I just ordered two vinyl records by The Shondes, so I have something waiting for me when I return from the journey.
I hope it’s a good welcome home present!!
THE GARDEN IS HERE!!!
The Garden officially comes out TODAY on legendary feminist label EXOTIC FEVER. It’s been a long time coming, and we really, truly hope the record resonates for you. Tour dates are up on our Facebook page (and more all the time) so please let us play our little broken hearts out for you, and come say hi. xoxoxoxoxoxo
We are so thrilled to announce that our fourth album, THE GARDEN, will be released on September 17, 2013 on Exotic Fever Records. Produced by Tony Maimone, founding member of seminal experimental rock band Pere Ubu, at Brooklyn’s Studio G, THE GARDEN is truly the beginning of a new era…
I’m about 3 cigarettes away from becoming a smoking ban activist.
I really believe that people should get to make their own informed decisions about their bodies and the risks they subject themselves to. But I am getting angrier every night about people subjecting me to second hand smoke. I know it’s hard to be addicted to cigarettes, and I’m not among those who want to punish smokers. I just don’t want to be punished myself!
I’ve traveled across the ocean to play music for you, and you’ve chosen to come see my band instead of any of the other things you could have chosen to do. You’d think you could not aggressively fill every room with so much smoke that I can watch it swirling in the lights, and it blocks you from view when I’m on stage! I ask nicely. I don’t judge the fact that you smoke. I am still sensitized to the effects of second hand smoke. Yes, it makes me cough, wheeze, sneeze; my eyes dry out, and worst of all, my vocal cords dry out. It’s not because I “have a sensitivity” to it. It’s because I haven’t desensitized myself to it.
So please. Consider nonsmoking shows. This shit is horrible for everyone, but as a singer I have to tell you it’s fucking torturous. It makes every fun show difficult and painful, when it could have just been awesome!
Since my Auschwitz draft post seems to have gotten ERASED by tumblr (or by BAD INTERNET!), I just wanted to say a few quick things…
Being in Poland gave me some of the best feelings I’ve ever had about a new place. Both Warsaw and Krakow, in their own ways, made me want to stay forever! Warsaw has this weariness/resilience/strangeness about it that pulls my heartstrings. Krakow has this chaotic, dancing-in-the-streets energy that sucks you right in. Driving through the small towns, including several of my family’s, brought out my aforementioned shtetl imagination in all its ridiculousness. In short, I loved Poland.
Coming back West to Vienna, a return to Germanic formality and reservation, is quite shocking. In Poland we adjusted to spirited dancing and yelling at our shows, and now we’re back to fighting for that kind of engagement. But Vienna definitely has a cruel, cold beauty to it. I wonder how it looked to my great-grandmother when she came West to this big city before heading to New York (THE Big City). Strange, I’m sure.
Last night we played on the river on Badeschiff….basically a boat. It was incredible. On to Linz!
There are a few Polands in my brain.
The Poland of which I have fantastical shtetl imaginings, totally unrealistic visions of heimishe tables where everyone’s happy in spite of their suffering, eating soup in their cozy, soup-smelling home, singing together. (Or wait, is this FIddler on the Roof I’m thinking of?) These are magical, lost towns with names everyone pronounces differently, that cannot be found on maps. In fact, are these towns in Poland at all? Perhaps they’re in modern day Romania, Ukraine?? If only I could decode the family mystery about locations and dates, I could time travel and have a nice, loving, pre-war Jewish mother there.
Then there’s the Poland where my family, like all the other Jewish families, wanted to get OUT as SOON AS POSSIBLE. Why would you stay? Why would you visit 100 years later? It’s POLAND: cold, poor, nothing more!
And of course there’s the Poland of sadness, where thriving Jewish culture was nearly obliterated by the Nazis. There’s not much else to say of this Poland.
So this week, after all the intensity of my first trip to Germany, I got to experience an entirely different, new intensity — my first trip to Poland. My beloved Grandfather’s family was Polish, and both of his parents came to the U.S. long before the war. Their towns, where some of their family members remained, are not far apart in central Poland: Radom, Piotrokov, Chrzanow.
Some of Temim’s family also comes from Poland, some nearby mine. We were shtetl neighbors back then, it seems. And Eli has some family that seems to have neighbored mine in (what is now) Ukraine. We talk this way about it with one another, imagining our ancestors passing one another on the road, sharing food, warning one another of danger. Maybe even making music together. It’s all part of the Jewish American sentimental, we-were-all-at-Sinai-so-we-were-all-on-the-shtetl-and-all-at-Auschwitz notion of collective memory. It has its utility and it has consequences. It can be fun, inspiring, motivating. It can also be confusing, stupid, lies.
Now that we’ve come, we do what so many Jewish tourists do, we look at the landscape, we marvel at the familiar and the unfamiliar, we tell ourselves stories about our ancestors lives here; we tell ourselves stories about our rights and duties to our legacy here. I am loving Poland. I am loving the stories I’m telling myself about it. I’m mourning the destruction of Polish Jewry.
Here’s another piece of Poland: Oświęcim. Did you know Auschwitz is just the German spelling of the town of Oświęcim, which predates and outlives the concentration camp it is most famous for? I am somewhat ashamed to admit that I didn’t realize this. Auschwitz is, after all, a larger-than-life part of my upbringing, on mythological par with the 10 plagues. But the actual place is far removed from my experience.
Tomorrow I will try to write about our trip to Auschwitz and our time in Warsaw, because the experiences have really taken me by surprise in many ways.
Goodnight from Warsaw. Have an easy fast if you’re fasting! xoxo
On making friends with Germans
After our intensely educational stay in Kassel, we went to Marburg and continued our crash course in German politics, and more importantly, through that experience we made some amazing friends. If you had told me 2 weeks ago that my heart would be genuinely warmed by Jewish-German cultural exchange I would have laughed in your face. But people, this shit is real. We stayed up til all hours talking about radical communities, accountability processes, feminist organizing, and yes, the German left/the holocaust/Israel/Palestine.
I should mention that since my last post I’ve gotten slightly more familiar with the history of “anti-German” thought, which (unsurprisingly) contains various threads, and has evolved and fractured significantly over the years. Lots of the awesome radicals we got the chance to meet, identify with at least some aspect of Anti-German thought, and experience a sense of loss from the reactionary course its taken, as though it’s been badly, irreparably contorted. At this point the catch-all label “anti-German” is largely associated with the most recent, most extreme, reactionary outgrowths of anti-German thought, so it’s hard to even have conversation about its history, or to know what’s being referred to when it’s mentioned. If you’re interested in reading one of the ONLY English-language articles on the subject, check out Raphael Schlembach’s brief, accessible history and critique. I think it’s important to try and grasp, though my brain has been running circles around this stuff of German national conversation: the notion of an essential “German character” that is responsible for Naziism, how Germans can/should cope with their personal losses from the war, whether opposition to the 3rd Reich requires gratitude to the Allies… Maybe I’ll come back to all this at another time!
To get back to the significance of friendships with Germans (a subject I have some actual authority on…aka first hand experience), I am seriously shocked at how much it has meant to me to start building these relationships. As a radical American Jew with an amazing sense of humor, I’m really good at being cynical, inappropriate, and hilarious. But underneath it all I have questions about Germans that I’ve never gotten answers to giving my agita here!
Questions about how WW2 and the holocaust are really DEALT with (or not) in German culture, what the limits and possibilities are for conversation about this stuf within German culture, what has changed and what has remained the same in German culture since the war, what conversations have taken place or not about Nazi values that arguably dovetail with German values (that predate Naziism). I mean, besides guilt and defeat, what did German culture take away from the war? And… how are Germans in 2012 beholden to those learned lessons?
So in Marburg, I feel like I broke through my agita, by way of amazing conversations with amazing people who are brave enough, smart enough, and committed enough to justice to do the difficult work of talking through complicated shit, across minefields of would-be trigger warnings, and with significant culture and language barriers. I cannot express my gratitude for this experience. Besides learning more about anti-German thought (They also had plenty to say about macho shit and hypocrisy present there — apparently the ‘scene’ is mostly white men who have these ridiculously strong opinions and barely talk/work with women — not to mention Jews or POC. It sounds a lot like what I’d inferred!), I learned about how Germany was never really restructured post-war, information is terrifyingly centralized, public police attacks on immigrants are common and rarely responded to by German bystanders, and the IDEAL GERMAN (read: scary white dude for whom immigrants and poc are not only “others” but national threats) persists (as both a reality and an ideal).
We also had what felt like extremely constructive conversation about Israel and Palestine. It was really touching to hear our German friends thinking and talking through the sort of latent anti-Semitism present in anti-German thought that homogenizes Jews/Israel. It seemed to me that for them this was a really crucial piece of critiquing the current anti-German scene. I was able to talk to them openly about all the bad/weird feelings I had coming to Germany, and then to explain that being in Palestine was far, far more terrifying. Though I was only 21 at the time, it is a fact that since I was in Nablus during an Israeli invasion in 2002, I have been unable to separate images of Nazi Germany from those memories in my mind. I will never forget what it felt like to see horror after horror that I could only emotionally process in relation to my holocaust education.
As lefty Jews know, and as I made sure to say to my new friends, any idiot anti-Semite who makes simplistic 1:1 comparisons between Israel and Nazi Germany is asking for trouble. But the fact that as a young Jewish woman in Palestine I was reminded of my childhood holocaust nightmares is a simple truth, not propaganda. Watching IDF soldiers spray paint stars of david on searched homes confused my eyes. What in my mind should have been swastikas, were instead symbols of Judaism. Baffling, horrifying, and wrong. Worse, this searching and spraypainting was just a backdrop to the crimes I saw committed: open fire at crowds of children, murder of random civilians, curfew/terror imposed on entire communities. My reference points may have been limited, but my subjective experience of fear (and in retrospect, let’s be real, trauma) was based in pretty extensive knowledge of the ww2 holocaust.
So. I shared this memory, briefly, with my German friends. Having come to empathize with where German radicals are at trying to deconstruct their culture and history, I felt like, FUCK… I can’t write these people off for not sharing my politics about Palestine, but I’ll be damned if I don’t try to share them honestly. It happens that for me, Jewish history has always been a heartfelt impetus for political conviction and action. It’s not a rhetorical tool I honed for interviews about Palestine. It’s where my commitments start, and how I access some of my deepest feelings about them. I didn’t want to argue at the level of broad anti-nationalist or anti-colonial theory, because honestly these people are too smart for that — or better put, they already KNOW all that. Lack of comprehension isn’t the problem. Seeing their eyes well up (and yeah, mine did too) as I talked about this stuff was really gratifying because, well, that’s a start. I felt recognized, heard, understood.
If I have one mission here it’s to show some Germans just how varied Jews are (despite their country’s history of treating us like a monolith and trying to destroy us), and lots of us don’t think the holocaust justifies colonialism, murder, expulsion, and occupation. In fact lots of us learned the opposite lesson from the holocaust - to fight injustice against anyone, anywhere. (As Rosa Luxembourg said — “I’ve no special corner in my heart for the ghetto.”) If Germans support the U.S. and Israel in an attempt to posthumously honor those their country murdered, they instead spit on their graves, favoring their own absolution agenda over a real commitment to “never again.” But I think there are enough awesome, smart, brave Germans to hash this out and move the left forward. I believe in them. I’ve been a part of transforming the American Jewish conversation on Israel/Palestine. We’ve seen actual discursive movement in the past decade! So Germany can do it too. I believe in them!
I realized today (in Warsaw, before Kol Nidre - more on that soon) that all this stuff in Germany — processing my ingrained fear of/contempt for Germans, having transformative political conversation, making friends — was like a kind of teshuva. Real, genuine, organic teshuva. I feel grateful and blessed to have gotten that opportunity during the Days of Awe (and German friends: google it! Or we’ll discuss it next time!!)
If you need a break from all this weight… here’s my P.S.:
The best part of all of this extremely heavy conversation was the magical moment around 3am (in my memory anyway, but maybe only 1 in reality) when we busted out some Jewish humor. Namely, we shared The Shondes stuck-in-the-van-on-tour past time of coming up with increasingly hilarious imagined Hitlers. Martha Hitler, Bob Hitler, Viscount St. John Hitler, what have you. The pressure valve broke and we were all in stitches, and even able to pull it together enough to process what had just happened, including the requisite conversation about why our German friends wouldn’t choose to make these jokes themselves, but can laugh with us when we make them, and appreciate the release they allow. [When I put my New York Jew hat back on, I remember that this particular joke is extremely tame. But perhaps that will remind you all back home reading the Times and eating lox of just how repressed and discursively cooped up things are in Germany! We were on Really Good Behavior until this moment and I’m so glad we’ve proved all those “don’t go there” advice-givers wrong.]
The Final Absolution, Or, The Trauma of Illegibility. (Morning Ramblings live from Deutschland)
It’s my first time here in Germany. The touring part is amazing — the shows, the hospitality, playing for new people, eating new food, having challenging conversations. It has also meant confronting lots of things for the first time; like being Jewish on German planes, trains, and buses; being Jewish while everyone around you speaks German, being Jewish where so many Jews were killed and expelled. It’s more intense than I expected it to be. (And I expected it to be pretty intense.) What’s unexpected is precisely where this intensity comes from for me: the strange, twisted intersection of my own inherited rage and fear; and German norms and discourse about our shared history, and the culture that’s emerged from it.
Let me back up. When we boarded our plane and the pilot first came over the PA in his authoritative, clipped German, I had to tell myself that yes, I had in fact PAID to get on this plane and it was indeed going where I wanted it to go. The language itself, particularly in a contained space, with all the uncertainty and fear that normally accompanies flying, was actually scary. When we arrived at Tegel and rode through Berlin in our taxi, I felt like every building was certainly the terrifying site of some horrible atrocity. Oh, and they haven’t changed the sirens here yet, so like any Jew who’s ever heard these sirens in a movie, I jumped every time I heard them.
That same day after we dropped our stuff off in Neukolln, we went for espresso. On 2 hours of German airplane sleep, there was no way to cope without caffeine. So we found this sweet, collective cafe. I’d call it an anarchist cafe if it was in the U.S., but a) it was SO MUCH nicer and cleaner than any anarchist cafe I’ve ever been to (they had pitchers of water with fresh mint, for god’s sake) and b) anarchism doesn’t have the same currency here, so I don’t think that’s how the collective members would refer to themselves. Anyway, this is the place where I realized just how widespread and prioritized anti-fascism is in Berlin. Graffiti, posters, and stickers are everywhere denouncing fascism, racism, sexism, homophobia. My personal favorite sticker series is “Space Invaders Against [fascism, anti-semitism, sexism etc…]” I was so delighted by it that first day that I sent a picture to my father as if to say “look! they don’t hate us here!” In spite of myself, I was comforted by this stuff.
So then I had a couple days where Berlin really came to life for me. Neukolln’s immigrant populations (Turkish, Albanian, Egyptian, Lebanese, Sudanese) made it feel less all-caps-GERMAN in the ways that creep me out, and more New York-ish. When I felt the coldness of history ruining the city’s evident vibrance for me, I tried to think of the pre-war Berlin I’d read so much about. I thought of all the people who made it a thriving metropolis before the Nazis tried to destroy it. I felt inspired by the people we met, and by the apparently complex leftist conversations playing out in public space. With extreme curiosity and occasional delight, I tried to parse the unfamiliar political landscape and language. Sadly, after this honeymoon period, I ended up disturbed and traumatized all over again. But we’ll get there.
It seems like every American who visits Germany comes back with a whole world of unwanted advice: “don’t talk about the holocaust,” mainly. Those in-the-know will instruct you directly on this. Well, to all those well-intentioned friends and acquaintances who offered this wisdom: stop it. It’s not helping. Avoiding the conversation never helped transform it. I’ll of course make an exception here for those more directly affected — I am not judging avoidance as a survival strategy, just as lazy complicity.
The kind of Jewishness I embrace, that long ago compelled me to seek out anti-racist theory and community, is affronted by this way of coping with our inheritance. I didn’t realize just how much anger and grief I was holding on to until I was here, confronted by the reality of 2012 Berlin. But you know what those feelings make me want to do? TALK ABOUT IT. FIGURE IT OUT. THINK CRITICALLY. LEARN. CONNECT. So please, let’s stop looking for rules to follow, and start engaging intelligently, honestly, messily.
By taking the risk of asking questions here (in our grand Jewish tradition!), of starting conversations I’ve been told not to (in our grand leftist tradition!), I’ve learned more than I ever thought I would. It’s been deeply humbling to recognize just how much I don’t know — about the German left, German culture, German post-war discourse.
I was expecting German guilt. We even made jokes about claiming reparations in the form of coffee (I know, it’s not funny, and it’s not my reparations anyway, but we come from a long history of inappropriate Jewish humor, so sue me.) But I was not expecting to feel so much empathy for young Germans grappling with their history. I didn’t think I would care. Lots of us grapple with our countries’ horrific histories, after all. As a Jew, should I have extra sympathy for Germans? GOD NO. But it’s a funny thing here. No one asked for my sympathy. Not in the least. But empathy grew on its own. What I can only interpret as cultural difference — this quietness, stillness, reservation, hesitation to dance or hug — it makes me sad. I can’t help it. So, I’m sorry to my family and friends for whom this might come as a shock, but I think this whole place is so fucking traumatized that having the conversations I’d been told were “against the rules” may be essential to its survival.
I don’t have a lot of sympathy for GUILT, I really don’t. And there is certainly an immense amount of national guilt here. Ok, feel guilty. I suppose that’s appropriate? I don’t find guilt to be a particularly useful emotion, but perhaps it’s unavoidable, even necessary. But my empathy didn’t emerge from witnessing German guilt, it’s German ambivalence that really gets to me.
As I mentioned, there’s tons of public anti-Nazi sentiment (amazing), but much of it is coming from Germans who think they know better than we do how to end anti-Semitism (NOT amazing). Even LESS amazing, a pathological-seeming hardline support for U.S. imperialism and Israeli policy. Indeed, this fairly common version of “fighting anti-Semitism” seems to require embracing anti-Arab racism and Islamophobia. Yes, Germans who don’t even know any Jews will fly Israeli flags and have adopted conservative Jews’ racist ideas about Palestinians. Fucking fantastic.
But somewhere in between the neo-nazis and the extremist anti-fascist zionists (yes, that sounds like an oxymoron to me too but it’s an operative category here!), are most of the people we are meeting here. Leftists who clearly oppose sexism, racism, fascism, homophobia… but seem to have a shyness, a discomfort, or an ambivalence about how to best oppose anti-Semitism, how to navigate the political identities that have emerged in the German left, on what terms to discuss Israel/Palestine. (Let me be clear, I have encountered NO AMBIVALENCE whatsoever about their staunch opposition to anti-Semitism and fascism. It’s in the intricacies of the conversation, the political identities surrounding this stuff.)
I see this ambivalence as a reaction to the discursive brick walls ensconcing certain coping mechanisms — like the aforementioned massive (il)logical leap made by so many Germans to blindly and unequivocally support Israel. When I see awesome people, caring, thinking, smart, loving people — afraid of conversation about justice because they have been so completely landlocked in their discourse — I want to cry. When I say to them “shouldn’t we be trying to stand on the side of justice for all people?” the response is a little… vacant? conflicted? I don’t know, but it leaves me a little hopeless in moments.
But then there are the people I can muster no sympathy for. I was prepared for a lot of reactionary Zionism here. What I didn’t know was that a whole new trauma (for me) would accompany it. Our awesome conversations with some cool, brave German lefties led to learning about the German left, which includes a sect who fight their inherited guilt with such tireless tunnel-vision, that they actually deign to deligitimize our Jewishness. The “our” here refers to all The Shondes, Judith Butlers, and Jews Against the Occupation, who have been fighting for so long to stake out a Jewishness that opposes and brings to light illegal Israeli policy.
Yes, for some of these so-called “antideutsch” Germans… we, radical Jews, CANNOT EXIST. Friends here have also made it pretty clear that MANY, if not MOST of these types don’t know any Jews, have never discussed their quasi-militant Zionism with Jews, and yet they feel entitled to deem someone as honorable as Judith Butler persona non grata. How fucked up is THAT. There are Germans boycotting Shondes shows in Germany because we support Palestinian liberation and criticize violent, illegal Israeli policy.
Why are they are so completely invested in this myth that Israel rescued Jewry after the war that we can’t exist in their world? I guess because it gives them a simple way to seek absolution for their inheritance. Some of them even support U.S. military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan — these are supposed to be leftists mind you. Anti-imperialists, with the exception of the United States and Israel. (???) They are so bent on proving their gratitude to the allies that their political ideology makes no sense at all. They seek a common enemy with Jews, to unite in anti-Arab racism with Jews. What a great fucking way to fix shit.
So I’ve started calling it the Final Absolution: a German strategy for coping with guilt that is ironically based on a racist hardline ideology requiring the discursive eradication of radical Jews. Way to fight anti-Semitism, guys. Keep on telling us what makes us essentially Jewish, who does and doesn’t count, espousing racism and lies about Islam and Palestine. Fucking awesome. There’s a special irony to the notion that Germans who call themselves ANTI-GERMAN refuse to see the legitimacy of Jews who are ANTI-Israeli policy. I didn’t come all the way to Germany to have guilty Germans police my Jewishness.
I’m not able to even begin to adequately summarize the German left, as I’m just beginning to wrap my ahead around it myself, but Wikipedia has been a useful supplement to our conversations here. Check out the pages on the Anti-Deutsch movement, as distinct from Antifa(scism) in general to get started.
I’m not among the purists who think pitch correction technology is a shonde. I’ve even used it myself (GASP). As much as I fetishize analog sound, and believe in hard work in the studio (ie: just do it again until you get it right!), I’m also really not interested in dismissing new technology or being an anti-tech snob. Maybe I sound unusually equivocal here, but I think pitch correction technology has both positive and negative effects on music.
The use of autotune in hip hop, r&b and pop music as a perceptible effect (one you’re conscious of hearing) is not a problem for me. Sometimes I like how it sounds and sometimes I don’t, but what I appreciate is how much freaking attention it calls to itself. You don’t hear a T-Pain song and find yourself confused about whether the vocals have been messed with. Debating the aesthetics of this is an entirely different subject.
What I am horribly disturbed by is the now hegemonic use of pitch correction technology (which is getting more precise and subtle all the time) and how it changes the way we hear human voices, what we expect them to sound like. And frankly, though I raise this issue by talking about pitch correction, it’s also about other production effects we’re getting numb to. If every time we turn on the radio, 90% of the voices we hear are “corrected” in various ways, to varying degrees, our baseline sense of what the human voice sounds like shifts dramatically.
I think a lot of people mistakenly believe pitch correction is only used on singers with bad pitch. (Or that reverb is only used on singers with thin voices.) But singers with freaking miraculous voices are produced in all kinds of ways — listen to Beyonce. Some of her songs seem less vocally produced, closer to how her live voice sounds. But sometimes (most of the time) she sounds just as over-produced as anyone else, and it makes her voice sound more generic. Sometimes, as a listener, I feel like I’m fighting for access to her actual voice — which is a damn shame because (as you know) I think her voice is a blessing on us all. If you can’t tell apart Beyonce from some less amazing singers when a new song comes on the radio, there’s a problem. The uniqueness of her voice is lost to us.
I think that part of how Adele became so freaking ubiquitous is because someone very smart (or someones — probably Paul Epworth and Rick Rubin — in their own ways) recognized the specialness of her voice and made the decision to let it be more raw-sounding than almost any other pop music these days. In a moment where our ears are getting lazy from the production styles we’re hearing over and over again, Rolling in the Deep and Someone Like You broke through and shocked us a bit. Like the songs or not, the unexpected dissonant backing vocals, and the clear lack of pitch correction combine to startling effect. This may be old news, but almost nothing else on the radio has this sound, and much as I respect Adele as a singer, it’s really not just her voice (awesome though it may be) that makes her records so unique. So why didn’t it start a trend?
It would make my decade if Adele’s success heralded a sea change with regard to vocal production, but instead I think people chalk it entirely up to her special voice. There’s a lot of special voices out there getting smushed into awkward pop constraints. If someone would try this strategy with Beyonce, I’d be really thrilled. I’d rather hear her singing mic-less and effects-free any day. But then, would it sell without the story that accompanies Adele’s rise to fame? Do audiences want to hear real, raw voices anymore? Or only when they accompany the “unexpected soul” of adorable 21 year old white girls with cockney accents?