Israeli rock star Aviv Geffen embraces the mainstream, but still wants a revolution
Aviv Geffen was just 18 when he launched his career. Now, celebrating the 20th anniversary of his breakthrough album, he's almost the same age as the CEO of the flagship reality program on which he stars.
With or without eyebrows − that is the question. Aviv Geffen is sitting in front of the mirror backstage and contemplating the situation with his makeup artist, Orit Zfati. The decision will determine the face Geffen will present to the 6,000 fans who are already starting to fill the hall at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds. They’ve been together almost 20 years, Geffen and Zfati, since the “It’s Cloudy Now” clip. He smokes, plays the guitar and hums as she works his face, but after so many years − and hundreds if not thousands of concerts that always start with this two-person ritual − Zfati appears unruffled by the smoke and the fidgeting. Probably no other musician’s makeup artist in Israel enjoys a client for whom mascara and eyeliner are such integral elements of his persona.
The original plan for tonight’s show was to erase Geffen’s eyebrows and give him a disturbing, unsettling look. “I brought a reference,” Zfati says, displaying a photo of Israeli singer Adam without eyebrows. The first association is of course with the character Pink, played by Bob Geldof in “The Wall” – a film and album that transformed the world of the young Aviv Geffen. But in the greenroom, where Revital Vertansky, who manages Geffen’s international career, is also present, there is little enthusiasm for the bare look. Vertansky is against. Zfati stays neutral; if she favors a look without eyebrows, she isn’t saying so. Geffen ponders the issue.
“I need music,” he says. He clicks on his laptop and the room is filled with the sounds of bossa nova. Zfati shows Geffen and Vertansky another option: a face that is covered in the main by two symmetrical turquoise triangles. It’s a somewhat futuristic look, spectacularly beautiful, and not as upsetting as the eyebrow-less face. It looks like we have a winner.
But Geffen is not thrilled by the turquoise triangles, either. He returns to the computer, turns off the bossa nova and replaces it with Bob Dylan’s “Visions of Johanna,” sits down again in the makeup chair, and finally decides to go with a more solid look: heavy makeup around the eyes, black fingernail polish − and that’s more or less it. Compared to the average Israeli rock singer, he still looks like a glam icon, but in comparison to the young Geffen, he looks pretty respectable.
“Let’s not be smart alecks: We’ll give them what they know,” Vertansky says to Geffen, who seems immersed in thoughts unrelated to makeup. What are you thinking about, she asks him. “A song with Raz, yes or no,” he fires back.
“Raz” is contestant Raz Shmueli, from recent reality television hit show “The Voice.” Less than two hours before the concert, Geffen is still contemplating whether to have Shmueli as a guest. (In the end she didn’t sing, maybe because she wanted to conserve her strength for the final stage of the TV singing competition, which took place two days later.)
“You remember tomorrow at 11:30 you have to be at Neve Ilan,” Vertanksy tells Geffen, referring to the studio near Jerusalem where “The Voice” is broadcast. Of course he remembers. Maybe Geffen should be angry that a few hours after his huge concert (and on the night when the clocks were put forward an hour, too), he has to be at a studio that’s an hour’s drive from his home. But he accepts his fate without complaint.
He says he’s delighted to be one of the four mentors working with the contestants on “The Voice.” He also knows − and has no problem admitting − that without this show, there would not have been such a massive rush on tickets for the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds concert on this particular night. (All 6,000 tickets were sold two-and-a-half weeks in advance, Geffen’s manager, Meir Kotler, says.) In the midst of the makeup process, while Zfati is working on the singer’s fingernails, Avi Zvi – CEO of Reshet (the Channel 2 franchisee that produces “The Voice”) – enters the room. He addresses Geffen as “my sweetie pie” and Geffen, protecting his nail polish, extends him an elbow. “You won’t believe what’s going on outside. The whole of Rokach [Street] is jammed up because of your concert,” Zvi says, eyes glowing at the sight of his talent. Then they talk a little, off the record, about the highly charged ratings duel between “The Voice” and “Big Brother.”
“So are you staying for the show?” Geffen asks.
“No, I can’t,” Zvi says.
“Why not? Stay,” Geffen almost begs.
“Sorry Aviv, but I can’t,” the CEO asserts.
No longer a kid
Aviv Geffen was a kid of 18 when he launched his career, and he sang for an audience of his peers. Now, celebrating the 20th anniversary of his album “It’s Cloudy Now” (19 actually, but who’s counting?), he is almost the same age as the CEO of the flagship program on which he stars; he’ll be 39 next month. Possibly his self-perception that he is no longer a kid accounts for his choice of relatively solid makeup on this particular night. Perhaps his experience on “The Voice” also contributed to the decision. Geffen is especially thrilled by the reactions he gets from people in the street to his participation in the show.
“I didn’t foresee the scale of the thing,” he says. “It’s as though people suddenly recognize me. Like the neighbor whom everyone is afraid of, and suddenly they get to know him and he turns out to be really charming. Those are my relations with Israel. Until now people didn’t really know me. I was viewed through the prism of a particular slogan: political left. I was not accepted as I am, sitting in their living room and talking. There are a million viewers, in every place, including the settlements.”
But what do you mean by “people didn’t really know me”? You are one of the most famous singers in Israel and the radio has been playing your music nonstop for the past 20 years.
“People know the songs but not my personality. That’s the thing. On ‘The Voice’ I appear without makeup. People have learned about my true character, and the reactions are extreme. I am getting love at levels of intensity I could not have foreseen.”
Do you feel people who had something against you − because of the makeup and your political identity − have changed their mind about you?
“Yes. And why not? Why do they say, ‘Just a minute − he’s not exactly what we thought’? Because they see me for real, without filters. I am in your living room talking about music, without makeup. I am not ‘that weirdo.’ The dimensions of the love are insane. I am in a state of shock from it. Of all the mentors, I gained the most from ‘The Voice.’ I came away with the most from the show.”
On “The Voice” Geffen comes across as honest, witty, a quick study, affable. Not folksy, but not patronizing, either. My encounter with him before his recent Tel Aviv concert confirms this impression. All attempts to uncover evidence of narcissism, arrogance and superstar mannerisms prove futile. Here he is, sitting in an ugly room behind the scenes and devouring chicken and potatoes from a plastic plate with the other musicians.
When his production manager, who has the look of a heavy metal fan, approaches, Geffen says quietly, “He loathes my music. Watch.” Then he turns to the manager. “Tell me, on a scale of one to 10, how bad is my song ‘Wake Up’?” The man thinks for a few seconds and replies, “Minus six.” Everyone laughs and Geffen, pantomiming quotation marks, says: “Metal aficionado.”
Afterward, Geffen is sociable with everyone who enters the greenroom, including the 26th person who asks him if he’s nervous, and also to the one who comes in while he is changing pants. As he buttons up his shirt in front of the mirror, his wife of 13 years, Shani Pridan, stands next to him. She is a few centimeters taller than her husband. They have a four-year-old son, Dylan. “We are like Jerry Hall and Mick Jagger,” she says, and Geffen adds: “The Gaza version.” “The truth is that I am prettier than Jerry and he is not as pretty as Mick,” Pridan adds.
In the concert at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds last month, Geffen played to the largest crowd of his career (not counting mass festivals where he appeared with other artists). “I’ve done a few hangars in my life,” Geffen says, referring to Hangar 11 in Tel Aviv Port, which seats 3,000. “But this is the first time I will perform for 6,000 people who bought tickets for my show. It would have made sense if the place had been sold out three days before the concert. But a sellout two-and-a-half weeks in advance, without invitees, without anything? That’s incredible.”
Because the concert was celebrating the anniversary of “It’s Cloudy Now,” Geffen and his band, The Mistakes, performed almost all the songs from that CD (along with hits from other albums and a few new songs). That album showed Geffen to be above all a first-rate composer, and a superb creator of hits. More than half the tracks from it have been seared into the consciousness of everyone who listened to the radio in that period, even if the listener was not part of the emerging camp of “moonlight children” − i.e., youngsters who forged a whole culture around Geffen’s album and its messages. But Geffen’s talent as a composer, critical as it was for his success, was not the innovation he brought to Israeli music. His innovativeness lies in the drama he forged around himself.
The songs of the young Geffen spoke in a language which Israeli pop had not previously used: the emotional and pained, naive and hyperbolic, superficial and authentic language of adolescence. Geffen spoke that language without inhibitions and without shame, and was able to do so not least because he himself, like his audience, was that age: experiencing a period in which every love is eternal, every hate is infinite and every crisis is total.
Not only was Geffen a master of the passionate language of adolescence (to which he attached winning melodies), he heightened the drama by means of lyrics that sometimes veered away from realism (such as in the song in which he sings about killing his mother and crying at her grave). Moreover, he recognized that he himself was not obligated to adhere to the bland appearance of the average Israeli rock artist. The clothes and the makeup, the theater of emotions, the sensational texts, the media manipulations − all made him a phenomenon that could not be ignored.
A striking example was the 1990s cover photo for the weekly magazine of the mass-circulation Yedioth Ahronoth, on which the words “It is good to die for ourselves” were written across his bare chest (a paraphrase of the famous last words attributed to Joseph Trumpeldor, who fell in battle in Galilee in 1920: “It is good to die for our country”). The kid could just not be ignored. But did the kid know what he was doing? Were the heavy makeup and the sensational lyrics calculated efforts to attract attention?
“Nothing was calculated,” Geffen says now. “My look was influenced by having been raised on [David] Bowie and Nick Cave. I always put on makeup for parties, for school. I loved fashion. I would take 1970s suits by Yves Saint Laurent from my grandmother. I was very camp, without connection to music.
“I had a need to invent a character, simply to generate interest. It sounds terribly kitsch, but you can’t understand how bored I was as a boy,” says Geffen, who is the son of well-known songwriter-poet-journalist Yehonatan Geffen and publicist Nurit Geffen; his paternal grandmother was Moshe Dayan’s sister. “How many hours I stood opposite the fields when my parents were in London or just smoking joints with friends. I was incredibly bored and quite rejected socially. It wasn’t a life. I had a need to invent a virtual world, and those were the songs.”
And in that virtual world it was possible to “kill” your mom?
“I don’t understand all the fuss about that song. I had anxieties and I sang my fear. Every word in the song was true. I was a very anxious boy. I underwent things that other people did not go through: tremendous love, tremendous hate ... Many conflicts that a boy my age is not meant to experience. I went through them splendidly, I think. It took a lot of grit.”
The anxieties only increased during the recording of “It’s Cloudy Now.” The record “spilled my guts,” he continues. “That was when my panic attacks started, and the thoughts of suicide. I took Vaben [an antianxiety drug] in the studio.” Geffen added the famous shout “We are a fucked-up generation” – a statement with which he is identified and is heard at the end of “It’s Cloudy Now” – in the studio at the last minute, during a panic attack.
Smashing a guitar
“It’s Cloudy Now” was Geffen’s last encore in his excellent concert at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds. But the truth is that the shout at the end was somewhat hollow. Like a constrained reenactment of an authentic, volatile moment from the distant past. The fact that Geffen smashed his electric guitar at the end of the song (not the one he used throughout the concert, but another one which he was given at the beginning of the song) only made things worse.
It looked like a calculated gesture, harking back to a period in which breaking guitars onstage was considered a subversive act. Musically speaking − and this is no great secret − many of Geffen’s songs ride the aesthetic wave of classic rock from the 1960s and ’70s. He is a very talented composer, with superb innate instincts, but he is not a great innovator. Just don’t tell him that.
“I take issue with your assertion,” he retorts. “The fusion of thin guitars with overdrive [a type of sound generated by an electric guitar] and violins is something I have not heard in Israel until now. And did you know that in studios there is something known as Aviv Geffen-style piano playing? Moshe Levy, Louis Lahav and Ofer Meiri told me that,” he relates proudly, referring to three major Israeli music producers.
What is Aviv Geffen-style piano playing?
“Basic playing, hitting the keys very hard.”
In short, playing by someone who doesn’t really know how to play.
“By a really shitty pianist,” Geffen laughs. “But there is more. There is a sound I invented: synthesizer with violin sound. But forget it, the readers will be bored.”
No, it’s interesting, go on.
“Under each song of mine there are a few layers of violin sound in a synthesizer. To that I add real violins that double the synthesizer sound. On top of that I add three French horns. That’s what’s called, you should know, the sound of Aviv Geffen.”
Aviv Geffen’s wall of sound.
“That, together with the thin Rickenbacker guitars with overdrive, is sound that did not exist before I brought it in. The musicians know that.”
Forget the sound. In the songs themselves you are not a great innovator. And that is perfectly all right.
“You are wrong again.”
“Where? You are totally wrong. Before me no one said...”
I am not talking about lyrics. From that point of view I agree that you introduced a new spirit into Israeli pop. I am talking about the music. It sometimes seems that you are such a fan of 1960s music that you nullify yourself because of it.
“No, my horizons are not so narrow. Take ‘Moonlight.’ True, it alludes to the 1970s, but the guitars are the heavy metal of the 1990s. Every musician in the first grade knows that. I did something that is very much mine. Israeli roots, Sasha Argov-like [a reference to a major Israeli composer] combined with the 1960s West Coast.”
Don’t you think you have overdone the Geffen style a little? It sometimes seems that half your songs have the same heavy piano rhythm.
“Wholeheartedly. Lovingly. I can’t stand all the bothersome experimentalists. It tires me. I consider Radiohead a sad story. I love them. Thom Yorke is the last I term a genius. After them, no one does it for me. But since ‘Kid A,’ they got lost, with the exception of ‘Everything in its Right Place,’ which is the best song ever written by anyone from then until now.”
Don’t you agree that the experimental spark is the elixir of pop music?
“Yes, but if you are an inventor, invent. I find all this searching very tiring. It’s usually at the expense of the song itself. Production is cool, but not at the expense of the song. That’s the story of our era. Production tries to compensate for a mediocre song. That really bugs me. Overall, what’s missing in the music of recent years is good songs.”
If this implies that Geffen is not a glitzy-production freak, that’s not the case. His new album, “Mosaic,” features two tracks in which the production speaks no less loudly − if not louder − then the song. Geffen entrusted Ofer Meiri with their production. “His productions are very instant, very fashionable, very up-to-date,” Geffen says. “I think that Metropolin [a project of Meiri’s] is the most important message that has come out of Israel in the recent past.”
But you used the word “instant.” I agree with you, and I don’t think it’s a good thing.
So why are you happy with those songs?
“Because that is the ‘Mosaic’ thing. There are all types of songs. There are songs with a very 1970s production, along with others, like ‘Drops,’ whose production is very instant. Violent, even. What Ofer did in Metropolin is to take all the edginess of our time and turn it into poetry, no less. He is a genius of his type, and I know what I am talking about.”
I don’t like his touch, including in your new songs, because of the “instant” dimension you mentioned.
“So you don’t understand. He got into the frenetic cocaine atmosphere...”
“The cocaine atmosphere − the edginess of the period. I think it’s incredible, and I listen to everything. At the level of production it moves me. I know there are people who don’t like it, but it’s like the way everyone laughs at Coldplay. Their productions are at the genius level, period.”
Why don’t I hear that?
“Because you don’t have a clue. You’re an imbecile. Because people who understand how they do it, understand how good it is. Take ‘Paradise’ − a dumb song, incredible production. I find it riveting, but I guess it’s a matter of taste.”
If we are on the subject of taste, do you know what bothers me most about your music?
“I am listening. Feel free to dis my mother. I don’t care.”
It bothers me that rhythmically your songs have no dynamics. It’s almost always the same heavy, monotonous rhythm. I would guess that black music, for example, is not your cup of tea.
“No way! Prince is black? A genius. Stevie Wonder − a genius. But you are totally right: I am not a groove person.”
“Despise it. Can’t stand it. How can anyone like it?”
“Ugh. I don’t understand how people can like reggae. Music has so much more to offer. Floyd, Radiohead, Genesis, the old stuff. How can anyone like reggae and not that?”
You can do both. James Brown?
Can I say something nasty to you that you said to me before?
You’re an imbecile.
“Fine. Send me links. Try to persuade me.” (The name of the hip-hop producer Dr. Dre comes up in the conversation. The next day, I get a text message from Geffen: “Dr. Drek.”)
Don’t you sometimes get the urge to escape from the regions of sadness and anguish around which all your songs revolve? To express, let’s say, an emotion like happiness.
“To write about happiness is idiotic.”
Happiness doesn’t necessarily mean partying.
“I don’t connect with that. For me, music is a type of refuge ... Happy, humoristic songs give me a pain in the butt. I can’t stand them. They seem meaningless to me. Songs are supposed to heal, to shout. I am not a depressive person, not in the least, but what the audience gets is a concentration of moments of mine that are not as good.”
Not dependent on Israel
Geffen’s new album, “Mosaic,” had its genesis as a sequence of singles that became an album. “Mosaic” reflects Geffen’s insights about the status of the CD in the age of the Internet. “From the marketing point of view, an artist has to relate to the spirit of the time,” he says. “The habits of music consumption have change radically. If you’re selling to your parents’ friends – Miri Mesika, [Idan] Raichel, [Shlomo] Artzi − everything is hunky-dory. You will sell well ahead of holidays − not like in the past, but you will sell. Kids, though, aren’t familiar with CD stores. The artist has to address that. My weapon is to launch a barrage of singles from every possible direction. Everyone can listen and enjoy something.”
That’s a bit dubious, isn’t it: an album that offers something for everyone?
“No. It’s all me. All the songs are in my soul and in my blood. But the power of ‘Mosaic’ is that it contains many hits. If there weren’t so many I would not have released it. I feel strong with this CD, but overall, CDs are very outmoded.”
Geffen says his major accomplishment in recent years, during which he has recorded and appeared with Blackfield − his and Steven Wilson’s international band − is his liberation from dependence on the Israeli audience.
“I love that audience, but I no longer have that dependence,” he says. “There is something very sad about the way Israeli musicians are in pursuit of those same 100,000 people in the country. It happens to everyone. Shalom [Hanoch], [Yehuda] Poliker, Artzi, me. The pursuit of the audience’s love is quite pitiful.
“In the last tour with Blackfield, we played, together with Aphex Twin, before an audience of 10,000 in Finland. It was incredible. I stood there and said to myself: Israel is my home, but I no longer need [Israelis]; I don’t have to pursue them. I am not in that loop. I don’t have to perform if I don’t feel like it.
“Until the last tour with Blackfield, we hadn’t been able to get more than 2,000 ticket buyers, and then suddenly, on the DNA tour [referring to Blackfield’s latest album], it happened. It left a really powerful imprint, with a lot of confidence, and the audience in Israel grasped that I am not dependent on them. I can feel it. And like with a girl, the best things happen when you are not pursuing her and on her all the time.”
He calls Wilson “my mentor.” Geffen became acquainted with Porcupine Tree, Wilson’s band, at the end of the 1990s. He described it as “the new Pink Floyd.” He wrote to Wilson, asked to see him in London and gave him a rough draft of a song. A week later, Wilson called to say the song was lovely.
“I cried for two hours after that conversation,” Geffen says. “It was a very meaningful moment in my life.”
Blackfield has existed for 10 years, and Geffen says that in the latest album, the “center of gravity” passed over to him. “That’s it, I took full command of Blackfield,” he says. “I want to do a lot more with the band. I want to be my own master, not be bound to Steven’s schedule. I don’t want long intervals between the band’s albums. So I decided that I am the commander of Blackfield. I am out front. In the last album all the songs are mine. I did all the promo work. Steven does what he’s good at. He’s in the studio. He’s a sound genius, you know.”
He also knows how to write songs.
“Less for Blackfield. Less for this style. So now the tours do not depend on him. He can join in, but he is no longer obliged to be there. I am the face of the band.”
Aren’t you concerned that you are liable to spoil something that is working well?
“We have worked very cleverly for almost 10 years. We got under my skin very gradually. It was constantly ‘Aviv, Aviv, Aviv.’ One song and then another song, and it kept increasing. Now we’re into the last push, so that I can lead the band by myself. Because I am the heart of Blackfield. I always was. You’re in Finland, or New York and the shows go well, and you don’t want to stop only because Steven has another commitment. You want to continue, another week, another two weeks. That is not narcissistic.”
I didn’t say it was narcissistic.
“The thing is that in this connection I am a bulldozer. The solo disc I released in Europe [“Aviv Geffen,” 2009] helped me very much in this connection. I have gone through a lot, accumulated plenty of strength. I was the warm-up for U2 and Placebo. That gave me a bargaining card in the band. U2 didn’t want Blackfield, they wanted Aviv Geffen. Same with Placebo. Because they don’t like prog[ressive] rock, and Blackfield has a prog tag. So I felt strong enough to tell Steven that I wanted command. He was truly noble. He could have said no.”
People in Israel seem to find it a bit difficult to get excited about your overseas career. What’s your response to that?
“That can be checked. Go to the Internet. People knowledgeable about the industry know what it means to play Paradiso in Amsterdam, or the Shepherd’s Bush Empire in London. My appearance with U2 was filmed. Bono thanked me, that’s documented.”
So why the apathy in Israel?
“Bitterness. That’s only human, I would say. I would be offended if it happened to someone else. Someone else appearing with U2? I would die from that. I would die from envy if I was sitting at home and was told that another Israeli artist was filling halls; I don’t mean appearing before a Jewish audience or a fund-raising concert for a hospital. I mean an audience that buys tickets. Write that.”
Did you always have so much self-confidence?
“I always believed in myself as a creative artist.”
“No cracks. Nothing. I believe the songs I write are terrific. I listen to work of mine from when I was starting out until now and I am proud. I believe very much in everything I release.”
On one of “The Voice” programs, when Berry Sakharof’s name was mentioned, you said, “He is better than me.”
“True. I always say that Matti [Caspi], Shalom [Hanoch] and Berry are above me. Fact. Despite all I have said, I know my place. Only them, by the way, here in Israel: Shalom, Matti and Berry.
Should I name other artists who might be better than you, or is that unnecessary?
Geffen reflects on this for a few seconds, scans the local music map in his mind and says, “Yes. Shalom, Matti and Berry. They are better than me, more talented than me. That’s a known fact. I hear Berry’s song ‘The Other.’ He is more talented than I am. Caspi’s melodies leave me in the dust. Shalom, too. I have something to aspire to.”
We talk about Sakharof a little more, and Geffen says, “Berry could be Israel’s megastar, but he doesn’t have a fire burning inside. He doesn’t want to conquer. That’s the word. He doesn’t have my piggish drive. I am a pig. Totally. To conquer, to rule. That might sound problematic to some people, but I see it as growing. Not to be a pig is to atrophy. Everything I have achieved is thanks to my piggishness. In Israel I’m fine, known, successful, but that was never enough for me. I wanted more. To appear with groups like Placebo, U2, Blackfield. To perform solo abroad. To grow all the time, that’s very important. I have no tolerance for lazy people.”
And does that make your life happier or less happy?
“Happier. It excites me. I am not willing to be imprisoned in Israel. When you are only in Israel it’s like having a blade pressed against your throat. You are dependent on the audience, and the audience − like a shark − smells blood. I would not be able to live with the knowledge that this is all there is. The world is wide open now, and a lot of people know who Aviv Geffen is. Do you know what it means that 20,000 people in Europe bought the new Blackfield album and know the words by heart?”
What makes it different from 20,000 people in Israel?
“Because it’s in the world out there. Sometimes, when I fly to Europe, I pass over Germany or Belgium and think: ‘There are a few homes here that have my CD. That accursed sea, I have finally crossed it.’ It’s terrific fun. Many Israeli artists have supposedly conquered the world, and afterward you see that they actually appeared before the Jewish audience. I think my achievement is huge.”
What traits made it possible?
“Talent, drive, vision. What I want to achieve in life is to be able to draw a crowd of 1,000 – at least – in every major city in Europe and America. Every major city. That’s not so many, and for me it’s enough. That at any given time I can get on a plane at Ben-Gurion airport, land in any major city and fill a hall of 1,000 − not a Jewish or Israeli audience, but a local audience that knows and loves the songs.”
‘Alternative to mediocrity’
In the middle of the interview with Geffen, a young man comes up to the table, hands the singer a note and leaves. The note says, “I didn’t want to disturb you, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. I want to thank you for deciding to go on prime time and being an alternative to the dominant mediocrity. You are a nonviolent fighter for culture.”
One of the reasons Geffen appeared on “The Voice” was to remind his so-called nonnatural audience − “the young-young audience and the older audience,” as he puts it − of his existence. But as the show progressed, he was becoming increasingly convinced that he was playing an important role in the battle for the future of Israeli culture.
“One day you will understand that the seeds of a cultural revolution were sowed here,” he declares.
A revolution? Nothing less?
“We have been ‘stuffed’ for almost a decade: We are being fed garbage. Prime time bombards us with middling songs, catchy tunes − if possible without a message. Chewing gum for the ears. Spit-and-polish singers. Suddenly − and I take much of the credit for this − you see other things on prime time. Especially in my group. It’s fine to be off-key. Being weird is allowed.
“Someone like Lionel [Faretein, a contestant mentored by Geffen on the show] wouldn’t make it on any program. No one would understand him. At the start of ‘The Voice’ everyone hated him. No one cottoned to him except me. The home audience couldn’t stand him, either. Then, suddenly, he is a star. That’s education. Or Dana Dor [another Geffen contestant, who reached the final stages of the show]. So she’s off-key. She doesn’t have perfect pitch. And that’s all right, because she has an ocean of emotion.”
Does “The Voice” promote original work or stymie it?
“Obviously, ‘The Voice’ is based on familiar songs, otherwise no one would watch it. But I exposed the audience to good music. I explained that a singer doesn’t have to be spit-and-polish. I said that singing strangely is permissible, that long guitar riffs are allowed. And a million people, including a lot of future musicians, saw it. These are the buds of the revolution.”
Geffen is a vigorous opponent of the Mediterranean wave of music; he is very proud that, despite its popularity, not one person who sings in that style reached the finals of “The Voice.” He attributes this to himself.
“My agenda was that there are other ways to be authentic. There is no need to trill [a reference to a Middle Eastern style of singing − B.S.]. You don’t need a big voice. And I was very surprised that the audience understood that. I feel a great imprint of mine here.”
Maybe it’s your narcissism? The thought that if you are on “The Voice,” it must have some sort of cultural value.
“No, definitely not. I went there with very clear agendas and succeeded in everything. I brought a Trojan horse into prime time.”
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