Sweeping Away Nostalgia with Songs for the New Year
Recently, I saw Eleanor Reissa, a talented and well-known Yiddish actress and performer, sing "My Yiddishe Momme" to a standing ovation. Mind you, the crowd was entirely over seventy and the children of Polish Jewish immigrants to North and South America. To help pass the time, I thought about that nice tough character, Sophie Tucker, who made the song into a bi-lingual top five hit in 1928. This was no mean feat in a country where nativist sentiment had just succeeded in shutting tight the doors of immigration to the "Goldene Medina" (the "Golden Country"). (You can see Sophie in action -- and in historical context -- if you buy the DVD of Making Trouble, the film about funny Jewish women produced by the Jewish Women's Archive.)
Its lyrics, and my reaction to the nostalgia it invoked, made me think about another paean to Jewish womanhood: Eishes Chayil. We are reminded on Friday nights when traditionally it is sung at orthodox dinner tables, that the price of "a woman of valor" is proverbially above that of rubies. My "Yiddishe Momme" strikes a similar theme when it states that the Mama in question needs no jewelry since her children are her treasures. Which brings me to the somewhat uncharitable thought that songs written putatively by a spouse or even children may not always strike the right notes even as they extol their exemplary feminine paragons of virtue.
So what might strike a better note here? On the theme of continuity, Adrienne Cooper's forthcoming release might fit the bill quite nicely. Among other things, it features a multi-generational piece where she mixes her voice with that of her chazan (Cantor) grandfather, as well as with that of her mother. It also features a number of new compositions which is a healthy thing for those of us who want to start the new year by avoiding old chestnuts. And for those looking to explore the creative power of rupture and its attendant anguish and pain, there are Jewlia Eisenberg's series of releases on Tzadik's label. For instance, Trilectic includes a strong female voice giving Walter Benjamin a piece of her mind (even if the political sentiments are not exactly my own). And oh yes, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend "Emma Goldman's Wedding," a primarily instrumental recording written by Frank London in the 90s that combines humor and irony in perfect proportions while virtually toasting the Jewish anarchist whose strong views on marriage could make Bertrand Russell's Marriage and Morals look like a defense of the institution.
So what are your favorite songs to sweep away nostalgia? Replying to this posting is an amulet of sorts that guarantees starting the new year on a good note :)
Yenta Laureate of the Lower East Side has spent most of her life living in various Jewish communites which helps create a certain amount of cynicism about that which she knows and loves best. Her photos can be seen here.