Issue 4 - Spring 2007 - The Big Issue
AND YOU SHALL KNOW US BY THE TRAIL OF OUR VINYL
The People of the Book and the LPs they have loved and lost
BY ROGER BENNETT AND JOSH KUN
The creation of the state of Israel in 1948 was a revolutionary idea, made a physical reality after 2,000 years of existing quite handily as a theoretical exilic dream. Jews dutifully flocked to the nascent state from all quarters — from everywhere, that is, except the United States, where Fairfax, Los Angeles, Queens, New York, and Skokie, Illinois, had become the promised land. So what did the Jewish state mean to American Jews? There are few better places to look for an answer than on record covers, which exploded into the American home at the same time as Israel was created. The mass-market birth of the twelve-inch long-playing record format in 1948 led to the release of hundreds of albums a week. While we adamantly agree with the old chestnut, “You can’t tell a book by its cover,” we believe you can tell a lot about a nation by its record covers. They are as good a way as any to trace the myriad of stories and representations of the Jewish experience in America.
A cursory glance reveals that Israel has had more image makeovers than Bowie and Madonna combined. It appeared first as a geographic reality, introducing Americans to the topographical differences between the desert of Ein Gedi and the agri-urban splendor of cities such as Haifa. The architects of the Zionist plan then took their best shot at tempting young Americans to move to the promised land by representing it as the 1950s equivalent of a Hooters girl — a swarthy, chesty, feminine pioneer toiling in the fields but ready to be known in a biblical way during the lunch hour. That strategy was quickly discarded in the wake of a series of mythical military victories, most notably the Six-Day War in 1967, in which Israel became known to all as a desert warrior and albums promised, as in The Battle for Jerusalem, that they were “Recorded Live!” But as the ugly realities of war took hold, Israel played the only card it had left: to show it was more American than America, a state like any other state, pumping out lounge crooners such as Gadi Elon, known, according to the liner notes, “from the lounges of Las Vegas to the trenches of Tel Aviv.” &