When a song is just a song
The Israeli pop world was agog this week when an extremely talented star, singer Kobi Peretz, succeeded in filling the sports stadium at Yad Eliahu on Tuesday and Wednesday, something no Shlomo Artzi or Dana International have ever achieved.
Everything has become possible these days, but everything has also become more disappointing. The Israeli pop world was agog this week when an extremely talented star, singer Kobi Peretz, succeeded in filling the sports stadium at Yad Eliahu on Tuesday and Wednesday, something no Shlomo Artzi or Dana International have ever achieved. However, apart from the success of filling the stadium with thousands of fans, what is the meaning of this?
The answer is simple: It doesn't mean a thing. The television reports on the preparations for Peretz's successful concerts - and the reviews written after them - tried in vain to arouse a bit of political interest or social criticism, or to pluck the "ethnic oppression" string. In one item, Peretz was seen before the performance receiving a blessing for success and good health from Rabbi Igal Shriki. This was supposed to have aroused the ire of secular Ashkenazi viewers, but it didn't arouse anything.
In an interview for Channel 24 before the performances, a gung-ho reporter tried to extract a declaration from Peretz about how he came from a poor neighborhood, but instead came up against a brick wall of utter politeness.
Nowadays there's nothing to prevent any old meaningless flagstone that has been eroded enough by wind and rain from being put in a glass case in a museum, resting on a velvet pillow, alongside the caption, "Remnant of a road from the Roman period." And indeed, Kobi Peretz received a velvet pillow and a respectful caption at the Nokia Sport Hall. But even the most flattering of music critics will agree with me that a smooth flagstone, even if it is from the Roman period, will never suddenly turn into a diamond.
The thing that makes Kobi Peretz forever a Mizrahi singer - or, as they call it these days, a "Mediterranean" singer - isn't so much the style as the lyrics of his songs. They all suffer from the same simplistic emotionalism that has always characterized the genre formerly called "cassette singers from the central bus station." Back then this simplistic emotionalism was still somewhat subversive, because it rejected the polished contents of establishment Hebrew songs. The performers of this music were sad, marginal figures, some of them tragic. This certainly does not apply to Peretz.
However, the consumers of Mizrahi pop (which has not been exclusively Mizrahi for quite some time and even seems to be mostly non-Mizrahi) has fallen so in love with emotional naivete that anyone who doesn't cater to this taste is dubbed "an elitist." And because no one wants to come across as an elitist, everyone to whom public success is important has adopted the simplistic emotional style, which no longer seems lowly as it did in the past, but rather has become absolutely normative.
Peretz sings, for example, "I think about you all day long, your heart goes everywhere with me, I want you and I will never cease to dream." There you have it: The lexicon of banal but careful exaggerations in this song, and in others performed by him, is no different from the hollow but well-chosen words used today by politicians of every stripe, or from their empty exaggerations.
That is to say, what obsolete elitists of my ilk ought to do is change their own understanding of the word "song." Under the new definition, a song need no longer be committed to its own truth as long as it makes an impression. Hence, we are not supposed to take very seriously the collection of promises and declarations embodied in it, just as we are not supposed to take politicians' promises and declarations seriously. For example, when they sing, "I miss you all the time and want you every moment" (from the song "Tell Me"), they don't really mean "all the time" and "every moment." If it's 90 percent or 80 percent of the time, and every other moment - that's also hunky-dory.
Hence, Kobi Peretz's performances are, indirectly, lessons in political science. And look: We have found significance for them.
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