Great Jewish Music
 From the liner notes of Great Jewish Music: Burt Bacharach
'Burt Bacharach is one of the great geniuses of American popular music
- and he's a Jew. This should come as no surprise since many of America's
greatest songwriters have been Jewish - Irving Berlin, Kurt Weill, George
Gershwin, Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, Leiber & Stoller, Bob
Dylan, Lou Reed, Richard Hell, Beck. The Jews are a tribe who continue
to believe that if they devote themselves to a place they love and contribute
to the society selflessly that they will be embraced and accepted into
it. In many cases this has proved to be a fatal error, yet there they go
again, stubbornly believing in their own ability and vision. It is arguable
that the history of the Jews in this century has produced one of the most
richly rewarding periods of culture in Jewish history. Yet, this fact is
somehow kept neatly hidden. WHAT? Compare Philip Roth to Sholem Aleichem?
Kafka to Moses de Leon? Walter Benjamin to Rashi? Wittgenstein to Spinoza?
Steve Reich to Felix Mendelssohn? Allen Ginsberg to Yehudah Halevi? Einstein
to Nostrodamus? Lenny Bruce to Hillel? Burt Bacharach is such a name ...
I hope this set can in some small way repay Burt for the inspiration he
has provided for generations of musicians in their battle to be creative
and keep producing in the face of what often seems like insurmountable
odds. Thank you, Burt. Thank you for not changing your name. We will always
From the liner notes of Great Jewish Music: Serge Gainsbourg
'Born to Russian-Jewish parents, Lucien Ginzburg was to become a sex
symbol as Serge Gainsbourg ... Gainsbourg's poetry slyly combines his Jewish
sense of humor with the French romantic tradition and the perverse twists
inherited from Gérard de Nerval, Baudelaire, Genet, Bataille and
Sade ... Like many Jews who were raised in an atmosphere of mild-to-violent
anti-semitism (Fritz Lang, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Nathanial West) Gainsbourg
downplayed his Jewish roots. Jewishness was not an active part of his public
persona. But Jewish identity is a complex thing. Accept it as a blessing
or curse it as a disease, it is part of you whether you like it or not.
And it is there in Gainsbourg's songs. At times certain inflections, lyrics
or turns-of-phrase sound strangely Jewish, but I will leave the provocative
discussion of just how Jewish his music is to another time and another
 Great Jewish Music. Part of the Radical Jewish Culture series.
Released by Tzadik. Great Jewish Music: Burt Bacharach and Great
Jewish Music: Serge Gainsbourg. Liner notes from John Zorn. About Jews.
About Jewishness. About Jewish music. This is what interests me here. But
where do we begin? Too many matters need to be discussed. Too many questions
can be asked. What does this radical Jewish culture reference mean? What
is Jewish culture? What is Jewish music? Does it mean that the themes of
this music are either Jewish in nature or that they have many influences
from that culture? Or is it simply the fact that these men are both musicians
and Jewish, and, therefore, must make Jewish music? Perhaps their music
isn't characteristically Jewish. But then what exactly is 'real' Jewish
music? How does it sound? Does it have any specific harmonic and melodic
structures? And conversely, why is that music 'actually' Jewish, while
other music made by Jewish musicians is not? Is Jewish music something
other than music written by Jews?
How can we relate these Great Jewish Music projects to some of Zorn's
other works, for instance Kristallnacht, the Masada series,
Kokhba, and his chambermusic with Jewish titles? And to the works that
have no apparent connection with Jewishness on first thought?
Maybe we should start to think from another position. Does the work
become something other than 'merely music' by putting the word 'Jewish'
in the title? Is it Zorn's aim to force people to rethink their notion
of Jewish culture or identity? Is he asking us to examine this music in
a different context? Is it a political or ethnic statement ('a bizarre
example of ethnic proclamation', as Peter Niklas Wilson writes)? Is Zorn
simplifying the problem of 'Jewish music' by invoking an atavistic form
of identity politics, as New York Times columnist Adam Shatz contends
(cf. Cuthbert, p.22)? Or is he expanding and reconsidering certain categories?
This is what interests me here.
 The question of Jewish music. Or, more broadly, the (definition)
problem of Jewishness. I won't solve the problem here. The only thing I
can do is offer some considerations, some thoughts to avoid rash and premature
conclusions or opinions. So let's proceed carefully, meticulously, not
too hastily. For instance, with some utterances by Zorn. 'I am not religious,
but interested in everything that has to do with Jewish thinking. The question
of what such a Jewish identity can mean to me, exploring and renewing it,
plays a central part in my life. The answer to the question of whether
'Jewish music', as such, is recognizable, I find less interesting than
the question itself; it is the presentation of the question that is directive
to me'. This is a translation from a Dutch concert program from 1999. Three
items are worthy of our attention here. First, following Zorn, these projects
are rarely, if ever, based on Jewish religion, and more often on more general
Jewish traditions. How general and how traditional we have to find out.
Works presented as Radical Jewish Culture, both on CD or as part of the
several festivals with this title that Zorn has curated, seem to have no
relationship to Judaism as a religion, but rather to a broader range of
lived experiences shared by Jews. I'll come back to the question of whether
these experiences are exclusive to Jews. As yet, we have to content ourselves
by noticing a certain displacement from a possible religious orientation
to a more theoretical or even philosophical exploration of Jewish identity.
This brings me to the second point of interest. How is (t)his Jewishness
explored? By posing questions. So the answer to this question is itself
a question. Are we already approaching a certain trace of Jewishness here?
Is some characteristic of being Jewish cautiously unveiled here? I make
this proposal: Suppose it is precisely an inexhaustable reference to an
alterity, an openness to otherness that is connected to Jewishness here
(by Zorn). Derrida puts forward this hypothesis in several passages in
Writing and Difference and in Shibboleth. 'The Jew's identification
with himself does not exist. Jew would perhaps be the other name for the
impossibility to be himself' (Writing and Difference, p.75. The
second sentence is only to be found in the French version, p.112). Could
it be that the openness to any alterity precisely reveals itself in asking
questions? Perhaps questioning is (also) a certain (temporary) deferring
of one's identity. Or risking it. On the wrapper of Kristallnacht,
one can find this quote from the French Jewish writer, Edmond Jabès:
'The Jew doesn't ask questions: he has himself become questions'. I'm going
too fast. We are entering a new domain of thinking Jewishness. Let's leave
it for a while and come to the third point. Above, I spoke of Zorn's orientation
towards 'more general Jewish traditions'. I have to reconsider the word
'traditions' because Zorn speaks about exploring and renewing the
question of Jewish culture and identity. All of his Masada CD's
contain the following quotation from Gershom Scholem, founder of Kabbala
studies and professor in Jerusalem. 'There is a life of tradition that
does not merely consist of conservative preservation, the constant continuation
of the spiritual and cultural possessions of a community. There is such
a thing as a treasure hunt within tradition, which creates a living relationship
to tradition and to which much of what is best in current Jewish consciousness
is indebted, even where it was - and is - expressed outside the framework
of orthodoxy'. With Scholem's voice, Zorn seems to want to ease our minds;
the (re)discovery of his Jewishness does not lead to some reactionary retrospect.
He not only wants to give shape to a Jewish identity anew, he is reshaping
it at the same time. In a similar manner, he tries to rethink a definition
of Jewish music and confronts it with a drastic metamorphosis. I have to
be careful here because a metamorphosis suggests that something has changed.
But what is that something when we are talking of Jewish music? Even when
we assume for a while that Jewish music is equal to Klezmer music (a fault
that is often made), it won't solve the problem. Klezmer doesn't imply
unity of style. It is influenced by gypsy music, folk music from the Balkans
and Slavonic countries and, especially in the USA, it mingled with jazz.
(Gypsy music, folk, jazz: heterogeneous musics like Klezmer. An abyss.
Is there any unity of style? Any stabilized, self-identical style? Is the
concept 'Jewish music' blurred by Zorn precisely when he uses it?) And
what about the identity of the Jew? Is this an easily determined site or
position? We'll have to come back to this.
 Some say it all started with Kristallnacht and speak about
a turn towards Jewish culture, to give full breadth of it (Wilson; Cuthbert).
This CD from 1993 is an exploration and a rethinking of Jewish identity
in a musical way. It is not just about the Holocaust, so says Zorn in an
interview. Some music is about what happened before the Holocaust:
'Shtetl' (Ghetto Life), which confronts Klezmer-like style with early propaganda
speeches of Hitler, and 'Never Again', the harrowing and painful musical
expression of the 'Kristallnacht', the night in November 1938 in which
the Nazis destroyed and devastated Jewish stores, synagogues, and other
properties in Germany. Other compositions are about what happened after
the Holocaust: 'Gahelet' (Embers) is a soft plaintive mourn over the atrocities
of the Holocaust. And according to Zorn, Kristallnacht is also about
the foundation of the state of Israel - Zorn here probably refers to 'Gariin'
(Nucleus - the New Settlement) -, about Jews today, and about the problems
occurring when orthodoxy goes too far (cf. Blumenfeld). Perhaps the latter
idea is expressed in various compositions where a combination of modern
and traditional music can be heard. (For example, at the beginning of 'Tzifia'
(Looking Ahead) hardcore industrial noises are contrasted with old recordings
of a classically trained Jewish singer.) In Kristallnacht, Zorn
relies on many of the same techniques he used in earlier compositions:
game pieces, file card pieces, free improvisations, fully notated music.
It is, however, his first project in which he employs more than one of
these compositional methods at the same time (cf.Cuthbert, p.7). It is
as if the Jewish identity is so diverse, so complex - am I already allowed
to say non-existent? - that Zorn needs to take advantage of all his musical
experience and qualities, all kinds of musical languages which perhaps
are not his own.
For the second time, I anticipate an idea of an other Jewishness (another
idea of Jewishness), take an advance on an other model of Jewishness, that
is, 'the Jew-as-other' (Derrida). Jewishness as the other of identification,
Jewishness as the other of a clear individuality, even the other of a Jewish
religious and cultural tradition. A Jewish dimension of non-identity and
non-individuality, as opposed to a certain Jewish tradition. I turn to
Jabès, again on the cover of Kristallnacht: 'The Jew has
always been at the origin of a double questioning: questioning himself,
and questioning 'the other'. In truth, there is no way of avoiding the
ability to cease being Jewish; he is forced to question his identity ...
This may seem paradoxical, but it is precisely in that break - in that
non-belonging in search of it's belonging - that I am without doubt most
Jewish'. Can we say that Zorn is a composer and musician without a marked
identity, without a certain individuality and that precisely in this elusiveness
his Jewishness can be marked out? Let's postpone these ideas again. For
just a little longer.
 If Kristallnacht is the first recorded musical expression
of Zorn's (re)discovered Jewishness (and I emphasize 'if'), then the pamphlet,
'Was genau ist diese Radical New Jewish Culture?' [What exactly is this
Radical New Jewish Culture?] from 1992, published in the Art Project
Festival program in Munich, can be regarded the first written statement
The manifesto opens with the thesis that the American Jews make a great
contribution to the diversity of American music. However, this contribution
has practically stayed out of sight up to now. According to Zorn and co-signatory,
Marc Ribot, this is due to the fact that Jews who are and have been very
important to the development of popular music (for instance, Bob Dylan
and Michael Landon), often changed their names and identities. ('Thank
you, Burt. Thank you for not changing your name'.) Conversely, the ones
to whom Jewishness openly appealed had been excluded from the cultural
mainstream and banished to the margins. Zorn and Ribot want to make this
Jewish contribution more overt, more visible, more manifest. But it is
not the Jewishness, as such, that they are trying to emancipate. Their
main interest is in Radical New Jewish Culture, which describes
the position with regard to the mainstream American culture, as well as
the relation to the mainstream Jewish range of thought.
Clear assumptions and provocative statements, typical of and important
to a pamphlet. Less usual and perhaps more profound are the many questions
Zorn and Ribot pose. Not rhetorical ones, quasi-questions which already
hold their answers, but open questions (Jewish questions?) that lead to
more than one answer, which is never final. Here are some. Are there explicit
Jewish musical values that are shared by all musicians, despite the fact
that they are often not religious, do not have any contact with Judaism,
and do not occupy themselves with Klezmer or Jewish liturgical music? Must
Jewish music necessarily include Jewish scales or themes, or is Jewish
music simply music played by Jews? Does this ideate an endpoint of Jewish
music or a new beginning? Or both?
Then the questions change. To another plateau I might say. They turn
towards the subject I came across twice, but didn't finish, didn't really
start, in fact. I continue. Is the contribution of the Jews to the American
music motivated by the wish to insert themselves into the American culture
or is it a sign of alienation of their own origin? Or both? To what extent
has the specific Jewish quality to defend and to embrace suppressed elements
from other cultures contributed to the 'patchwork-music' that was produced
in New York in the 1980's? Can music that is controversial, critical of
the social structure, and that is operating in the margins be connected
with the archetypical Jewish history of exile and oppression, with an indictment
 One last stop before we reach ... reach what? This place is Peter
Niklas Wilson's critical essay on Radical New Jewish Culture. According
to Wilson, Zorn's turn to Jewish music and identity (What is Jewish music?
What is Jewish identity? Is it really a turn?) is 'a catalogue of symbolic
operations' that accomplishes something that his music did without before,
that is, cultural identity. Wilson refers mainly to the Masada series
and Bar Kokhba, which he describes as adaptations of well-known
more recent jazz-patterns, interlarded with supposed melodic phrases from
the Near East. Wilson shows more sympathy for Zorn's earlier works. Precisely
in these 'quick change collages' Wilson descries a play with identities,
an unrestricted decontextualization and a recombining of musical data.
Uninhibited and bold, 'reserved only to someone without roots' (a Jew perhaps?).
Some interesting sentences follow: 'The conversion of such a deconstruction
to the essence of Judaism - patchwork-aesthetics as principle of
the Jewish Gestalt - was a first step ... on the way to this Radical New
Jewish Culture. The second stage is the creation of a new, integral, homogeneous
'Jewish' music as an expression of a cultural self-assurance. As brilliant
as Zorn deconstructed a (music)cultural identity, he pitiful failed in
his reconstruction of a unbroken Jewish music' (Wilson, p.24, my italics,
 First station: and what if we do not or cannot restrict 'Jewishness'
to Jewishness? What if we give up a racial definition of Jewishness, even
when this makes every attempt to define it almost impossible? What if we
deny that 'Jewishness' has something to do with the original characteristics
of the race or the particular structure of the Jewish religion? In his
interview with Richard Kearney, Derrida seems to differentiate between
Jewish and 'Jewish'. 'I consider my own thought, paradoxically, as neither
Greek nor Jewish. I often feel that the questions I attempt to formulate
on the outskirts of the Greek philosophical tradition have as their 'other'
the model of the Jew, that is, the Jew-as-other. And yet, the paradox is
that I have never actually invoked the Jewish tradition in any 'rooted'
or direct manner. Though I was born a Jew, I do not work or think within
a living Jewish tradition. So that if there is a Judaic dimension to my
thinking which may from time to time have spoken in or through me, this
has never assumed the form of an explicit fidelity or debt to that culture.
In short, the ultimate site (lieu) of my questioning discourse would be
neither Hellenic nor Hebraic if such were possible. It would be a non-site'
Leave the autobiographical insights aside for awhile and let's concentrate
on the two sides (sites) of Jewishness. On one hand, the 'living Jewish
tradition', the Jewish roots, religion, and culture: Jewishness. On the
other hand, the 'Judaic dimension', the 'model of the Jew', 'the
Jew-as-other', the 'non-site': 'Jewishness'.
Could we call Zorn's work a musical expression of a non-religious or
cultural rooted 'Jewish' sitelessness as Derrida describes it? Wilson calls
Zorn a man without roots. Zorn confirms this idea in several places. 'J'ai
l'impression d'etre plusieurs' ['I have the impression of being several'],
he says in the very heterogeneous collage composition, 'Godard' in the
CD, Godard ça vous chante. In the liner notes of Spillane,
he writes: 'There's a lot of jazz in me, but there's also a lot of rock,
a lot of classical, a lot of ethnic music, a lot of blues, a lot of movie
soundtracks. I'm a mixture of all those things'. And in an interview: 'I
like to say that I'm really rootless. I think that the music that my generation
... is doing is really rootless in a lot of ways, because we listened to
a lot of different kinds of music from an early age ... We listened to
all different kinds of shit, and as a result we don't really have a single
home' (Gagne, p.516). But in fact we need only listen to his sizeable oeuvre
in order to establish that he uses many kinds of musical languages at once
without belonging to one musical world. He is like the emigrant who adapts
himself to a culture that will never be his own, in between this foreign
culture and his own. The occupier of a non-site. Zorn's music can be regarded
as an exponent of a Jewish culture inevitably containing material derived
from cultures that have interacted with Jewish culture. Is Wilson, however,
correct when he writes that Zorn has shifted to a clearly recognizable
musical identity, to a rumination of his Jewish roots with Masada
and Bar Kokhba? In other words, has Zorn switched from 'Jewishness'
to Jewishness? This is what Zorn says about his Masada project.
'The one thing that really surprises me, and is a symbol of how limited
critics' ears are, is the way critics describe it: klezmer meets Ornette
[Coleman]. Of course, there's klezmer. Of course, there's Ornette. But
there are as many influences in that music as went into the composition
of Naked City music or any other music I've done - like surf music, movie
soundtracks, Sephardic and Arabic music, modern classical, modal jazz.
I play them with Joey [Baron] and Dave [Douglas], and they say, 'Ornette
meets klezmer'. When I do it for the Masada String Trio, everyone says,
'Wow! It's so deeply rooted in the Jewish tradition of string music'. Then
I do it with a sextet, and people say, 'Yeah, it's a real loungey, easy-listening
Les Baxter type of thing'. I mean, I could do it with a hardcore band.
It was a revelation to take those pieces outside of the context of a steady
quartet that was playing them and give it to smaller groups to play in
different ways' (Blumenfeld). The rootlessness is still there. Maybe one
could decide it is 'Jewish' music and Jewish music at the same time.
Can we find the same 'doubleness' in Great Jewish Music: Burt Bacharach?
Of course, Bacharach is a Jew and so are Zorn and his fellow-musicians.
So we could call it Jewish music. But more important is the 'Jewishness'
of this tribute, this musical non-site, in between a low popular culture
in which Bacharach's hits can be situated and a high avant-garde culture
to which the versions of Zorn, et al, are referring (cf.
We should not accept without question the proposition of a certain
breach in Zorn's musical activities, non-Jewish music on one hand and Jewish
music on the other. We have to rethink what being Jewish means. I present
and defend the idea that the Masada series is no more 'Jewish' music
than Great Jewish Music: Burt Bacharach, Spillane, or Naked
 Second station: disidentification. What is
Jewishness? Is 'the Jew' (Derrida) something? Or is his essence
to not have an identity? Does the Jewish identity consist of renouncing
any identity? These are questions that arise in Derrida's texts on Edmond
Jabès, Emmanuel Levinas, and Paul Celan. In Writing and Difference,
Derrida writes: 'The Jew's identification with himself does not exist.
The Jew is split, and split first of all between the two dimensions of
the letter: allegory and literality' (Writing and Difference, p.75).
Between allegory and literality, between 'Jewishness' and Jewishness. What
is essential to the Jew is perhaps the vacancy, the split, in French, brisure.
The Jew is the brisure, non-localizable, beyond every permanent setting.
The Jew is without foundation and therefore a threat to each foundation.
Before (re)turning to Zorn, I would like to quote Anthony Coleman from
his CD, Selfhaters (keyboardist Coleman belongs to the inner circle
of Downtown musicians who often work with Zorn): 'Do they [Jews?] show
the rest of the world the picture that they believe anyway, or do they
strip away an element of false consciousness implicit in a sense of 'belonging'
to a 'culture'. And which culture? Jerusalem, Belz, the Lower East Side,
or Rockland County? Or the culture of wandering, the culture of acquisitiveness,
of having-no-voice-of-one's-own, of mauscheling in any and all languages.
Well, this disc doesn't purport to answer. Some say that's Jewish, too...'.
This non-identity again, this non-belonging to one site. The culture of
wandering between many cultures. It is this that characterizes Zorn's music
as well. It can be a threat to the existing musical world because it is
subversive, crossing conventional musical borders. It is not clearly classifiable
because it lacks an identity. 'I'm inherently rootless. I don't fit into
the jazz tradition. I don't fit into the rock tradition ... There's a certain
set of rules which you have to obey. And with most scenes, the most important
rules are the least important to me: attitude; stance; posture; the clothes
you wear; where you play. All the trappings of the music. I'm not a skinhead
with tattoos on my arm, who goes and slamdances at CB's. I'm interested
in the music those people are making. The same thing with the jazz scene:
Their trappings are not my trappings. The classical scene too: I don't
obey those rules. I'm interested in music, and not the bullshit trappings
that surround so many of the scenes, and which people are convinced are
the tradition of the scene ... You can't put what I'm doing or what Elliott
[Sharp] does or what any of these guys do into any kind of a box like that.
Inherently, it's music that resists categorization because of all the influences
we've had' (Gagne, p.524).
I would say that Zorn's music consists of 'Sons brisés', broken
or fractured sounds (Cf. Sons
brisés - J. Allende-Blin), not only because it changes
very abruptly from one style to another, but also because it gives the
music this unpredictability, this non-identity.
 Third station: 'the Jew-as-other' (Derrida). Zorn's music-as-other.
This other, however, that contrasts with conventional (musical) traditions
has to pass through these same musical traditions, through these musical
languages, in order to avoid complete inaccessibility (cf.
Deconstruction and Ethics). The other has to follow in the footsteps
of the same despite the risk of self-loss and of being veiled in something
it is not. But this doesn't mean that it disappears. It leaves traces,
references to an alterity within the conventional domain (cf. Sneller,
p.224). These traces, these references, Derrida calls 'Jewish'. The Jew
is not opposed to the Greek, but is right at the heart of him (cf. Writing
and Difference, p.153). Being 'Jewish' means being dominated and drowned
out by a culture that is never able to fully absorb it. Could this be 'Jewishness':
an inexhaustable reference to an alterity within culture itself, an openness
towards the always already present (and at the same time absent) other?
Could 'Jewishness' mean between the other and the self, between alterity
and identity, between difference and connection, between familiar and unfamiliar?
Is the 'Judaic' experience an experience of différance?
I return to Great Jewish Music: Burt Bacharach to make this
proposition. The Jew that Zorn is plays the 'Jew' in the music world. All
the versions in this CD play the part of 'Jewishness' within a well-known
musical language. Zorn brings in elements of alterity. He wants to confront
this language (of Bacharach, of popular music) with the other, with what
is not composed or played, but with which it is still permeated. A heteroglossia,
or even a cacophony of incongruous strands of musical discourses, is the
result. Great Jewish Music: Burt Bacharach sets scores with the
idea that an interpretation should account for every detail of the work
within the same framework; it sets scores with the idea that details that
don't fit are ignored or set aside as unimportant. Rather, Great Jewish
Music: Burt Bacharach is working the opposite way. Details that don't
fit in the conventional framework of interpretations, details that don't
fit in the conventional language of popular music, are exaggerated and
are made very important.
Sometimes a version is 'Jewish' and Jewish at the same time, assuming
for the sake of convenience that the latter has something to do with certain
scales (for instance, C-Db-E-F-G-Ab-B-C). Listen to Eric Friedlander's
version of 'Promises, Promises' (Play music).
The arrangement of cello, clarinet, bass-clarinet, and double bass give
it a flavor of Klezmer music. However, what initially attracts attention
is the improvised part. On a steady rhythmic and melodic pattern of bass
and bass-clarinet, the cello (and later, together with clarinet) improvises
on the basis of some scales that are often connected with Jewish or Klezmer
music. Jewishness entering 'Jewish' music, this music that moves between
conventions and deviation from these conventions, an in-between that does
not designate a localized relation going from the one to the other and
back again, but a transversal movement that sweeps one and the other away
Bacharach and John Zorn).
A circumcision of music. Through Zorn, Bacharach and his music accede
to a treaty, both a Jewish and a 'Jewish' community. But especially in
'Promises, Promises' (Play music),
Friedlander is circumcising the music, bringing it into a Jewish context
by making it Klezmer-like. Circumcision: the infliction of a wound. So
being Jewish here is the experience of being wounded. (There is more than
one resemblance between certain Jews and certain Muslims.) However, it
is at the same time a matter of 'circumcision': the music is being cut,
something is excised. In Zorn's project, the wounds remain present. Mutilations
of the 'original' text. One can hear the violence. Being Jewish, as well
as being 'Jewish', means to suffer. (By advocating (and warning against)
an excruciatingly loud level of 'Never Again', Zorn wants some small part
of the pain that was endured by the Jews to be felt by the listener; not
emotionally, or through artistic and musical resonance, but actually physically.)
 Fourth station. A delicate question. Are
these Great Jewish Music projects, despite everything, a matter of 're-Judaicizing'
Jewish composers and musicians (Bacharach, Gainsbourg) by a Jewish artist
(Zorn)? There seems to be a tension between this apparent classification
and the above commitment to openness. Does the discovery of his Jewishness
lead Zorn to a kind of Zionist imperialism or exclusivism? How should we
interpret his rather strong preference for Jewish musicians, shirts bearing
Magen Davids, Jewish song titles, Jewish interviewers, etc.? It seems to
be a Shibboleth, a 'friends word', a word of alliance or covenant
on one side, a sign of exclusion on the other. But a Shibboleth for whom?
The title, Great Jewish Music, tells us more about Zorn than it
does about Bacharach who never made an issue of his religion or ethnicity.
And Gainsbourg, although he didn't particularly hide it, never put his
Jewishness in front (maybe only as a provocation). Their inclusion is,
at the same time, an exclusion.
A paradox. Zorn's early claims to openness, to the use of multiple
musical languages, to otherness, appear in a closed, excluding discourse.
(It always and necessarily appears in an excluding discourse. The otherness
of the other means a certain exclusivity. That is the paradox.)
'Jewishness' repeats itself in Jewishness. The general articulates itself
in the particular. Maybe we can understand the general idea of openness
only against a background of a particular Jewishness. Maybe the mixing
of multiple compositional methods within one piece arises with or as a
result of his latent Jewishness. And as a result, the difference between
'Jewishness' and Jewishness may not be that clear. Because the opposite
is true as well: Zorn's Jewish music and themes repeat his 'Jewishness'.
Let's take Kristallnacht as an example. Can we decide what repeats
what? Is the background, the history and future of the Jews given musical
expression in the use of Klezmer-like themes, Jewish scales, quotes from
a Jewish singer and the sound of breaking glass within an alien context
of free jazz, hard core, and modern classical composition techniques? Or
is the background constituted by a very heterogeneous musical language
in which Jewish music has just a place for its own? Maybe Kristallnacht
is Zorn's first musical exploration of his Jewish heritage as Cuthbert
and Wilson suggest. But it is not only a break with the past; it is also
a continuation, a continuation of his 'Jewish' heritage, the 'Jewish' music
he previously made. And how open, how 'Jewish' is Jewish music? The concept
of Jewish tone scales is somewhat odd. Jewish music always already contained
material derived from cultures with which Jews have interacted: Greek,
American, Spanish, Eastern European, Ethiopian, Western European, etc.
Jewish music has a structure that resists every inclination to a final
formation of identity, to seclusion and determination. Sometimes it refers
to the Eastern European modalities, sometimes to gypsy music, sometimes
it has similarities with some Arabic music, the hijaz. These are
only small corners of Jewish music though. Jewish music that originates
from different parts of the world shares no common characteristics; it
is not consistent. 'Jewishness' is a part of Jewishness and Jewishness
is a part of 'Jewishness'. Both Jewishness and 'Jewishness' refer to expropriation,
having no fixed identity. (Or do we have to say that this is their identity?)
 How explicitly Zorn is referring to the Jewish cause? To what extent
does this Radical Jewish Culture restrict itself to well defined archives?
How Zionistic is the appropriation of the myth-laden names such as 'Masada'
and 'Bar Kokhba'? It is undecidable. Ambivalent. On one hand, Zorn explicitly
addresses himself to Jews. With the Masada book, a collection of
over a hundred tunes, he wants to give Jews something positive for the
future: 'I think it's important for Jews to have positive role models so
that they want to identify themselves as Jews ... After [Kristallnacht],
I wanted to do something that was not about the history of pain and suffering,
but about the future and how bright and beautiful it can be ... This is
my answer to what new Jewish music is. This is my personal answer. That's
why I wrote the Masada music' (Blumenfeld). These remarks seem to
make clear that his intended audience for Masada would be American,
European and Israeli Jews. The titles of the Masada series - Alef,
etc., the initial letters of the Hebrew alphabet - confirm this. On the
other hand, however, Zorn is defying these (his own) ideas: he originally
released these Masada albums with liner notes in Japanese only.
Through the use of this language he is only making the discs less accessible
to most western Jews (cf. Cuthbert, p.18-9).
And what are we to think of the dedication of the Masada book
to Asher Ginzberg, founding father of Cultural Zionism who, in the late
1880's, called out for a New Jewish Cultural Renaissance, 'one in which
all Jews everywhere could find pride and meaning'? Is this an openly avowed
form of Zionism or should we pay more attention to the word 'everywhere'?
'Everywhere', it could be meant as a contrast to constructions of Jewish
identity that bind it closely to the modern state of Israel. 'Everywhere',
which means having no fixed place, a non-site. Jewish becoming 'Jewish'
again. The 'Jewish' site is an empty site. 'This Site is not a site, an
enclosure, a place of exclusion, a province or a ghetto. When a Jew or
poet proclaims the Site, he is not declaring war. For this site, this land,
calling to us from beyond memory, is always elsewhere. The site is not
the empirical national Here of a territory' (Writing and Difference,
Last meditation: Tzadik, Zorn's record label. Many Jewish musicians
find a home here. And Radical Jewish Culture: one of the largest series
formats under this label. Jewishness seems very important. But on the other
hand, if Zorn feels that a musician is getting too much press for being
a Jewish performer and not enough for his compositional activities he may
find his next disc issued in the Composers Series (cf. Cuthbert, p.23).
Tzadik. A tzadik is a Jewish spiritual leader. Zorn? Is Zorn not only a
poet, but also a rabbi (cf. Burt
Bacharach and John Zorn)? He is an important person in New York's
music scene. Almost all musicians who determine the sound of the Jewish
Alternative Movement, a Knitting Factory CD label, have at some time worked
with Zorn. So he is a kind of leader. And a Jew. But in Hebrew tzadik also
means righteous, just. A strange name for a record company. Or maybe not?
'Founded in 1995, Tzadik is dedicated to releasing the best in avant-garde
and experimental music, presenting a worldwide community of contemporary
musician-composers who find it difficult or impossible to release their
music through more conventional channels', says an advertising brochure.
Who does Tzadik serve? Those who have no permanent address at their disposal.
Homeless in double respect: musically (these experimental and avant-garde
musicians usually mix several musical languages in one work), and institutionally
(no major record company is interested because their music is not commercial
enough). They are a kind of outcast. 'Jews'. Like Jabès's quote
on Kristallnacht: 'It is precisely in that break - in that non-belonging
in search of it's belonging - that I am without a doubt most Jewish' [in
fact most 'Jewish']. Tzadik is doing justice to music that cannot be specifically
classified, giving the homeless a home, the voiceless a voice. Tzadik is
a Shibboleth, a place where a decision is made about the right to enter
a legal community, a sign of belonging. However, as the mark of a certain
pact, it also intervenes: it prohibits, sentences, excludes. Somewhere
between sharing and dividing (cf. Shibboleth, p.109-111).
 Zorn's dedication to the Jewish cause seems to be in opposition
to more narrow versions of Zionism, both in his insistence on going beyond
'conservative preservation' (Gershom Scholem) and his constant playing
with identities and contexts. His Jewishness is also a 'Jewishness', dominated
by a loss of identity, security, safety. Zorn is the thorn in the side
of conventions and apparently uncomplicated assumptions and not only on
a musical level. He asks questions. He questions (his) identity, and questions
'the other'. Hence, from the start he is confronted with the discourse
of the other. And he disorders it. He disorders it by revealing that every
endeavor toward determination and conclusion, every attempt toward a final
formation of an identity, is doomed to fail. This means that not only Zorn
is a 'Jew'. It is not the privilege of a few. The 'Jew-as-other' is inside
of non-Jews as well, inside of music. It reflects a more 'original alienation',
a structure of every music as a music of the other, the impossibility to
possess music, the impossibility to return it to the same.