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David Safran is a Chicago-based singer-songwriter, a storyteller whose music is haunting, lyrical and erotic. Larry “Ratso” Sloman, the legendary songwriter and New York Times bestselling author said: “David Safran unlocks the ancient tribal codes and pours his heart into his impeccable songs. He’s a hero!” NPR Chicago described Safran as “a rising musician” and Oy!Chicago recently named him “A Jew You Should Know.”
I spoke with Safran regarding his Jewish identity in relation to music, eroticism and spirituality. We discovered our common interests- astrology, gossipy romans à clef, and a penchant for writing fan letters: When Safran was thirteen, his rite of passage involved writing Lou Reed a letter – to which Lou replied. David Safran is charming, funny and smart as hell – in his music and in conversation – and gave me plenty to think about, listen to and read.
Firstly – Were you raised in an observant home? Bar Mitzvahed?
I was born into a family of secular, loving, ruthless, talkative New Yorkers. We never belonged to a temple and I never had a bar mitzvah. Overall, despite being reminded we were Kohanim, Judaism was a cultural world, not a religious one.
How has your Jewishness influenced your music? Is there a point where Judaism, music and your inner erotic life coalesce and inform each other?
Ah, now we’re getting into the rough stuff, Emma! The second part of your question is very interesting. Let me answer that first: I think those inner lives – the erotic, the supernatural, the artistic – are somewhat indistinguishable. I don’t see any clear boundaries. The real trick is knowing when to stop looking inward – knowing when self-scrutiny actually separates or misinforms one’s life.
Layers of Jewishness are all over my music. For instance, a song called “To the Lion” began after I found a box with my grandfather’s tefillin, yarmulke, and tallit. At the bottom, there was an old book on the traditions of medieval Jewry. One chapter was about ancient wedding customs. During the nuptial feast, the groom stood before all the guests and proved his Talmudic and Biblical knowledge. If he couldn’t demonstrate these skills properly, he was an ignorant man and the bride was wasting her life.
“Casting her to the lion” was the phrase used. I’m an immense fan of ignorance; my entire song was built around that line. I also should mention that I have a song called “Heretics, Witches, and Jews.” It’s an outrageous tune, a full-on farce, and one of my favorites I’ve written. We’ve had several listening parties this year for my album; that song really seems to offend certain listeners. I even received a frantic message warning me that, if I released “Heretics, Witches, and Jews,” I’d be reported to the Anti-Defamation League. The song will be out in November. We’ll see what happens.
I can’t wait to hear more about that this November. Meanwhile, your album “Delicate Parts” is replete with erotic melodies and lyrics and song titles, from “Adult Things” to “Woman Astride, Facing Away” – What do you think is sexy/erotic about music? What do you think is sexy/erotic/about your music?
I think 90% of pop music is intended to be sexy or erotic and comes out sounding deranged. Perhaps this is because the music industry is partly financed by advertising agencies. What we hear is often eroticism done by committee. Also, song lyrics are now written like text messages. Texting is either very personal or utterly generic. This sloppy, direct, immediate lyrical style is new and unstoppable. And I don’t actually hate it. In fact, I consider it fresh and vital. I just think it’s not particularly sexy. New pop music is basically dick-pics with excellent production value.
Many of my songs deal with aging, failure, and being completely wrong about the world. I usually intend for a song to sound deranged, not salacious. So, I don’t consider “Delicate Parts” an erotic album. Maybe it’s like a sex manual filled with terrible advice.
We discussed our shared interest in astrology, morphic resonance and the supernatural after I read about the pilgrimage you made to the 19th-century writer Eugene Field’s grave. How does your fascination with the esoteric relate to your spirituality?
I know we both read the Monthly Aspectarian and admired Guy Spiro’s Astro-Weather. For me, astrology is a way to momentarily connect with the universe; my own little narrative alongside a much greater one. This goes beyond astrology, though. I have an abiding delight and deep respect for any spiritual teaching, whether it’s Baruch Spinoza or Zsuzsanna Budapest, which offers us some divine control and responsibility.
So…what’s your sign?
Scorpio-Sagittarius. I’m on the cusp. You wrote those fabulous Jewcy Horoscopes. Can you tell me what my sign means? Am I incompatible with myself?
Thanks for the compliment! The horoscopes were a lot of fun to write.
Cusps are really fascinating because they really are rife with contradictions. Your cusp straddles water and fire, fixed and mutable. Sagittarius is an open-minded, philosophical and very musical sign , and Scorpio is erotically intense, mysterious and unyielding, yet very self protective.
It makes sense astrologically that you are interested in spirituality, exploring the outer reaches as well as your own dark places. What fascinates you most about the intersection of the spiritual and the physical?
It seems that nearly all religious or philosophical beliefs, especially Judaism, are about two essential questions: 1) What on earth do we do with our bodies? 2) What do we do with other people’s bodies? A few weeks ago, I attended a funeral of a dear family-friend. We all took turns shoveling earth onto her casket. The rabbi said this act – burying someone together – is the highest mitzvah because it cannot be reciprocated. Maybe that’s the answer to those questions: learn to do things that can’t be reciprocated.
On a lighter note, and regarding things that can conceivably be reciprocated: What’s sexy about Jewish girls? What would your dream Jewish girl look like?
What’s sexy about Jewish girls? That they can create beautiful websites like Jewrotica. And I have absolutely no idea about my Dream Jewess. Any suggestions? As long as she doesn’t look like me, I’m happy.