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Returning to the Blog

Once upon a time, 10 years ago to be exact, the “Blog People” had permeated the kingdom of the web and were soon spread all over the land. I had no choice.

So, in 2007, I created a “blog,” not really knowing the full value of it, but hoping it would attract responses and gather audience and friends.  As it turned out, I got a few things off my chest and I got some fantastic responses, but I soon turned to other priorities… The website, YouTube, producing 3 albums, which all sent me to Israel. I also needed a new video camera or two. What else would I use…my phone?!

Pursuing internet marketing had to wait. Besides, MySpace was over and Facebook might be next. Who knew?

Today, the entertainment business depends on social media products like YouTube and blogs and vlogs (everyone say, “oh, my!”) in order to succeed in todays world. I now have Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter…I even have Snapchat. I’m not sure why yet, but the adventure continues.

This is all part of my new direction, which keeps evolving. My Website, YouTube & Facebook are crushing it (in a good way) and now I’ve got plenty of entertainment to share in so many forms!  Please enjoy these conversations and jump in as you see fit.

I only had a few back then, so catching up will be easy! Start from 2007! Most of the subjects still work and I’ll post a couple more very soon.

The State of the Music – Reflecting on last few months & the last few years…

So, now that times have changed (and they really have), I see that people have become more receptive to musical styles and influences I was criticized for years ago. What happened?

The real question may be “what didn’t happen.” Jewish music has frequently been caught standing still and, in many ways it still is. Either they can’t “up their game” or, in some case, may not be interested in change. I’ve watched many take the easy way out, pay arrangers, composers and producers to create the illusion of more talent than there is and hope for a hit. I’ve watched many great songs and productions crash and burn and I’ve watched great talent go to waste with second rate productions.

For good or bad, many productions have gone from elaborate large orchestras to hip programming and digital synthesis, sometimes a mix of both.  My last album included both and, while I’m proud I applied the right choices for each individual song, whether 12-piece string section, 3 French Horns (“2-hoo turtle doves…”) and flutes with acoustic bass, piano, guitar and drums, or 100% computerized with voice sampling and R&B Marvin Gaye-inspired rhythms, the album felt like a journey with different textures and colors.

I’ll be forever glad I did it. I question whether the majority of the buying audience truly cares, but they may simply not have the ability. I do, though.

Lyrics! Where do I begin? Hebrew lyrics in a song for a religious audience? Unheard of! Today, original Hebrew lyrics have become as accepted as Yiddish. Hebrew is considered the holy language, so it was avoided in common lyric. Yiddish? Not so holy, so go ahead.

Original lyrics make it possible to form melody and words more freely in order to fit, pronounce comfortably, express more colorfully and make a higher quality song that’s more attractive, intuitive and enjoyable. Unheard of years ago.

Watch GV’s video of Megama’s “Up To Jerusalem” (separate window)

Moshe Yess and Shalom Levine formed Megama, touring as bearded curiosities with amazing talent from a past life. Moshe’s folk, rock & country talent from his non-religious days as a studio guitarist allowed him to combine his ingenious Chet Atkins level playing with his bluegrass lyric cleverness. Shalom, a student of viola legend Pablo Casals, kept the music arrangement simple but on point, along with their comic ability… The act had such impact that Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, encouraged Megama to perform concerts even during the omer & 3 weeks periods.

He felt they were inspiring others around the world to journey as far as they had to Orthodoxy. They were also pretty inexpensive, certainly cheaper than Diaspora Yeshiva Band. They were just 2 guys, 2 instruments, they came with their own PA system and they were rehearsed to perfection.

I became friends with Shalom & Moshe and they stayed at my place when in town. We identified with each other’s music, but I was considered simply a rebel, going in the wrong direction, since I was already born orthodox. I didn’t have the beard (not that large, anyway), I wasn’t considered a baal tshuvah, so what business did I have peddling with this kind of stuff? I became the “goy of Jewish Music.” It was cool for the goyish guy to sing frum songs, but not for the frum kid to sing goyish songs. What the audience was grabbing and what I was doing was fun, skilled and natural, but I was shunned for it.
What was “goyish?” An interesting discussion we had a while ago. Check it out.

GV’s Music Page  (separate window)

More times than I could count, I was told that my reputation of composing and performing English words, secular melodies and allowing mainstream influences to drive my music kept me from being booked on the frum stage and selling in the sforim stores.

Mean and nasty? Sure. But unfortunately, they spoke the truth. The biggest composers, producers and performers quoted the Jewish music rule book: “You put more than one English song on an album, it won’t sell.”

English has increased now on religious albums, even in multiple tracks. I still see a problem in the use of decent poetic imagery and language flow, an inherent struggle for religious writers whose upbringing avoided mainstream song writing…Perhaps we’ll talk about that another day.

I can now take my own experience and judge from there. I’m walking the walk.

Yitzy Berry in Sach Hakol Studios, Jerusalem, conducting the orchestra on “Bayom Hahu”

I look back on how Yitzy Berry & Eli Klein did such an amazing job on the album version of Simcha Kranczer’s “Bayom Hahu,” working the orchestra exactly as I wanted it immortalized on the album. Interestingly, when I made the á capella version of that song to please the people who wanted that kind of production during sefiras ha’omer and the 3 weeks approaching Tish’a B’Av, it was received better than I had ever imagined. It was fun to make and I did it all on my own in a couple of days (thanks also to Ari Goldwag’s appearance by phone video). Basing the arrangement on the original, I just sang track-on-track until it worked.

The question is, what does it say, that the cheap version did so well? I think the answer isn’t technical, it’s statistical. Great song at the right time in the right form, not artistically as much as halachically…at least according to those who consider á capella to be an acceptable musical form for those “no instrumental music” periods.  Me? I just love making chords and building vocals.

I am constantly asked (no, really…I am…) if I’m happy with what I’ve done.

The past 15 years brought about a great shift in my quality and I had been patiently waiting for the audience to come out of their shells. Today, what I was criticized for years before has now become the norm and I’ve become “old school.” I’ll take that, I guess. It’s better than pretending I’m something I’m not. I’ve tried that and it doesn’t work.

That being said, as far as today’s audiences…Could I have put less effort and money into the “Ani Yisrael” album and few, if any would have seen or heard the difference?

Maybe, but it would not have been the same album, it’s a difference I would have seen and I wouldn’t feel the same about it as I do.

Just Received From the Governor’s Office…

I’VE BEEN ASKED FOR THIS, SINCE MANY OF US NEVER SAW THE COURT SUMMARY OF THE FACTS INVOLVED.
This following letter concerns the case of convicted murderer, Martin Grossman’s and his execution. It is presented, however, with all due respect for the loss of Mr. Grossman, a”h, a human being and a fellow Jew who sadly had to pay the ultimate price for his life choices.

A Message from Governor Charlie Crist regarding Martin Grossman:

Thank you for contacting me and sharing your concerns about the execution of Martin Grossman.

On December 13, 1984,  Mr. Grossman violated the terms of his probation by leaving Pasco County and having a stolen firearm in his possession. In a routine stop, Florida Fish and Wildlife Officer Margaret Park found the weapon. When she reached for the radio in her patrol car to report him, Mr. Grossman attacked her with her own large flashlight, beating her over the head and shoulders 20 to 30 times. When Officer Park tried to fight back, Mr. Grossman took her .357 Magnum revolver and shot her in the back of the head, killing her.

Mr. Grossman took several carefully planned steps to cover up this horrible crime. The weapon was buried, and Mr. Grossman attempted to burn his clothes and shoes, which were later disposed of in a nearby lake. The following day, Mr. Grossman thoroughly cleaned the van and changed its tires to mislead law enforcement.

Officer Park’s autopsy revealed lacerations on top of her head, hemorrhaging inside the scalp and extensive fracturing of the skull. All of these injuries resulted from Mr. Grossman’s attack. The facts of this crime clearly meet the definition of heinous, atrocious and cruel, and his actions afterward demonstrate his well-reasoned attempts to cover it up.

The courts have fully reviewed Mr. Grossman’s legal claims, and his conviction and sentence have been affirmed by both the Florida Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court. Based on the facts and exhaustion of legal proceedings, and in accordance with Florida law, I signed his death warrant on January 12, 2010.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

Innocent Because He’s Jewish?

I never heard of Martin Grossman until now. After being on death row for 25 years without a peep from anyone, people are suddenly scrambling to his defense.  Amnesty International says he had a rough life, some Jews say he’s sorry. Now, I’m getting emails to sign a petition protesting his sentence.

Martin Grossman

People have suddenly woken up and decided to protest the impending execution of Martin Grossman, the man who shot and killed police officer Margaret Park because she was arresting him for possessing and discharging a stolen firearm, as well as violating his parole as a previously-convicted felon. His appointment with G-d is scheduled for February 16th.

On the petition site, where they’re trying to gather 10,000 signatures, the story behind the murder has been carefully blurred and distorted into cyber-hoax that too many people believe, no matter how many clichés give it away.

He intentionally attacked a police officer and then shot her to death… specifically to avoid going back to jail. He told her so. Now they want me to sign the petition. Are you with me so far? The petition website throws a creative, flowery spin on the story, crafting a fairy tale that makes Grossman look more like an innocent bystander than a proven killer.

Among other travesties of the truth, throughout the revised story, the writer conspicuously avoids mentioning that the actual victim was a police officer. Being “taken aback by her sudden approach” and that he just “lost it” is not only false, it’s a laughable defense. He was caught playing with a stolen gun. If he was truly startled, he would have shot her on the spot. Instead, he just asked the officer not to send him back to jail, which is what ALL ex-cons say when they’re stupid enough to get arrested again.

He and his friend attacked Officer Park, beating her with her own flashlight. She shot his friend, but Grossman grabbed the gun and shot her with no regard to her life or to his Judaism. He knew what he was doing, which is why he was found guilty. There’s no grassy knoll in this story.

His sentence is no less deserved than any other cop-killer in a similar case…which brings up another point: Contrary to the petition’s claim, there’s nothing “unusual and arbitrary” about this death sentence. It also says that if Grossman were tried today, he wouldn’t get the death penalty, but that’s false as well. In fact, sentencing today is harsher. If Joel Steinberg was tried today (instead of 1987) for his 6 year-old daughter’s death, he would have been convicted of 2nd degree murder instead of manslaughter. David Berkowitz (Son Of Sam) would have gotten the chair if not for a plea down to life (though he does get released after 957 years). To this day, we never cared about their sicknesses, upbringing or bar mitzvah parshiot. They kill, they pay.

This is, unfortunately, a crime that has occurred many times before & since in a similar manner with similar motives. Jews wouldn’t think twice about putting him to death if it wasn’t for this bogus petition that validates itself by lying and hiding behind the killer’s birthright, which he tossed away years before. Beyond that, it just relies on the ridiculous, which is apparently acceptable to many.

“He didn’t mean it…” “He promises never to do it again…” and “He regrets it” are script lines normally recalled from a bad 1970’s courtroom TV show, but over 4,000 people have fallen for it so far. In actual fact, the goal of 10,000 signatures probably won’t change the governor’s mind, but I wish I didn’t have to watch this.

Posting his bar mitzvah picture and sobbing over his unfortunate upbringing doesn’t change the original truth. He stopped being that bar mitzvah long ago. Very sad teen years, a burglary conviction, then, at 19, a murder conviction. It’s easy to find G-d while on death row, but that doesn’t change the facts. Feel sorry for him, even mourn for him, but don’t pretend he’s innocent or that he’s changed. I should hope he has. Repentance before death is one privelige Officer Park wasn’t granted.

Suicide bombers often come from abused, tragic lives with no future, but that doesn’t make them innocent and defending them desecrates all that’s holy, especially the memories of the victims.

Unfortunately for Grossman, like any cop-killer, Jewish or not, he is being punished according to the law of the land and Jewish law as well. It’s a shame, but it’s not wrong.

If his name wasn’t “Grossman,” we wouldn’t be here, 25 years late, considering the manipulative, yet surprisingly flimsy revisionist story put across here. None of us even cared a month ago, because most of us never heard of him. Some now even refer to him by his Hebrew name. Tragically absurd.

I’d like to see what a petition in favor of his death sentence would yield. I also wonder what would have happened if Officer Park was Jewish. Martin Grossman murdered a police officer with full awareness of his actions and even admitting his motive as he did it. The punishment for that in Florida is death. Very sad, but simple and just.

Now THIS is “American-Jewish Music.”

A bit hokey and badly-pronounced, but a rare and joyous use of Jewish music in a mixed forum…their hearts are in the right place…I hope.

Funny part is, I can’t stand “Hava Nagila.”

(Hey… Aren’t “Pancho & Juan” the motorcycle cops from “CHiPs?”)

Michael Jackson and us…

I see that people do have strong opinions to share about Michael and his passing.

I don’t wish to repeat what I’ve already said, but I am sad he’s gone and I’m even sadder about what people say at his expense, without truly knowing him or the truth behind the stories.

He made mistakes, like anyone but I don’t believe they were deserving of the gross abuse he was subject to by the public and the media. The things he shared with the media were often his own undoing.

We were not there and he was legally vindicated, yet so many are willing to pretend they know enough intimate details that they are willing to malign the name of a man whose scales were constantly tipped towards the more positive side of human consideration, charity, dignity, art, discipline and, yes…even morality. For every misjudgment we gather with gossip, speculation & sensationalism, there are hundreds more acts of kindness and positive contribution that can be cited from genuine fact.

Watch him, listen to him…recently and when he was a kid…look at his fans… watch his videos, pull up past concert reviews… when was there ever any incident of violence, drugs or indignity that occurred in the vicinity of his performances?

People still pass judgment on facts that aren’t facts. He was not found “not guilty,” though I do believe he exercised poor judgment in sharing facts people would misinterpret, it was proven that he did nothing sexually wrong or illegal, the accusers were appropriately discredited, some even admitting it. We’ve always known his social skills were handicapped, but it’s too tempting to consider him perfects enough to condemn.

It’s easier to believe the juicy stuff…that a 135-pound guy in his 40’s with no prior history of sexual misconduct, inviting thousands of sick children to his home, suddenly has the strength to overpower some teenagers to something obviously against his normal nature, while millions of teenagers have knocked at his door for years ready to go willingly.

Of course I believe it was poor judgment to lie anywhere near an unrelated child. Even if it was for the child’s emotional comfort, in this day and age you can’t even pat a kid’s head without getting nabbed. Just in terms of PR, holding his child over the railing for display even for a split second (it was 1.5 seconds) was a dumb mistake his figured out instantly, but he doesn’t deserve this…especially after death. No one was harmed and everybody benefitted from his time here on Earth. Benefitted heavily.

Not everyone liked his style or his music. Not everyone believed that the makeup was to hide splotches developed on his face from an inherited condition that quite visibly exists with other family members. Many still believe that there is such a thing as bleaching your skin. And, though I wish he didn’t fix his nose, it’s not for me to condemn him for doing so.

The lies have been exposed in the courts & explanations have been given, but they don’t sound as credible as “pedophilie” and “freak.”

The imbalance of facts in the Middle East have been exposed for all to see, yet, even after 9/11, the clear targeting of the state of Israel, the obvious non-existence of the Palestinian people before 1967, which doesn’t sell as well as the terms “Zionist oppressors,” “settlers,” or “Palestinian State” are all things we instantly see right through.

I’ll say it again…We, as Jews, should know better. And yes, it IS that deep. Michael Jackson’s music affected millions of people, including me and my family…including my parents, who didn’t identify with his music as much as fully recognize the enormity of his talent and influence.

Our willingness to malign him, mock him, make jokes about things that hurt him & his family and make fun of his death, exposes a cruel and undignified nature about us that I wish I hadn’t seen and that none of us should have.

New York – Gershon Veroba Converts Secular Music, Is It Kosher? — VosIzNeias

New York – Gershon Veroba Converts Secular Music, Is It Kosher? — VosIzNeias

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What’s Jewish Music’s problem? What’s ours?

My, my, my… we are in trouble, aren’t we?
From the point of view of gossip alone, the already shaky Jewish music “industry,” already under constant fire, is now being made an ever-growing target by the mostly ignorant, but loud critics of their own definition of “wrong.”

Uuggghhhh… Where to start?
I’m not going to attempt to address it in one sitting, because I’ve gotten all sorts of hate mail and support mail for my work over the years, saying this is not such a simple fight. It should, however, begin with certain necessary definitions and observations that I’d like to touch on first. The rest is up to you:

JEWISH vs. “GOYISH”
In short, if anyone is is hoping to link to specifically pure-bred Jewish sources of of Jewish music available in this last century, they will come up very short and disappointed, unless they accept some hard truths.

Musical composition of any major consequence, in general, has historically depended upon other musical influences to shape it into a unique mixture. Many of those mixtures, intentionally or not, can often closely resemble one of its actual sources, a style created for another purpose, or even something it had no knowledge of.

Saying that certain uses of an organ in a song, for example, with chord structure and actual choice of sound settings on the organ itself are reminiscent of non-Jewish religious music, is a fair statement. Saying that using an organ at all is therefore wrong, is not fair, anymore than using an electric guitar is wrong due to it’s connections to paganism’s role in metal or modern Christian music.

If the requirement for Jewish Music (an ambiguous term, to say the least) is to resemble nothing else but Jewish sources, then roughly 60-75% of music created for Jewish entertainment, nationalism and prayer in the last 60 years must be eliminated.

If you are among those who object to “non-Jewish” music, you must know how to answer the questions of “what is…” and “what can be…” before you criticize music intended to contribute to the global Jewish community.

Finally, the term “goyish” has, unfortunately become an overly-used term that remains undefined, while its derogatory nature satisfies their anger at the present shortcomings of the Jewish music industry, which has been destroyed by their ignorance and sanctimony.

Those who have learned to hate non-Jews feel that “goyish” is the worst thing something or someone Jewish can be. In fact, musical influences created or used mostly by non-Jews or non-religious Jews for music not related to prayer have become the #1 source of influence in Jewish music this past century.

The issue has come to surround the fascinatingly un-defined term “goyish,” rather than the more understood and respected term of “improper.” “Goyish” is a paranoid term, in my opinion, suggesting that some underlying purpose of the “improper” influence is for the underhanded infiltration of a religion that conflicts with ours.

I can say, with 35 years of intimate involvement with just about every dimension of the Jewish music field, that much of todays so-called yeshivish and chassidish music (not all, of course), including many of those being used on the bima (prayer pulpit) contains influences in it’s musical arrangements, composition, performance and even words that I feel are “improper,” but often for reasons that have little to do with the influence of conflicting religions.

You should continue to comment here, there and everywhere. This is not going away and it’s going to get worse.

The furor is now reaching new heights and pretty soon, if you don’t already think that Jewish music’s pickings are slim now, just watch what happens when you let it happen.

Leaving the subjective art of music to be judged by the black and white will not work and it will prevent the many different musical talents out there from contributing their art to Jewish life. Do you think Judaism needs music? I’ll leave that question open.