Saturday, December 25, 2010

Hot Tuna - Part 2 - In Which Eytan and Jack Speak

My cousin Danny, a Young Judaean who made aliyah during his college years, is a guitar player. He supports his family by working as a respected and respectable professor of plant biosciences at Tel Aviv University. I haven't a clue what it is he does. All I know is that, after getting a tour of his lab, I kept thinking of the The Thing (James Arness as a giant plant monster from outer space who takes vengeance on a bunch of plant scientists at the North Pole for experimenting on his earth-bound relations).

Danny brought his son Eytan and one of Eytan's band mates to the Hot Tuna concert, because as a guitar playing, tenured professor, he could not allow this great educational opportunity to be missed. You might remember Eytan, the back of his head is on the right in the photograph above, from the stage dive video I sent around last year. In between high school and the army, he's doing a year of service leading teen programs for the Toronto Jewish community. Eytan is a wonderful young man who tolerates us old people very well, particularly when his Father is picking up a hefty ticket price.

We stood as close to center stage as we could get. Standing with us were several of Danny's guitar playing buddies and fellow academics. Before the band began to play, Danny and the other guitar players were talking to the two young musicians about what to watch and listen for. The guitars Jorma would use, his seemingly effortless bends and his style of picking, among other things. My contribution was to tell Eytan to watch Jack's eyebrows. By way of authenticating my credentials to engage in such high level analysis, Danny helpfully added that I had been at Woodstock and still had my tickets. I just love it when we can fulfill the mitzvah of teaching the children.

Early in the set, during a pause between songs, some members of the audience began to sing "HaYom Yom Huledet." This is the Israeli version of Happy Birthday with a melody and lyrics very different from the American song. Jack stepped to the edge of the stage and, with a look and a bit of body English, asked what the audience was singing. Eytan yelled, in English, "They're singing Happy Birthday." Jack looked right at my cousin, nodded his thanks and stepped back to begin the next song. Danny could not have been a prouder parent. It was that sort of night.

The concert audience spanned an age range of many decades. There were people as old as the musicians and some of us who clearly dated back to the Airplane days. The crowd included aging hippies who had clearly become baalei teshuvah, making aliyah from yurts in rural America to some of the older neighborhoods in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, with tsitsit hanging out from flannel shirts and women wearing modest length, home spun style dresses and scarves. I remember thinking how one of this group looked like a cross between Jerry Garcia and Mr. Natural, just as that familiar, sweet smell of smoke went wafting by. As for the rest of the alleged grownups in the crowd, remember your stoned roommates who disappeared into the high tech bubble? Some of them may be alive and well in Tel Aviv.

But what really struck me was the large number of Isrealis who had clearly not been born when Hot Tuna got started. Israel has come a very long way from the country that prohibited a Beatles concert because rock music would subvert the morality of the nation's youth. The country has grown up and become musically hip. As cousin Danny said in mid-concert, "Isn't this a great country." I agreed. Reading3 is a 5 minute sherut ride from my apartment. This is why I come here every winter.

I would be remiss is I ended this blog without mentioning Barry Mitterhoff, Hot Tuna's mandolin player. In addition to his huge musical talent, Mr. Mitterhoff is surely the most versatile mandolin player on the planet. Danny and I had never heard anyone play serious rock music on a mandolin. How many mandolin players have you heard who can trade licks with Jorma Kaukonen? Far out, man.

When not playing with Hot Tuna, Mr. Mitterhoff plays a combination of blue grass, klezmer and swing jazz as one of The Boys in Margot Leverett and the Klezmer Mountain Boys. Some of my readers were fortunate enough to hear Margot and The Boys play at my eldest daughter's wedding. Unfortunately, Mr. Mitterhoff was on tour with Hot Tuna at the time but was very ably replaced by one of his students.

I have two unmarried daughters. They know that I know that I have no say whatsoever as to whether or when either of them gets married. But they do know that I have some very strong feelings about the musicians who will play at their weddings. The way I look at it, I'm not at risk of losing daughters, I've got two more chances to hire Barry Mitterhoff to play for my guests. How cool would that be?

Photograph by Danny Chamovitz. Used with his permission.

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