Clap Your Hands! Campari! – from protest to parody and back
A couple of years ago HaDag Nachash came out with a song that took a swipe at the cultural and political choices of most Israelis. Consolation Song critiqued the way in which Israeli music – and the tastes of its listeners – had begun to run away from any engagement with the world. “Best not to stay up all night worrying about things,” rationalized the song, since there’s “no solution anyway. Better to sing consolation songs.”
A combination of fear at what clear-eyed critique might reveal, and a general moral laziness was leading people to kick back, hang out, and enjoy a vacuous kind of dance music. The song was performed in a virtuoso replica of the very genre HaDag Nachash were critiquing. Namely, party-mood, bazooki-tinged clap-fest Mediterranean music.
So what happened since Consolation Song named the beast? How has Israeli music addressed the ongoing political, economic, and moral morass we find ourselves as ensconced in as we were two years ago?
In two different extreme directions.
Ivri Lider and Mook E went hyper-political, and Benny Bashan went escapist parody.
Mazal Tov Israel is one of those political-chic songs that remind you of how amazing it was that somehow rock’n’roll was able to be both anti-establishment and hyper-capitalist at the same time.
This is a song whose clip was filmed in the news studios of Channel 2, and as such gained a mention on the news itself – a shameless plug from the ‘man’ if ever there was one.
The clip is another example of one of those cute and cool videos that Lider and his side-kick Jonny Goldstein are becoming known for. Turning stone-throwing mobs, out-of-control MKs, and oppressed Palestinian women into clubbing dancers is simple genius, and the music is great.
At the same time one’s left with a feeling that the whole package lacks a punch. As if the forces of evil have just been tickled with a feather. We aren’t left with the impression that the bad guys have been laughed at or ridiculed, but that a few kids have giggled behind their hands.
I’m always excited when a new protest song emerges in Israel, or at least a song that in some way refers to Israeli existence. But here the critique feels a little too sneering, too condescending and too hip to buzz anyone other than a small clique.
By contrast, Israel’s Mediterranean music stars have been working hard at reducing our brain cells bit by bit. The lyrics to your average (brilliantly sung and performed) Mediterranean song seems to be carefully designed not to get in the way of the beat. Or thought. The rhymes are so banal even I could have written them, and Hebrew writing is not my strongpoint. (Let’s face it, bearing in mind every plural word in Hebrew ends in either “im” or “ot”, one needs to work a little harder than a rhyme to create poetry.) As yet another woman is compared to stars, sky, or royalty, I am sometimes reminded of the section in Orwell’s 1984 where he describes a computer that churns out love songs for the proles to sing…
Benny Bashan didn’t go the way of HaDag Nachash and Shaanan Streett. Streett’s lyrics in Consolation Song are some of the most sophisticated I’ve seen, endlessly playing in and out of sounds and meaning. The penultimate verse needs to be heard to be believed. He manages to say “Take the lid off the pan/Take the morals out of the ministers/Take the messages out of the songs” (1:48) in such intense rhythmic alliterative Hebrew that at first it’s difficult to realise they are separate words.
Benny Bashan’s critique went in the way of parody. And there it got sucked into another dimension altogether.
His lyrics and singing are so basic, so primitive, so downright ungrammatical – they are almost funny. In fact, most people are of the opinion that his intention was to be funny.
The thing is that as well as being funny, the song’s kind of cute.
And it does, as it mock-exhorts, make you want to clap your hands. As a result, it’s become a huge hit.
And everyone has forgotten that it was supposed to be a parody.
A parody of what? Who knows any more?
When our politics are so underwhelming, the surrounding neighborhood so unstable, social justice protests so horrific, and even the Olympics are against us – maybe the world has just turned inside out.
Pass the Campari. Crazy!