Gidi Gov
Gidi Gov Photo by Gabriel Baharlia
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About two months ago, entertainer Gidi Gov underwent for the first time a routine, general medical examination of the kind recommended for any male of a certain age. Beforehand, Gov thought the physical energy he invests in his performances on stage had turned him into an Olympic-caliber athlete. But he was shocked to discover that he is not physically fit; that is, in his own words, that he is "a big nothing." The summation he received after the check-up said he has no specific ailment, but should stop drinking and smoking, watch his diet and work out.

All this happened about the time of Gov's 60th birthday, earlier this month, which he celebrated in high spirits with a small group of family and friends.

"I am lucky to have rewarding work," he reflects, in an interview, "which includes concerts, the band, colleagues. Some people my age have problems finding or keeping jobs; employers don't want to take them on. I am fortunate that my situation is different, and so for that reason, my age doesn't bother me."

Gov says he intends to buy a treadmill, but judging by his tendency to procrastinate, that purchase might be delayed for another decade.

"When you're young, experiences amaze you because they are new. You're so happy to be alive, meeting people, starting out. Afterward, around the age of 40, you begin to calm down. Then at some point, suddenly, you discover you are a grandfather and that your status is completely different. That is also an age where you feel entitled, a stage when 'you are allowed' to do things. So you buy all sorts of junk and spoil yourself. I don't know a lot about what happens after that, at least, not enough to teach someone how to live."

At his ripe old age, Gov now intends to spend more time with his wife, playwright Anat Gov, his daughter Danielle (the mother of Gov's granddaughter Tamar ), and his dogs Tut and Motek.

His three-disc collection of songs, "Shlal Shirav" ("The Collection" ), came out a year and a half ago, and has become a gold record. As a result, Gov has also revamped his live performances, under Yehudit Ravitz's musical direction.

"I discovered people are willing to leave the house to see me, and that surprises me," Gov says. "They enjoy themselves and sing, and that's really nice."

What do you have to offer, as a 60-year-old performer?

"I sing in public - there is an audience, and they sing with me. They add new charm to the songs, and it's really great."

How long will you continue to appear on stage?

"For as long as it seems logical. There still seems to be a point to standing up there, assuming your vocal chords still work. I don't know - for as long as it isn't pathetic."

When you see Yehuda Poliker and Shlomo Artzi filling the Caesarea amphitheater, does that give you any motivation?

"It's not a matter of desire, but rather of facts on the ground - like the size of the artist's following. I'm not at that level. And I'm not in it to win a medal; each person works his own way and is built differently. Perhaps it will happen next year, perhaps there will be build-up and momentum, but it isn't on the 'to-do list' on my cell phone."

That to-do list apparently suits the agenda of a man who refuses to chase his own tail, and frequently just wants to be left alone.

"Yesterday I replaced ventilators on the roof," he explains, "a chore that waited a year. Now it's done. There are all sorts of dumb things on the list, such as books that I need to buy but haven't bought."

Noodles and dumplings

Gidi Gov wakes up each day at 8:30 A.M. in his Ramat Hasharon home. At 10 he has a daily work meeting. Then he does some shopping (often fresh produce ), eats lunch, naps in the afternoon (usually on the living room sofa ), and then performs in the evening or watches television (he favors action series, animated or science fiction films, and programs about travel and, of course, food - he once hosted a program called "Gidi Gov Goes Out to Eat" ).

A month ago, Gov returned from a trip to China and Uzbekistan, where he filmed a program about food with chef Yisrael Aharoni. The show will be broadcast on Channel 10, and is aptly titled, "The Noodle and the Dumpling on the Silk Route."

Gov: "Aharoni invited me on these expeditions, which will include Italy and Turkey. This is a culinary journey on the Silk Route that features all sorts of dumplings and noodles. I was already in China - when we filmed two episodes of 'Gidi Gov Goes Out to Eat' - but those trips were limited to Beijing and Shanghai. This time, we traveled to extremely remote areas, with huts made of mud and straw. It was amazing. I can't say I've fallen in love with China, because it is such a huge place - not intimate like Paris, for example - but I was stunned by it."

What about a new album?

"I'm collecting material. Right now I have five or six songs. One is a terrific song by Yaheli Sobol, one is by Rona Kenan and another, "I Love You Strongly," was written by Nadav Harari, who died in the Yom Kippur War, and composed by Yehuda Poliker. My connections with the wonderful Poliker have been renewed lately ... I hope that this will lead to new things for the new album. It will take time. I have to begin a disciplined routine, but am too busy right now with other things. I have to buy a mattress, move the television from the living room to the study. When that's done, I'll get busy."

Gidi Gov has had a role in a number of Israeli cultural milestones. He was a member of the Nahal Band, in the heyday of army entertainment groups. He sang with the legendary Kaveret band and starred in films such as "Dizengoff 99," which symbolized the 1970s upsurge in Israeli cinema. Gov was a member of the popular cast of the "Zehu Zeh" television program, and was the first Israeli to take food shows out of the kitchen and onto the road. Plus, he hosted the country's first high-quality, late-night TV talk show, "Laila Gov."

This list of accomplishments would not be complete without mention of his participation in the Gazoz and Doda bands, his first two solo albums - "Gidi Gov - First Album" (1978) and "40:06" (1983) - his most successful studio album, "No Other Day" (1991 ), and the songs he has sung which have entered Israel's pop-music canon.

Almost everything you've done has been well received. If you had started your career today, in the era of cable television and "A Star is Born" - the TV show [based on "American Idol"] which has replaced the army troupes as a springboard to stardom - do you think you'd have succeeded?

"Today it's a much faster, powerful 'machine' at work here. Those are the facts of life. But beyond all that, there are still songs. So what's new?"

That's a little naive, isn't it? Today, other talents are needed - "political" skills, the ability to use your elbows and reach an audience ...

"But in the past you also had to work hard so the public knew who you were. Not everyone who stood up and sang made it. Today there is a different sort of machine ... Let's take, for example, 'A Star is Born,' where talented people who make their way to the program are turned into stars. It's obvious that in cases such as Ninet [Tayeb], [Harel] Skaat and Marina [Maximilian Blumin], the machine won't keep anyone from oblivion unless the contestants have something to show. There is a public relations machine at work here, but you still have to have something to say."

Do you think that you would find your way under these circumstances, were you to start out today?

"It's impossible to say. It's simply different: I faced a different situation in a different generation."

Asked whether there were parts of his career that he regrets, Gov replies: "There was a film or two which I didn't need to make, but it doesn't matter - I didn't star in them; I had a secondary role. There was also a festival which I co-emceed and I'd like to forget about. I hope it doesn't get re-broadcast some day on Channel 1!"

Do you have regrets about things you haven't done?

"I have one big regret. When Yaakov Gilad and Yehuda Poliker worked on the album 'My Eyes,' they came to me at one stage and proposed that I do it. Because I lacked perspective, I figured I didn't know how to sing Greek music. That was a mistake. My mother used to listen to Greek music. She really loved it. So I loved it as well, but for some reason I was afraid to do it. That was dumb."

What about your talk show? When you see hosts like David Letterman and Jay Leno continue year after year, do you regret having stopped the program?

"Sometimes I do, but I know why I left it. I mean, I would have left a year later, no matter what. The United States rewards people like that with unimaginable sums of money. America is built like that: There are 250 million people, and you can find your niche. But you can't do that here. I felt I couldn't do it any longer. Another person would have taken a deep breath, calmed down and thought about it. But I'm not like that. If I want something, or don't want it, it gets a grip on me. It was hard. You get up on Sunday, and your brain is full of thoughts about securing this guy for the program, and speaking with that guy. You look for new items, and songs, but you've already sung everything. And 15 writers work on a seven-minute dialogue. I pared down my act, because I lost my stage sense; my brain got fuzzy. But it wasn't the end of the world. I had two years of quiet afterward; I took a vacation, and then came the food program, and other things turned up. The talk show was also a very Tel Aviv-oriented program, but this is regret of a different sort."

What do you mean?

"You enter a Tel Aviv frame of mind, and say to yourself, 'I love Jay Leno, and American talk shows.' You take a certain path. I lived in a bubble, an Ashkenazi bubble. But there are people in the country who have another world, another culture; they grew up with another sort of music and we, the Ashkenazim, decided what's good."

So you're happy about the explosion of Mizrahi music today?

"Not exactly; it's a question of taste. I think it's something that's lost all proportion. People pay a lot of money to see Mizrahi singers, and that comes at the expense of other things which don't make it here from overseas, because people can only pay so much for concerts. But I don't have any strong opinion. I think it's great there has been such an explosion."

One thing Gov did to escape his "bubble" was to record an album with Amir Benayun, "At the Mountain's Edge" (2005 ), which he says he would not have done at a younger age.

"I would never have imagined making a record with Amir Benayun before," he says. "I met him, and fell in love with his music."

The album was not a commercial success, but Gov has no regrets about it. In fact, he does not rule out the possibility of working with Benayun again, even after the song Benayun released last Memorial Day, which included attacks on the political left.

Gov, for years a prominent figure among the Israeli left, doesn't seem perturbed by Benayun's song: "He is angry. I can't judge him. I think everyone should say what he thinks. You shouldn't be part of an orthodoxy which says, 'We Ashkenazim accept Benayun so long as he doesn't say anything unpalatable.' He exploded. It doesn't bother me. I'm not prepared to label anyone."

This year Gov and his wife Anat will celebrate 32 years of marriage. As the years go by, they seem increasingly to resemble one another: They wear the same sort of glasses, have the same short, grayish hairstyle and the same carefree way of dressing.

"We don't need many words to express things," Gov explains. "It's not that we don't talk to one another - we talk a lot - but you blend into the other, and that's wonderful. You become a little Anat, and she becomes a little Gidi."

Who are your friends today, besides Anat?

"I play poker with six friends, once every two weeks. We mix poker and food, and it's great. It's a secret club, so I can't divulge details. I can only say that women aren't allowed. Things like poker build friendships. I don't know whether this is connected to my age, or whether I was like that before. I don't have a large circle. There are some friends from work."

You don't want to say who?

"Well, there is Danny Sanderson - with him it's different. We talk about three times a week. We're like a married couple, it's ridiculous."

And you meet to talk with Danny about work-related matters?

"With him, it's a different club ... We go out to eat in good restaurants."

For many years, you spoke very candidly about how you don't write music, and you had a tendency to minimize your achievements, in contrast to Sanderson and other musicians. Do you see things that way today?

"I don't write, but I don't belittle anything: I certainly enjoy what I do, things are good. My work is great fun."