Monday, August 31, 2020

Goodbye to a Dream

 This is a very hard post to write and record, because in so doing, I am probably saying goodbye to a ten year dream from which I never want to part. 

For a decade or more, I've had a massive work of fiction in my head, probably uncompletable nor meant to be completed, going from the very origins of the Abrahamic story all the way to the present day and covering the entirety of Jewish history - a Jewish Arabian Nights perhaps, with the main character of the present day narrative being one A.C. Charlap, which perhaps just happens to be the initials of the Hebrew name and original family name of this present podcaster, dear listener, whom unfortunately like the present podcaster, dear listener, experiences all sorts of psychotic delusions, delusions which in the case of his fictional semi-avatar, take him through all manner of consequential and trivial moments of Jewish history and the results of its whole inheritance on the present day. Dear listener, it was gonna be fucking great!!!

And yet for all its thousands of pages, dear listener, I could never get more than a couple pages in without second guessing, without it seeming like a shit start, without it seeming as though I approached it from the wrong angle, without it seeming as though I could not lay a foundation for a work so large without the entire edifice crumbling to the ground before I even began. 

And yet I thought I could make it work. If anything, I took coronavirus as a sign, and I packed myself off to a condo on the Delaware beach, where I would finally commence serious work on the epic of a lifetime dear listener. Yet for four months not only did I barely write, dear listener, I barely read. Yet even then I persisted in chasing this dream in my head, with stories formed over four thousand years of history. Why? Because I spend part of the weeks of my life working on a similarly massive musical project, in which I set all 150 Psalms to music, the results of which you can listen to online at any time simply by searching Evan Tucker music and clicking the results. 

But the Psalms, if they work artistically, and I'm not sure they do though I like some of them very much, work not because they make any great important statement about Judaism and Jewish life, or history or existence itself, and if they work, it's not because they have anything deep and profound to say. No, if they work, then the reason simply is that insodoing a project like this, I'm inevitably relieved of thinking what to do next. There's no paralyzing indecision about the next project: when you finish Psalm 17, the next project is Psalm 18, and with every time you face these massively significant texts to the human experience, you struggle to come up with an aural equivalent that essentializes the spirit of the words, and so does in a way that's original, and innovative, and un-boring. When you have texts this good, the challenge is only to make music worthy of them. No one could ever think of a worthier life-long project than the set those 150 texts of the Divine Image to music, and certainly I couldn't, so rather than beset myself with indecision and worry that the work I'm pursuing is not a substantial enough artistic project, I always know I've chosen one of the best artistic projects a musician can choose, and it relieves me of the worry that the project itself isn't the best use of my time. The only worry is whether I'm good enough for this project, and that's a worry other people can eventually decide for me. 

One of the best pieces of criticism I've ever read is from Terry Teachout when he wrote about 'Importantitis.' I'll let him take over for the rest of this reconstituted daily podcast:

"Voltaire said it: The best is the enemy of the good. Ralph Ellison, like Bernstein and Welles, learned that lesson all too well. In 1952 he published "Invisible Man" and was acclaimed as a major novelist. The well-deserved praise that was heaped on him gave Ellison a fatal case of importantitis, and though he spent the rest of his life trying to finish a second novel, he piled up thousands of manuscript pages without ever bringing it to fruition. Why did he dry up? Because, as Arnold Rampersad's 2007 biography of Ellison made agonizingly clear, he was trying to write a great book. That was his mistake. Strangled by self-consciousness, he never even managed to finish a good one.

Contrast Ellison's creative paralysis with the lifelong fecundity of the great choreographer George Balanchine, who went about his business efficiently and unpretentiously, turning out a ballet or two every season. Most were brilliant, a few were duds, but no matter what the one he'd just finished was like, and no matter what the critics thought of it, he moved on to the next one with the utmost dispatch, never looking back. "In making ballets, you cannot sit and wait for the Muse," he said. "Union time hardly allows it, anyhow. You must be able to be inventive at any time." That was the way Balanchine saw himself: as an artistic craftsman whose job was to make ballets. Yet the 20th century never saw a more important artist, or one less prone to importantitis.

Yes, it's important to shoot high, but there's a big difference between striving to do your best day after day and deliberately setting out to make a masterpiece. What if Welles had gone back to Broadway after "Citizen Kane" and directed "A Midsummer Night's Dream" on a bare stage, with no expensive bells and whistles? Or if Bernstein had followed "West Side Story" with a fizzy musical comedy that sought only to please? Or if Ellison had gritted his teeth, published his second novel, taken his critical lumps, ignored the reviews, and gone back to work the very next day? Then all of those gifted, frustrated men might have spared themselves great grief -- and perhaps even gone on to make more great art."

Monday, August 24, 2020

Program Notes for 9/12 Concert


This reading material exists to be consumed as you listen to the music of Evan Tucker. Please do not read this while other people are performing. as that is impolite, and while we are all tempted every day of our lives to be rude, it does not become one to add to the obnoxiousness of a world in which the cyberbullying of instagram and twitter already seems impossible to imagine without. So please only read this while you are listening to Mr. Tucker's music, and please only read the program past this point if you find yourself bored and/or confused. If you are intrigued by Mr. Tucker's music, you may stop reading right now....

.....Alright, now that you are bored with his music (And fie on you! Shame and p'shaw!) let us confide in you, dear un-attentive listener, the truth of the matter, which is that like all musicians, Mr. Tucker is highly self-conscious about presenting his music to you. The truth is that, as is evidenced by the fact that you are still reading, he is a composer of comically small talent, working his few native musical neurons into overdrive once a week to mine the kingdom of music for a manner in which he may allow himself participance within it. His distinction as a violinist and singer is only by the particularity of his mediocrity. While he certainly isn't talentless, his talent is absolutely not of the Mozartian or Adesian variety through which infinite facility manifests itself in all musical spheres. Mr. Tucker's talent is, rather, of the opposite variety, a certain low musical cunning forged through decades of hardscrabble life on the musical streets (staffs?).

He is thirty-eight years old, but some people, like Evan Tucker or Paul Giamatti, look fifty three by the time they are twenty, and simply look more fifty-three every year. He is from Baltimore, inescapably and proudly Jewish by cultural extraction, and more regretfully Jewish by religious practice. He is clearly no more a professional musician than he is sane, which is to say, by traditional metric he is clearly neither, but if one squints and interprets charitably, his particular insanity and amateurishness may allow him illumination into certain qualities of music unknowable to those blessed with thought processes more reasonable. 

His ability to perceive into music is not necessarily even born of talent. It is born of passion qua musical obsession, a talent born of musical memory, enabled by an endowment of perfect pitch so absolute that if you play him an eleven note chord, he can identify the missing twelfth note. And therefore a musical memory so ductile it illuminates to his ears a radio of music which, insofar as he can remember, has not shut off for five minutes since roughly 1986. So therefore as clergy were called to serve god, so too Mr. Tucker was called to serve music, and Mr. Tucker can afford such immodest mission statements because he has done so much to squander that calling except to serve music in that sadomasochistic, exploitatively co-dependent way in which in which Salieris who wish nothing more than a life of unblemished musical devotion are constantly reminded of their own failures to meet their aspirations. 

Failures indeed. This composer is not only an adult possessed of extreme absolute pitch, but a child who was harmonizing songs on the piano at four without a single lesson, whom by eight or nine could have probably written out dozens of orchestral scores in piano reduction, and as an adult write a reasonably decent facsimile of a vast plurality of standard classical repertoire in full score, plus quite a bit of more obscure music, early, modern, and classico/romantic. Who from the earliest age was reading at comprehension levels past all but the most gifted high school students, and still possesses a mental database of text, historical dates, places, and names that come to him with instant neurological availability (though, perhaps relievingly, the vicissitudes of age have begun its ascent to wear down what once was an agonizingly impenetrable fortress of memory). And all through it, he was barely ever directed, discovering it all on the engine of his own native curiosity (or perhaps his native pretension, for from the earliest age he was a knowitall little shit...). 

So yes, failures indeed. It's not that he finds his own music bad, though he hears it suffused with that touch of orotund bombast present in all he does; but while all the other composers and musicians on this concert have veritable Roman legions of music degrees, grants, awards, scholarships, reviews glowing and negative, connections made with peers, a great society of musical esteem and competition, Mr. Tucker has but a single musical degree he amply does not deserve. Any music-harmonic terminology which he successfully learned, he learned as a very small child, and any further technical terms thereafter of form, harmony, counterpoint, seemed somehow beyond his capacity for memorization after years of attempts. He only truly learned music software after two years of attempts, and it still takes him a month or many more at a time to learn how to implement any technique on software more advanced than rudimentary. 

As for the organization required to mount performances of his own music, how possible was that for a guy who could not learn to tie his shoes until he was ten years old, who has not learned any mathematics past the algebra he apparently also mastered when he was three, who would certainly have failed out of both high school and middle school but for full time parental help, and who now has the capacity at thirty-eight for organization, time management, and spatial reasoning, which is roughly at the developmental stage of a small child. 

So so too is learning, comprehending, and writing music as other musicians understand it impossible, or at very least next-to-impossible, the comprehension of whcih his own personal musical encyclopedia should have rendered irrelevant to any music program who ever took five minutes to realize that they were dealing with an incompetent of a completely unique variety which in the long term could potentially have been of great benefit to them as well as him.

In this cold universe of absolute zero cosmic sympathy, there surely must be a God, for only a supernatural force could render agony so exquisite that the person who apparently once was Evan Tucker, told from first consciousness that he was a kind of magical changeling whose intelligence could alter the curvature of the Earth's orbit, is in fact a person of the most profound impairments and disabilities. Told from the earliest age that he was and would be the smartest person anyone had ever met, and simultaneously told soon thereafter that he was also the dumbest, and would remain so for the rest of his life. Sentenced at birth to a life of imprisonment within a brain of encyclopedically wide and deep comprehension, and no ability to demonstrate it within any classroom or work setting yet structured. A life story demarcated from its beginning to its present with dog-eared pages for incidents of yet another in a voluminous series of mental breakdown marking the end of every attempt he ever made to succeed within a traditional classroom, a traditional job, a traditional relationship, a traditional set of responsibilities, and within the husk left of this brain the world once told him was so magnificent is a mind beset by its own delusions, not only of grandeur, but of apparitions and voices, of distant disturbed memories which are likely false indeed, of paranoia and dread, of unpreventable hand tremors and facial tics, of panic attacks and inability to do anything but sit for days at a time, of a former adolscent life of frequently violent external rage and constant internal storms of flash flooded tears and gale forced panic attacks, and therefore provoking in him what he prays is the ultimate delusion, that one day the delusions shall claim him from reality permanently, and therefore that the omnipresent living terror that still hounds and haunts every hour of most days, the terror he can only drown out through music and books and culture, is no delusion at all, but rather the true world, and therefore that all appearances to him of any security in his life for himself are the true delusion. 

He could give many, many, many more details of the specific instances of his failures, or perhaps he ought tell of the world's failures toward him, but the world is currently so beset by failure on all sides that what matter either Mr. Tucker's failures or the world's its failures toward his necessities more than any other?  

And so in this era of omnipresent trial and tribulation, the difficulties of any one specific life is so increasingly shared an experience it needn't elaboration even from those in positions of deep expertise within the kingdom of affliction. 

"In much wisdom, there is much grief, and he who increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow." writeth the poet of Ecclesiastes, said to be King Solomon but probably just some Ancient Israeli hipster secretly sleeping in his maker space so he wouldn't have to pay a second rent. This concert is about musicians overcoming adversity. Mr. Tucker truly doesn't know if he has overcome anything at all except to say that at 38 going on 80, he is most certainly still with us and has every intention of being so until he's at least 78 going on 120.

What he has done is create, within these flames of life perdition, a small, relatively safe space, in which he can find the few embers of musical voice within him that the world has provided the technology for him to access. The great Evan Tucker, as I'm sure his overwroughtly grandiloquent prose telegraphs by now, does not truly exist in your universe. He is, or at least his music is, an holographic apparition from a parallel universe, perhaps even a parallel Twenty-First century; or perhaps he's merely a bizarre admixture of nineteenth and the twenty-third centuries, creating music in which a seemingly useless database of music's entire history, and perhaps even the history of the arts itself, perhaps even history itself, can only be accessed by technology just barely yet invented, procured at shamefully heavy expense whose bill he can only depend upon his uncomprehending but indulgent and thankfully upper-middle-class family, technology so incubatory that his engineer sometimes literally invents it (patent pending...), technology which more talented musicians have thankfully not thought yet to use because so difficult is the process of learning that only a fully trained engineer could endow with assemblant form, and only a person with no capability of understanding its process would be unbound by thoughts of what is and is not feasible. 

Mr. Tucker jokingly refers to Mat Leffler-Schulman, his magician of an engineer, as 'the bottom half of my musical centipede.' But that insulting description is entirely meant in self-deprecation, not of him. It is a reflection of the incompetent and vague crap which Mr. Tucker provides Mr. Leffler-Shulman that must be digested into sound. For all Mr. Tucker knows, Mat is a divine being, capable of rendering for the first time, some semblance of sound to the ideas of musical possibility which Mr. Tucker held in his head for decades with no physical form. 

'Talent' is, of course, the world's most loaded word. Some would say it is in the eye of the beholder, Boston musical legend Gunther Schuller would say that what seems like talent is the hard work that mines what is only the potential for talent. But Mr. Tucker has well over enough useless musical erudition to realize that by any metric, he has little talent at all, just musical ideas, musical memory, perhaps, dare he even say, musical wisdom. His talent as a musician is not as a player, and not necessarily as a composer. But there is one facet of musical ability for which he refuses to be at all modest. He is, without any doubt in the world, the greatest American listener to classical music of his generation: a truly dubious distinction, since he seems to be the only American of his generation who passionately listens to classical music. If classical music is about to die in America, then he can for a time be its living memory, with tens of thousands of hours of music to which his mind can reach for with instant recall, like a musical Library of Babel. And yet there is barely a single American peer of his age group with whom he can discuss this eternal obsession. To accumulate friends at all, he had to use his freakish talent for erudition to read and listen up on a dozen other subjects, upon some of which he wonders why he bothered at all. But upon classical music, he never, not once for a day, lost his fascination. 

It is perhaps this dichotomy between super-rationality and super-irrationality which has defined the twin polls of Mr. Tucker's entire life. Try as he has mightily to quiet it down, never has his mind known more than a few minutes rest, an engine which, when not teaching itself to perceive things correctly, cannot seem to help but perceive with the most extreme falsity. And it is this combination of extreme, manically rational and correct comprehension, and just extreme and tormentable errors of comprehension, that can for a time create what he hopes is a unique expressive voice and perspective upon the arts. 

Perhaps as Borges became a unique writer through constant reading, Mr. Tucker has become a unique compositional voice through constant obsessive listening, through learning the music of both composers and performers of every era, stored in a seemingly infinite memory, and an ability to compare scores in his head for hidden influences, endows him with a unique, and dare he say, perhaps a new perspective of viewing the possibilities of what music can express (and only perhaps of course....). Most people learn music by analyzing scores, but Mr. Tucker has been analyzing scores in his head for thirty years, which he (at least until his brain began to age) sees every note in his head infallibly, and could probably write out pretty goddamn decent  score reproductions of thousands of hours of music without having to look at the score. 

But through the traditional means of music, he has never had any particular gift. His violin playing is of distinction only in the extraordinariness of its mediocrity, a mediocrity he has never been able to will himself to remedy through regular practice. His voice, complemented in his adolescent and college years as potentially operatic, was by and large blown out from a college diet of binge drinking, cigarettes, and acid reflux from 5000 calorie meals (Mr. Tucker seems as though he cannot help but be extreme in all actions). His traditional compositions were not terrible if he does say so himself, though not of any deep distinction, but they required constant herculean effort for a person of deep learning disabilities. The one live performance he ever managed to organize, of a pretty good piece for four solo celli..., was such an organizational disaster that he was unable to organize all four cellists to be in the same room for a single rehearsal except one at which he could not attend himself. His recording of the performance was promptly to the ether of a broken cellphone. And the night of the performance ended the same night as the breakup of his first relationship, in his thirties no less, and a deeply unpleasant relationship of limited shelf life at that. 

This organizational experience, an experience like those in Mr. Tucker's life we generally refer to as 'Tuesday', so soured him upon mounting live performances of his own music that he swore he was done with live compositional performance forever, and possibly forever with live performance itself. 

All left to him in this eventuality was the studio, and the chance to create a completely different kind of music. One at very least as un-notated and spontaneous as jazz and rock, and hopefully of a different kind of compositional heft and musical substance than to any music of which he'd ever heard, of which he's obviously heard quite much. 

It all came to him in a moment of delusion, one of his many many, when he realized that to truly be worthy of a god who formed his mind to circumstances of such excruciatingly savage absurdity, he ought try singing the praises of this being he sometimes so loathes, and set all 150 of the long since unmusicked songs of the Bible's musical text. 

Composers have set psalms from the beginning of notated music. Some settings are quite revelatory, some quite dull. But never, so far as he knows, was there an attempt to set the Psalms of David, or any extensive tract of the Bible, in a manner that replicated the Jewish conception of God, a being with no corporeal form - its essence unreplicable, its physicality non-extant, its essence simultaneously permanent and ephemeral, music reaching out as far as an undistinguished mortal can reach into the World of No End (or the Ein Sof in Hebrew, which is a Kaballistic term literally meaning 'no end' and conceptually referring to the divine infinity). 

In spite of all these delusions of grandeur, delusions which he prays you excuse as the workings of a mind who'd known so little peace trying to find a justification to keep buggering on in spite of all terrors, he did not go into it seeking to impose any sort of giant conception on these pieces, but rather, the chance serendipity of when some of these pieces were set seemed to dictate the content to him. 2016 was the year when Mr. Tucker began to set the Psalms, and 2016 was the year when the world changed irrevocably. In mid-201,6 as Mr. Tucker was "composing" the famous text of Psalm 2 and still trying to understand the full range of musical options now available to him, it struck him with fortuitousness all too eerie that just as Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin seemed poised to inherit the earth, Mr. Tucker was beset with occasion to add a musical interpretation to a line like "The Kings of the Earth rise up and the rulers take counsel together", or a line like "Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron, thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel" just as we all began to fear that a President Trump would be an agent of America's permanent destruction.

But the animating idea of these Psalm settings (insofar as there is any at all...) is, to put it in the most generalized terms - pretentious even for this program note, is to simultaneously present the listener a conception of how vast creation seems by all appearances in this world to be, and also represent the diverse multiplicity of the universe's smallnesses. The luxury of having so much text and time (for surely this is a lifetime project if it is even remotely able to be completed), is that there is ample space within to display the Universe of No End, and also those very small, trivial, finite experiences within our endless universe. In Psalms 2, 9, and 17, there are moments at which literally hundreds of recorded tracks collage with themselves, talking to one another yet speaking independently over each other - perhaps in a manner like how the divine would view hear our world and universe, or perhaps the way any group of Jews generally talks to one another.... And yet in Psalm 14, they've created a collage of 50 of the worst pop songs Mr. Tucker could possibly think of - it's not at all a statement against all forms of popular music, much of which he loves, likes, and sometimes knows very much, but he does suppose he had a slightly malicious statement in mind about how destructive the whole ethos of pop music can be: the text includes the line 'there are none that in the world that doeth good, no, not one!' Obviously, even if the Psalmist be King David himself or still another Canaanite emocore with sleeve tattoos, it was meant as a figure of speech and a cry of despair - a cry not dissimilar to his own. Mr. Tucker may be a classical music lover non-pareil, but he has spent such little professional life as he ever had accompanying guitarists in hundreds if not thousands of renditions of Wonderwall and Wagon Wheel in lame attempts to earn spending money and friends  - doing liver damage while playing in bands, conducting amateur choirs, sometimes even Jewish ones, where the singers insisted on singing nothing more substantial than the Jewish equivalent to Christian rock, and having nothing to show for his musical efforts except having sold out for all too few bucks and distracting him from any kind of musical experience that gave him any lasting satisfaction. 

But the Psalm he most truly loves is the most intimate one, #8, just him singing as simply and awkwardly as he hopes the Psalmist's audience did as they walked away from those performances of antiquity. But while the Psalmist had his psaltry and harp, his instrument is Mr. Leffler-Schulman's computerized fields of distortion, which help him to paint the words and tones and give them far greater meaning than his voice could alone. He thinks the piece is moving, it's funny, it's certainly strange, but it also is comprised of very traditional harmonies and melodies, and ultimately, he daresay, he think it's kind of beautiful - or at least he experiences beauty when he listens. This Psalm is, writ small, the spirit he wanted to bring to the whole project, and at least this time, he succeeded. 

On the other hand, Psalm 13 is, objectively speaking, the achievement of which he's almost certainly proudest. It begins with just about the most transgressive thing a Jewish composer can do - a clip of Hitler. He doesn't know precisely what statement against antisemitism he wanted to make in this work, but he does know that when he reads the Psalm, so despairing were these lines that he felt unworthy to project his own sorrow into them, for lines of such despair and rage, the cry of the world must make itself heard: 

"How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord, for ever? how long wilt thou hide thy face from me?/How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily? How long shall mine enemy be exalted over me?/Consider and hear me, O Lord my God: lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death;/Lest mine enemy say, I have prevailed against him; and those that trouble me rejoice when I am moved." 

And so Mr. Tucker decided that this is the Psalm where we indict the great antisemites of modern history: Hitler, Stalin, Lenin, Mussolini, Idi Amin, Richard Nixon, Oswald Mosley, Father Coughlin, Louis Farrakhan, Jeremy Corbyn, Ted Cruz, John Mearsheimer, Mel Gibson, and yes, Donald Trump, with all their recorded statements against Jews in sometimes vaguely coded language, in against a backdrop of Modest Mussorgsky's wonderful setting in Pictures at an Exhibition called 'Two Jews', which is all the more brilliant, funny, and beautiful a piece of music for being so profoundly antisemitic (and in great art, the two are never mutually exclusive....), and Wagner's musical portrayal in Das Rheingold of the Nibelungen race, so close to the archetypal Jews of mythology: slaves to Gold, living in hell-like bowels of the Earth, for whom the only proper place is cowering in terror before power. Very little in either Psalm 13 or 14 is original music, it is collages of other people's music, some of that music toweringly great, some comically abominable, for Mr. Tucker is not always a composer of the most original invention but rather sometimes an encyclopedic synthesizer and arranger who just happened to notice that both of these antisemitic portrayals are in the same key of B-flat Minor. Along with it are clips from all sorts of comic portrayals of Jews on film and TV: from Seinfeld, from The Producers, from Curb Your Enthusiasm, Fran Drescher, Don Rickles, and yes, Woody Allen too, and for whom the worst you could say of any of them is that these people are sometimes repellent, and perhaps deeply so, but no more deeply than those of other faiths, and yet Jews they are so hardly ever mass murderers, and whatever crimes Jews have committed, it is patently absurd even unto the present day to ever draw moral equivalence between what any Jews in history or current events have done and all which was done to them. And yet all through the ages, it is always done. And all throughout the second and third (final) section, one soprano glissando stretched to five minutes length, and when it ends, the screams of the Nibelungen sound from the Solti Ring recording, which have always sounded to him like the screams of children in the camps. As his best childhood friend said to him, an Israeli by birth: 'Thank you for giving my nightmares a soundtrack."

As for Psalm 11, that was their triumphant return to the studio after having to shelf the project for a year while Mr. Leffler-Schulman had to go abroad after some misfortunes. They'd arrived back and resumed, and the project completely changed. Some of the earlier psalm settings are, in retrospect, grandiloquent, deliberately elephantine, vast, deafeningly loud, perhaps a little too uncompromisingly modernist. But Psalm 11 is song length, with a beginning, middle, and end, and a melody so light it could (nearly....) be pop-song. It was a new concision, a new consonance, a new appeal which it largely had not occurred to Mr. Tucker yet to attempt. 

While they must get through a giant mountain of epics like Psalms 18, 22, and 25, he would imagine, he would hope, that the larger future of the Psalm project will be closer to the strange intimacy of works like Psalms 8 and 11 than to a Psalm like 13. Importantitis kills so many artistic projects in their inception, and it is both amazing to Mr. Tucker that the project continues apace in Year 5, yet also astounding that they've still only gotten to Psalm 18 (a 51-line Psalm about death and rebirth in which Mr. Tucker intends to incorporate the sounds of coronavirus). If they continue at this pace, they should be done by somewhere between year 50 and 55, when Mr. Tucker is roughly 85 and Mr. Leffler-Schulman is roughly 90. Perhaps (and only perhaps) these works sometimes succeed in making larger statements because their composer has earned some small right to make gestures of such pomp through decades of struggle without such pomposity seeming completely absurd (again, only perhaps....), or perhaps they succeed because Mr. Tucker is composing in the only way he's ever truly learned how, and simply follows his pathetically inattentive daemon wherever it leads him. 

But in the meantime, Mr. Tucker is rather proud of this project. He would prefer to write much more, he would also prefer that his learning disabilities, emotional agonies, and life history evaporate into uncapturable mist, and he were able to start his life over again completely from scratch. Some life conditions are unable to alter, and these works are, let us pray, just the first tenth of leavings from a life that was thus far mislived, mishandled, misplanned, so well acquainted with grief and so briefly acquainted with joy. 

He thanks you for your courtesy, your ears, your eyes, and he most certainly and particularly thanks the Great Sarah Bob, who has somehow plucked him from a complete and ignominious obscurity to be a featured composer, and to Shiela Gallagher, whom to his amazement has saw fit unprompted by any request from him to give his music a visual, cinematic dimension of which he has long dreamed. A blessing upon the houses of both, and may they, may you, may we all, stay safe in this bizarre era of death and let us pray soon, rebirth. 


Monday, August 17, 2020

When Facebook Becomes Blogging

Hot Take of the Day:

You're gonna love this one....

20 years before everybody else decided that 'problematic' is a synonym for 'blasphemous', I was consistently getting yelled at for pointing out to friends and acquaintance irritants that Disney, comics, Sci-fi, fantasy, TV, action movies, comedy, popular musical genres, and just about every form of popular culture, had some of the deepest conceivable incapacity for self-reflection about how they used racism, misogyny and general appeals to limbic system prejudices to create convenient plot melodramas because they were not seriously dealing with human issues. And that's part of what turned me off at an early age from large swathes of popular culture.

And now, in 2020, everybody who didn't want to hear it in 2000 now seems to believe it's of paramount importance to never introduce their children to the very cultural products which gave them their fondest childhood memories without making them feel guilt for everything that was once fun about them. The whole point of most of this stuff is escapism, so once you can no longer escape the messiness of the human condition, most of the stuff you loved as children then becomes worthless, both aesthetically and socially, and all that's left is agitprop that imitates the escapism of our childhood cultural consumption, but is in fact so overloaded with propagandistic messages that there is no way that it can provoke the same lifelong enjoyment in its watchers that Disney and Marvel comics used to provide for you.

Once social media took over our neural pathways, we were rewired in no more than a year or two to think that everything we once thought could do no wrong is so wrong that virtually every form of pleasure and consolation we once had has always been a form of oppression.

The problem was never that light entertainment preached the wrong values, the whole point of consuming entertainment is that it has no values except for the most convenient ones that let you think as little as possible and assures you that everything about the world is OK. The hero always wins, good is good and evil is evil, the hero is the white guy and everybody else is at best just supporting characters existing only to attend to the needs of *his* narrative with no independent story of their own. Whomever's on top in a society, light entertainment that works as light entertainment will always flatter the existing superstructure.

The problem has always been that our culture wanted entertainment that allowed us to shut our brains off, so now we're beginning to create a new generation of entertainment that preaches progressive values, and therefore isn't really entertainment at all, it's propaganda with tropes of entertainment - designed not to shut your brain off but make you yet again righteously indignant at how badly society needs to be reordered. In another generation or two, your children or grandchildren will rebel against this diet just as you did against the previous one, and decide that all the racist and sexist tropes really weren't all that harmful: but of course, they were, they always were, and they always will be. Our generation is absolutely right about that. But long as we're headed down the road of turning entertainment into propaganda, perhaps the next way which entertainment gets refashioned will be so archetypal in how it's plotted that it will be propaganda that preaches not equality but nothing less than the outright superiority of some groups over others. It's happened before, it's happened very consciously, and it's happened in society's where the majority previously believed in equality's inviolate sacrality.

So the only solution is the one everybody still doesn't want to hear: you have to condition kids from the earliest age to consume products associated with that dreaded A-word, Art. There's all sorts of art that seems deeply racist and sexist, and if it is, there's a 90% chance it's not as good as its reputation, and it never was. But a lot of it does still hold up, and rather than providing answers about how the world should be ordered, it has the humility to merely ask questions: this is the way the world is, does it need to be this way? Can it be different?

In Othello and the Merchant of Venice and Richard III, Shakespeare did not provide answers for the plight of Africans and Jews and the disabled in white and Christian and ableist societies where their inconvenient presences were unwelcome, he merely posited that *perhaps* the way we view minorities is because our social conditions forced them into acting the way they do, which therefore fulfills and reinforces our stereotypes of what these people in fact are. That is what Jane Austen and George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans) and Tolstoy showed in their portrayals of women: that the options of women were so limited that they were basically coerced into seeming like flighty creatures because the expectations and limitations on them at the time were such that they couldn't help reinforcing society's image of how women act. It was Aeschylus who posited that perhaps it is rule of law and trial by jury to determine truth that will stop cycles of violence and revenge. And yes, one could make the same argument for the humanizing paradoxes inherent in works of popular mediums like The Wire or The Simpsons or The Sopranos or Mad Men or The Godfather or Vertigo or The Searchers or Raging Bull - people all throughout societies are coerced into acting like the most unattractive stereotypical versions of themselves which society has of them. And showing that process humanizes these ostensibly unattractive people whom we're predisposed to cross the street to avoid. And THAT is what builds a better, more compassionate, more tolerant society of good faith.

That's what America misses by demanding entertainment that either lets them forget about their cultural values and expectations, or demanding entertainment that reflects their values perfectly. And it creates the society whose current problems we live with every day. Every society has its problems, but the solution to THIS particular problem is right in front of us, and it always was.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

9/12 Concert - Reading Material - Beginning

 This reading material exists to be consumed as you listen to the music of Evan Tucker. Please do not read this while other people are performing. as that is impolite, and while we are all tempted every day of our lives to be rude, it does not become one to add to the obnoxiousness of a world in which the cyberbullying of instagram and twitter already seems impossible to imagine without. So please only read it while you are listening to Mr. Tucker's music, and please only read the program past this point if you find yourself bored and/or confused. If you are intrigued by Mr. Tucker's music, you may stop reading right now....

.....Alright, now that all of you are bored with his music and are therefore still reading, let us confide in you, dear un-attentive listener, the truth of the matter, which is that like all musicians, Mr. Tucker is highly self-conscious about presenting his music to you. It's not that he finds it bad, though he hears it suffused with that touch of bombast present in all that he does; but as all composers are, he's aware of that sad possibility of polite but uncomprehending audiences who listen to what a new composer produces out of a sense of responsibility, but then go about their lives unaffected by what he's written - another forgettable experience that takes years to assemble, minutes to consume, and an instant to forget. If you are reading this, dear listener, you probably number yourself among those uncomprehenders. Fie upon you, for shame and p'shaw.

This anxiety is present in all artists of every form and every genre, but how much more true is it for the composer? It is a truth universally acknowledged that most Americans of the 21st century often find listening to classical music of any kind a chore, even classical musicians sometimes do. Therefore the thought occurred to him that it might be a good idea to give a little bit of reading material to go along with it so that the uncomprehending listener (in whom, once again, for shame sir or madame or theyperson of philistine incomprehension) might slightly better understand to what his music might be alluding.

Of course, Mr. Tucker thought about turning this explanation of his music into a fire and brimstone Jeremiad bemoaning tempora and mores like so many elderly and often atonal composers saw fit to issue in their working years from the humiliating ignominy of their tenure granted endowed chairs while their Baby Boomer students' eyes glazed over before they left class and blasted Led Zepplin while smoking 'grass' while they should have been practicing. Mr. Tucker is rather known himself for blasting similar denunciations into the ether of the internet, and god knows, he never cared much for those bluesman plagiarists in Zepplin, though he certainly prefers them to Mike Love and Billy Joel....

(if you're still reading, dear listener, his first piece is probably over by now so you should be listening to the next composer's music)

But in this era of trial and tribulation, our troubles are so omnipresent that they needn't elaboration even from those clearly willing to give it. What is there he can add about our current zeitgeist you haven't read a thousand times before in twitter-length compaction?

Whatever he has to say about this era of ours matters not at all; for the great Evan Tucker, as I'm sure his orotund prose telegraphs by now, does not exist in your universe. He is, or at least his music is, an holographic apparition from a parallel universe, perhaps even a parallel Twenty-First century; or perhaps he's rather a bizarre admixture of nineteenth and the twenty-third centuries, creating music in which a seemingly useless database of music's entire history, and perhaps even the history of the arts itself, exists alongside technology just barely yet invented, still in its incubatory phases, which more talented musicians would never think yet to use. 

'Talent' is, of course, the world's most loaded word. Some would say it is in the eye of the beholder, Boston musical legend Gunther Schuller would say that what seems like talent is the hard work that mines what is only the potential for talent. But Mr. Tucker has well over enough useless musical erudition to realize that by any metric, he has no talent at all, just a certain low musical cunning - on the one hand, his ineptitude at the violin he's played incomptetently since he was three years old is second only to his lack of desire to remedy it through practice, his knowledge of theory remains sadly rudimentary for reasons we shall yet explain, and his achievements in music? Well, you're currently listening to the highlight of his musical career so far.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

When Facebook Becomes Blogging

 "This" started with Republicans, no question, Conservatives are still so much further along the fanatical path – liberals and progressives and socialists and anarchists and whomever else, after all, didn’t elect Trump; but just as the comment section of every article written since 2000 feels packed with conservative trolls who probably own 10 guns each, I defy anyone to gape into the twitterverse and not see a million piggy eyes of left-zealotry staring back. There is no way for so many thousands of people to exist in a fever pitch of rage with the exact same take about the exact same issues without it eventually occurring to them all that the most extreme measures anybody can think of are the best way to enact the futures they wish to see. The social order of a previous age is coming down, and for me at least, it’s impossible to see the future without seeing a kind renewal of the mass turbulence that used to exist between Protestants and Catholics. One side is absolutely committed to equality – equality for all races and genders and orientations and communities, and if they eventually go far left enough, equality of wealth distribution, one side is absolutely committed to liberty – liberty from government, taxes, and all forms of community responsibility. One side abhors political correctness, the other abhors political civility. Whichever set of beliefs one believes to be correct, if you believe in them passionately enough, there is nothing in their name that you cannot justify. Whatever the cosmetic appearance, at bottom, the pathology is always the same.

From year to year, one 'side' is always ahead in the race to extremism, and from 1945 to 1990, there was absolutely no question in the world that the hard left was ahead of the hard right. The hard right is clearly far ahead in our age, but from decade to decade, it ultimately doesn't matter which side it is, they're both our enemy.

And they're both my enemy.

When Facebook Becomes Blogging

I guarantee there is someone in your life that needs you to read articles like this. Even if you don't necessarily agree with it, at least read it, and if you really and truly are someone who needs to read it, it's pretty certain you'll passionately disagree and even take offense to the notion it propounds. That person who needs you to read it may be your more moderate or unreformed liberal parents and siblings who perceive that your radicalization is cutting them out of your lives, or maybe a friend whose good intentions and very character you've begun to doubt because they don't see the dire necessity of what you see, or that guy on social media who finds it important enough to broadcast his disagreeable opinions so often that you occasionally wonder if he's a narcissist. And he sometimes wonders that himself, out loud no less....

But there is now statistical evidence that woke intolerance is related to what psychologists refer to as the 'dark triad' of personality disorders, exactly the same as the alt-right.

That accusation sounds so serious that it's bound to be misunderstood, and I do wonder if this article overstates the case. Because what most people don't understand is that almost everyone lives some episodes of their lives within the 'dark triad,' acting like the embodiment of the narcissistic or psychopathic or manipulative type which in their sensible moments they revile. What brings the vast majority of people to the moments they live within the 'dark triad' is not an innate personality disorder, but the damage which the wear and tear of life circumstance does to people, who then convince themselves that life can't get any worse, when life most certainly can, does, and as life is sometimes just that cruel, the worst episodes of life are often self-generated.

Why is it, over and over again, that people who are obviously innately good and well meaning convince themselves to become fascists and Marxists, Nazis and Stalinists, Jacobins and Bonapartists, vulture capitalist libertarians and Corbynite socialists, phalangists and jihadists, in thrall to either critical theory and neoconservative theory, or join cults both Christian and pagan, and now turn into both alt-rightists and social justice intersectionalists? There are certainly some people who respond to these kinds of radicalism because they need outlets for innate defects of character, but the vast majority simply become convinced over time that the world's in such a dangerous and damaged state that life itself is a boil needing to be lanced, and consequently become the world's foremost dangers themselves.

The horrors of people who unrepentantly do wrong will always be with us, but part of why they're so terrifying is because they're rare. We know they always exist, but we usually have very little evidence as to which among us they are. It so obviously happens that our President is one of them, but the people who make up his base of support, as make up the support of every psychopath, are not psychopaths themselves, they're usually the opposite of psychopaths: naive idealists so eager to do good that they rarely pause to contemplate what's good and what's evil. They're often Christians utterly committed to their movement who believe in love and forgiveness and justice (remind you of anyone?), and so naively idealistic are they that a psychopath can easily convince them that the true psychopaths are those who oppose him. Psychopaths always thrive in the idealism of naive radicals, because when people are convinced that the rest of the world is truly that evil, they can be convinced much more easily to fight evil with evil.

A bad person is dangerous, but good people who do bad and convince themselves that bad is good are exponentially more dangerous.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the great dissident in the Soviet Union, is himself a great example of how flawed people and thinkers can still do enormous good in the world. On the one hand, he was as responsible for the fall of the Soviet Union as any one person and god alone knows how many millions of lives he saved for the future, on the other hand, he was clearly a kind of a Russian alt-rightist whose ideology led to our current predicament with Russia. People are complicated, heroes are even more complicated, and contrary to fashionable opinion heroes are still people who acted heroically in spite of whatever else they've done, but Solzhenitsyn put the problem as well as anyone ever has in history:

“Macbeth’s self-justifications were feeble – and his conscience devoured him. Yes, even Iago was a little lamb too. The imagination and the spiritual strength of Shakespeare’s evildoers stopped short at a dozen corpses. Because they had no ideology.”

The Macbeths and Iagos of the world are relatively rare, what is not rare is the Hamlets, the Lears, the Othellos, the Regans and Gonerils, the Shylocks, flawed people who would much rather do the right thing, but who become convinced that the circumstances of life around them are so dire that they do things they would ordinarily find deeply troubling, and convince themselves that what they do is morally right. And easiest way to convince yourself that wrong is right and right is wrong is to subscribe to a pre-digested ideology that tells you exactly how the world is, and therefore removes the burden of doing your own thinking, all the while convincing you that you're thinking more deeply than you ever have before.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Tales From the Old New Land - First Three Chapters

What is the Old New Land? Where is the Old New Land? We have no idea what it is, where to look, where or when we'll find it; but the material who, the how and whither, the warp and weft, the length, width, depth, and time; the dwelling, foundations, splendor, and even eternity, are all mere surface on the face of the deep. The Old New Land is the space within the space, the dimensions between where exist possibility, plane, history, law, condition, and infinity; glory, law, lovingkindness, the sources of wisdom, and the crown of creation itself. If it exists at all, and of that existence there shall always be doubt, then it abides in that apogee of maximal cosmic tension to which we all arrive in the instant before the great celestial snap: a place of the world of no end that by wrestling within its unbounded bounds, we bring, so it seems, a very few of its tiny emanations down to our own, if only for a specific indeed finite time, if only in a small indeed definite place. It is that land within which all actions seem motivated by greatness, and much even by goodness, for from that unboundedness of spheres above, we carry those best selves which comprise our share of the divine creation. Once we glimpse its possibilities, we work, and we work, and we work, and we wait, and we wait, and we wait, but we're always thrown out of the Old New Land.

Bransk: 1899

Chapter 1:

We begin in 'every-shtetl' Northeast Poland of six-thousand inhabitants who are mostly farmers, half-Jewish, half-Christian, a place of Jewish hicks from where nobody of particular distinction ever hailed, except the author's grandfather, Morris Tucker, formerly Meishel Tecoczki, and before that Moshe Kharlap.

The name Kharlap is an acronym for 'Khiya, Rosh-l'Galut L'Polin', in Hebrew letters Khet-Reysh-Lamed-Pey, and translates to Khiya, head of the exiles in Poland; which means that the patrilineal line of the author's family is either descended from the first chief Rabbi of Poland, or some medieval Polish-Jewish grifter who realized he could mark up his merchandise if he lied about the eminence of his family lineage (his 'Yichus' as we Yiddishers say).

The name Kharlap shall be that of the fictionalized family to which we subject the ordeal of this book. It is a family incarnated in somewhat mythical circumstances, akin to a story by Isaac Bashevis Singer (for those of you not familiar with Singer, think of a Jewish Gabriel Garcia Marquez if he accepted editors' suggestions, something which this writer shall do only with great reluctance).

It's just before Christmas, just before the 19th century's final week. We begin there because while there are as 40 centuries of Jews before, it is only in the 19th that truly began reliable historical documentation of each individual human's pluralities, "This person lived, here is where and when, and each life acquiring meaning, not only for when they lived and what they lived among, but meaning something in itself for its own sake. Occasionally there's even record of what they looked like, or even record of what they did. All things before this era are legend, and while legends are upon what we shall build this work, we aspire after this relatively short beginning to ground this work in something seeming like fact.

So while Reb Yaakov Kharlap did not truly exist, there were thousands of men like him recorded by census, which even in the backward environs of 19th century Czardom, were compiled by thousands of statisticians, public servants, and scientists of skill, each of whom gathered their findings in good faith into some of the most reliable composites we yet had of whom and what humans are.

Rebbe Yaakov Kharlap is a small town Rabbi, not even the Rebbe for his town but a mere Kheder instructor - Kheder being the elementary school through which shtetl boys are taught their Hebrew letters, how to pray, how to read, how to memorize pages at a time of Torah and Talmudic tractate. He is an alte mensch of the alte shul, very free with the ruler upon the knuckles and elsewhere, and gets extreme nakhes from the brood of his twelve adolescent children: Reuven, Shimon, Levi, Yehuda, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Yissachar, Z'vulun, Dinah (a daughter), and Yoseph; no doubt proud well past the point of opleykenung.

You may recognize those names as the exact names of Jacob's children in the Old Testament or Tanakh. The reason for these names was because after twenty five years without conceiving a child, an angel appeared to the already 50-year-old Reb Yaakov in a dream, and in response to Reb Yaakov's insistent demand for a blessing, announced to Reb Yaakov that his no longer young wife would bear him twelve sons, which Reb Yaakov must in turn name after Israel's twelve tribes.

In absurdly quick succession, the children come in six sets of twins over the years between 1880-1885. Never mind in what order, it doesn't matter, but all of whom, like the miracle Reb Yaakov knew would happen that everyone else doubted, survived to adulthood, albeit with many illnesses along the way, meant to test that Reb Yaakov's faith was truly unbreakable. All eleven of his sons are now Bar Mitzvahed, and while to his disappointment he has a daughter in addition to the eleven sons, the now septuagenerian Reb Yaakov awaits eagerly the birth which his unnamed sexagenarian wife will give any day now to what he knows with the certitude of Hashem will be his twelfth son, whom at his bris he shall name Binyamin.

Of course, Reb Yaakov has a twin brother himself, Ezra. Unlike Reb Yaakov who can't make more money on his own than a shtetl kheder teacher can ever make, Ezra is a wealthy man in Bialystok, the nearest Polish city. And while most shabboses Ezra goes to deh greicer shul in Bialystok (burned by the Germans, 1941), he has by and large abandoned Judaism as Reb Yaakov would understands it for palant, kielbasa, and the occasional shiksa factory girl whom his shaygets foreman brings and takes away under most nights, and while Reb Yaakov has no idea of Ezra's disreputably goyisher habits, he is well aware of the contempt of Reb Ezra's much more 'enlightened' wife Ada for Reb Yaakov's unchanged ways, and through her perhaps correct pressure, Ezra consistently compelled to cut the sums sent to Reb Yaakov to feed his children, who are now are well past old enough to work on their own.


As I said, we begin in the Kheder class of Reb Yaakov, who is very free with the ruler and constantly berating his luftmenschen for their lack of attention and refusal to sit still. And incidentally to the story, in case you haven't noticed yet, most of the characters will speak in a kind of Yid-lish patois which gives the character of the language while, so we hope, being nevertheless intelligible to the average reader of English, except for the gentiles, who will speak in a similar patois that mixes English with their origin's native languages. But the narration, rather, will be in English, except for those many, many moments of subjective voice when the author cannot help but forget to hold up the segregative wall between narration and character speech, during which the narrator even shall slip carelessly into the Yid-lish or Germ-lish or Pol-lish or Americ-lish of his many characters..

But in any event, Reb Yaakov sits with his students at the head of the unsturdy rectangular table, property of the Bransker kheder since 1772 (repaired in 1793). Year after year, whenever a vildeh khayeh is bored, this wild animal they call a talmid rocks the table without ever realizing what he does, and every year, the batayt that the students find Reb Yaakov boring drives him a little more meshuggeh.

Today's drasha is a particularly poignant one for Reb Yaakov. The gerekhteh Reb always tied his lessons to the Torah Parsha of the week: and this week's parsha, Vayeshev, is the infamous Biblical story of Onan, Tamar, Yehuda, and Er. Tamar, the beautiful bride whom a series of husbands refused to blemish by making her pregnant, and always spilled their seed upon the ground during schtupzeit. Every Judaica teacher has their favorite stories, and every time Reb Yaakov's taught this story, he had to fight back tears as he thought of his wife forty-five years ago (never mind her name), the unimaginable beauty she was when he first encountered her under the khuppah of their wedding, and how a lifetime of childless marriage wore her beauty to withers, and just when he thought she could become more ugly, how a second lifetime of raising twelve children wore her further from meeskeit into mekhasheyfeh. This eshes khayil, who always was everything to him, to whom he gemakhted lebe to every Friday night for forty-five years, and many regular nights too, and when no longer sheyn, he blew the candle out and gemakhted lebe in the dark to her neshawmeh, to the memory of the sheynkeit she once possessed, and to the eybik lebe he had for this woman for whom he always knew he'd been too mazeldik in their shatkhan, while she'd been all to shlemazeldik; this eshes khayil who conceded to any unreasonable demand, whom he always heard crying from other rooms during their years without kinder, who never had time to cry again in the years since all those geburts - so frequent and fecund. That woman he so lebed but never knew if she lebed him back, and for whom he always suspected his uncontrollable ba'ager for her the destruction of her beauty and glik.

Und yet again, when he teaches Vayeshev, the students can't repress their gelekhter, all those mentions of sheynkeit and geshlekht, and one at a time, each of those so called talmids breaks down into a fit of giggling. Yedes yahr it's the same with these vildeh khayas, and finally, Reb Yaakov can't take it anymore:


He just can't stand their naarishkeit anymore, their skhok v'kalos rosh, and if ever there was a moment when held back his rage before (and there weren't many), he didn't hold it back this time and lets loose at them the worst curse a Jew can utter to another Jew in 1900:

"Is Dreyfus going through all this just so you mamzerim can dishonor his sacrifice?!"

And if this were a theater work, then what follows would become a nervous breakdown of exposition in which he relates precisely the story of his life as related both above and below. He tells these pischers everything of his long life's past of which they couldn't care less, and then tells the story of being passed over as the new town Rebbe after decades of faithful service and sacrifice to a town whom he'd taught everything they ever knew. He compares these naarisher pischers to his model Yiddisher Kops (whom he raised correctly to be menschen and tzaddikim). And how Hashem has finally rewarded him for his greyceh tzuris, with a final child, whom he knows will be a son he shall name Benyamin, a boy whose tzadeykkes will put them all to shame.

Chapter 2

We immediately cut to four of the brothers smoking cigarettes in the Jewish cemetery: which? Perhaps Shimon, Asher, Yisachar, and Z'vulun, because... why not.... the last mentioned of whom is pisching on the headstone of Rabbi Chaim Schkop, the deceased last year Bransker Rebbe who seemed to live forever, and by actuarial standards before modern medicine, did live forever. Rebbe Schkop was born, in one of those all too heavy-handed literary coincidences, on an unspecified date in June 1815. Historically minded readers would put his birthday right around the end of the Congress of Vienna, which created the long peacetime of the European 19th century dominated by Austria and England. Were anyone to read this book, perhaps a literary academic with a passion for symbolism would read the Congress of Vienna's stability into the auspicion of Rebbe Schkop's birthdate and biography. But Jewish-minded symbolists would note that June is the month of Shavuos, when Hashem gave His Torah and His (or it's) laws.

And within Rebbe Schkop's infinitely long beard was the Bransk's lawgiver, its judge, the man whom, for sixty-five years, sat all too patiently in his house study, which we descendants of the shtetl refer to as the Bet-Din, the 'House of Judgement', within which a Rabbi functioned as Philosopher King in virtually every Pale of Settlement shtetl: in every shtetl, the Rebbe was judge and jury, legislator and executive, professorial lecturer and school headmaster, giving his ear to every legal dispute from trivial to grand between any and all Jews, serving both as prosecutor and defense, so that legal issues are solved within the community, and Jews may be spared Czarist law and its terroristic might.

And it was just in year one of Chaim Schkop's long tenure that the great Rebbe found his star pupil, the ten year old Yaakov Kharlap - then just little 'Yankele.' Kleyninker Yankele was one of those Illuim, a potential Shas Polack whom by his Bar Mitzvah seemed able to recite all twelve books of Talmud Bavel from memory, or at least he would soon.

On the weekend of his Bar Mitzvah came the infamous Pin Test. A pin placed at random in the Talmud Bavel. The pin landed in the book of Tehorot, on daf fifty four. Reb Yaakov was asked the seventh word of line 18 and of course, he got it right (this writer won't take the time to look the word up himself...). Yankele was then asked the seventh word on line 18 of page one hundred twenty six. Richtig again.

He did the same feat when asked to name the words in specific locations of Zera'im and Kodashim. Three books down out of twelve. But when he got to Nashim, Reb Yaakov failed the Pin Test (some more heavy handed symbolism for those who know a little Hebrew). Not even four out of twelve, and never would he be a Shas Polack in his Bar Mitzvah year, and dreams an illui so precocious to be celebrated throughout the pale would never come to pass. What good is anothe seventeen or eighteen year old Shas Polack? Good for a wedding party trick, and however good their memories, those Shas Polacks never seem to have any khokhmah that students can actually use.

So Reb Yaakov was thirteen, Rebbe Schkop was twenty-three and thin enough to walk through a torah scroll - barely even able to stand straight in his early 20s. The spine of Rebbe Chaim Schkop's ectomorphic frame curved another centimeter or two every decade until he could barely face his claimants without lying down face up on a bed which Avraham the carpenter built specifically for that congested room of halacha, upon which Rebbe Schkop issued his judgements for almost all of the eighteen hours a day he heard cases from his all too contentious nakhgeyers.

From the moment in 1848 (more heavy-handed symbolism) when Rebbe Schkop could no longer walk, even for a step, everyone expected Rebbe Schkop to breathe his last on any day, joyfully ride his neshawmeh to Hashem like Moishe on the chariot, and take with him all the freylikhkeit of the town for whose presence he brought so much nakhes, even if he could never dance with that freyikhkeit himself; and be replaced by that unhuman encyclopedia who'd taught every Jewish man in the town from his (give or take a few) 1.8 million word Talmudic suppository.

Reb Yaakov waited for Rebbe Chaim to die for ten years, twenty, thirty, forty... and in 1897, year 49 of Rebbe Schkop's krankeit, when two milkhikers were arguing for the fifth time that year about which of them had the right to distribute which dairy to which residents on which streets, the Rebbe fell ashlof in his bed, an old man and full of years, never to wake. Yet he did not give up the ruakh until the end of 1898, year fifty, existing in a twilight state in which Reb Yaakov, now seventy-three himself and the perfect health of a mensch who fathered twelve children at the age of sixty, had to function as both Rebbe and School Melamed, Din Torah, and vater tzu tzwelf kinder, Rebbe Yaakov fainted in his kheder on the very day Rebbe Schkop went to schlaf with his fathers, and for a few hours Reb Yaakov too was presumed gathered to his people.

The town makhers wrote immediately of this miraculous emergency in which both their beloved Rebbe and his Yursh dropped dead in the same hour (not that anyone knew the time exactly...) to the Mirrer Yeshiva. The Mirrer Rosh Yeshiva wrote back immediately that this was a sign. Bransk would need a truly greys neue Rebbe, and they would send their most promising young khokham.

For fear of making him faint again, no one told Reb Yaakov that the Mirrers gave Bransk their greyster yunge khokham to become the neu Bransker Rebbe until the morning of the neuer Rebbe's arrival, and Rebbe Yaakov only learned when he saw a boy people called Rebbe Weberman move into Rebbe Schkop's old house.


Anyway, we not so immediately cut to four of the brothers smoking cigarettes in the Jewish cemetery: which brothers? Perhaps Shimon, Asher, Naftali, and Z'vulun, because... well, who cares.... And the last mentioned of whom is pisching on the headstone of Rabbi Chaim Schkop.... Perhaps if he were asked, he would say he is trying to avenge his father's ignominy, but this narrator frankly doubts Z'vulun put that much thought into it.

"Don't fucking pisch on the Rebbe!"

Asher knows he shouldn't be surprised but even so he's stunned that Z'vulun broke off from their stance around the latest Yiddish paper which Tateh hasn't even seen yet, reading the latest schlock about the shandehs perpetrated on some schtik drek in France named Dreyfus.

Of course, Dreyfus is not any schtik drek. It's not that these na'ars have no idea who Dreyfus is. How would any Jew not know in 1899? And for five years, Reb Yaakov, the only mobile Jew in Bransk with enough money and literacy for a newspaper subscription, bludgeoned his kinder's oyers with every new detail of Dreyfus and his legal dybbuks. Every Shabbos, Reb Yaakov brought new news of Dreyfus to the denizens of the Bransk shul, his former talmids every one, who never much considered why they so cared for the tzuris of a wealthy Jewish gentleman of the French military; whom even after five years of wrongful imprisonment would probably shpay on them in the street. They suddenly cared much more about Reb Yaakov's vissen and khokhma than they ever did when they were his students. So much so did they care that Reb Velvl would be on the doorstep of the kheder every morning to be the first to get new news, and by the afternoon Reb Daniil would be waiting at the Kheder door, thinking he rather would be the first with new news. But the very first to get new news was inevitably Reb Yaakov's kinder, every day with the breakfast their mother would quietly awaken at four-thirty every the morning to prepare so the kinder could eat at five thirty so they could milkh deh kauz und plau de felds before they go to shul for the Shacharis minyan, and then to cheder, and when they reached that certain age Jews tend to refer to as adulthood, tsu arbet.

By this time, l'affair Dreyfus had been ongoing for five years well over, but only a bit over two years ago did Reb Yaakov's obsession truly begin

By 1895, Reb Yaakov might have read about Dreyfus in some Yiddish paper, but to Reb Yaakov Dreyfus would just have been another oysshteller climbing the goyisheh ladder and having the kind of shlekhter mazel every Yid should expect when they think they can be greyceh goy.

By 1896, Reb Dreyfus had probably come onto a man like Reb Yaakov's mental radar, as it began to become known that Dreyfus's imprisonment through exile was a framing to cover for a mer vikhtik officer with much greater Yichus, and a becoming name for treachery: Marie Charles Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy. Why put a Dreyfus away and not an Esterhazy? Because for five-hundred years, the Esterhazys were the second-most important dynasty of the Austrian Empire - almost literally, they were the 'Hungary' in 'Austria-Hungary.' While however wealthy individual Dreyfuses ever became, Dreyfus is a spelling of the name 'Trevus', a German surname meaning 'man from Trier', a German town from which all Jews were expelled in 1555. Add up the figures...

But it had to only have been in 1897, when the Dreyfus Affair was reopened with Major Esterhazy indicted for court martial that the world's Reb Yaakovs went meshuggeh. Their sense of injustice truly farbrented for when Esterhazy was court martialed and acquitted within forty-eight hours. This Yid that who barely knew he was a Yid and doubtless wished more than ever that he wasn't was the greyster Yid of us all. Their shtures only increased when Esterhazy fled to England, redoubled when Dreyfus was re-tried and found guilty yet again under extenuating circumstances, and reached its hits grad as the mob outside the courthouse chanted not 'Death to Dreyfus,' but 'Death to the Jews.'

Among the Bransker, the Dreyfus-khopteh is now in year three. The new Rebbitzin, Batsheva Weberman, loudly wept in synagogue whenever she heard the name of Dreyfus. Dreyfus gets a special M'shebeirach every Shabbos for from Khazzen Nudler, to which there invariably comes the week's most ostentious choir of Amens.

.....So we immediately cut to four of the brothers smoking cigarettes in the Jewish cemetery: Shimon, Asher, Naftali, and Z'vulun, because who gives a drek..., and the last mentioned of whom is pisching on the headstone of the old Bransker Rebbe, Rabbi Chaim Schkop.....

"Don't fucking pisch on the Rebbe!" Asher knows he shouldn't be surprised but he's stunned even so that Z'vulun broke off from their stance around the latest Yiddish paper which Tateh hasn't even seen yet, looking at this ridiculous bild of this kadkokhes in France.

"Look at the schmattes on this amoretz! This guy's as Jewish as the shtupping Pope!"

"Look at the stripes on his fucking hoot!

"And what the shtup is that mustache?

"How can a Yid who dresses like that ever not be guilty?"

"And what's with all the fucking knepls on his shirt? What color is that even?"

"It's, you won't believe this... Yosef told me.... The French uniform is red, white, and blue!"
"Reyt, weiss, und bleu? How the fuck do the zelners go to the feld without the other soldiers knowing where to shoot them a hectare away?!"

"Even a feinschmeker like this guy wouldn't walk into a barber and say 'MAKE THE MUSTACHE LOOK LIKE THE HAIR OVER MY PUTZ!"

"Seriously, why the fuck do all these alte trombeniks give a dreck about some French faygaleh?"

Chapter 3:

"And who's the faygaleh here?"

"Tak, we know what that word means!"

Less than twenty meters away, directly next to the Jewish cemetery's wooden fence; six Polish boys, three of them the Kowalski brothers, whose father Yakub Kowalski was known through Bransk, Bielsk, Wiesocki, and Ciecanowiech as 'der Yid merderer', facing them along with Franczisek Nowak, Filip Wiśniewski, and Aleksander Wojcik. The shortest of these chuligans fifteen centimeters hecher than the tallest Kharlap.

Ochen vey, these four Kharlap boys; known to every Bransker but Reb Yaakov as "Deh Kharlap Khaleryehs," who'd vitsed and kibbitzed their way through every heylik taboo Reb Yaakov gelernt them was pas nit, tsurikkummen six times a week as they had for more than five years to lean on centuries of headstones for Bransker Rebbes; never, so they thought, caught arrears yet by any macher of consequence, Jew or shaygets. Whom during precious time for arbet would go past a place for the dead, and even if they weren't working, what Yiddisheh kop would show himself to declare that he had gornisht besser tzu do during a weekday?

So while every Yiddisher mensch was supposed tzu sein in arbet, the Kharlap Khaleryehs came to the cemetary to smoke papiros, trink vodka und zubrowka; literally tsu pisch und dreck away the tahgs, makhting gelt in ways upon which we shall elaborate later, shpringen und shreyen heedless of who might hearn oder seehn, and to their knowledge, unobserved until this very moment when zex giant Foylish schmucks dare trample themselves upon our most holy erd.

"Look at these dupeks! Laughing sie na cemetery!"

"Smoking papieros too!"

"They probably think że sa special cuz they can read!"

"Well even if they're smieching sie na cemetery they still look as stupid as every other Zhid."

Jan Kowalski unzips his fly and starts to pisch on Rebbe Chaim Schkop's headstone.

"Oh don't siki..." Shimon, like all Kharlaps, knows fluent Polish but stops himself....

"Don't siki on what?" says Szimon Kowalski....

"Never mind..."

"Give me the newspaper"

Naftali obbliges. Jan drops the newspaper and the last third of his stream lands on the picture of Reb Dreyfus.

"So what were you zhids reading about?"

"They were probably learning more magic spells!"

"Nie don't know any magic spells."

"Naftali don't!"

Jan Kowalski picks up the Yiddish paper and grabs Shimon's head, "Look at these letters!" and shoves the pisch-filled newspaper into Shimon's face.

Szimon Kowalski pipes up "This is probably the newspaper where you learn the magicznych spells that killed our baby sister."

"Tak." Jan resumes. "We hear all about your family. A rodzina where all the kids live by być adults? That's fucking black magia!"

The other Kowalski chimes in next "You're probably here so nobody can hear your plans to poison our blyading wells!"

Shimon's meshuggeneh temper can't hold it in any longer. "Well maybe if your kind cleaned their shtupping wells once in a while your kid siostra wouldn't get sick and die!"

There are seven seconds of silence.

"What are you saying? That you fucking mordecas of Christ have the secret to not getting chory this whole time and you've been keeping it from us?"

"Shimon zey shtil!"

"Go back to your shtupping Boyars and Priests! They knew it this whole time and kept it from you to keep you stupid!"

"Are you calling our Holy Fathers liars?"

"They're fucking thieves and rapists and merderers!"

At the same moment, Naftali and Zvulun bolt away like rodents who spot a wolf. Nowak and Wiśniewski grab ahold of Shimon from either side.

"Asher, helf mikh!"

Asher hesitates for three seconds.

"Well Asher, are you going to help yo...?"

Asher can't even hear the end of the line before he sprints away at a speed meant to catch up with Naftali and Zvulun.

"Your zhid brothers have left you."

Five minutes later, the Polacks leave Shimon for dead.