Sunday, July 25, 2010

Love Songs for Tu b'Av - I

There were no greater festivals for Israel than the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur. On these days the daughters of Jerusalem would go out... and dance in the vineyards. And what would they say? "Young man, raise your eyes and see which you select for yourself...." -- Talmud, Taanit 26b
What would the beautiful ones among them say? "Look for beauty, for a woman is for beauty."What would those of prestigious lineage say? "Look for family, for a woman is for children." What would the ugly ones say? "Make your acquisition for the sake of Heaven, as long as you decorate us with jewels" (Talmud, Taanit 31a).

This is the first record I remember owning and listening to over and over. It was a 45 with a paper sleeve. I don't remember what was on the "B" side. Or maybe this was the "B" side. I listened to it on a small, portable, blue and yellow record player whose lid opened to reveal a speaker, volume control, turntable, speed control (78-45-33), and a solid looking tone arm. It also had an AM radio that I listened to the Jack Benny Show and the Fibber McGee and Molly Show on. After listening to this I knew that girls were the best thing G-d ever created, a fitting crown to creation and much better than men. Many, many years later I would sing this song to little Shoshana F., and it would give her night fears for many months. Sometimes things just don't work out with women.

If Mr. Sandman can't bring your love by night, perhaps Mr. Postman can do it by day. The refrain "wait a minute, wait a minute, oh yeah" recalls the yearning for a word from one's beloved "so far away". "You've got mail" just doesn't do it.

The Fab Fours' cover of Mr. Postman, with their trademark harmonies, is one of my favorite renderings of this classic.

...and sometimes, even if Mr. Postman does bring the letter, a cruel lover can spurn its delivery. Here is Elvis' Return to Sender. An SMTP return header just doesn't compare.

Then there is the touching plea, "Love Me Tender, Love Me Sweet", sung by the incomparable, the original, The King, Elvis Presley. Was there ever such a snarling smile in all of history?

Elvis, as we now know, was halachically Jewish through matralineal descent via his great-grandmother, Martha Tacket (1852-1887). He wore a Chai necklace and a Chai medallion off and on throughout the '70s, and had a Mogen Dovid carved on his mother's tombstone, along with the much more prominent cross, because after all, they were still Christian.

Elvis Presley's family tree.

Elvis' Chai Necklace.

Star of David carved on Gladys Presley's Grave.

Much of this information was explored in depth in Elaine Dundy's excellent book about Elvis and his mother, Elvis and Gladys.

I grew up in Memphis in the '50s and '60s. Elvis' mansion, Graceland, was in Whitehaven on what was then Highway 51, way out in the sticks. It was on a large tract of land with a colonial-style home that had a colonnade front, and surrounded by a fence whose most prominent feature was the wrought iron gates with large musical notes and guitars. As a tenn ager, I used to drive by the house and run in to learn a blat Gemorah with Elvis. I usually brought a black skull cap for him to wear. I remember commenting on how well it looked on his slicked-back duck tail hairdo, which he made all the rage. But he never took to it, thinking it squished all the  air out of his hair making him look flat-headed. "Ahrah, Ah mahy be a Jew," he used to declare to me, "but I showh as heck don'wanna lukh lakh won."

After he died, we would often return to Memphis during August, the month of his Yahrzeit, to visit family. There were always hordes of Elvis fans at the airport who would come to town mid-month to commemorate his Yahrzeit, keeping vigil outside of Graceland where he is buried, holding candles throughout the night and day of his passing.

Elvis at the famous music notes gates of Graceland.

Later in life we bought a tshatshke ash tray with his photo on it at the Memphis Airport and kept it in our living room, not far from a photo of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. We would tell people we had two Kings in our living room: The King of Rock and Roll and HaMelech HaMashiach, one technically Jewish, the other who made more technical Jews really Jewish than anyone else in the world.

1 comment:

  1. DEAREST AHRAH, t'was really good of you to share all this wonderful stuff on your Super-Blog, thank you so very much!!! ... CHEERS!


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