Elvis Costello says he won’t perform in Israel anymore.
Should we care?
What do we do when some of our favorite performers voice opinions about the Middle East that are not necessarily to our liking? (I must admit, this would’ve been a lot tougher on me if it’d been Springsteen.)
Maybe you haven’t heard but Elvis recently announced he was canceling his scheduled performances in Tel Aviv next month.
“One lives in hope that music is more than mere noise, filling up idle time, whether intending to elate or lament,” he wrote on his Web site. “Then there are occasions when merely having your name added to a concert schedule may be interpreted as a political act that resonates more than anything that might be sung and it may be assumed that one has no mind for the suffering of the innocent.”
Costello said he was concerned that playing Israel would result in some of his Israeli fans and others believing that he accepted “the policies of their government on settlement and … conditions that visit intimidation, humiliation or much worse on Palestinian civilians in the name of national security.”
Attempting to be evenhanded, he noted that Palestinians have committed “many despicable acts of violence perpetrated in the name of liberation.”
Costello concluded that “sometimes a silence in music is better than adding to the static,” and that his cancellation was “a matter of instinct and conscience.”
I’ve always liked Elvis Costello and his music. He’s absolutely brilliant. And you’ve got to admire him for taking a stand on something he believes in.
But one wonders, why did Elvis book the gigs in Tel Aviv in the first place if he opposes Israeli policies? After all, not much has changed recently over there. Did he just pick up a newspaper?
Also, I’m glad he’s living up to his conscience, but if he really recognizes that both sides have done horrible things, wouldn’t it have made more sense to play your concerts there and promote coexistence and peaceful relations, like Paul McCartney did a couple of years ago?
Does treating Israel like a pariah, like apartheid-era South Africa, really sound like an effective method?
Did Elvis need a cause? As any of his fans know, he can be impulsive. This is the same guy who years ago, at the height of his fame, got into a drunken brawl with Stephen Stills’ band members after he used the N-word in reference to James Brown and Ray Charles. (He later publicly apologized.)
I’m not ready to take my old Elvis Costello records out to my backyard and start a bonfire. I wouldn’t advise American Jews or anyone else to boycott his concerts or to start picketing the venues he plays at. He has a right to perform wherever he wants.
But before dipping his toe into the vortex and sordid mess that is Middle East politics, I just wish he would’ve thought things through a bit.
Yesterday, my wife called me at work. Normally, in the crush of deadlines, she knows better. But this was different.
“Your cousin from Long Island left a message at home,” she said. “Sounds like you should call her back.”
I immediately called back my cousin, who is named after the same person as I am (our grandfather) and to whom I have not spoken in about 17 years. She was calling to inform me that her mother—my 85-year-old ailing aunt—had passed away suddenly. The funeral was held only a few hours after her passing, so I was too late to attend. I hadn’t talked to my aunt in about five or six years, and hadn’t seen her since the early ‘90s.
My cousin, who is an Orthodox Jew, wailed over the phone lines. She and her sister no longer speak, for reasons that she says are generally beyond her comprehension but (she contends) most likely stem from her sister now being “ultra-Orthodox.”
“Why does this happen in our family? She wouldn’t even come near me at the funeral,” she cried. “I barely know you and you’re my first-cousin. We have the same blood coursing through our veins. This is ridiculous. Life’s too short.”
Of course, she’s right. Life is too short for such pettiness and animosity between family members.
But what comes up between us all to cause such coldness, insensitivity and thoughtlessness? Why do these little cold wars crop up?
For many families, it’s money issues. In other cases, some people feel slighted or hurt over an incident or two – “You snubbed me at Bobby’s bar mitzvah,” “I was seated next to the kitchen at Susie’s wedding,” “You never visited my mother in the nursing home,” “You didn’t invite us for Pesach,” etc.
In my family’s case, it just about always came down to one thing—religion.
You know, the `Who is frummer than who?’ syndrome. Who uses the elevator on Shabbos. Who ate what at “that restaurant.” Who drove to where on what holiday.
We’re talking about the kind of one-upmanship that often goes on about who’s the richest or has the nicest house or biggest car in a family. In this case, it’s about who’s the most observant and dots all the “right” i’s and crosses the “right” t’s. Maybe you have a similar situation in your family.
So many times, as a kid, I saw my late father with tears in his eyes when he called my aunt—who he was crazy about—only to learn that one of his nieces had just gotten married and we hadn’t been invited. Or letting her know that we were in New York, only to have her say she wasn’t interested in a visit from us. As if we were going to bring over a bushel of crabs, or would spread our heathen germs.
How do you forgive and forget such callousness, such lack of humanity and familial bond, especially when it’s in the name of so-called faith, spirituality and “Yiddishkeit”? It’s not easy. But I guess you try. Somehow.
I realize that my cousin who called me is in deep pain. She just lost her beloved mother (may she rest in peace), and she feels a deep void in her life.
“This is religion?” she shouted to me on the phone, alluding to the chasm between her and her sister. “Where people don’t talk to each other, because one thinks that she’s better than the other? This is being a mentsch? This is religion?”
No, it’s not.