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Soundtracks for Purim: Debussy vs. Engelbert Humperdinck, by Rabbis Joshua Boettiger and Benjamin Weiner

What music might best serve as a soundtrack to this year’s Purim experience? Join our humorous debate!

In the spirit of Purim, Ritualwell is pleased to post the following dialogue between Rabbi Joshua Boettiger and Rabbi Benjamin Weiner. Enjoy, and be happy!

As we enter the month of Adar and approach Purim again, we are confronted with our usual slate of ritual dilemmas: Where are we going to go to hear the Megillah read? What of the disturbing ninth chapter? Would it be too risque to dress as Michelle Bachman? Does everything really mix well with Tanqueray? And here’s one that you may or may not have considered: what albums might best serve as soundtracks to this year’s Purim experience? 

Music for the first part of the evening (immediately post-Megillah-reading):

Rabbi Boettiger’s pick: An Introduction to Engelbert Humperdinck, Engelbert Humperdinck
How well do you really know Engelbert Humperdinck? Perhaps it is time for a re-introduction. And, while we are at it, how well do you really know yourself? Purim invites us to descend to that place beneath identity and to try to connect with a core self free of the likes and dislikes we have saddled it with during a lifetime of attachment and ego-enhancement. A good first step in beginning the evening, then, is to say, “perhaps I’m the type of person who likes Engelbert Humperdinck after all.”
A better question might be, “how well does Humperdinck know himself?” This album sounds like a greatest hits collection, but, in reality, it is a stunning, muscle-y tour de force through Humperdinck’s back pages. Humperdinck before he was Humperdinck, if you will. (In this sense, this collection would be perfect for Humperdinck himself to listen to during Purim because it might help him deconstruct his own sense of self). The listener will be rewarded with jewels like, “Embraceable You,” “The Very Thought of You,” and “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You.”  Just who is the You in these songs? This has been a favorite topic for Humperdinckologists over the years, and will be a favorite question of yours, too, as you ruminate on whether our bard is singing to a particular companion, to the Blessed Holy One, to his nefesh (lower self), or to all of the above. Enjoy!
Honorable Mention: Slave to the Grind, Skid Row

Rabbi Weiner’s pick: Ahh…The Name is Bootsy, Baby, Bootsy Collins

Nothing gets Purim rolling like a good old fashioned costume parade. I’m Mordechai! I’m Haman! I’m Queen Esther! I’m a lanky, long-haired, oversexed funk bassist who just strutted out of a spaceship in a floppy yellow sequined hat, glittering star-eyed sunglasses, and a haze of reefer smoke! Ahh, the name is Bootsy, baby.

And why shouldn’t it be?  In this seminal 1977 frivolity, heavy on the synth and wawa, Bootsy, backed by his Rubber Band, showed just how far he’d come from the days of holding down the rhythm section for James Brown; from “the hardest working band in show business” to “the world’s funkiest sing-along.”  Think Jimi Hendrix ten years down the road, the social conscience and spiritual quest of the 60s mellowing like a chalice of Wild Irish Rose into the leisure suits and hedonism of the 70s. Think Purim mooning Yom Kippur.

Before there was Slick Rick, before Digital Underground, before Snoop Dogg, Flava Flav and the Maccabeats, there was Bootsy, his lazy, looping patter swelling to a smirking croon as he reveled in the silliness at the heart of our grandiose emotions: “Your love is more than good/it’s good and it’s fun./It’s like staying up after bedtime/when you’re still just a kid.”

The chorus of this silky hamentash says it all: “I’m hooked on you, Chocolate Star/I’ve got the munchies for your love.”

Honorable mention: L’apres Midi d’un Faune, Claude Debussy

Rabbi Joshua Boettiger is the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth El in Bennington, VT.
Rabbi Benjamin Weiner is the spiritual leader of The Jewish Community of Amherst in Amherst, MA.


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