I was sitting in an Indian restaurant the other evening managing a family birthday when an ooze of canned botulism smacked my eardrums and I summoned a waiter for edification. What I heard was not to be dignified with the noun ‘sound’. It was a conflation of Beatles songs and one or two Abbas played on a synthesiser that seemed to have been set on penny-whistle mode.
‘What the-?’ I demanded.
‘It’s the rabbis,’ said the waiter, by way of apology.
‘How the-?’ I exploded.
‘When they gave us a kosher licence, they forbade us to play Indian music because it might have women singing,’ he explained. ‘They said we could only play the discs they permitted. I’m so sorry, we can’t change it.’
Now I’ve been in the writing game long enough to know never to get into a fight with men in black coats, but this is the first time they have strayed onto my musical patch and I am – you may take this literally as you like – damned if I’m going to let organised religion take over the function of music production and criticism.
What’s more, if the best the rabbis can do as DJs is stamp their seals on pre-masticated Beatles, I will definitely book my afterlife in the nether regions. Heavens above! You mean to tell me Paradise is going to be some kind of Sartrean Huis Clos where I am confined for all eternity with musical nullity? Get me outa there.
I was on the verge of sending the nice young waiter a little light Webern for the amusement of his rabbinic supervisors when one of our birthday party pointed me to a link that suggests the kosher blight is spreading. According to failedmessiah.com, a Charedi insider website, rabbis in Jerusalem have been issuing edicts as to what is permissible in music, and what not.
In future, apparently, instrumentation will need to be ‘respectful’ of the words, percussion should be used sparingly, the saxophone is ‘indecent’ and any ‘misbalance (sic) between rhythm and melody creates negative feelings’. You can tell these guys have been through a crash course in Schenkerian analysis.
The new rules apply, for the moment, only to producers who need a rabbinic seal on releases of Jewish music, but it won’t be long before we’ll all be checking our record collections to see if they are kosher enough to keep in the house. Rhapsody in Blue? Indecent. Mendelssohn violin concerto? Blatant apostasy. Mahler 9? Disrespectful. Frank Sinatra? Neil Sedaka? Stephen Sondheim – downright negative, at the very least.
Go on – you try. Be holier than I. Ban some music. Let’s keep our records kosher.