Naomi Shemer’s understated heir

For Ariel Horowitz, writing songs is a matter of good manners: ‘Don’t waste the listener’s time if you’ve got nothing to say.’

Horowitz 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Horowitz 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It is not surprising that the son of Naomi Shemer would be musical.
What is a little surprising, though, is how far Ariel Horowitz falls from the collective, nationalistic genre epitomized by his mother’s best-known classic, “Yerushalayim shel Zahav” (“Jerusalem of Gold”).
Horowitz has a mild, pleasant voice, and his compositions are quiet, intelligent and sometimes bemused – little presentations of life’s more intimate corners.
The son of Shemer and writer/poet Mordechai Horowitz), the 40-year-old songwriter is best known for his hits “Rene,” “Sigal Nachmias” and “Yalla Bye.” His new CD, aptly named Album 5, ranges from stirring ballads (“At These Hours”) to biting social criticism (“America”).
Horowitz is currently on tour, as well as teaching at The Rimon School of Jazz and Contemporary Music in Ramat Hasharon.
What can one really teach about songwriting?
First and foremost, a song needs to say something. Preferably in one sentence.
Often people just write their emotions, and it usually becomes something very vague for the listener.
Emotional baggage isn’t enough to write text – you need an experience, something more concrete to write about. It’s a matter of good manners.
Don’t waste the listener’s time if you’ve got nothing to say.
Where does music fit in?
Music is simply the best part. Most of my songs started with a musical idea. But there’s this point in a song where you need to figure out what you’re saying. I receive letters from people saying, ‘Wow, finally someone writes about this-and-that.’ Now, the music must have been all right if it touched them in the first place. Music is the wings that carry the text into people’s hearts. But my audience truly reacts to the words.
Where do you get your stories?
Obviously, every song has its own origin. ‘Ending Up Like Brenner,’ the song that opens Album 5, was written during recordings. I was on my way to a late recording session, and I had just seen on the news the pictures of the girl who was shot while protesting in Iran. Riding on my bike, I was passing through Tel Aviv and, with the images of that girl in mind, I thought, ‘Man, I live in an incredible place. It’s free, it has everything you need.’ The song compares different times and places of this world and reaches the conclusion that, after all, we’re pretty lucky here.
And yet following ‘Brenner’ are some very critical songs, showing a reality more difficult and complex.
The reason ‘Brenner’ opens the album is to put everything that follows in perspective: All in all, we’re doing pretty well! That said, there are some terrible wrongs to address. The second song, ‘Amelia,’ already tells the story of an impossible life. It’s about the foreign caregiver who had been treating my father for a long while before he died. The song views us through her eyes and is therefore less flattering.
You describe her world as the ‘backyard of the chosen people.’ That’s pretty harsh.
I’m not sure about ‘harsh,’ but it’s certainly unabashed. Look, I’ve been to her home. It’s even worse than I had imagined – 12 women living in two rooms. And this is going on in our ‘backyard.’
Your song ‘America’ is also very critical. I heard you lamenting on several occasions that American influence has been quite harmful to our music industry.
We’ve adopted American showbiz models without realizing how incongruous they are for a small country.
In the US, alongside the pervasive mainstream, there are also plenty of radio stations for alternative music.
In Israel, being so small, there’s no room left for the fringe, and there are so many talented musicians you don’t ever hear about. When mainstream is nearly all you’ve got, you need to be a selling product more than an artist.
Still, what you describe as the ‘good life’ in ‘Brenner’ is greatly the result of American influence.
Definitely. Influence is essential for progress. It would be horrible to live in a cultural ghetto. But we must also be careful not to lose that which is uniquely us. The question is whether this generation has what it takes to cultivate something truly original.
And you’re not optimistic?
Had I been, I wouldn’t have written ‘America.’ You know, you write a song and hope it will reach people and inspire them to thrive outside the mainstream. But in order to reach people, your song has to be played – on mainstream stations! What a messed-up job.
Your windsurfing song ‘Catapult’ desultorily deals with age (‘40 is the new 20’).
This year, upon turning 40, I took a windsurfing class for the first time. It was wild and fun. However, being there, alone, clutching a sail in the middle of the ocean, you start thinking, ‘What the hell am I trying to prove?’ I realized this was probably my mid-life crisis.
You’re married and the father of three. How does family coincide with your alter-rocker ego?
The worst thing for a rocker is routine; it’s the bane of creativity. But actually, I find that the most dangerous routine is that of bachelorhood.
When you start taking for granted the most exciting thing there is, when you change girls so frequently that you become indifferent, then you really can’t write anymore.