Chanukah is early this year, so we thought it’d be a good chance to go against the tinsel-covered grain and give you some latke-and-candle-friendly anthems. Eight crazy nights of them, to be exact. Today, we parse the difference between "spiritual" and "religious" with Snowblink and Hebronix.
Before a recent interview for Magnet, Daniel Blumberg, former member of ‘90s revivalists Yuck and current solo artist under the name Hebronix, scanned his schedule, saw the surname of his interlocutor, Berkowitz, and prepared himself.
“Yeah,” he says. “I saw that name, and I was like, ‘I bet he’s going to ask about the Jewishness of Hebronix.’ Because I thought, ‘Oh, God, that’s going to be the first question in every interview, and I’m not going to know how to answer it, and why did I decide on the name?’ But it hasn’t come up, and I’ve been happy it hasn’t come up. Then I saw your name, and I was like, ‘We’re going to have a nice conversation about Judaism.’”
I would consider myself secularly or culturally Jewish – to me, Leonard Cohen lyrics are as sacred a text as the Old Testament (hence this series) – but I’ve been guilty of the same thing as Mr. Berkowitz. A few months ago when interviewing Toronto folk-rockers Snowblink for NOW Magazine I saw a look cross Daniela Gesundheit’s face, and I’m guessing Blumberg’s was similar. Noticing the influence of Jewish liturgical songs on her music, I did a bit of research and discovered Gesundheit was a cantor for an alternative synagogue. But when I asked her about it, she was careful to define her songs as “devotional,” but not “religious.”
Hebronix similarly says his band name is more a reference to the Silver Jews than actual Judaism (though David Berman eventually lived up to the premonition of his band name), but, as astutely described by that aforementioned Magnet piece the music is still “dark, swirling, cerebral music that’s inescapably lonely, restless, yearning, adrift in melancholy—in a word: Jewish.”
Both Gesundheit and Blumberg flirt with overt references to Judaism – Hebronix’s video for “Unreal” features a truckload of Hasidic Jews driving a truckload of amplifiers – but both only approach it tentatively, drawing from the well without letting it define them… which is about as apt an encapsulation of the 21st century Jewish condition as I’ve heard, at least in the parts of town I frequent.
So I don’t know how either will feel about their inclusion on a Chanukah playlist, but I’ll be bumping their songs tonight whether I get around to lighting those candles or not.