Last Monday night I received an email from my old friend Mobius that said simply, “Do you want to go see Aviv Geffen Tuesday night and write about it for Jewschool?” My brain exploded. Would I! But wait. Could I even do that?
Now while I am a big Aviv Geffen fan, I am hardly qualified to write a review about him. The two cassette tapes I own of his work (1993’s It’s Cloudy Now and 1994’s Aviv Geffen III) are currently gathering dust somewhere in the bottom of my closet. I haven’t heard any of his recent work, nor did I know about his newest project, Blackfield. I don’t speak a word of Hebrew- he could be singing his grocery list and I wouldn’t know the difference. And besides, does a teenaged crush on a hot Israeli pop star even qualify me as a big fan?
My first encounter with AG was back in 1994. On a whim, my parents decided that a trip to Israel was a better idea for me than the usual option, summer camp. So they packed me onto a plane with enough Shekels to convince my 13 year old self that I was rich, waved goodbye, and said, “See ya in six weeks!” And it was the best six weeks of my life. No parents (I stayed with family friends), a fat wad of cash that I was at complete liberty to spend, and a whole country to explore on my own terms. I was blown away by many things in Israel, such as the Western Wall, and snorkeling in the Red Sea. But mostly I remember the ridiculous amount of gorgeous Israeli boys- and more specifically, the brooding, Gothic-attired Aviv Geffen, whose sexy pout gazed down on me from the windows of every record store I passed by. I came home that summer with an amazing tan, three huge AG posters, and a bag full of rocks from the Sea of Galilee. But within a few months, I’d almost forgotten about him in favor of such “hot” new bands as Green Day and Marilyn Manson…but not completely.
But despite my misgivings about writing this, I was hooked. It was all I could think about the entire day. I was lucky enough to score a ticket to see THE Aviv Geffen; an artist I’d always assumed would never play in America, let alone my hometown. So after work, I headed uptown to the JCC on the Upper West Side. Immediately I felt out of place, as I found myself in a throng of well dressed people, half of which were chatting excitedly in Hebrew. (Hey, I always assume that pink hair and combat boots is proper attire for a concert!) There was a small snafu at the information desk regarding my ticket, and I ended up missing the first half hour of the show. But soon enough, a purple ticket was flashed my way. I ran for the elevators, darted around a corner, and skidded to a halt as a kindly blonde woman put a finger to her lips and opened the door to the auditorium. I tiptoed inside, trembling with excitement.
And there he was. Dressed all in black, sitting on a stool onstage and clutching an acoustic guitar. Right there, less than a hundred feet from me. Close enough to smell, practically! And speaking English to the crowd! “I am a huge star in Israel”, he joked. My heart melted. Accompanied on keyboards, he then launched into “Machar”, the single from his newest album, With the Time, and the whole crowd swayed and sang along. Even though I’d never heard the song, I found myself transported back in time. I was lying on the beaches of the Dead Sea, scribbling bad poetry, listening to It’s Cloudy Now on my walkman, and dreaming of the dark and soulful pop star who would sweep me off my feet.
Now I go to concerts pretty regularly, so I feel that I’m at least qualified to say that the show was amazing. Yet he didn’t play any songs that I recognized, and for most of what he did play I couldn’t understand the words. And I still say it was amazing. The whole show was simple and unpretentious- a stool, a black backdrop, a keyboardist, and a piano that he played several times. He joked with the crowd and told little anecdotes about the songs- some silly, but mostly serious. You can tell how much he loves his country and his people. When prefacing “Cry for You”, he recounted his last moments with Yitzhak Rabin at Kings of Israel Square, describing how he was the last person to hug and kiss Rabin. How he ducked for cover, and the smell of gunpowder. “It was my most traumatic year.” I heard a few sniffles in the crowd.
His cover of Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain Gonna Fall” (translated into Hebrew, of course) was incredible, and I don’t even care for Bob Dylan. Another of my favorites was the melancholy cover of Léo Férré’s “Avec Le Temps” (aka “With the Time”, aka “Im Hazman”), where he described sitting in a Tel Aviv coffee bar and listening to this old French song, “the most beautiful track in my life”. The one song he sang in English was “Pain”, off of Blackfield’s self-titled first album. During that number, he reached out towards the balcony to right where I was sitting. My teenaged heart leapt. And of course, he sang the one Hebrew phrase I do understand: Ani ohevo otach. Right back at you, darling.
The whole show was elegant and charming and dare I say it- sexy as anything. I think time might have stopped, at least in my mind. But before I knew it, it was over. The crowd stood and applauded, he bowed, the lights came up, and my Israeli Prince Charming was heading for the door. I floated back to the subway as if on a cloud, replaying the chorus from “Pain” in my head.
“Will we ever meet again, as friends, after so long?”
We absolutely will.