“When I was young I was busy running at hysterical speed, to prove that I exist and that I belong,” Arik Lavie said in an interview with the newspaper Maariv in the late 1980s. But even after he became an adult and calmed down, he felt he “had to be in constant motion, because motion is life and being static is to be in a coffin.” If Lavie’s career can be summed up in one short sentence, none is more apt than four words from the song “It Happens”: “Keep on moving, moving.”
The way Lavie delivers that line reflects another of his basic attributes as a singer: sensuality. More than any other Israeli singer, Lavie took pleasure in the act of singing itself. He caressed the lyrics as they emerged from his throat, fondled them and, we have to admit, sometimes harassed them a little. They wanted to escape his clutches but he didn’t let up, stretching the syllables to the furthest limit. If some music lovers dislike his singing − and they are surely no more than a small minority − that might be the reason.
Perpetual motion. Indefatigable vitality. Rare sensuality. A marvelous voice, of course. What additional traits made Lavie one of the all-time great Israeli singers? Possibly his natural talent to accommodate and express a range of moral values and frames of mind that are usually mutually contradictory. Generally, when a singer chooses a particular mode of expression, he forsakes other modes. Lavie was a rare bird from this point of view. He was an urchin who hated frameworks but sang from the very heart of the establishment. He mounted an assault on the present and searched for the future, but also liked to sing the past. Disco goes hand in hand with nostalgic lyricism on his albums, contemporary pop with complex poems set to music.
We can look at it like this: if Arik Einstein and Yehoram Gaon embody the two poles of classic Israeli masculine song − Gaon filled with pathos and ramrod straight; Einstein businesslike, secular, unceremonious − Lavie is somewhere in between, or more accurately, present in both approaches. He could deliver a song with pathos and a bursting Zionist chest, but at the same time sing from the crowded and tricky Tel Aviv street.
That ability is also seen in Lavie’s natural movement between art and entertainment, between poetry and moonlighting. For most singers, “moonlighting” and “entertainer” are pejoratives. Lavie loved them. They reflected values he held dear: freedom, joy, improvising, game-playing.
“I am a moonlighter by blood,” he told an interviewer. “I love entertainment. Greek theater, Moliere, Shakespeare, commedia dell’arte − they always started with popular entertainment, and only afterward the rich society deigned to take it under its wing and give it a cultural seal ... Entertainment has the good fortune to be a bastard. Entertainment is the wild dimension that improvises with the audience and appears on all manner of stages, from the toilet bowl in the bathroom to the concert hall.”
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