Sunday, April 23, 2006

She'll Sing if She Wants to...

She leaned over her seat toward where I was sitting behind her and asked, “So, have you ever seen her before?”

We were sitting in the La Brava theatre on 24th Street in San Francisco, waiting for the Lesley Gore concert to start. I explained that I had seen Lesley once before – and I had just remembered this while eating in the cafĂ© next door in the previous hour – in a singer-packed review about 30 years ago. She had sung about 3 songs, including two I’m sure she would perform again that night.

Lesley Gore started her career 44 years ago when she met 30-year-old Quincy Jones. One of the best parts of tonight’s concert was when she talked about those old days, when Q gave her advice (“always try to create something in the recording studio you can duplicate on stage later”) and took her to shows featuring the old-time great singers like Peggy Lee. Little did they know that the song they both produced that day, “It’s My Party,” would be number one in six weeks, and would start two legends.

Ann, the woman in the seat in row CC ahead of me, introduced me to Jim and his mother, who were sitting right next to me. Jim told me that he put his mother in the seat but that meant that his boyfriend, Mark, had to sit wayyy in the back. He said this wistfully as he waved to Mark. I took the opportunity to explain to Jim that my girlfriend couldn’t make it to the show, pointing to the jacket on the empty seat, and invited him to bring Mark down to sit next to him. I moved over as Jim excitedly waved Mark to come on down.

I’m not that unselfish, or altruistic. But Jim and Mark are “brothers,” in the Trish sense of the word, and Mark was a brother in the Pam sense. So it seemed like a good idea.

And I found myself sitting next to a too-young-to-remember-the-old-days enthusiastic fan who knew all of her new songs off her CD. He told me they were really good, and true enough, it turned out he was right.

When Lesley came on stage to warm applause, she explained that she would be interspersing the songs from her new album in with the oldies – no, not oldies, as she patiently and humorously explained to us, but rather, “classic hits.” I found, much to my amazement, that the new songs were memorable, with touching lyrics, and most were written by Ms. Gore herself.

If you can believe this, Lesley Gore is 60 years old. SIXTY! I actually thought she was older than that, as I remember buying some of her singles while my family visited Grandma in Pensacola one summer in the early '60's. The 45s were warped by the time I got them home from the sun-baked south, but that didn’t stop me from playing “Maybe I Know” over and over and over on the record player my Dad set up in my room.

Lesley’s voice is huskier, and all the songs seemed to be pitched a little too high for her. Several songs were slowed down, a fact I found disappointing in all but one instance. “Sunshine and Lollipops” was a not-very-good song with an even worse arrangement 30 years ago, and could only be helped by a new tempo and arrangement. But it was tough hearing favorite “Maybe I Know” even slightly different; it’s tough hearing change at work.

Her back-up group was acquired in a garage in San Diego, or so it seemed in the beginning of the set. The bass, drums and guitar overpowered her voice, making it difficult to hear the lyrics. (Of course, who needs the lyrics to “That’s the Way Boys Are,” as I could sing it in my sleep. And the lyrics aren’t exactly Leonard Cohen. But I would have liked to have heard the words of the new songs.) However, two-thirds of the way through the concert, somebody finally figured out the sound mix, and her voice came through stronger. It seems that only the guitar should’ve stayed in the garage; the other band members were adept enough to keep pace with these beloved songs.

I hate going into San Francisco. I hate driving into parts I don’t know. I hate looking for parking, and so went two hours early. I hate sitting next to strangers with whom I have nothing in common. But this experience was different. I got to visit a sliver, just for a moment, of my junior high school days when I was beginning to know and appreciate rock and roll, and feel the wonderfulness of that period of time in my life. I got to sit next to other true fans, some of whom actually lived during that same period. And I got to “meet” Lesley Gore, an idol from the early days. Still, it was a shock: she’s older with definite signs of age in her face, shorter than I imagined, hair differently styled, and just, well, different than the album covers. Change is disturbing.

I didn’t stay to actually meet her during her CD signing in the lobby. As I skipped past the hundreds lingering there, I felt a nice glow from the whole experience. I don’t want to be a few feet from her and face the changes. I’ll listen to the new songs when I get home. But then I’ll put on the old stuff, and feel “You Don’t Own Me” the way it was meant to be felt.

Friday, April 07, 2006

The All-You-Can Eat Buffet, Except....

“Alex, I’d like Kashrut for $100, please.”

“An interesting choice, Linda. All right. You’re looking at a delicious piece of albacore. Side by side on your plate is a small piece of sirloin steak. Can you enjoy your meal as an observant Jew?”

“No, of course not,” I said. “If fish and meat are eaten together as described, there would be a health danger.”

“Correct!” Exclaimed Alex. “You have the board.”

As the other contestants sneered at me, I picked “Kashrut for $200, please.”

“As you know, the higher you go in monetary amount, the more difficult the questions become.

“In order to kasher a steak knife, you rinse it in hot water. True or false?”


“Yes, Linda.”

“No. You have to stick it in the ground 10 times.”

“Hmmm….may we have the judges’ ruling on this? Yes, that would be acceptable. $200 to Linda.”

Kashrut is not an obsession, but it’s definitely an item of interest for me, especially around Pesach. I have learned that Passover is the most sacred of holidays. Things you used to get away with any other day of the year, including the High Holy Days, just won’t cut it during Pesach. For instance, if you’re going to purchase salt (without iodine, of course), it’s best to do it before the week of Passover.

If I thought jumping into Judaism was like landing on Mars, and the words are definitely Martian, the kosher issue puts it into another dimension for me. I can visit, but gosh, forces of nature just pull me back.

I’ve heard a lot of different reasons, rationalizations perhaps, for the reason for kosher. As near as I can figure out, it’s simply because such rules and restrictions set Jews apart from all others. This is our tribe, that’s yours. Some of these rules might have had a basis in health concerns, but not most and certainly not all. They just are.

“Alex, Kashrut for $300, please.”

“All right, let’s see how you do on this one. You’re on vacation in Italy. You’ve got a Slurpee on your right, and Rocky Road Ice Cream on your left. Is this kosher?”


“Yes, Linda, you of the fast fingers. What is your answer?”

“Alex, I eat slurpees and Rocky Road ice cream all the time. Of course they’re all right.”

“I’m sorry,” Alex said with a sad look on his face. “That’s incorrect. If the slurpee is not from the U.S., it’s not kosher. And if the Rocky Road ice cream was made by Walgreen’s, it also is not kosher. That’s $300 from Linda, which gives her a total of Zero.”

Obviously I have a long way to go in understanding this kashrut thing. I thought it was such a simple thing until I went to a three-hour class on the subject, and discovered that three hours doesn’t even begin to cover the permutations. I had hoped to get some clarity on the issues involved: that was my basic goal. I succeeded somewhat.

This week I set about clearing out my kitchen of all hametz (leavened bread) materials. I thought the task would be easy. Crackers? Bread? Gone. But then I discovered that it also includes non-kosher wine. I don’t have any kosher wine. So I boxed up all the possibilities (including two bottles of nice champagne) and will store it in a place that I will not call my own for a week.

But I still have some questions about some of the things that are still in my house. I figure that this, my first year, is a great crucible.

Am I playing at this? I think I am just being Reform. I am trying the practices to see which ones make sense to me, which ones I can absorb and make a part of my identity. I think that’s the definition of Reform.

If there are any rabbis out there, or rabbis-to-be, and I’ve made any errors, please let me know. Oh, and while you’re at it, I have a few more questions for you about food supplements, bags of flour, and PopSecret popcorn, stuff that's still in my cupboard.

I never did get to Kashrut for $500. Too tough. And I doubt if I ever will.