I've referred to Krazy Kat here before, but never with the appropriate adulation and enthusiasm due such a shaper of my dreams. And I don't think I've ever made the fuss I ought to make about Klezmer music, and my father's old radio show The King of Prague (don't bother googling it; as far as the internet's concerned it doesn't exist), and their effect on my sense of the bizarre and the joyful. So please, today, come enter a mildly lunatic and lunar landscape, full of beards and bricks, and learn a little about the Old Country of
Surrealists, rejoice, for here's a beauty... fraught with zest, hilarity, smarts, and good schmaltz... beggars' tunes, paeans, marches, vaudevilles... cartoon music, mariachi, jazz, the kitchen sink... wonderfully daft... a merry exotic carousel ride... keen, sparkling arrangements.
This quote is from Downbeat's review of my all-time favorite Klezmer album, Notes From The Underground, by the "ragtag army of street musicians from Berkeley, California [who] jump-started the worldwide klezmer revival in 1975," whose "brass-kicking, steam-powered, vodka-soaked Old World jazz" is understandably beloved by a quasi-Jewish bellydancing lunatic like myself. Ladies and gentlemen, I'm speaking of the Klezmorim.
The thing is, "klezmorim" kinda just means "people who play klezmer music" and also most of what the band released never came out on CD, so it's hard to find their magical and amazing stuff. I am lucky enough to have a digital recording, and here it is.
The Mooche, this song is called, and it's a version, of course, of Minnie the Moocher. And just to really confirm all those nice adjectives that Downbeat used up there (really, go back and read 'em), here's my other favorite version of the song - firmly embedded in a Betty Boop cartoon that proves, once and for all, that Betty's a nice Jewish girl. (Please, skip whatever stupid ad they play. Just watch the cartoon.)
Yeah, they don't make 'em like that any more. (That's Cab Calloway as the ghost king, by the way - Max Fleischer, who invented Betty, also invented the technique of rotoscoping, in which a live actor is essentially turned into a cartoon by painting over the frames. Hence the amazing fluidity - that's Cab himself, kids.) "Wonderfully daft," "a merry, exotic carousel ride," "surrealists, rejoice," "cartoon music"? Check, and check, and check, and check. (Most of the Betty Boop cartoons are now in the public domain, by the by, and almost all of them are as truly surreal and marvelous as this one, if not more so. Although the Hays Code, which kicked into effect in 1934, toned down a little of the suggestiveness, the cartoons didn't get less weird. You can spend hours watching them here.)
|via George Herriman Komics|
Listen to enough klezmer music, and the world starts to look like Kokonino, only with a bunch of dancing rabbis thrown in for good measure and plenty of old city streets to wander in. My dad used The Mooche as the theme to a radio play he made with some friends down at KALX Berkeley - the afore-mentioned King of Prague - which takes place in a mystical, mysterious, changeable version of Prague just before the Nazi invasion, populated with alchemy and folktale and surrealism, and so it's all mixed up in my head. I mean, who do you think introduced me to Krazy Kat? My dad's responsible for a lot of my brain, you know. I've got this idea that music and books and cartoons and paintings can take you to a world that bumps along beside ours, a wavy line that keeps knocking into the nice straight direction of our daily lives. It's full of animals that dream and landscapes that express themselves by shrugging into new formations, rocks that look like bones and bones that knit themselves into cathedrals, birds that turn into tubas and tubas that turn into bathtubs full of gin, and everyone, everywhere, is dancing.
|Kevin (right) and our friend Steve in a crazy art thing I was|
in the middle of making. Once day I'll have decent pictures.
Let me say this clearly: that is awesome.
Kevin is a writer and has plans and ideas of his own, many of which have to do with revamping the way art-based nonprofits work to diversify revenue streams and increase connectivity with local communities. He's an innovator and I think he's brilliant. But what makes him really outstanding is the way that his faith in the importance of the arts manifests through his abiding belief in and support for other artists. He's one of those spectacular human beings who sees the importance of people's work long before they do.
I cannot stress this enough: what Kevin does is a silent source of sustenance to artists everywhere. Find people who do this. Make friends with them. They will change your life.
|Kevin invites a band to play in my crazy art|
installation. I get up to dance. Someone
makes a picture of it. Art gives birth to art.
So thank you, Klezmorim, and all the other klezmer bands as well, you who populate my unconscious with your fierce and cheerful festivals. Thank you Krazy Kat and Koko the Clown for opening the doors into the weird, fresh, vivid, exuberant universes in which you live. And thank you, Kevin, for telling me I'd be a fool to ignore the things that give me joy, and for convincing me that there's no reason I can't make a life out of the luminous.
(If you want to learn more about Kevin's brain, check out this Twitter.)
Say, folks, who or what has done these things for you? Tell me in the comments!