A great wave of nostalgia is sweeping the country in the long, sad hours that have passed, and are still slowly passing since the announcement of the sudden death of Arik Einstein. There’s nothing more natural than missing a beloved artist who’s gone, but there’s another kind of nostalgia greater than that standard, automatic feeling. It’s a kind of nostalgia that is only felt in the presence of a truly great artist, and it was felt in the case of Arik Einstein – a sense of nostalgia for the singer while he was still alive. It was the yearning to be in the presence of his voice while he was physically still with us.
That’s seemingly impossible, particularly in the case of an artist such as Einstein, whose presence in all parts of Israeli culture was so deep and comprehensive. There hasn’t been a day in the past 45 years in which his songs have not been played on the radio, and even if you weren’t near a radio you could hear phrases from Einstein’s songs spoken by people around you. “My country, you’ve gone feifen.” “Hope no grenade falls and we all go to hell.” “Fly away, little bird, tear the sky.” “When we were young, you remember.” “Snap out of it, what’s with you.” “Someone has sung this before.” “Someone’s said it before me.” In short, Einstein was everywhere: on the street, in the café, at home and of course on the radio and television. His presence was so permanent and taken for granted. What reason was there to miss him?
And yet there was a reason. My most profound memory of Einstein has to do with that nostalgia for an artist while he’s still alive. Actually, it’s an insignificant memory. It has nothing to do with an important moment in life, or with a beloved person, and it seemingly should have vanished quickly without a trace. But it did leave a trace.
It happened a few years ago, on an old-fashioned Friday afternoon trip – a very Arik-Einsteinian arrangement which probably deepened the impact of the experience.
The radio was playing on 103 FM, the “Hebrew Weekend” program, and the sounds coming out of it were familiar but for some reason unrecognized. It was a short guitar solo, with high violins in the background. The voice of the singer, whoever it might be, was not heard at that instrumental moment, and the question, “Wait, what song is this? Who sings it?” was immediately replaced by a great sense of excitement, very surprising and completely unexplained. And an even greater sense of expectation. Why am I so excited by this song, why do I have such a sense of longing to hear what comes next, if I don’t even know which song it is and who sings it?
The answer had to do, of course, with the gap between two different kinds of knowledge: mentally, I didn’t recognize the song or the singer, but on a deeper, more covert level, emotionally and even physically, I knew very well who that unrecognized singer was now waiting for the guitar solo to end, whose voice would presently join the instruments; and I also knew that the singer, for the time being unknown, is seared into my soul in a way that couldn’t be more profound, and has been accompanying me since I can remember. Since I knew and didn’t know, I could for a moment listen to the song as a familiar, yet at the same time surprising entity. I longed for the singer, the beauty of his voice and warmth of expression, but I didn’t know quite who it was I was longing for and why.
And then the guitar solo was over, and Arik Einstein was singing, “And out of it eyes are laughing at me / and out of it a neck is shining white / I ask: Hey, what’s doing? / With a smile she answers: Nothing much.”
I longed for the singer, the beauty of his voice and warmth of expression, but I didn’t know quite who it was I was longing for and why.