A look back at 'the Israeli rock group'

Radio mainstay Boaz Cohen’s latest book describes the cultural, personal, national and musical milieu surrounding music legends Tammuz.

Israeli radio icon Boaz Cohen with his new book ‘When I Open the Door.’ (photo credit: HAHI MAROM)
Israeli radio icon Boaz Cohen with his new book ‘When I Open the Door.’
(photo credit: HAHI MAROM)
When Boaz Cohen was a lad of 12 his world was turned upside down – in the best sense of the phrase. The year was 1976, the country was still licking its wounds in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War, but all sorts of grand things were afoot. The sociopolitical undercurrent that led, one year later, to the country’s first non-left-wing government was in full flow, and things were happening on the musical front too.
For Cohen, it was all about Tammuz, the Israeli rock band. Tammuz burst onto the local commercial scene like a meteor, and burned out just as quickly. The group, which formed in 1974, put out just one record, Sof Onat Ha’Tapuzim (End of the Orange Season), in 1976. It didn’t sell well, at the time, and the band members went their separate ways – generally to highly successful careers. But it was the enduring aftershock that became the group’s legacy.
To this day Tammuz is considered by many to be the seminal Israeli rock group, and Shalom Hanoch and Ariel Zilber became two of the country’s most celebrated rock-pop performers and songwriters. Drummer Meir Yisrael and guitarist Yehuda Eder also followed up their Tammuz stint with sustained professional success. The only exception is bass guitarist Eitan Gidron, who achieved success on the technical side of the music business rather than on the stage.
Cohen’s youthful music love sparked a lifelong interest in pop and rock and, thus far, he is probably best known for his 16-year berth as a lauded show presenter for the late lamented 88FM radio station. He left 40 days after the station became KAN 88, which operates under the aegis of the Israel Broadcasting Corporation (IBC), and he now presents a nighttime show on Eco 99 FM.
He recently consummated his youthful love with the publication of a tome called Uchesheftach Et Hadelet (When I Open the Door). The title refers to the opening lines of the refrain of one of the hits off Sof Onat Ha’Tapuzim , “Ma Sheyotter Amok Yotter Kachol” (The Deeper The Bluer). Cohen will elaborate on the writing process, and the backdrop to the project, at a talk (in Hebrew) he will give at the Tmol Shilshom literary-leaning café in downtown Jerusa- lem’s Nachalat Shiva quarter tonight at 7 p.m.
“As far as I am concerned Tammuz is the Israeli rock group,” Cohen states. He also feels that the band emerged at a watershed stage of the country’s evolution. “Tammuz happened at a point when Israeli society was undergoing dramatic changes. There was the peace accord with Egypt, and Tammuz slotted perfectly into the mid-point, after the trauma of the Yom Kippur War and [Egyptian president Anwar] Sadat’s arrival in Israel. It’s not a coincidence that the group emerged just then. It accurately reflects the times in which it worked.”
Uchesheftach Et Hadellet places the Tammuz enterprise firmly in the country’s sociopolitical timeline, as well as referencing the musical progression. The High Windows record of 1967, according to Cohen, serves as a harbinger of the Hanoch et al project. For anyone who grew up in Western Europe or the States in the Sixties and early Seventies it may be hard to visualize Israeli society, and the country’s entertainment scene, of the time. The Sixties made a limited appearance here after the Six Day War but, by and large, it took a while for long hair, paisley shirts and flaired trousers to make it over from Carnaby Street to Dizengoff Street.
Something that had been bubbling under here for some time began to burst through the outer crust of national consciousness. As Cohen notes in the book, satirical writing became very much the order of the day, and there were all kinds of subversive literary offerings, taking in Jerusalem student publication Pee HaAtton (The Mouth of the She-ass) and the left-wing HaOlam Hazeh (This World) weekly, which had gained significant readership numbers.
While Tammuz was putting out its hard-hitting rock feelers, the single-channel Israeli TV ran the Nikui Rosh satirical sketch show – sort of an Israeli version of Monty Python. Hanoch, Zilber and their pals had clearly slipped into a burgeoning mindset warp.
“There was a sense of laissez faire,” notes Cohen. “There was a feeling of, just a short while ago we almost lost the country [in the Yom Kippur War], and people had escaped from some terrible tragedy and now had the guts to let it all hang out.”
Cohen’s book spells out the cultural, personal, national and musical milieu which facilitated the formation of Tammuz. The writer also offers us a considered glimpse of the inner emotional and psychological machinations of, for example, how Zilber got to where he is today. After enjoying success as a rocker, Zilber became religious and now looks more like an aging yeshiva student than a gifted rock musician.
“Even the flowing beard which he now sports cannot conceal the fact that, behind all that, beats the heart of a child,” Cohen writes.
What makes Uchesheftach Et Hadellet such a fascinating read is the way Cohen deftly sets the cultural and social scene at various stages of the way across the early to late Seventies. As we know, nothing is created in a vacuum, and the author even evokes global cultural influences that contributed to the formation of the zeitgeist which produced Tammuz.
What adds to Uchesheftach Et Hadellet’s charm is the fact that it is a very personal recollection of the band’s music, regardless of the detailed peripheral and circumstantial accounts. At the end of the day that is was rock music is all about. It is about the music, but also about where we were when we first heard it.
The Tmol Shilshom audience should come away from tonight’s event with some eye opening insight about the early days of the country’s rock community, and about Cohen too.
For more information: (02) 623-2758 and www.tmol- shilshom.co.il .