November 28, 2013

Arik Einstein and the Israeli Soundtrack

On the day Arik Einstein dies I understand what my students and my son’s friends mean when they say, wistfully, as if they had experienced it, that they wish they’d been there for the sixties. Many things happened in the sixties, meaning the whole era, that might prompt the next generations to imagine going back in time. But I think the biggest is the music.

Were I able to time travel, yes, I’d do a number of things differently. But I would not change the soundtrack.

Our soundtrack played around the world. It played in Israel too, though here there was a parallel, wonderful soundtrack playing that, like most things about Israel, I learned of only when I first visited a dozen years ago.

I particularly loved Arik Einstein not only for his rich, soulful voice, but also for the fact that he enunciated so clearly, allowing me, with very limited Hebrew, to understand a lot of words. I looked up the lyrics in English for my favorites. I know some songs by heart.

But I’ll never know the words to the Israeli soundtrack; it can never sing like the soundtrack that defined my growing up.

Arik Einstein’s songs are playing nonstop on the TV and radio and in the cafes of Tel Aviv; before the funeral a huge gathering took place at Rabin Square and then at night, along with the first candle on the giant chanukiah, there were candles on the ground arranged in the shape of a heart and spelling out Arik, and Israelis of all ages singing his songs.

Like the young people who know about the sixties but who have a different soundtrack playing in their heads, I have a different kind of sadness along with sharing this loss, a different absence to have not shared that defining music live.

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