The death a couple of days ago of the former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon raised memories of my one and only visit to Israel, and is associated with a particular piece of music. When I visited, in the summer of 1985, I was just 23. The memory of the 1982 war in Lebanon, in which Sharon had been a prime mover, was still raw among the Israeli twenty-somethings in whose circles I moved. Some of them had served in the war. Some had lost loved ones.
During my visit I acquired a tape of a Hebrew-language rock album called Mehakim LeMoshiach (‘Waiting for the Messiah’) by Israeli rock star Shalom Hanoch. I expect it’s gathering dust in the loft somewhere. Hanoch and his band sounded a bit like Dire Straits – Hanoch’s voice has the same lived-in quality as Mark Knopfler’s. The album was quite political. Mehakim LeMoshiach certainly resonated with my crowd. The album cover, shown here, illustrates the cynicism of a generation made old and war-weary before their time. If you are going to wait for the messiah, it says – graphically, in the form of an over-full ashtray – you’ll be waiting a long time.
My host, who recommended the album, drew my attention to a particular track called Lo Otzer BeAdom, which he translated as ‘Jumps Red Lights’. The song is all about a reckless motorist, who speeds relentlessly on despite the pleas of his friends to stop, or at least slow down. The Wikipedia entry on Shalom Hanoch says the song is about the 1982 war – but my host says it was quite explicitly about Arik Sharon (I took his word for it, as I cannot understand Hebrew.) When news reporters say that Sharon wasn’t popular with Palestinians – well, big surprise, that would be true of Israeli politicians in general. But it’s the controversy he stirred within Israel itself that is more nuanced, and which resonates still. Hmm. I wonder if Mehakim LeMoshiach is on iTunes? (UPDATE: It is.)