Two elderly men are strolling along St. Catharine St. in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. They turn into the doors of Ben's and take the same two stools at the counter they've been sitting at every day for the last who knows how many years. They each wear suits that were in style fifty years ago with pork-pie hats of the same era perched on their heads.
After placing their orders, coffee for one, seltzer for the other, two smoked meats on rye, one with and the other without mustard, they get down to the serious work of talking. After the usual exchange of medical information ("the doctor says my blood pressure is through the roof again and wants that I should change what I eat"), people who have died ("Pftt… just like that his heart stopped, no warning, nothing") the subject of grandchildren sits down to stay for a while.
"So what's this I hear about your girl's boy, Joshua, the Socalled musician type with his funny ideas about music, he's put out another record of loud noise to make our heads hurt?"
"I have two words for you: Theodore Bikel."
"Theodore Bikel… Theodore Bikel the singer?"
"No, Theodore Bikel the baker. Of course Theodore Bikel the singer, what other Theodore Bikel is there?"
"Okay, okay, don't get so excited, your blood pressure remember – you look a little puce- what about Theodore Bikel, not the baker, but the singer?"
"He's on Joshua's new album."
"What's Theodore Bikel doing on an album like that?"
"Singing, what else would Theodore Bikel be doing on a record, fitting people for suits"?
"But I thought Joshua did that knock-knock music that those young meshugena's play so loud in their cars. What's Theodore Bikel doing on that type of record?"
"It's rap music, don't you know from nothing anymore? Anyway my Joshua doesn't play that type of rap music, there aren't big booms or noisy bangs on one of his records, he has real people singing, real people like Theodore Bikel. And you know, you know what Theodore Bikel is singing on little grandson's record?"
"How should I know, but I'm sure you're going to tell me, so get on with it already – the suspense is killing me…"
"'If I Were A Rich Man'."
"If what were you a rich man, and what's that got to do with what Theodore Bikel was doing on this so-called record?"
"What, did you think God said trains instead of brains and went off looking for the line for the plane? That's the song he sings, 'If I Were A Rich Man', on the record. Of course you have to know the song, because all he sings is the 'La de da de da' bit."
"That's my favourite bit of that song – remember in the movie when he's dancing around the barn doing that bit? That was my favourite bit. Of course that wasn't Theodore Bikel in the movie was it, that was that Topaz or something, in the movie. But still Theodore Bikel singing the 'La de da de da' bit on young Joshua's record, that's a good thing."
The waitress brings them their sandwiches and they begin the serious business of trying to open their mouths wide enough to eat the stack of meat and bread without their partials falling out. They're chewing away contentedly for a while, when the second (with mustard) says, "But that's only one"
"Only one what?"
"Only one song. What's the rest of this Socalled record like, can you tell me that? Or is all you know Theodore Bikel?"
"Is all I know Theodore Bikel? This is my grandson we're talking about, of course I know more than just Theodore Bikel!"
"Well are you going to show me you know more than Theodore Bikel and this Socalled record?"
"Why do you keep calling it a so-called record? It's a record, there's nothing so-called about it."
"See how little you know about your own grandson, he says so himself it's a Socalled record." He fishes in the side pocket of his suit jacket and pulls out a CD. Holding it up towards his face, he reads out carefully. "Socalled, Ghettoblaster," and hands it over to his friend triumphantly. "That's what little Joshua calls himself on these records, 'Socalled'. So all his records are Socalled records. It's a sad day when a grandfather knows so little about his grandson that he doesn't even know his stage name."
"And how long were you going to sit there yanking my chain?" He shook his head and looked at his grandson's CD. He turned to his friend and holding it up in one hand he shot him a questioning look.
"Nu," he said through raised eyebrows. "Did you listen or are you just carrying it around to show off with? Don't you be lying to me now, cause I'll know."
"Well, I tell you, it's like this. I was in up at Jacob's place just off St. Laurent. I had just come from looking at the stone for my Sylvia ("May she rest in peace" his friend muttered under his breath) and I was walking, just remembering things from our life together, and out one of those modern music stores I hear Klezmer like I've never heard Klezmer.
"There was the banjo and the fiddle, the clarinet and the squeeze box, and some beautiful young women singing. Don't ask me how I know they were beautiful, with voices like that they have to be angels. But also somebody was talking, at first I thought it was rude, talking like that when people are playing so beautiful. Then I heard the words and they were in rhyme and somehow they seemed right.
"So I stood there and listened to the next song and some children started to sing and they sang with another man talking and he talked about liking each other more and understanding between Gods and religions. I thought that's a good thing to be talking about today when everybody seems to get angry about God all the time – which is something I don't understand because I was always taught that the love of God is a beautiful thing that should bring light and happiness.
"When the third song was more Klezmer with more beautiful voices of the angels singing about love, I saw I was crying, silly old man standing on a sidewalk listening to young people's music and crying, I said to myself. But it made me think of Sylvia and how much she would have liked it and I couldn't remember when I had told her last before she died if I loved her."
He paused to blow his nose for a second, and his friend reached out and patted him on the arm, leaving his hand there for a second and giving a gentle squeeze. He took a sip of his seltzer – it helped calm his stomach – and continued.
"So I went into the store because I thought I should buy this music so I can listen at home when I want. I don't know if the young girl behind the counter was more shocked by me or if I was shocked by her – she had more pieces of metal sticking out of her then a porcupine has quills. Anyway I asked her who it was that was making that beautiful music playing outside their store and she smiled a big smile – it would have been a lovely smile too if not for what looked like a swizzle stick in her lip – and said it was by Socalled and was called Ghettoblaster.
"I said I didn't care if it was by What-ch-ma-call-it and called Gunpowder, I wanted to buy a copy. She thought that was funny and went and got me a copy. Of course that's when I remembered I didn't have anything to play CDs with and asked her if they sold something like what the kids use to play music when they walk and she sold me one of those too. I've been listening to it all day, since yesterday.
"Your grandson Joshua is a very intelligent young man. Who knew you could take our old music and make it new again? Calling it Ghettoblaster is a good thing too, breaking down the walls and getting us all out of our ghettos is important. He also has other people talking about their people on here and not just him talking about himself.
"It's also good that he uses his own culture instead of pretending to be somebody he's not. More people should learn not to be ashamed of where they come from, but also that where they come from doesn't make them better than anybody else either."
The two old friends sat in silence and finished their sandwiches. They pretended to fight each other for the bill as usual and ended up paying each for their own again. Before they left, the second man reached into his other jacket pocket and lovingly took out a portable CD player. Removing his hearing aid he put the earpieces in and turned the machine on. He picked up the empty CD case from the counter top and eased himself to his feet.
With a smile, the first old man reached into his pocket and repeated the same process. When they left the restaurant their feet no longer shuffled but moved ever so gently to the beat of the music rising from their pockets into their memories and walked out into the present day.
The people in this review are fictional characters with the exception of Joshua "Socalled" Dolgin and Theodore Bikel, and any resemblance to actual people living or dead is strictly accidental. Ghettoblaster by Socalled is produced by JDUB Records and available everywhere quality music is sold.