Taking his bad boy image abroad

Controversial music star Aviv Geffen is garnering int'l fame, but he has his sights set beyond rock and roll.

aviv geffen 88 (photo credit: )
aviv geffen 88
(photo credit: )
Aviv Geffen is a colorful character, to say the least. Ever since he exploded onto the pop scene 17 years ago as a teenager, he has generated almost as much public debate as adoring fans. It would not be an exaggeration to say that he is one of our most enduring megastars. Now 34, Geffen remains unrepentant and just as outspoken as in the early days when he began using the stage as a platform for airing his strident political views against Israel's continued occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and, famously, refused to join the IDF. He is still very much the angry young man. "That took guts," declares Geffen. "Don't forget I come from a long line of war heroes." Among Geffen's illustrious army kin is none other than Moshe Dayan. "I broke the chain. No one in my family had dared, or even thought, not to join the IDF...I was the first Israeli singer to talk against the occupation." Aside from the political stuff, Geffen is one of the biggest names on the pop scene here, and he has maintained his lofty trajectory for longer than many artists have enjoyed careers. But there is only so far a star of Geffen's magnitude can go in what is a limited domestic market. Around four years ago he began to test the waters in the big wide world when he joined forces with lead singer of British prog rock outfit Porcupine Tree, Steven Wilson. Together, the pair put together a band called Blackfield and have since released two albums, touring extensively on both sides of the Atlantic. A third album is in the works, a single is due out soon and Geffen is attracting large scale media attention in the UK. A Daily Telegraph reporter sat in on this interview and The Independent recently ran a spread on him too. Geffen is naturally delighted with the media response and is optimistic about his chances of hitting the big time abroad. "Blackfield is doing very well. We sold out at the (1,200 capacity London music venue) Mean Fiddler and there were hundreds outside who couldn't get tickets. We also sold 60,000 copies of the album in Europe in one month. That's great." Taken at face value, Geffen has all the star status trappings and mannerisms. He has a high, and highly controversial, public profile, plays to large and ecstatic audiences almost everywhere he goes, and has an impressive artistic lineage to boot. The latter also goes some way to explaining Geffen's "retro" musical tastes and inspirations. BEFORE WE settle down for the interview in his music hideaway, in his backyard in north Tel Aviv, Geffen puts a record by Sixties experimental rock band The Velvet Underground on the turntable. Not many of his contemporaries own a record player and are still devotees of vinyl, let alone listen to the likes of the Beatles and David Bowie. "I grew up with that music," says Geffen. "I grew up in a house of hippies - orgies and drugs, cocaine and hash. So I consider myself as a kind of flower boy in 2007." Geffen's father is the well known, and sometimes equally controversial, writer and satirist Yehonatan Geffen. For a while, Aviv was known as "the son of," but he soon made his own mark. Indeed, these days some refer to Yehonatan as "the father of." Geffen draws on the early days of pop and rock for more than just their musical content. One wall of his music room has pictures of two of his heroes - John Lennon and Bob Dylan. Another wall is festooned with gold and platinum records he has released himself and/or produced. "That's my ego wall," he says pointing to the latter. "Lennon and Dylan provide me with a lot of inspiration. They really had something to say in their music." Twelve years ago, Geffen made the headlines for unhappy reasons - he was the last person to embrace Yitzhak Rabin just minutes before the prime minister was gunned down after the fateful peace rally in Tel Aviv. In a way, that embrace, and the mere fact that Geffen performed at a rally fronted by former chief of General Staff Rabin, represented something of a remarkable turnaround. Once a vilified IDF refusenik, he was seemingly being accepted by one of Israel's most famous war heroes. But Geffen is under no illusions as to why Rabin asked him to perform at the rally. "He wanted to gain the support of all my fans," he says. "He wanted to get young Israelis on his side." Shaken by the assassination, and the fact that the assassin gained access to the backstage area by posing as his driver, Geffen felt he had to get away for a while, and spent several months in London. "I couldn't stay in Israel then," he says. "What happened to Rabin was too painful for me." Now that he's back on the scene, Geffen feels he has a job to do here besides selling records and packing in the audiences. As a willing spokesman for many younger generation Israelis, it comes as no surprise to hear he harbors some far-reaching non-musical ambitions too. "I'd like to be the minister of education in 10 years time," he declares. "Education is very important. We have to take care of that."