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They say if you hang around long enough you eventually come back into vogue. But as far as Rami Fortis is concerned, that isn't a problem. "I don't know if I've ever really been in fashion," says the 53-year-old singer-songwriter-guitarist. "I've never really been part of the mainstream, anywhere, anytime."
If Fortis's self-deprecatory observation is accurate, it is a bit difficult to explain the hullabaloo surrounding the forthcoming 30th anniversary bash for his groundbreaking Plonter post-punk rock album.
When Plonter hit the record stores in 1978, Israel was a very different place, and the album was very much ahead of its time. "The punk revolution had been going on for a couple of years in Britain and the US, but there wasn't much happening here," Fortis recalls.
In terms of commercial music, Israel was a relatively conservative cultural backwater, and the kind of in-your-face ethos adopted by Fortis and a handful of like-minded rebellious spirits was not exactly given a prime-time slot in the Israeli media.
Not that there was much in the way of Israeli mass media available back then. "Don't forget there was only one TV channel, and guys like me were certainly not going to get on it," says Fortis.
But 30 or so years on, Fortis feels somewhat vindicated. "I almost never watch TV on a Friday evening, but my 12-year-old daughter was watching something the other day so I sat next to her and we watched [satirical show] Only in Israel. Suddenly [presenter] Erez Tal announced we were going to see and hear a new version of [biting Plonter cut] "Red Me'al Masach Hatelevizia" ("Get Off My Television")â€š and a whole bunch of well-known TV personalities, like [longtime anchor] Haim Yavin and [popular TV show host] Yigal Shilon came on and did a parody of the song. I felt like I'd finally joined the mainstream. I couldn't believe my eyes."
PLONTER DID not exactly make Fortis a millionaire overnight, although he attracted a fair amount of acclaim in the press and from the alternative side of the local artistic tracks. At the time, then-influential music radio presenter and now artistic head of the Channel 24 television channel Yoav Kutner said: "The reason why I like Plonter, Rami Fortis's new album, is that it represents an extraordinary phenomenon in these parts. Here is a young, new and non-Establishment artist bringing out an LP with a large record company. In the past, very few youngsters (unless they were rich) could do that, and if the New Wave of rock in Europe convinced the record companies they should take the risk, I think we should all be grateful."
Before long, Fortis left Israel and went off to join the "New Wave of rock in Europe," initially in the Netherlands and then Belgium. "We didn't really have an audience for our stuff in Israel - we had to get out into the big wide world."
Back then, though, leaving Israel meant almost a total break from home. "There was no Internet or e-mails then. No MTV or cable TV. It was very hard to be away from home."
But Fortis and his fellow Israelis in the post-punk Minimal Compact band they established abroad - including stellar rocker Barry Sakharov - persevered. "Yes, it was really tough to begin with," Fortis recalls. "Europe wasn't exactly waiting for us with open arms. We played all kinds of gigs all over the place and we were on the road the whole time."
Spending long hours day after day can be wearing on even the tightest knit bunch of friends. "We had our arguments like anyone else, but the thing that kept us together was the music. We believed in what we were doing."
Fortis has fond memories of those days, tough times notwithstanding. "We spent 10 years in Europe. Europe is one of the best schools of life. You learn a lot about life and a lot about yourself, and how to deal with the world in those kinds of conditions."
It may have been tough at the time but, looking back, Fortis sees the funny side. "It was like [satirical rockumentary band] Spinal Tap. Once, I remember, we couldn't find the way from the dressing room to the stage - just like Spinal Tap. The audience was out there waiting for us and we couldn't find the stage. That was hilarious."
FORTIS'S PERSEVERANCE eventually paid off and Minimal Compact became a hit in Europe. But success or not, it seems there's no place like home. A decade of globe-trotting came to an end when Fortis and Sakharov returned to Israel. "We had just recorded an album called Sipurim Mihakufsa (Stories from the Box) in Israel and we went back to Belgium," Fortis explains. "Then, when Sipurim Mihakufsa came out we started getting all these phone calls asking us to play gigs in Israel. One thing led to another, and Barry and I came back. It may be clichÃ©, but there really is no place like home."
Today, his foreign endeavors notwithstanding, Fortis performs only Hebrew material. While appreciative of the growing numbers of Israeli artists and bands who perform in English, Fortis feels more comfortable with his mother tongue. "Yes, there is a track in English on Plonter ["April Fools"], but Hebrew is my language, that's where I come from."
Now considered something of an elder statesman of the Israeli rock scene, Fortis is gratified by the wide-ranging audiences his music attracts. "We get teenagers as well as over-40s at our shows. I think some of them are the grandchildren of some of our original fans. That's great."
Thirty years after he first made a splash, Fortis is happy to be around and still strutting his stuff; he appears to be at peace with where he is, despite market conditions. "It's not easy to make music here, and it doesn't get any easier as time goes by. But I just do my own thing and go with the flow. I don't care if people want to hear my stuff, but I am grateful when they do. I don't play music to please anyone, but I do keep up with developments. I think I am more accepting today."
The 30th anniversary Plonter shows will take place at Tel Aviv's Barbi club on January 8 and 9 at 10 p.m.