touching our hearts

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Looking back at those days, some thirty years ago in Jerusalem, we were wide open and unsophisticated, but we didn’t know it at the time. The sixties were long behind us, and it seemed at the time as if life had settled down, and folks had gotten serious. But it was still pretty easy to find music somewhere on a week night, and on a Saturday night it was a sure thing. There were a number of bars that were happy to host a performance. You’d see locals and tourists, and expatriates from all over the world who’d find their way here for one reason or another.

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You could see them in the park on a sunny winter day, or in the spring and summer… making music for themselves till they got an audience, and then turning an accidental meeting into a full performance. And there were some very talented people who worked a day job, but came out at night to play. Often the venue was lit by dim lamps or candles because the place itself was lacking anything in the way of decoration, and if it was well lit, we’d have been distracted by the dusty shelves, the deteriorated furniture, or the garish paint peeling off the walls.

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But we didn’t notice all of that. We’d come without expectations, and reveled in the music. Most of us knew one another, by sight if not by name, and we’d have a good time, and a few drinks as the evening grew long. We loved the performers without there having to play a role for us… and if someone started accompanying the musicians while sitting at a table in the bar, he was liable to be asked to come join the band. The scene was very informal.

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There were two stars though, in those days. And though each had their own career, they would often perform together. Libby and Ted. Sometimes they had a whole band to back them up, and sometimes it was just Ted accompanying Libby. They performed the blues and some rock and roll. And when they got into the mood, they could just tear the night down the middle, and stop all conversation in the bar, as everyone there would focus on them, and forget anything else.

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Libby would belt out a blues or some soul song, and she’d have the power of Janis Joplin, though it was never an imitation. She was just doing her own thing. And I remember on numerous occasion, hearing a passing visitor say, ‘Wow, she’s great. Is she famous? Has she made any records?’ Well, she was famous in our town. But I don’t think she ever got to the music big time. She was known in a lot of places here in Israel. I guess you need more than talent to make it big. A lot of drive, and ambitions, and a bit of luck. Sometimes you have to sacrifice part of your private life too. But back in those days, we didn’t need any more than we had… and we had some really fine music of all types.

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75 responses to “touching our hearts

  1. The pictures are so beautiful and evocative Shimon, I could almost hear them performing. Thank you.

  2. Great essay and photos. Amazing that you still had them.

    • Having been a photographer for a great many years, I have more photographs than I’ll ever get around to seeing again. But sometimes, it is good to have another look. Thanks for your comment, Lisa.

  3. Shimon, thank you for sharing this. This was wonderful! I felt like I was there!

  4. It’s curious how music stirs us…like it’s a primal thing, sometimes evoking a great and visible response, and other times causing such a stillness and peace. I enjoyed the post, Shimon…another walk with you down memory-lane.

    • Music, like many other cultural phenomena, can be quite different for different people. I agree with you, though, it’s a primal thing. It opens up our souls. Thank you for joining me, Scott. Sometimes, I see some black and white on a friend’s blog, and it reminds me of my days of black and white.

  5. Your photos capture the musical passion of those moments. We had something similar in London – an old coal cellar, Bunjie’s, where groups and musicians would just turn up and play, and we could buy apple strudel. It was a scene that seems to have gone – Bunjie’s closed in 1999 and is now a restaurant. There’s a link here if you’re interested: http://www.folkblues.co.uk/forum/files/f88a21c581888ad76d0ad574aeddd24d-63.html

    • Thank you for that great link, Gill. Yes, it does bring back memories of the old days, and I imagine that there was a certain similarity of atmosphere in many cities. I just wrote about two here. But I could have written about a lot more. Maybe one of these days I’ll get back to this subject. These two were special, because they sang in English, and the style was international. And those folk songs and blues did focus on common concerns and interests that crossed borders and brought people together.

  6. I worked in a blues bar for a year or so; as you say, Shimon, there is so much beautiful talent in the world that never becomes “famous,” but marks our memories and forever evokes a specific time and place…I love these photographs. Made me wonder: what became of Libby?

    • Libby left the spotlight for a while, and raised a family. But we still see her now and then at festivals. Glad you liked the pictures, Kitty. And you’re so right. Some become great stars, but a there are a lot of talented people that stay with us in our hearts, and have added something to our life experience. Thanks for your comment.

  7. Beautifully written, Shimon.
    The joy and passion of music, wonderful.

  8. Great photos. The best music is so often impromptu.

  9. On our way home from the Alberta Flood Relief Concert last night…sitting with friends on the C-train, we were visiting about musicians, artists and the necessity they have within them to create…your post is so timely for me. We talked about our memories listening to so many performers at folk festivals and small clubs just like those you describe here. Beautiful!

    • Yes, it’s really good to know that this is still happening, Kathleen. Though it does seem as if the super performances in the big halls and the sports stadiums seem to get most of the attention these days. I enjoyed the intimacy of the old days. Thanks for your comment.

  10. What a fantastic post. I swear I could almost hear the music. I love bars that are candle lit and wish I’d heard these two sing and perform together! How lovely to think that people could just join in and become part of the band! Wow!

    The photos are brilliant, especially the fifth one….and you can see Libby’s passion in the final one. Wonderful!!!

    • Yeah, Dinah… that last picture of Libby is a favorite of mine. She was raising the roof with her song, and I saw the blood pulsing in her throat. At that moment, I took the photograph. And that’s the way I remember that wonderful night. Love your comments, and love to share with you. xxx

  11. Aah Shimon…from a song I like “those were the days my friend…we thought they’d never end”…oh yes, those were the days and what wonderful days and times they were. Music is special…moves and touches one in so many ways…very special times! Thanks for such a beautiful look into the past.

    • Very glad you joined me in the memories… and yes, it did seem then, as if they would never end. Thanks very much for the comment, Vasca. Always so good to hear from you.

  12. Wonderfully written post of some wonderful times. There is nothing like an afternoon or evening of music that fills your soul.

    • Thanks, Angeline. You’ve taken some pictures at musical venues that I enjoyed very much. In those days, we had to decide whether to work in color or in black and white before the shoot. And often, when shooting in bars or night clubs, I chose black and white because I could get greater sensitivity from them. It’s gotten easier to photograph these days.

  13. Beautiful story and pictures.

  14. Music is such an important part of our lives. It is hard to imagine a world without music. Each of us passes through a time in our lives that is carefree and full of pleasure.

    • That’s true for many of us, Gypsy Bev. But this is as good a time as any to remember that there are those who are born deaf or lose their hearing at some time in their life, and don’t have the pleasure of music. How easy it seems in this era to forget the disadvantaged among us. They are not on the billboards, and not in the advertisements we are exposed to daily. I don’t choose to pity them. I prefer to learn from them. To learn that there are many ways to appreciate this life. For those who don’t have eyes, there are ears to fill them with the world. And one of my all time favorite heroes was Helen Keller, who wrote a wonderful book that I read in the sixties, ‘the story of my life’ in which she says, “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved”.

      • One of my favorite quotes from Helen Keller states: “The best and most beautiful things in this world cannot be seen or even touched…They must be felt with the heart.”

  15. Your photos capture so much personality, mood, and emotion. Thanks for sharing this evening from the past with us!

    • Very often, at such get-togethers, I would photograph the audience more than the entertainers, because they radiated the pleasure of the event. In this particular post, though, I concentrated on the performers. Glad you liked it, Ruth. Thanks for the comment.

  16. I remember those days of complete obliviousness. We had no idea where we were going, but we were certain that we’d get there. And save the world in the bargain. Poetry taught by Randall Jarrell the year before he stepped in front of a speeding car on a dark and lonely road. European history by an imposing Russian who promised to pass me if I just stayed in the class. He said there were enough stupid people in the world without my adding to their numbers… And there was the music. It was a fine time for a young person to have grown up. I really like these photographs. The last portrait is superb. Good things touched our hearts and defined who we would become.

    • You describe the learning experience so well, George. There are those who like to paint it as ridiculous. I remember a movie I saw some years back, in which students were described as animals, stirred only by lust and gluttony. But in fact, both as a student, and as a teacher, I saw the learning process happening in the bars and coffee houses as well as the classroom, and the students, with their eyes and ears wide open, feasting on culture and wisdom… their horizons ever growing. That last picture is one of my favorites… and the essence of the way I remember that wonderful evening.

  17. A beautiful music, like a good book, alway touch us deeply. Thank you for sharing the story, Mr. Shimon.

    • So true, Amy. Music opens up doors… and windows… towards the outside and towards the inside. It can help us listen to our souls, and discover our potentials. And the many different styles, forms and shapes are really unlimited. Almost everyone can find something that works for him. Thank you for your comment.

  18. Music stirs the soul … and your use of black and white here is fitting to take us back to the 60s.

    • Thank you Frank. I love the way you integrate music in your own life, singing and making music in your community… dancing, and wine tasting too. I see you as an example to all of us who wish to celebrate life. May you keep on going and never stop.

  19. I think taking photos of people is the hardest of all of the skills.I enjoy looking at them

    • It’s interesting, contemplating the many skills and talents we see around us. What’s easy for one person, is difficult for another. And we often find ourselves going back to what is most difficult for us personally, trying to meet the challenge. I am fascinated by faces, and so it’s not so difficult for me. But I remember that my father had great difficulties with faces. To me, it seems that judgment is the hardest skill of all. Perhaps that is why we say, ‘god is the true judge’. Thank you for your comment, Anna.

  20. Love these shots, Shimon and your writing, of course.

  21. Hi Shimon.
    I still wonder how you got ?fixed? into progressive Jazz. I love all music except what I call Rap Crap. I am unable to conceive how this is so popular here, and wonder if it exists there. If it doesn’t exist there…don’t do anything to upset the apple cart. It won’t be pretty. 😉 My daughter married a musician and I am so happy about it. He and a violin and/or mandolin, sure know each others anatomy.
    Best regards.

    • Oh Bob, how good it is to hear from you… I have a son-in-law who’s a sound man… and I think I’d prefer a musician… but one has to accept fate with smiling surrender. In answer to your question, I was educated in classical music, and learned to play the violin myself. At the stage when I began to question my father’s tutelage, I started investigating other forms of music. I listened to pop music and didn’t do much for me. And then I went to folk music and I found it fascinating. I listened to folk music from all over the world. I discovered Indian music, and would listen to the morning ragas in the morning, and the evening ragas in the evening. I was an adventurer and I kept on looking. But when I was studying in America, I discovered the beatniks, and I loved their poetry. And Kerouac loved jazz, so I started listening to jazz. That was it. Jazz grabbed me in a headlock and never let go. Now I listen to jazz more than anything else. Even this minute, as I write to you, I am listening to a wonderful train of thought by Chet Baker. He had a terrible end. How grateful I am to be a Jewish boy in Jerusalem listening to Chet Baker in New York… My very best to you always, my friend.

  22. Oh now I know I’ve been missing your posts … and will treat myself to one a day, going backwards from this one! I’m remembering thirty years ago here in Hawaii …. and our local singers. Your photos are wonderful and I’m so glad you kept them to share and bring us all back some memories. So often the most talented never do get the stardom they deserve .. but sometimes I think maybe they’re so very good because they loved their art enough not to care too much about the fame. And for some …. like Van Gogh .. and a little known Baroque composer, Zipoli …. they get that acknowledgement later. But I believe they love what they’re doing and it’s part of their souls. We’re the lucky one who get to enjoy them and their artistry.

    Thanks so much. Shimon …..

    • You know, Nikki, the very same thing happened to me with Garrison Keillor, about a year and a half ago. I love him, but I suppose I got distracted at the time. And when I checked out his site, I saw I’d missed a lot, and did just what you’re going to do. But since he sends out podcasts, I would load them on my MP3 player, and listened to one a day on my morning walk. And really enjoyed myself. http://prairiehome.publicradio.org/about/podcast/
      Some people never discover this, but stardom isn’t quite as much fun as it looks from the outside. You can be sitting in a bar having the time of your life, and all of a sudden there’s a line of people who want to shake your hand or get your autograph. Sometimes, it’s hard to just live your life. Good enough just to live our lives… have a few friends, a bottle of wine… and good music of course. Always good to hear from you.

  23. There is nothing like the thrill of a live performance at your local bar surrounded by your friends. I too miss those days.

    • Oh, you’re so right, Fatima. But you know, sometimes there are opportunities to reincarnate what was once. There are always young people trying out what we used to do. And if you look around, you might find a venue, not too far away, where it’s still happening. I hope you do… and thanks so much for the comment. Good to hear from you.

      • Staying in a campsite on the Loire Valley a performer came on stage last night playing the lovely songs that my old French teacher used to play for us in the classroom to learn French. It certainly brought back some beautiful memories and I was very glad to see I still remembered the words! Priceless!

  24. I think it takes a lot of luck. I encounter people all the time who are overflowing with talent, and yet they struggle, while seemingly less gifted artists have made it big. It’s hard to explain or predict.

    Wonderful post, Shimon.

    • Yes, a lot of it is luck… but there are other ingredients too. Circumstance and business, and more. I had a professional photography business for many years, and I knew some really great photographers. Some made it to the top. But there were others, who were even more talented that didn’t succeed. And it seemed to me that the problem was either the way they handled business or personal relations. Those ‘other things’ will often undermine a great talent. Thanks for your comment, Charles. Always good to hear from you.

  25. Superb photos Shimon and a lovely post.

  26. I’ll bet they were great. Wish I could have heard them. So many great musicians are never heard by many people, but that’s okay. We live and make art as we go. Commercial success often ruins lives, while honest art and expression imparts life. Thanks for sharing these memories – brings back a few of my own from that era.

    • I agree with you completely, Rick. We live and make art as we go. Some do it for the money and some do it for the love of art, and we who love art have to take what we can and enjoy it. Thanks for the comment.

  27. K.M.Braithwaite

    I think music is different from other arts because you can see the passion in the faces of the performers [or not!] whilst it’s happening.In art or literature the nearest thing might be a poetry reading with perhaps a little jazz… that’s common here.But you don’t see the poet writing or the artist throwing paint across the floor which could be a dance in an abstract way.
    So you can get a unique vision of the way the music affects people.
    At a symphony concert it’s different.And in art galleries too though I did fall down once when I saw a drawing by Picasso unexpectedly and once when I saw a floodlit cathedral my legs gave way under me.
    So these experiences are very powerful.And i can see that in these faces above.
    The only music which still affects me exactly the same as the first time all my life is Schubert’s Arpeggione Sonata played on a cello.I always feel the same joy when i hear it.But when I am sad I can’t listen to it.I like silence then.

    • Every human being is different, and so every artist is different too. And then there are the differences of the media, and the instruments, and those who are working together… and those who are enjoying the art. An infinity of differences. And I’ve heard that some musicians are clever enough not to let their passion show, even when they’re performing. Same thing for the audience. Thanks for the comment, Kathryn.

  28. Once I liked Bach of course.

  29. Wonderful photos and writing. Artists singing and performing for the love of music.

  30. There was a place called The Lorca (named for Spanish poet, Federico Garcia Lorca) that I went to once upon a time. No food, only coffee was served with the entertainment; seven or eight guitarists played foot stomping Spanish music. Judging by some other comments, Shimon, you have certainly unleashed a bunch of memories, including mine. Lovely post.

    • Yes Mary, I remember well… reading Lorca’s poetry, together with friends. He was quite a hero when we were young. And I enjoyed Spanish music as well. It was so romantic. It’s nice to remember those days, though usually I’m not one to spend a lot of time with memories. Thanks for your comment.

  31. Beautiful story and photographs, I enjoyed as always. Thanks and Love, nia

  32. WordsFallFromMyEyes

    Great photos, Shimon, & as for belting out the blues – sounds wonderful, just wonderful. You’ve lived some unforgettable moments. Ah, those young times… 🙂 I love Spanish guitar, imagine I would have loved this.

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