Arik Einstein’s Last Song: Death Without Grief

If I saw a man in his room, facing a mirror that grew old from its sights,

Ben Shalev
Ben Shalev
Ben Shalev
Ben Shalev

After it was played starting Wednesday morning on all the radio stations in Israel, and since its qualities are amazingly clear, there is almost no need to say anything more. Nonetheless: Arik Einstein’s new song, “A Man in His Room,” written by Guy Bugatti and set to the lyrics of poet Avraham Chalfi, is not just a heart-rending song because it is a “living song by a dead singer,” as Shmulik Kraus once sang. It touches the heart and is infused with a warming grace as a beautiful song in its own right.

If anyone was worried that this song would arouse a split response of excitement on the one hand just because of its being released, and apathy on the other related to its actual content – you can relax. The first song to be released after Einstein’s death is faithful to his truthful, principled legacy, because the song does not force his fans, in other words all of us, to tell ourselves that we are excited about this song more than we really are.

The criticism – partly justified – raised in recent years against the joint work of Einstein and Bugatti stems from the feeling that a significant part of their collaborative songs are too routine. But this time Chalfi’s poem puts the song on a completely different artistic plane. It is enough to hear the first lines: “If I saw a man in his room, facing a mirror that grew old from its sights,” which Einstein first speaks and only afterwards sings, in order to know that there is no such thing as a routine song.

It is impossible not to ponder the question of what Einstein was thinking when he recorded a song dealing with death not very long ago, and not very long before his own death. He certainly must have thought about his own mortality, but I doubt in such a concrete, intimate way. Clearly he enjoyed the way Chalfi wrote, without explicit grief, skipping lightly from the deception of the man looking at the mirror into his eternal depths; speaking to a flower until the door opens and fate enters: “Who knows the color of his clothes, if it is pretty or disgusting?”

The last verse: “On the threshold he will appear as if collecting a debt, he will ask who will dwell in this house, and the years of life, and the name, be ready, man, be ready.” It is impossible not to think about Einstein’s death when listening to these lines, but it is impossible to think about the song only in these circumstantial terms. It has a much broader validity.

The sophistication of the lyrics do not receive a perfect response on the musical side, as was the case in Chalfi’s poem set to music by Yoni Rechter. But Bugatti did good, honest work. The spoken opening is a nice idea, and also the atmosphere, induced by the opening guitars, of the hero of a movie Western entering a ghost town. It is a shame, though, that the solo towards the end moves the song into a more banal region.

It is a pleasure to hear the actor in Einstein come out, but more beautiful and moving than anything else is the way he sings the word “betrayed.” He draws it out over five syllables (in Hebrew), flies with it to a higher key, and sounds so, so alive.

Arik Einstein 1979.Credit: Yaakov Saar / GPO

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