Saturday, November 30, 2013

Arik Einstein

Anyone in Israel will know that the doyen of Israeli singers, Arik Einstein, died of an aortic aneurysm a few days ago at the age of 75. I'm not going to write an eulogy for him as many have already done so (and people are still laying wreaths at various places in Tel Aviv with which he had a connection) but rather write about what he meant to me.

Arik was at least a decade older than most of the Israeli musicians to which I listen: he was born in 1939 and served in the Nachal entertainment troupe from 1959. So when I first heard him in the autumn of 1973, he was already 34 years old. He made a series of classic records from about 1970 through 1975, had a few years off then made some more classic records. He was the first who wrote lyrics with every day words as opposed to singing poetry, thus making songs much more accessible to the general public.

Musically, his records occupied the same sonic space as the Beatles' "Rubber soul", although with a delay of several years, and most of his pre-1980 records maintained that simple acoustic guitar/electric guitar/piano/bass/drums sound. He very rarely sang with syncopation, which made his records to be not too engrossing. Thus in 1973, he already sounded anachronistic.

His second major talent was to hook up with a young and talented composer - Shalom Hanoch, Miki Gabrielov, Shem Tov Levi, Yoni Rechter and Yitzchak Klapter - making one or two records then moving on. These records naturally had differing styles and placed a seal of approval on the composer.

In the early 80s, he tried his hand with more upbeat material and larger groups (frequently featuring saxophone) which involved coarsening his fine voice. Whilst this was more interesting musically, it was less of a pleasure to listen to him.

I realise that all of the above is a bit muddled. I have a few records of his but never reckoned him as an artist to which I would like to listen. His mission - as far as I was concerned - was to influence and inspire other musicians. In that, he definitely succeeded.

Maybe his greatest strength was that from the 1980s onwards, he stayed at home and never performed in public again. He certainly was never part of the 'celebrity generation' and steered well away from them, maintaining his modesty until the end.

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