Rock & Orthodoxy Part II

It seems the topic of Rock and Orthodoxy is on people’s minds. I think people want it discussed and are thankful for the chance. Similar to the interest in Yoga & Judaism, we do not usually directly discuss the conjunctives.
I received from Jon his appreciation of heavy metal. For interested, here is a summary article with bibliography of some of the heavy metal and relgion issues. Here is more scholarly study of heavy metal and Church showing the limits of integration and a sharp section on the difference between outreach and institution, Christ and the Heavy Metal Subculture: Applying Qualitative Analysis to the Contemporary Debate about H. Richard Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture

Here is Jon’s email to me.

What role does popular culture like heavy metal play in your life?

Recreation in a certain sense, I guess. Something to do. If I watch a movie or tv, it’s because I need a break from more mentally exhausting pursuits. That’s the role of popular culture in general, for me, but for my part I’m not the heaviest participant in popular culture. Heavy metal in particular is music, so it plays a deeper role than most pop culture, and it provides for the sort of vicarious expression that art generally does.

How does it relate to your religiosity?

That’s an interesting question. With regard to pop culture in general, not much. I think even if more of my time was spent on things that could be called pop culture, it wouldn’t have very much of a relationship with my religiosity. I think pop culture and religion don’t have a lot of common ground to begin with – not because the Torah forbids it, or because pop culture encourages activities that are assur or something, but because the attitudes of participants in each have very little to do with each other. Religion demands service and engagement, whereas pop culture is a place for detachment and having the culture serve you. Regarding to your rock ‘n roll Orthodoxy posts and such, I’d be one of those people who worries that Orthodoxy is being watered down and made less meaningful for the next generation.

With regard to heavy metal music specifically, there’s a more complicated relationship. There’s a greater possibility for common ground than with pop culture in general, insofar as someone who listens to music seriously is engaged by it, and does not listen detached from it. But the music itself speaks to an aspect of the human condition that probably aren’t too compatible with religiosity – depression, anger, arrogance. The music I listen to more or less often changes with my moods, and sometimes I consider the possibility that my listening to metal more frequently indicates that I’m in a less desirable spiritual state – but leading into the next question, I don’t think stopping the music is going to do anything more than generate frustration.

How would you want educators and rabbi to treat, or relate to, your musical taste?

Not to. I can’t remember a specific instance of a rabbi and/or educator telling me that I shouldn’t listen to certain kinds of music. The most I can think of is a vague semi-formed memory of middle school – where we had more yeshivish rabbis and educators – and some teacher hinting that certain kinds of music aren’t ok Halakhically. But if I’m not just making the memory up, I never paid it any attention, because it sounded like one of those machmir things that I didn’t grow up doing anyway.

Before I had a chance to post Jon, I received a new article by Mordy published in the Forward on Matisyahu, wanting him to be more Philip Roth than Jewface/blackface.

Why Matisyahu Is More Interesting Than His Music

The first Stubb’s album came out right after his debut “Shake Off the Dust… Arise,” when his music was still predominately and ostentatiously Jewish. His big single, “King Without a Crown,” namedropped Hashem and Mashiach. It was arguably all downhill from there…“Live at Stubb’s” came close to capturing what Matisyahu originally had going for him — an exciting melaveh malka show and a demo tape where he spit an exuberant early version of “Close My Eyes.”

Slate’s Jody Rosen accused him of the simultaneous crimes of Jewfacing and Blackfacing..

For those of us less than impressed with his music (indie tastemaker website pitchfork put him on a list of “15 Worst Releases of 2005”), this background religious psychodrama was always more interesting than the records themselves. His lyrics may have been upbeat reggae-praise-hymns to God, but he always seemed uncertain. In a 2006 interview with the Dutch magazine Revu he looked depressed and exhausted and answered a question about whether religion makes him happy with, “No, it does not.” If anything, the admission made him seem more Jewish than ever, like a hasidic reggae version of Philip Roth’s Seymour “Swede” Levov in “American Pastoral.”

Now, ignoring the platitude that you can’t go home again, Matisyahu has tried to do just that on “Live at Stubb’s Vol. II.” The album opens with “Kodesh,” where Matisyahu rhymes, “Soar into shamayim where the angels call in love / and the glory of Hashem fits like a glove.” This is much more explicitly Jewish material,

At the conclusion of “Time of Your Song,” Matisyahu repeats the line, “You might get caught in a temple of doom.” It is sung buoyantly, without a trace of self-consciousness or fear, and will do nothing to convince you that it is worth your time to pay attention to Matisyahu’s music again. It may, however, convince you that it’s time to pay attention to Matisyahu himself — the character and persona always more interesting than the music.

Unlike Drake, or Bob Dylan, Matisyahu’s Judaism will never seem light and comfortable. The day his oblique lyrical references to his spiritual conflicts become explicit is the day I’ll be back onboard. In “American Pastoral,” Roth writes, “The fact remains that getting people right is not what living is all about anyway. It’s getting them wrong that is living, getting them wrong and wrong and wrong and then, on careful reconsideration, getting them wrong again. That’s how we know we’re alive: we’re wrong. Maybe the best thing would be to forget about being right or wrong about people and just go along for the ride.” Read more

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