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January 08, 2009 - Image 79

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2009-01-08

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Jews in the Grooves from page C11

Streisand, Neil Diamond and Barry
Manilow became part of the broader
American cultural landscape — and
socially acceptable — ones by Shmuel
Borger and Moti Zingboim did not.
Of Streisand, Diamond and Manilow,
Bennett said: "They're standing on the
shoulders of this entire lost world of
performers:' adding, "They're just the
tip of the iceberg."
So Kun, Bennett and several oth-
ers, began the Reboot Stereophonic
Web site, www.rebootstereophonic.
corn, in 2004 to solicit records lurking
in dustbins everywhere. A year later,
Reboot Stereophonic put out its first
re-issued LP, Irving Fields' Bagel and
Bongos, which became a critical hit.
Next came Gershon Kingsley's God Is
A Moog, a mix of the electronic key-
boardist's songs from the late-'60s and
'70s that set Jewish liturgical hymns
over a Moog synthesizer. Four more
albums followed, with the sixth, the
Barry Sisters' Our Way (1973) recently
released. (All the albums are available
on iTunes; and as CDs, as well the new
book, on Amazon.com.)
But Kun said, "For every two albums
we re-issue, there's at least a hundred
others we want to put out." Kim and
Bennett then came up with the alter-
native idea to create a book — And
You Shall Know Us By the Trail of Our
Vinyl — that somehow put all these
lost gems to use.
The challenge was to avoid creating
either a dry academic work or a kitschy
coffee-table book. "If we tried to write
the ultimate history book, it could have
been the crustiest thing ever," Kun said.
So the candy-colored pages and VH1
ironic-nostalgia sensibility became
a necessity "Whatever gets people
to open the book — within reason
— that's a good thing," Kun said.
The resultant book takes the best
of both worlds while releasing itself
from the limitations of each. Eleven
well-versed scholarly chapters refer-
ence Gershom Scholem and Jonathan
Sarna with ease, but without footnotes.
And vividly pictured album covers are
paired with several impressionistic
vignettes, written by accomplished
writers like Shalom Auslander, Aimee
Bender, Michael Wex and Etgar Keret.
"It's the kind of stuff academics do:'
said Jonathan Freedman, a professor
of American culture at the University
of Michigan and the author of the just
released Klezmer America: Jewishness,
Ethnicity, Modernity (Columbia
University Press; $34.50), which used
some of Reboot's re-issued albums
with Kun's liner notes as source mate-

,

*;

AND YOU SHALL
KNOW US BY
THE TRAIL OF
OUR VINYL

The Jewish Past as Told by the Records
We Have Loved and Lost

Connecting the generations: "It

turns out there were psychedelic

Jewish folk gods, groovy disco

cantors who wore turtleneck

sweaters, Korean singers who

knew every word of 'Exodus,'

AEI'"'

RESTAURANT

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in the Catskills, jazz legends who

did Fiddler on the Roof medleys,

Chasidic prog [progressive] rockers

and Jews who made funk albums

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about slavery," write the authors in

any bottle of wine

the introduction to their book.

77'

Nt.N

rial. "But it's not at all academic. It's
fun, high-spirited, imaginative," he
said. "It's just really great."
By showing how past generations
of American Jews managed both to
assimilate and to embrace their Jewish
identities, the book's authors hope to
offer a similar framework for today's
younger Jews. The contents of that
Jewish identity might differ, but the
ability to be both proudly Jewish and
assimilated should not. "If Hebrew
school sounded like this," Bennett,
who has a penchant for pithy phrases,
said, "we would have never left."
The fresh-faced Bennett plopped
down a stack of vinyls he said he had
just picked up that morning. "These
are breadcrumbs in history:' he said,
noting that an older woman whose
parent had died didn't want them any-
more, and came across his Web site.
He noticed a record in his pile
released in America from Israel, before
the 1967 war. His eyes lit up, and he
then flipped to a page in the new book.
Featuring a tanned, buxom woman
on an album cover from 1962, Hanna
Ahroni's Songs of Israel, hinted at
the changing attitudes toward Israel
between generations. "Look at her
— unbelievable!" he said, with a slight
jump from his chair. "Who wouldn't
want to make aliyah? Now you see why
our parents are more connected to
Israel than us."
"You see he went on, "It's the ques-
tions these albums raise that really
draw us in."

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January 8 • 2009

C13

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