Jewish music has always been a few years behind the rest of the world in sound and style. Boy bands had their hayday a decade ago with the Backstreet Boys and N’Sync. The Chevra pulled a poor copycat act as Justin Timberlake finally went solo. When I was growing up my family always listened to the more traditional stuff like Regesh, Dveikus, Mona Rosenblum and such. Only later did Shwekey come in, and even then my dad wasn’t too fond of some of his stuff, calling it too “goyish.” (I HATE that word!)
You see, my dad was an old-timer and always said music was meant to either uplift a person, or cause them to become meditative, thoughtful and repentant. My cousins convinced their dad that music can be just for entertainment, and more “rocky” music, as was called the more contemporary sounding stuff, was okay. No longer were the Chevra, Shloimy Dachs, Gad Elbaz, Chaim Israel and others considered evil by my uncle.
Yet my Dad held his ground. He still would make grossly exaggerated movements to the latest from Nochum Seigel’s station mocking the “animalistic nature” of the songs. His Rabbi told him that all songs with Strings were completely harmless, songs with wind instruments could go either way, and songs that use drums to do anything more than keep the beat were simply animistic and designed to make you move. The Rabbi said and that even the greatest Hassidic Rabbis adopted songs from famous composers known to be immoral people, but because it was all classical, the intention of the composer did not mater. Go figure.
To him music had to move you closer to God. In one way or another you had to walk away from the song feeling uplifted, wistful or the like.
When the day came that I began listening to normal music as a middle aged teen, I obviously noticed a different style of music. The mixing and arrangements were far more complex, and the recording usually far better quality. Obviously there are songs designed to be as sexual in nature as possible, and there are songs that are about life, about love and about anything else that the artist has on their minds.
Every song is different. Some are meant for pleasant listening, others to let out some anger, others to calm you down, to comfort, to celebrate, or to get hormones going.
And some downright suck.
While it’s true that many Jewish songs are beautiful, there are also many normal songs just as moving, if not more. But that’s besides the point. Because being moved by a slow song is not the only artistic value to music. Intrinsic musical genius is not limited to the harmonious symphony of 60 violins. Musical genius can transcend the actual music and can be determined by what the music DOES for you.
Which brings me right back to where my dad was. Except the problem is he didn’t understand that entertainment DOES something for you.
Heavy metal is just as artistic, in the sense that it can fill you with an emotion you may not have been feeling. Club music can hype you up for a night out. Oldies can be perfect for an afternoon working on your car and drinking beer. They all have artistic value in ways that I think my father and many others like him never saw and probably never will see.