Remember that uniquely teenage feeling of hearing a song for the first time and knowing it had just changed your life forever?
If you are of my vintage, that memory is rooted in the seventies, a sublime moment for rock, early punk and popular music. Who was not devastated by the tragic father-son quid pro quo of Harry Chapin's "Cat's in the Cradle"...and inspired to parent differently? Who could fail to be shattered by the candor and heartbreak of Janis Ian's "At Seventeen?" Whose mind was not utterly blown by Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb," whose depiction of a drug-induced stupor seemed a metaphor for my very existence?
Naturally, I felt the same way about books -- having been catapulted into higher consciousness by Portnoy's Complaint, Fear of Flying, The Bell Jar, Go Ask Alice, Call it Sleep and the vast literature of my adolescence.
But the transformative power of books entailed a considerable commitment of time while songs delivered a speedy shot of mutation. Listening to David Bowie's "Rebel, Rebel" turned me -- a rabbi's girl from New York -- into an glamorexic, androgynous fashionista who could suddenly dance in a slinky, emotionally detached way. Tuning into the Talking Heads made me smarter and endlessly cynical. The music of The Moody Blues gave me goose bumps and a glimpse into a realm that was shimmering and mystical, liberated from concepts like kosher food, SAT scores and my virginity.
A year ago, I wrote a one-woman play about growing up as a rabbi's kid in the seventies, shaped by the glorious cacophony of Jewish liturgical music, Israeli pop and British and American punk, funk and rock.
In the course of writing my play, I was able to examine the extent to which my worldview was shaped by these competing cultural influences. Juxtaposing Shabbat prayers and pioneer songs of the State of Israel alongside, say, Elton John's "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" or the Beatles' "White Album", I beheld my unique musical heritage...and found it both rich and hilarious. In the opening of act of my show -- "The Rabbi's Girl Presents: Songs of Religion and Rebellion," I call out the crazy stew of conflicting influences:
During the seventies, the music of mainstream culture came crashing into our Jewish home, clashing and colliding with my parents' 1950's values, forming a crazy cacophony with the profusion of prayers and religious songs.
I was a brown-eyed girl in a psychedelic world. Leah in the sky... with diamonds.
I wanted Hot Stuff but settled for hot pastrami.
I was Born to Run but shackled to the synagogue.
On Friday night I blessed the Sabbath Queen but on Saturday night I worshipped the music of Queen... from my home in Queens.
My life was a meshuggeneh mash-up I like to call "Gefilte Groovy."
Writing "The Rabbi's Girl Presents" returned me to the musical mindfulness of being a teen, the belief that a single song can change your life.
But I must credit my teenage son Jude, with inspiring me to enter the palace of musical memory in the first place.
The youngest of my three children, Jude is a singer/songwriter who plays seven instruments. The only one of my three kids with a driver's license, Jude is my fellow road-tripper, helping me clock thousands of miles of highways, conversation... and music. Now a freshman at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA, I've had the privilege of having Jude curate the songs he loves on our trips to and from Manhattan, introducing me to bands I had overlooked or simply never heard of.
In our mobile sound booth, I've also had front row seat at performances of Jude's original music, premiering new works I have heard him composing at home, getting a glimpse into my son's soul through lyrics that are startling and surprisingly sophisticated.
Hearing Jude speak about what a particular song means to him -- "Miller's Angels" by Counting Crows; "Leaving on a Jet Plane," by John Denver; "Brandon's Death Song" by the Red Hot Chili Pepper or his newest original song, "This Dirty City," -- has opened up that channel within my fifty-something self that was shuttered by the process of becoming a grown-up.
While I like to credit myself with introducing Jude and his older brother and sister to the great music of my childhood and adolescence -- thus providing them with a solid foundation and essential seventies cultural literacy -- the stream of influence has reversed itself. While I will periodically introduce a new find to my kids, it is they who are my new music mentors.
It is not just new songs or artists that they lead me to. They are the guides to my former self.
Now, for the first time in over thirty years, hearing a new song -- or a beloved familiar one -- makes me break out in goose bumps, causes tears to cascade down my cheeks, blows my mind and fills me with the happy conviction that my life has been changed forever.