singing for love.” Okay. I guess you can’t argue against singing for love. Hey, maybe I’ll change my name. How about, um, Yitzhak? Anyway, Ham’s most famous song was indeed ‘Pride of Man’:

Hamilton Leck

Turn around, go back down, back the way you came
Can’t you see that flash of fire ten times brighter than the day
And behold the mighty city broken in the dust again
Oh God, the pride of man, broken in the dust again

It’s hard to not picture the firefighters trying to climb the stairs of the Twin Towers, the song admonishing them that their attempts to combat the explosion will be for naught.

Turn around, go back down, back the way you came
Babylon is laid to waste, Egypt’s buried in her shame
Their mighty men are beaten down, their kings have fallen in the ways
Oh God, the pride of man, broken in the dust again

Our purpose here isn’t to quibble with the details of the song (the Egyptian pyramids are still standing, Egypt has never been associated with ‘shame’ in the Judeo-Christian tradition, the Egypt metaphor is just a one-time toss-off in this stanza). Bob/Hamilton is by all accounts a Minor Prophet. But let’s take a look at that Babylon metaphor.

Pride of Man

Genesis begins with three stories – the Creation, the Deluge, and the Tower of Babel. Why the flood? “And God saw the earth, and behold it was corrupted, for all flesh had corrupted its ways on the earth.” Boom, reformat the global Hard Disk, let’s try again.

After the flood, Noah was pretty depressed (daunted I suppose by the major cleaning task facing him and Mrs Noah), so God saw fit to promise him that he would never again resort to such drastic measures, that the world would continue to revolve. But He just turned around, and lookee wa’ happen: at the beginning of Genesis 11, ‘the entire earth was of one language, and one speaking’. A whole bunch of Noah’s descendants started dwelling in close proximity (that gregarious, tribal tendency I suppose), real estate got scarce, and the engineers figured out how to make bricks. “And they said, let’s build us a city and a skyscraper with its top all the way up in the sky, and we’ll make a name for ourselves, so that we won’t scatter all over the earth.”

You know, on the face of things, that doesn’t sound so bad to me. But God came down to check out The Tower, and He took a different view: “Here, one people and one language for all of them, and this is what they start doing? Now nothing will stop them from all their scheming. Let’s go down and babble up their language, so they can’t understand one another’s language. And God scattered them all over the face of the earth, and they stopped building that city.”

Pride of Lions

As anyone who’s taken high school French knows, differences in language are indeed a giant barrier to worldwide cooperation, even with Google Translate. I don’t profess to understand the Babel story completely, but it’s clear to me that there is a dynamic here, a dialectic. My Pooh understanding of the story tells me that there’s nothing inherently wrong with Man’s ambition, nor with his drive to create cities. The problem isn’t with the action itself, it’s with Man’s character. God created those Babylonians, just like He created us, and He knows if we’re going to be bad or good. Let’s rephrase that–He knows we’re going to be bad. So he decides at the very beginning of Earth Ver. 2.1 to lead us not into temptation: no skyscrapers, guys, it’ll only get you into trouble.

Turn around, go back down, back the way you came
Terror is on every side, though the leaders are dismayed
Those who put their faith in fire, in fire their faith shall be repaid
Oh God, the pride of man, broken in the dust again.

Turn around, go back down, back the way you came
Shout a warning to the nations that the sword of God is raised
On Babylon that mighty city, rich in treasure, wide in fame
It shall cause thy tower to fall and make it be a pyre of flame
Oh God, the pride of man, broken in the dust again.

Oh thou that dwell on many waters, rich in treasure, wide in fame
Bow unto a god of gold, thy pride of might shall be thy shame
Oh God, the pride of man, broken in the dust again.

Whose side is Hamilton Camp on here? In his prophecy, is he saying that al- Qaeda is the arm of God, that the World Trade Center is the symbol of Man’s hubris, his challenge to the supremacy of God? That’s a pretty uncomfortable reading of the 1964 song, and a very troubling way of looking at the events that took place eleven years ago this week.

And only God can lead the people back into the earth again
Thy holy mountain be restored, Thy mercy on Thy people, Lord.

Reb Chaim of Brisk

I originally wrote this posting just before Rosh HaShana, the Jewish New Year. It’s a time for reflection, for each of us to perform חשבון נפש (spiritual accounting). That’s a very difficult task, making sense out of all this. For a helping hand I usually turn for perspective to the wisest man I’ve read, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, the grandson of Reb Chaim of Brisk (1853-1918), the founder of the modern Yeshiva approach to learning.  ‘The Rav’ himself (1903-93) was born in a shtetl in what became Lithuania, earned his Ph.D. in philosophy in Germany in 1932, then moved to Boston where he became a community rabbi. In 1941 he succeeded his father as head of the yeshiva at Yeshiva University in New York, where he taught until his death. He ordained over 2000 rabbis, and is considered to be the seminal figure in Modern Orthodox Judaism (a camp with which I identify), which advocates a synthesis between strict observance to Jewish law, the study of Torah, secular scholarship, and involvement with the community at large.

Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, ‘The Rav’

In addition to his achievements as a community rabbi and Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Soloveitchik was a profound philosopher. Perhaps his most influential work has been “The Lonely Man of Faith”, a 110-page treatise reconciling the fragmented, existential modern perception of the world with religious faith. I find it brutally honest, painfully truthful, and a source of great consolation.

The Rav analyzes the two stories of The Creation (Genesis 1 and Genesis 2), the Adam of each. He probes the dichotomy, the seeming contradictions, between the two Adams.

Adam the first is created in the “image of God”, referring “to man’s inner charismatic endowment as a creative being. Man’s likeness to God expresses itself in man’s striving and ability to become a creator.” It is he who has the “mandate to subdue nature”. “Man acquires dignity through glory, through his majestic posture vis-à-vis his environment.”

“While Adam the first is dynamic and creative…, Adam the second is receptive and beholds the world in its original dimensions.” “ Adam the second perceives the world as it is created and asks not ‘how?’ but ‘why?’” “He wants to understand the living, ‘given’ world into which he has been cast.” “He asks: ‘What is the purpose of all this? What is the message that is embedded in organic and inorganic matter, and what does the great challenge reaching me from beyond the fringes of the universe as well as from the depths of my tormented soul mean?”

Our challenge in this world, The Rav argues, is synthesize these two paradigms in our lives. To build, and simultaneously to remember our insignificance. Pride leads to a fall, Hamilton Camp reminds us. What would God say about the al-Qaeda attacks? I’m not privy to that. I never thought of the WTC as a symbol of man’s pride, and I do think of al-Qaeda as a horrifying example of where self-righteousness can lead. But I do understand that we of the West are not the only inhabitants of this earth; and that this earth has become so small, and that we have overcome so many of the boundaries of speaking in 70 tongues, that we really do need to find ways to ensure that we accommodate all of God’s children. Our boundaries are no longer those of our town. We all have global responsibilities. What’s the נפקא מינה of that, the operative conclusion? I don’t know. My assumption is that תיקון עולם, Tikkun Olam, fixing the world, begins with fixing oneself. So when I praying during Rosh HaShana, I try to give thought to my own human tendencies to excessive pride as an individual and as a citizen; and to my desires to make some kind of statement while I’m here; and how to best reconcile the two. I try to come up with a plan to make myself a better person in the year to come.

 If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:

SoTW 012: Arvo Pärt, ‘Cantate Domino’
SoTW 15: Tracy Nelson (Mother Earth), ‘Down So Long’
SoTW 084: Dmitri Shostakovich, Prelude & Fugue No 16 in B-flat Minor (Tatiana Nikolaeva)


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050: The Rolling Stones, ‘Gimme Shelter’ (Kent State)

Posted by jeff on May 26, 2010 in History, Personal, Rock, Song Of the week

The Rolling Stones, ‘Gimme Shelter’

I wrote a few weeks ago (SoTW 46, James Taylor’s ‘Never Die Young’) that by a bizarre alignment of the stars (and with the generous support of Facebook), my three college buddies and I have renewed contact after 40 years. The four of us spent the years 1968-1970 together. I suppose all old fogies think their Day was special. But it seems pretty obvious and indisputable to me that those years of flower power, Sgt Pepper, and Woodstock hold an interest above and beyond the norm. Last year I gave a lecture to a group of very bright undergrads (on the other side of the world from where the aforementioned events took place) about those times and their music, and the degree of the kids’ expertise was really quite outstanding. They’ve memorized the Jimi Hendrix canon, pored over the Woodstock outtakes films, purchased and re-mastered The Beatles Remastered. Colorful, heady, memorable times, those late ’60s.

But if we’re going to be truthful, all this nostalgia has its ugly underbelly. The Woodstock nation didn’t come into being spontaneously. It was fueled, yes, by babyboomers moving out of the house and into the realms of burgeoning sexual freedom, self-exploration, and idealism. But there was one unsypathetic devil lurking behind all those jingle-jangle mornings—The Draft.

There was a war going on, in Vietnam, and Richard Nixon was trying to get me to go over there and get myself killed. Here, let’s try to build a scaffolding of pertinent facts.

Throughout 1969, American soldiers were being killed in Vietnam at a rate of 223 a week. Thirty-two soldiers a day. 53% of Americans approved of Nixon’s handling of the war, 30% disapproved. My friends and I were being pursued by the draft to join those figures. Guess what? We were among the unbathed minority who disapproved of the war.

In August, 1969, half a million hippies showed up at Woodstock, seemingly out of nowhere, for 3 days of peace and love and music.

In December, 1969, promoters organized an attempt at a free ‘Woodstock West’ at the Altamont Racetrack in northern California, with The Rolling Stones as headliners. Hell’s Angels were right in front of the stage – according to most versions hired to enforce order, an oxymoronic plan if there ever was one. There was a lot of scuffling and fighting, reaching its peak during the Stones’ set when one Meredith Hunter was stabbed to death. He may have been brandishing a gun. Or not. But it was one ugly scene, documented in the movie Gimme Shelter.

On April 30, 1970, Nixon announced the invasion of Cambodia. Protest strikes broke out on campuses across the country. The strikes were mostly non-violent, and included marches, disruption of classes, and sit-ins in college administration buildings. On May 4 – 40 years ago this week – at Kent State University in northern Ohio, National Guard troops opened fire on protesting students, killing four and wounding 9 others. A week later, two more students were shot and killed at Jackson State College in Mississippi. A wave of violent and non-violent protests swept the country, involving four million students closing more than 450 colleges and sparking marches of 100,000 in Washington and 150,000 in San Francisco. (Thanks for the picture above of the march to my buddie Rod Pennington.)

It has never been conclusively determined if the Guardsmen fired on orders or spontaneously out of frustration.

The Kent State massacre was a trauma for us. Our university (in southern Ohio) was shut down immediately, students running as fast and as far as they could. I was reminded of the depth and the extent of the trauma by this article which I stumbled across recently, relating that universities are now hosting belated graduation ceremonies for the Class of ’70. Well, that’s my class, but I won’t be attending. I hardly remember the graduation ceremony, only that the university was opened especially for that event just for the day, probably sometime in June or July. But by then, I was already packing for a country where I felt wanted.

My most vivid memory of the events is, of course, musical. Not, as you might expect, Neil Young’s song ‘Ohio’, which was composed immediately and released only weeks after the events. My memory came in the form of what I believe was a ‘musical hallucination.’ Oliver Sacks devotes an entire long chapter to this phenomenon in his fine book Musicophilia. He asks a patient why she spoke of musical “hallucinations” rather than musical “imagery.” “They are completely unlike each other! They are as different as thinking of music and actually hearing it,” she answered.

It was the morning after the shootings. I was walking onto campus from my nearby apartment, going towards the administration building to see if it was still being occupied by the protestors. But the campus was abandoned, and my mind was a turmoil of outrage, shock and fear. That’s when I heard the opening bars of the Stones’ ‘Gimme Shelter‘.

It’s a remarkable song, demonic, apocalyptic, emblematic of all the evil and ugliness embodied in the events described above.

Oh, a storm is threatening my very life today; If I don’t get some shelter, oh yeah, I’m gonna fade away

War, children, it’s just a shot away, it’s just a shot away…Love, sister, it’s just a kiss away, It’s just a kiss away

The song opens the Stones album “Let It Bleed”, released in November, 1969. It was written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards together. According to Jagger, “The use of the female voice was the producer’s idea. It would be one of those moments along the lines of ‘I hear a girl on this track – get one on the phone.'” The girl they found was a professional backup singer, Merry Clayton (who at 15 had sung the original version of ‘The Shoop Shoop Song [It’s in His Kiss], which became a hit by Betty Everett and Cher. She had sung on records by Elvis Presley, Burt Bacharach, Tom Jones, Joe Cocker and Carole King. She was one of Ray Charles’ Raelets (“because you have to let Ray…”).  Merry was 21 at the recording of ‘Gimme Shelter’.

Jagger plays harmonica on it, Nicky Hopkins piano. Brian Jones was already gone. There’s an unreleased version with Richards singing lead. And here’s the song as performed at Altamont. But it’s the end-of-the-world album version that is #38 in Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. It shows up everywhere, from The Simpsons to a video game to three Scorcese Mafia movies to That 70s Show to American Idol.

What’s the song’s connection to the shootings at Kent State? None, really. Other than I actually heard it, in the Aftermath of the event. And because it’s become universally accepted in the minds of me and my friends and the entire Woodstock nation as emblematic of that terrible time when American soldiers killed American citizens.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:

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SoTW 14: Woodstock, the event (Hebrew); Joni Mitchell, ‘Woodstock’ (in English)

Posted by jeff on Dec 27, 2009 in History, Personal, Rock, Song Of the week

Dear SoTW Fans,
For those non-Hebrew readers amongst you, I sincerely apologize for this week’s offering arriving in unintelligible gibberish. It just popped out that way, sorry, it won’t happen again. Probably.
A short summary:
40 years ago the Woodstock festival took place in upstate New York. I was there. I got wet and muddy and cranky and went back home after one night to listen to some of the same artists on my headphones.
Here’s a post in good old Amercan English on the very song.


הימים הטובים לפני ואחרי וודסטוק

מי הוא בכלל שיכתוב על וודסטוק? ראה את הגרסה הקצרה של הסרט פעם אחת, וגם זה לפני שלושים שנה, שלא לדבר על גרסת הבמאי או האאוט-טייקס. לא שמע את הפסקול מההתחלה עד הסוף פעם אחת, שלא לדבר על 2# או הקופסא. זה מומחה זה? היה בוודסטוק 79′? לא. היה בוודסטוק 89′? לא. גם לא ב-94′, לא ב-99′, לא ב-2009. אז מה הוא חושב את עצמו? כולה היה בארוע המקורי.

זה התחיל למעשה שבוע לפני שיצאנו למסע שלנו, חודש לפני הפסטיבל. ביל ואני החלטנו שעושים סיבוב בקיץ, מאוהיו לטנסי, לחפש איזו בחורה שהיתה בבית של סבתא שלה ושלא ענתה לטלפונים ממני, דרך איזה פולק פסטיבל איפה שביל רצה לראות רקדנים מן האפלייצ’יאנס שקופצים על במת עץ בנעלי עץ כבדות (איזו אומנות!), דרך הבית של אמו באטלנטה, דרך הסבים שלי בניו ג’רסי, דרך ניו יורק (שהצטיירה לנו בעיקר כזו מהסרט החדש של דאסטין הופמן, ההוא מ”הבוגר”, “קאובוי של חצות”), לבית אביו בפיטסבורג ובחזרה. סיבוב גדול, כמעט חודש. ניסע במוסטנג הבורדו החדשה שלו, כי לבעלה של אמו של ביל היה קצת כסף, שיא הסטייל.

ביל ואני היינו צוות מדור הבידור של עיתון האוניברסיטה, שיצא לאור פעמיים בשבוע, בתפוצה של 26,000 עותקים. יכולנו לכתוב כמה שרצינו, על מה שרצינו, אף אחד לא פיקח עלינו. פעם פירסמתי בו ראיון פיקטיבי עם מתופף של להקה מאוד זניחה שהיה מאוד דומה לי בתמונה. כל ממסד הבידור בעיר חיזר אחרינו, כי 26,000 סטודנטים זה הרבה כסף. תקליטים קיבלתי חינם, בהתחלה כל הזבל שיצא כל שבוע, יותר מאוחר נתנו לי לבחור גם מהקטלוג. התחנפו אלי. כל אומן או להקה שהיו מגיעים לעיר—כרטיסים בשורה ששית באמצע, וראיון בארבע עיניים. כך פגשתי את ג’ניס, את זאפה, סיימון וגרפונקל, ועוד רבים. בחור בן 20, עצלן, בקושי לומד, לא עושה כלום עם החיים שלו חוץ מאשר לשכב במיטה הכפולה שלו בעיניים עצומות, לעשן, ולשמוע מוסיקה באוזניות טובות. ימים טובים.

ואז ראיתי בעיתון החדש, ‘רולינג סטון’, פרסומת של פסטיבל מוסיקת רוק, עם רשימה די ארוכה של משתתפים, באפסטייט ניו יורק.

כדי להסביר את החוויה שלי בוודסטוק (כן, אני מבטיח להגיע לזה בהמשך), אני צריך קודם להסביר את הראש המוסיקאלי שלי. הייתי מאוד מפונק. אליטיסט. בררן די טרחני (בעצם, עד היום). אני לא זוכר מי היו האומנים שפורסם כי ישתתפו (הרשימה השתנתה בין יולי למציאות), אבל רובם לא עניינו אותי. לא מעט כבר ראיתי, ועוד יותר הייתי סנוב מדי מכדי לחצות את הכביש כדי לשמוע אותם. (זה הגיע לשיאו כשדחיתי הזמנה לראיין את ה-מי בסיבוב הופעות הראשון של ‘טומי’. מה זה סנוב.) מי שעניין אותי ממש היו קרוסבי סטילס ונאש (בלי ניל יאנג), הלהקה (The Band), ג’ון סבסטיאן. אולי גם קאנטרי ג’ו והארפליין, בתנאי שינגנו מוסיקה ולא ישמיעו סתם עננים של טריפ ולא בולשיט פוליטי. לא יותר מזה. אבל גם זה לא מעט. ובטח יהיו שם קטעים. אז זה נכנס לתוכנית המסע המסתורי הגדול שלנו.

וביל כתב על סרטים בעיתון. כרטיסי חינם למה שרצינו מתי שרצינו. ימים טובים, כמו שאמרתי. והיה אז דבר כזה “sneak preview“, הקרנה תרום בכורה, רק שלא ידעת מה אתה הולך לראות. עניין של מזל. אז ערב אחד, בערך שבוע לפני הנסיעה, הלכנו לסרט כזה.

אנחנו מדברים על אמצע הקיץ, 1969. מלחמת ויאטנם בעיצומה. גם ההתנגדות לה הולכת וצוברת תאוצה. אבל אז, בעיר המאוד שמרנית בה למדנו, ה’פטריוטיזם’ שלט. היה לא מקובל להתבטא נגד הממשל. נחשב לחתרנות. שיער ארוך, מחוץ איזור הקמפוס, משך מבטים עוינים במופגן. אני זוכר מאוד ברור סטיקר על מכוניות: “America, Love It or Leave It“. היתה תחושה של מתח באויר, מתח שכבר הוביל לרצח בובי קנדי, רצח קינג, המכות ליד ועידת המפלגה הדמוקרטית בשיקגו, רצח שלושת “רוכבי החירות” במיסיסיפי ועוד ועוד. היו מכנים אותנו בלשון קצת יותר חריפה מאשר אלו לא בחורים נחמדים“. 90% מן העם שנא אותנו על עצם שיערנו הארוך.

אז הלכנו לסרט, שבוע לפני הנסיעה לקנטאקי וטנסי וג’ורג’יה. סרט עם מוסיקה יפה, הבירדס שרים שיר יפה של קרול קינג, “Wasn’t Born to Follow“. על שני בחורים נחמדים שנוסעים באופנועים שלהם ועושים קצת סמים, ופוגשים אנשים, אנשים שמחפשים קצת אוויר. ואז בא סוף הסרט, כשאיזה רדנק מחליט ככה סתם להוריד אותם מהכביש עם רובה הצייד שלו. וככה הסרט הסתיים, ובקושי הצלחנו ללכת אל המוסטנג. הברכיים רעדו. ממש.

אבל היות שידענו שלנו זה לא יקרה, והיות שהסרט עוד לא פורסם וההורים שלי לא ידעו עליו, יצאנו לדרך. ניסינו להאמין שלוחות הרישוי ממדינת ג’ורג’יה על המוסטנג יספקו לנו הגנה כלשהי.

לא מצאנו את הבחורה בטנסי, וגם לא את פסטיבל נעלי העץ. היו קטעים באטלנטה. היו קטעים מסוג אחר במקדונלדס אחד בג’ורג’יה הכפרית, כשנכנסנו עם השיער שלנו וזכינו למבטים שלא נעים להזכר בהם גם היום. ואצל סבתא שלי היה סבבה. כמנהגה, ציידה אותנו בקופסת נעליים צהובה מלאה בשני קילוגרמים מהשטרודל האלוהי שלה (שהייתי נותן הרבה בשביל ביס אחד ממנו היום, ושעוד יצוץ בסיפור הזה). והלאה לניו יורק. מה אני זוכר משם? שהשתתפנו בהפגנה בוילג’ מבלי לדעת מה תוכנה, ונגד מי או מה אנחנו מפגינים, ושקניתי עניבה בצורת דגל אמריקה, שהיתה דבר כל כך פרובוקטיבי באותם ימים, גובל בעבירה פלילית לענוב אותה (אני לא מגזים כאן), שעברו כמה חודשים טובים עד שהעזתי לצאת איתה החוצה אפילו לקמפוס. והיינו בין הכמה אלפי אנשים הבודדים שקנו כרטיסים לפסטיבל הקרב ובא. (לו רק שמרתי אותם. בטח באיביי הייתי עושה היום קופה) יום ששי בבוקר, מוקדם ב-15 לאוגוסט, נסענו צפונה במוסטנג הבורדו של ביל.

בדרך, כבר שמענו ברדיו (המאוד, מאוד ממסדי) על תנועה כבדה, פקקים, בלגנים בכבישים המובילים למקום. כשהתקרבנו, כבר בכבישים דו-מסלוליים שהחלו להחנק, החלטנו לזרוק את מעט הגראס שהיה לנו, מחשש ממחסומים של המשטרה. בכל דיינר שעצרנו בו לקנות משהו לאכול, ראינו על דלתות השירותים שלטי ‘לא בשימוש’. שאלנו בנימוס אם אולי בכל זאת. אך לשווא. וראינו הרבה, הרבה מגודלי שיער שנסעו באותו כיוון.

בסביבות הצהריים, הגענו לקצה הפקק, אולי 10 קילומטר מהאתר. צירפנו את המוסטנג לתור המכוניות שחנו לצד הדרך הצרה, והתחלנו ללכת.

שטחים פתוחים, פסטוראליים. שקט. אני זוכר הרבה מאוד שקט. קצת מכוניות עוברות בזחילה, אנשים יושבים על מכסה המנוע והבגאז’, שום צפירה. שום רעש. הרבה עיניים בוהות. חיוכים קצת נבוכים מהמראה הדמיוני שהולך ונרקם. שקט של יראת כבוד. רק שפשוף של הרבה זוגות רגליים הולכות ב-country road הזה, אנשים שבאו מוויסקונסין ומיסורי וורג’ניה ואוהיו, כל אחד מהמקום הבודד שלו, אנשים דחויים, שמגלים בזה הרגע עשרות אחים אבודים. לא, מאות. לא, אלפים. לא, עשרות אלפים. לא, חצי מליון. כאפיקים בנגב, פריקים, יצורים שנואים, מגלים שהם חלק מאומה. ריצ’ארד ניקסון לא יאהב את זה.

וכאן, אם אתם רוצים, זה הזמן לשים את השיר וודסטוק של ג’וני מיטשל. פסנתר חשמלי בודד רוטט:

I came upon a child of God,
He was walking along the road.
And I asked him, ‘Where are you going?’
And this he told me:
‘I’m going on down to Yasgur’s farm,
I’m going to join in a rock ‘n roll band.
I’m going to camp out on the land,
I’m going to try and get my soul free.’

הלכנו שעה, שעתיים. וזה היה כאילו ללכת את דרך הכניסה לארץ לעולם לא, לגן עדן, למדינת החופש. שקע גדול, אמפי טבעי, מול במה גדולה. וים של אחים שלא היה לנו מושג על קיומם. הסתובבנו, הסתכלנו כולנו על כולנו. והכל שקט. חיוכים, אולי קצת תופים מאולתרים ושירה וריקוד. המון המום. לא צלילי הדממה, אלא סימפוניה של שקט. רצינו להשתין, הלכנו חצי שעה עד שמצאנו פינה. היינו רעבים, ולא היה מה לקנות. חזרנו לאוטו, וחזרנו איתו לתחום הפסטיבל, ממש קרוב לאיזור הבמה. כבר התחיל להחשיך, כבר הגשם התחיל לרדת. מהמוסיקה, אני לא זוכר הרבה. The Incredible String Band המשעממת. מלאני המיותרת. אבל למי היה אכפת. עוד גשם. ארלו גת’רי האהוב רצה להופיע, אבל הגשם התחזק. אני זוכר קריאות של “ארלו יעצור את הגשם!” נדמה לי שאני הייתי בין הקוראים את אותה קריאה.

פגשתי בחורה בטריפ רע, ולקחתי אותה לאוהל בו ה-Merry Pranksters של קן קיזי טיפלו באנשים. גשם, בוץ. אנשים שרים ורוקדים, בלי הרבה בגדים או מעצורים (גם בנות), מעשנים קצת. ג’ון באאז המעצבנת. באיזשהו שלב חזרנו לאוטו. כל מה שהיה לנו לאכול היה השטרודל של סבתא, עם הרבה ריבה ואגוזים ותפוחי עץ. אכלנו כמה שיכולנו (טעים לאללה, ואבל כמה אפשר?) וחילקנו את השאר לכמה מאחינו החדשים. הגשם התחזק. בוץ על כל הגוף. אין איפה להשתין. אוכל לא נראה באופק. נכנסים למוסטנג לנסות לישון. ביל הגוץ לא הצליח. אני מטר שמונים ושלוש. ניסינו להכנס מתחת למוסטנג. ניסיתם פעם לישון מתחת למוסטנג? בחמש או שש, כשהאור הבקיע, חלמתי לעצמי על מערכת הסטריאו שלי בחדר, ועל עבודת האולפן הנפלא שעשו קרוסבי, סטילס ונאש, על טוהר הצליל באוזניות ה-Shure שלי. וחשבתי כמה חבל לקלקל את קסם הצלילים האלו במציאות המטרולוגית הגשמית הזאת. וחשבתי על אדמת החווה של מקס יסגור מעורבת בגשם של הקב”ה, בתערובת בוץ נוזלי בתוך האוזן שלי ביום אגדי זה. וביל פקח עין אחת, לאט. הבטנו זה על זה. בו זמנית הנהנו קלות—נכנסנו לאוטו, ונסענו.

אז מה לקחתי משם (חוץ משכבות הבוץ)? קודם כל הזכות להשוויץ שהייתי שם. וחוויה שבטית. תחושה של חברות באומה שתוך שנה, בעקבות מאורעות קנט סטייט, נטשתי לטובת זהות לגמרי אחרת, והשתייכות לאומה אחרת. את המוסיקה אני עדיין שומע מדי פעם, אבל בגרסה ההיגיינית יותר, זו של האולפן. כי רוב האומנים שעניינו אותי היו אמני אולפן. ואפילו אלו שלא, במיוחד ג’ניס ג’ופלין והגרייטפול דד, שמעתי לאחר מכן בתנאים סניטריים ואקוסטיים אופטימאליים יותר. מצטער שהלכתי אחרי יום? כן. לא זכיתי אף פעם לראות את הלהקה, לא את קרוסבי סטילס ונאש, גם לא את סבסטיאן כסולן. על כל האחרים, גם בדיעבד אני מוותר.

איך כתב שנתיים לפני כן זמר אחד שבכלל נשאר בביתו בזמן הפסטיבל, למרות שהיה גר כמעט בטווח הליכה?

“And just how far would you like to go in?”

“Not too far but just far enough so’s we can say that we’ve been there.”

Point of order: Joni Mitchell wasn’t at Woodstock. She couldn’t get in. She wrote the song ‘Woodstock’ afterwards, put it on her “Ladies of the Canyon” album. Her ‘very good friends’ CSN&Y had a big hit with it, which was used in the soundtrack of the movie.

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