Over two decades have passed since audiences first met Eran Zur, now 44, as the melancholy bassist of the band "Tattoo." At that time he replaced Alona Daniel in a single song as the soloist and sang, or spat or barked "Behatzerot Bahoshekh" (In courtyards in the dark). The song, which describes a rape from the point of view of the rapist, and includes lines such as "holding a knife to her face/that's the way I like it, ripping her clothes," was banned from the radio.
He was repeatedly confronted with this song, asked if he regretted it, and questioned about its sources of inspiration. For the most part, he evaded giving a direct reckoning, also for other provocative songs of his, such as "Then Came Betty" (from the "Blind Man in the Middle of the Sea" album), in which the narrator performs anal sex on himself.
Today he is open, answers every question and does not scowl even once. He talks about himself comfortably and with the ease of someone whose personal story is well known to him, with all its twists and fine points. "These are fragments of personalities that were," he says of those songs. "It really does belong to another time. There's a conflict here."
Then he was in his early 20s, a refugee from the Krayot who lived alone in Tel Aviv, smoked cigarettes to screen himself off from the world and occasionally told an interviewer that he really would like to find love, real love. Today he is a father.
Almost a decade ago he married and had two boys, today aged four and eight. "I remember a moment in New York," Zur says of the moment when he decided he wanted to have children, sometime around the age of 35. "I stood in Central Park in the morning, freezing, and thought of Avital, who I had just met. I also thought of my father who died when I was a boy, and told myself that now is the time to have children with this woman. My experience as an orphan is also part of this desire. I was 35. Dad died when he was 52. I know that life is short."
Again and again the children appear in his songs in the form of a recurring word, "Abba" (Dad). The father figure also appeared in his early songs, where the most memorable example is in the autobiographical song, "Hanoch Mehanekh" (Hanoch the educator) which describes his father's disturbing experiences as a literature teacher at a vocational school. Now the perspective has shifted and the father figure in Zur's songs is Zur himself.
With fatherhood, Zur encountered new problems, parental fears that he describes as being connected to raising children in Israel. They too are a constant presence in the new album. He writes at home, after the kids have been sent to kindergarten and school. His most productive working hours have moved from the nighttime to the daytime. In his work room at the end of the corridor he finds the space where he can create. There, in private, he once again meets up with his artistic persona.
Delicate, with feelings
"All That is Human" is an album full of conflicts: between the past and the present, between the individual and the family, between the artist and the community. He is aware of them, analyzes them but does not respite from them. As someone who also performs onstage songs he wrote 20 years ago, he tries to preserve the "prince of darkness" within in order to remain authentic. This struggle is a force in his songs, which deal with a self-image that appears to have been shattered in endless reflecting mirrors.
The first single, "B'ein hase'arah" (In the eye of the storm), prompted varying responses, primarily with regard to the lyrics, "but I'm delicate and I have feelings." A random listener said the song is a Middle Eastern anthem for Ashkenazim that is a whining ballad to the average yuppie, who is bemoaning his imagined troubles. Others were moved by its frankness.
If there is irony in the song, it is hard to grasp, apparently for Zur, too. "I'm glad the song has become recognized because it has a message and it managed to reach people. This message contradicts everything that is expected of you as an Israeli man. It says that you too, even with everything you have around your neck, with all the toughness you have developed, you too have the right to refinement and feelings. I didn't think of it this way when I wrote it, but now, after it has been released and I compare it to songs from my past, I find in it a certain simplicity that it took me a long time to achieve.
"Sometimes you have to remind yourself and those around you that there is this exposed place, this fragile place, where you really are not so stable and strong. Even though I got married and had kids, at the heart of things, I'm still the same person. If you find yourself alone for a moment or for a few days, it's totally there."
He continues to fluctuate between extremes. Every time the subject comes up, Zur shifts his perspective a few degrees. He has been accused of going soft. He says: "When I hear 'Anas Behatzerot' (Rapist in the courtyard) and come across pictures from [the Tel Aviv underground venue] Penguin from 20 years ago with Tattoo, I'm also crazy about it, and I'd really like to be that same Eran, but I won't be 23 again. But I don't see the change in the music itself. It is an integral continuation of my earlier work, with a more humane approach that takes into account that I sing to people. I'm first of all an artist, and I sing in order to sing my songs and not because I learned to sing or I have a really nice voice."
For 22 years, Eran Zur has been a familiar Israeli artist. This history really fascinates him. "There is a lot of room for innovation in this area. Not many people have focused on it. But it's also difficult and I find myself looking at the entire fabric of working in music in order to earn a living."
Among other things, he writes for theater, film and other performers, and also teaches. "My wife also works, in high-tech. Together we manage fairly well and for that I am grateful," he says.
He attributes his perseverance to the education he received at home: an education that focused on industriousness, precision and depth. "The life force in me, the center of energy, is to get rid of the piles of frustrations, disappointments, the achievements and the false euphoria, to again record songs and again stand facing the audience. This is the only choice I have in order not to die a living death as an artist. In order not to remain a mummified version of what I once did."
"All That is Human," Zur's fourth solo album, is a concept album: He decided, after a productive decade of using electronic music, to completely avoid it in this album, which features live instruments only. "It's all the product of human hands. Everything was played, we didn't do any copy-and-paste or electronic manipulations," he explains. "The overall approach is human, positive for people and preserves their dignity."
The album is replete with collaborations: Alongside Zur, Geva Alon plays guitar and Yuval Shafrir plays drums, and guest artists include Ohad Hitman, Peter Roth, Marina Maximilian Blumen and Avraham Tal. Zur got the music for the song, "1 A.M." from Amir Lev. Other songs were composed by Gonen Ron and his veteran partner, Yuval Mesner. The lyrics for "Outside" were written by Etgar Keret, and the song "Salviyon" was composed by Zur to lyrics by Yair Horowitz. Keret's wife, Shira Geffen, introduced Zur to "Doors," a poem by Avraham Shlonsky, and had to wait for three albums to be released before he recorded it.
Zur performs frequently but the confidence he will have an audience is not something he takes as a given. He is even a little anxious about that. Experience has taught him that audiences come and go in waves. After a few falls, he knows to expect the blow and even at times when his concerts are packed, he reminds himself not to take this as a matter of course.
For the first time, he produced this album at his own expense (later on, the Hatav Hashmini record label joined the production). He remembers the day he decided to begin work on a new album. It was in the summer, nearly two years ago, two years after the release of "Cutting in the Golden Section" which he performed all over Israel. During the summer of 2008, he was at home for a few days after taking ill. "There was a day when I again felt I had the strength to get up and make a recording. Amid all the chaos of life, it was like some vital force that had been ignited."
One of the first songs was "Outside," for which a clip will soon be released. Because the song features the word "mizdaynim" (fuckers), which Zur expresses in the pleasurable tone that only he can do, he imagines audiences will hear it mostly on the Internet and less on the radio, which may be hesitant to play it. In the meantime, he is already singing it on the air on Tal Berman and Aviad Kisus's show on FM99, and also for Yoav Kutner on Radio Tel Aviv. "Someone wrote to me that this is the only song of the new ones that corresponds with my past, with the sexual, erotic texts," he says, again referring to his past.
Zur deals with sexuality in "Merafref," ("fluttering like a butterfly around your femininity"). "I find myself more veiled in this place," he says. "I can't not be there. Erotica and relations is the place from which songs emerge, as far as I'm concerned."