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A Message Cloaked in Melody

Riva Pomerantz

When the first Journeys album debuted, it was something entirely new: heartfelt music set to original English lyrics, in a language and style that felt current and American but still eminently Jewish to thousands of fans. That secret formula marks just about every melody created by Abie Rotenberg — from kiddie fare to kumzitz classics. In a memorably candid conversation, Abie shares the inspiration that sparked years of compositions.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

There is a panoply of personalities at my doorstep. A jaded yeshivah bochur wary of the dating scene, an anxious woman contemplating her upcoming Pesach cleaning chores, a Sephardic schmaltz-herring eater from Holon, and a baseball bat–toting member of the once-legendary East Side Bums all crowd in. Close behind follow a wizened inventor of a marvelous machine, the former owner of a coveted Joe DiMaggio baseball card, and even a little neshamah’leh, flying in together with his very own malach’l. A crazy hallucination? A mixed-up dream? Those of you who are already hearing strains of music know better. My multifaceted visitor is none other than Abie Rotenberg, the man behind the music of Journeys, D’veykus, Aish, HASC, The Marvelous Midos Machine, and more.

He comes bearing gifts — a handful of CDs and the much-coveted Journeys Songbook — and he’s also brought “protection”: longtime producer and close friend Mutty Grunberg of M&M Enterprises, who, in his other life, travels the world as a mashgiach kashrus. Mutty has just returned from Tibet, where, he tells me, he supervised the milking of yaks.

It’s a great way to get us going this morning — probably fodder for another article! I know I’ve wanted to talk with Abie Rotenberg ever since I first listened to his hypnotic music. How, I have marveled time and again, does he do it? How does this Los Angeles-born, Toronto-based businessman use his spare time to create such a wide variety of songs, spinning the words, themes, and tunes so enchantingly that the mind and soul cannot help but be stirred to inspiration and even change?

Abie’s sincere, soft-spoken words shine a spotlight on the art of music-making, the messages behind his songs, and even the future of Jewish music. This is a rare concert, low-key but powerful, and much of it is performed backstage. We begin at the beginning, with the essence of music, and Abie is — well, amazingly Abie. Thoughtful, contemplative, creative, and totally, refreshingly real.

 

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