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Idol Chatter

Idol Chatter

Their So-Called Life After Matisyahu

posted by burb

Two key players at J-Dub Records, the label that was summarily dissed and dismissed by the Hasidic hipster Matisyahu last month, appeared on “Soundcheck,” on New York City’s public radio station, yesterday to discuss the label’s future. Aaron Bisman and Jacob Harris (left) sounded more world-weary than bitter about the split with Matisyahu (though they were sure to point out which of the reggae-reb’s hits from his gold album, “Live at Stubbs,” were written by Ben Hesse, Bisman’s co-founder). While they were proud to be giving young Jews a modern, modish way to build community, the pair made clear that they didn’t see the Jewish market as even the primary audience for their artists.

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Noted, but it’s hard to imagine lightning like Matisyahu striking twice. The label’s latest signings–including SoCalled, a “dorky white Jewish kid” from Montreal who taught himself Yiddish to make klezmer hip-hop; Golem, who count among their influences The Pogues, They Might Be Giants, and gypsies from the Ukraine; and the multinational collective Balkan Beatbox–all lack the rush of weird wailings of the bearded, black-clad Matisyahu.

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The Passover Tour?

posted by donna freitas

Yesterday, NPR’s Terry Gross interviewed the members of “What I Like About Jew,” the quirky duo Rob Tannenbaum and Sean Altman, who sing jokey, cabaret-style songs about Jewish traditions and life. The two men recently released their newest CD, “Unorthodox,” and are about to go on a short, but major-venue West Coast tour beginning Saturday, April 15th.

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“What I Like About Jew” has already packed such NYC hotspots as The Knitting Factory and Fez, garnering praise from the likes of “The Village Voice,” the “New Yorker,” and “The New York Times” in the process.

Check them out! Give the interview a listen, visit their website, and see for yourself whether their wacky tunes might add a little levity to these upcoming religious holidays.

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God or the Girl? Young Aspiring Priests Make Tough Decisions

posted by donna freitas

Meet Joe, Steve, Mike, and Dan, four men who star in a new five-part A&E series called “God or the Girl?” which begins airing on April 16th. Why the quandary in the title, God or the girl? Who’s to say you can’t have both? Well, these 20-somethings are engaged in discerning whether or not to enter into the Catholic priesthood, which, of course, requires a vow of celibacy–read: no girls.

Yet, aside from the girls question, what makes this show tick? After years of considering whether to enter seminary, all four of these young men agreed to make their final decision about the priesthood at the end of four weeks of filming, giving the show that “countdown feeling” we audiences seem to love.

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A bit about each cast member:

Joe is 28, living in Ohio, and has been debating whether to become a priest for 10 years. His interest in the priesthood seems almost entirely based on his mother’s desperate need for one of her six sons to become a priest, and viewers get to observe her disturbing onscreen presence in Joe’s life; she says she thinks he’s not fit for marriage and hounds him about making his decision so she can be relieved of her “stress” of not knowing. Joe’s mom is not at all shy about how disappointed she’ll be if he fails her in this endeavor. Perhaps a better title for Joe’s dilemma would be: My Mom or the Girl?

Steve is 24, a rich, successful former frat-boy from UVA who gave up his career to become a poor missionary after he began to feel the call to the priesthood. His story relies heavily on the fact that he’s given up his $500,000 condo, $80,000/year salary, and a four-year relationship with his girlfriend for a life of poverty, celibacy, and devotion to the church. Aside from a missionary trip to Guatemala, which Steve undertakes only after much pressure and convincing from a mentor, his story is the least interesting of the four. His overriding dilemma: God or Money?

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Mike from Pennsylvania seems to be the only guy in this series, ironically, who actually has a girl about whom girl to debate. His story centers on his very happy and healthy relationship with his pretty girlfriend, Ally, whom he loves very much and whom his parents clearly hope their son will marry. This, in addition to Mike’s aspirations to teach elementary school–which somehow are painted as in conflict with the priesthood–is central to his debate. I’m not sure why, as a priest, he also couldn’t teach elementary school, since lots of priests are teachers, but somehow this has become a conflict for him. Aside from his real dilemma about his girlfriend, the most interesting and disturbing dimension of his story is the “mentor priest” in Mike’s life, Father Paucelli, who is supposedly “helping” him discern his calling. But, as viewers will see, Father Paucelli really just seems desperate for Mike to break up with his girlfriend and become a priest, regardless of the clear affinity Mike shows for marriage in his future.

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Dan, 20, and also from Ohio, is perhaps the most interesting of all four: He is both what his ex-girlfriend calls a “Chick Magnet” (think Heath Ledger back in his “Ten Things I Hate About You” days) and what only can be described as a Catholic zealot. Dan’s story revolves around his decision to carry an 80-pound cross (yes, you read this correctly–just like Jesus) for 22 miles in the company of the guys he lives with in Catholic community. He undertakes the challenge at the urging–disturbingly–of his mentor, Father Jeff. Father Jeff’s bright idea is that by literally suffering like Jesus by carrying this cross, Dan will be able to better make his decision about the priesthood. Dan doesn’t seem to have much of a dilemma at all, and perhaps his story is best titled: God or God?

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As I watched the stories of these four men unfold over the course of the series–A&E sent four of the five episodes to reviewers–I kept wondering: Was each episode intentionally cut to emphasize the more controversial dimensions of what these men experience or is the priestly discernment process itself simply a framework for extreme behavior and advice? For example, does Father Jeff contrive Dan’s cross-carrying journey for the purposes of the show, or does he genuinely conceive it as a method for discernment? Is the intense, self-interested pressure placed on these aspiring priests by their mentors par for the course in the discernment process or peculiarly unique to the men on the show? Between Joe’s mother, Mike’s Father Paucelli, and Dan’s Father Jeff, the “guidance” given by these advisors appear to be largely self-interested and even desperate at times–desperate to attract young men into the profession, even at the cost of what obviously seems to be their best interest. (Steve is the only one of the four whose mentor does not seem to have ulterior, personal motives in whether or not Steve chooses the priesthood.)

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Whether or not the issue of girls is really at the crux of the discernment process, as the title of this series implies, or is just a clever device to spice up the show is a question that lingered in my mind as I watched the stories of Joe, Steve, Mike, and Dan unfold as they tried to make this major life decision. Yet, regardless, this show is sure to draw viewers, if only for the unique nature of the topic, and the strange desire audiences will surely feel as they wonder whether Dan will be able to manage his 22-two mile trek with an 80 pound, homemade, wooden cross–or whether Joe will finally tell his mother to go to hell.

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Big Inspiration In “Little People”

posted by kris rasmussen

It’s not like I want to invest my time in yet another reality show, but then last weekend I just happened to stumble across one of TLC’s relatively new series, “Little People, Big World”–and now I feel like I am the newest member of the Roloff family. Matt and Amy Roloff are dwarves, standing only about four feet tall, who have four children, some who are average height (the Roloffs do not use the word “normal”), and some who are small-statured like their parents. The series chronicles the family’s challenges as they run a business and tend a 35-acre farm. The show also gives an up-close look at the daily struggles of being vertically challenged in our fast-paced society.

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There are many reasons to applaud this show, from the way it respects the Roloffs’ unique world to the way it balances the portrayal of their challenges along with their truimphs. While most reality shows try to outsleaze each other with outlandish casting and prurient premises, the Roloffs make for engrossing T.V. because they do not feel sorry for themselves, and instead dream big dreams and take big risks because they want to teach their childen to do the same.

The series also succeeds because not all of the challenges the Roloffs face are specific to their height. While they do face obstacles doing simple tasks we take for granted–such as using a hotel bathroom or pulling a traffic ticket off the windshield of their SUV–they also struggle with problems we can all relate to: paying the bills, worrying about how they are raising their kids, and quibbling with each other about the petty stuff of daily life.

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The Roloffs’ faith is also represented on the show, but in a very low-key–dare I say it–normal way. The family prays together at dinner, the kids go to a private Christian school, and they make references to the fact that they believe God created them this way for a reason.

In a culture where “diversity” has become a much over-used buzz word, finally here is a series that actually does celebrate diversity, not in a staged-for-ratings way, but in an authentic way that truly creates a better understanding of a different lifestyle. I was so inspired by this family, after only watching one episode, that I found myself taking time to examine what I complain about but shouldn’t, what is holding me back in my life that shouldn’t, and how I could be just a little more like the Roloffs.

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