Idol Chatter

It seems that Madonna’s Kabbalah connection with Lindsay Lohan may be reaching new heights of mystical ecstacy.
is featuring pictures of Lohan with a Jewish “chai” charm necklace. It is not clear whether wearing the Hebrew word for “life” around her neck actually puts the starlet firmly in the Kabbalah camp, but she isn’t a stranger to the most famous Kabbalah adornment, the red string bracelet. Perhaps, she’s just on the Hebrew hip train like Scientologist Kirstie Alley, who has been seen carrying around a satchel emblazoned with Yiddish phrases.

Regardless of Ms. Lohan’s religious leanings, it seems that the mentoring Material Girl may have made a prodigious choice in this former child star. But maybe she should hold off on giving her new friend the 900-year-old Zohar she’d given Britney Spears–and reportedly requested back when Spears rejected Kabbalah.

I’m a sucker for unique music combinations (think: Metallica’s “S&M” collaboration with the San Francisco Symphony). So when I listened to the first track off Celtic punk band Flatfoot 56’s soon-to-be re-released album, “Knuckles Up,” I was immediately drawn in to the tribal-like drumming, electric guitar chords, and sweet mandolin playing–which soon gave rise to louder, faster drumming and more powerful guitar and mandolin playing. It was a much different sound than your standard punk song, which is usually very simple and predictable in style and arrangement (a couple of guitar chords and a screaming lead singer).

The song “This Town” is also unique in another way–it’s a positive anthem for change, something you don’t often hear in more traditional punk music, which is more aggressive. And then, of course, you’ve got the band’s Christian thing.

Although Christian punk bands aren’t new, they’re new to me. And, this one I like. Flatfoot 56 is comprised of three brothers from the south-side of Chicago–Tobin, Justin and Kyle Bawinkel– and their friend Josh Robieson on bagpipes and mandolin.

Lead singer Tobin, who writes most of Flatfoot’s songs, is very outspoken about the Christian messages in his work. In a 2004 interview with “The Phantom Tollbooth” he said, “Our lyrics talk a lot about brotherhood; standing strong with our brothers in the Lord, under Christ’s banner; being a light for Christ. Many times our lyrics talk about our struggle with sin; how God’s grace is always there to pick us all up when we fall down…”

Although the album was originally released in 2005, it will be re-released on June 27th, and will include new packaging, a new and sharper re-mastered sound, and a music video for their single “Brotherhood,” the album’s single about the power of friendship in standing up for what one believes.

One of my favorite songs off the album is a kicked-up version of “Amazing Grace.” You can listen to it streamed on Beliefnet here.

Tonight will mark the return of perhaps the one and only positive representation of American Muslims currently on primetime television. Unfortunately, instead of being on a show that is substantial and thought-provoking, it will be on something shallow and salacious–a reality TV show.

On the last season of CBS’ “Big Brother,” the show where a group of people are sequestered in a house and monitored by cameras 24/7, the smart but soft-spoken Kaysar Ridha became the clear fan favorite, even if he didn’t win the grand prize. With this season of “Big Brother” being an “all-star” season in which former house guests can be voted back into the Big Brother house by fans, it is almost inevitable that Ridha, the son of Iraqi immigrants, will be one of the former housemates to return.

Ridha, who is a graphic designer and has used his “Big Brother” fame to start a clothing company called IRockStar, said often last season that the only reason he went on the show was to help raise understanding of the issues Muslims in the Middle East as well as America face.

With the war still going on in Iraq, I think that is a better reason than most to go on a reality show. And I admit I liked watching Kaysar last season, and I do hope he returns for this season. I just don’t know if I can take another three months or four months of listening to host Julie Chen ask inane questions of the house guests or watch one more idiotic challenge to win “Head of Household.”

Couldn’t those of us who are not “Big Brother” fans just vote for CBS to give him a sitcom instead?

There comes a time in every musical artist or band’s life when he, she, or they recognize the superior majesty of another being and succumb to his control. I refer, of course, to the superiority of sound engineer Brian Eno, who has cast his spell in the past over Talking Heads, U2, and David Bowie, among others. That moment of surrender has now happened to Paul Simon.

Simon’s new album, “Surprise,” can’t really be called a collaboration between Eno and Simon, since the songwriter’s restless patter and wondering voice are too intimately recognizable. But there are moments where Eno’s skein of background sound seems to levitate the usually solidly earthbound Simon into a more transcendent musical place.

Which is entirely suitable to what is Simon’s most openly transcendent album. He has spoken in earlier songs of living in “an age of miracles and wonder,” but awe is not the prevailing spirit of the new album. “Surprise,” which has the wide-awake face of a baby on its cover, is the work of a man looking back on a life mostly lived, one who claims to be tired. “Who’s gonna love you when your looks are gone?” Simon asks in the song “Outrageous.” And he is thinking not only of his dotage, but beyond. Since his days with Art Garfunkel, Simon has sung about how to live rightly within situations (like the world, we are meant to understand) that are inherently morally compromised. Drug dealers, lovelorn misfits, bad kids on the lam, broken-down boxers have all spoken through Simon’s voice. On “Surprise,” they all seem to show up looking for peace at the end. “I want to rid my heart of envy, and cleanse my soul of rage before I’m through,” he sings in “Wartime Prayers.”

There is some direct discussion of religion on the album, much of it championing a liberal Democrat’s view of the Higher Power. The opening track reduces the notion of individual religions, sects, or denominations to a matter of regionalism. The song’s title, “How Can You Live in the Northeast?” is followed by a list of questions, including “How can you be a Christian? How can you be a Jew? How can you be a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Hindu?” and follows this by asking, “If the answer is infinite light, why do we sleep in the dark?” A bout of conscience, Simon sings, “sure don’t feel like love.” It sounds more like low self-esteem.

But the surprise of the album—the surprise for all of his characters and for all of us–is that God does exist, and Simon’s not afraid to say it. To his question in “Outrageous”–Who’s gonna love you when your looks are gone?”–he answers simply, “God will.” Even in “I Don’t Believe,” in which the speaker doubts whether even kindness is anything more than a fairy tale, he ends with a plea that one’s love not be “all that there is or could ever exist.”

In a time when even churchmen urge us to approach faith from a place of doubt, Simon approaches doubt from the point of view of faith.

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