We still don’t have a coach for the high-risk group, but there are many talents

What does he do at home to break the routine? How could he now sing: “You Took My Hand in Yours”? Should we add sanitizing gel to “Front Parted, Side Parted”? And why does he prefer to die in the summer? Matti Caspi answers the non-mandatory Corona questionnaire of Yair Nitzani.

From Israel Today


Matti Caspi is a great artist, an amazing singer, and an amusing man with a poker face, who doesn’t let his feelings show. I caught him this week for a friendly chat between two people with a serious ADHD and a serious tendency to escape to different associations. We talked about the Kibbutz, the show with Shalom Hanoch, Matti’s own funeral and what street he would like to be named after him.

What do you miss the most during lockdown at home?


And what got cancelled?

“Live shows. There was supposed to be a show of Shalom and me at the Culture Hall in Tel Aviv, and it was cancelled. I’d heard about this particular show, that it was a success, and wanted to see it too, and now I can’t”.

Do you miss the joint performances?

“Terribly. We were on a year and a half drive of shows, all sold out at least three months ahead, and suddenly it was all abruptly stopped. But we keep in touch, and our professional relationship has created the new single: ‘A Pair of Doves’. Shalom sent me the lyrics two weeks ago, along with a photo of two doves on the roof that his wife took from their balcony. He had forgotten about that. Two days later I composed the song, arranged it, recorded and played some of the instruments, mixed and mastered it and everything”.

“I sent it to him, and he loved it. I recruited some of my band members to film themselves playing their instruments and adding vocals. My daughter Suyan and I added vocals also. Ido Zeleznik and Ilan Aviv played instruments and recorded some vocals while filming themselves from home. Dror Adler from the Adler Trio did the editing for the music video, and it came out really good”.

Does the connection between you and Shalom have anything to do with the fact that you were both originally raised in a Kibbutz?

“Of course. One understands the other. It’s just like when I’m abroad and I recognize Israelis just by their body language. Because I’m from a Kibbutz, I also recognize immediately who’s from a Kibbutz and who’s not”.

“A Clean Folk Song” is a song that represents a typical Kibbutz Friday, isn’t it?

“Definitely. I brought over the music to Ehud Manor, with one line: ‘Front Parted, Side Parted’ and I told him what I see in my mind is a Friday, people finished their work early, took an afternoon nap, showered, and are now getting ready for dinner at the dining hall. Everyone is wearing an ironed white shirt and shined working shoes. While in the shower, they all washed their hair and they have their hair brushed, some front parted, and some side parted. And that’s how the song was born”.

“I’m afraid that with all due respect to soap, today Ehud would have added to the song a line about a more sanitizing and purifying substance, maybe something along the lines of: ‘Front parted, side parted, Alcogel on every hand’”. By the way, to what folk are you referring in the title: “A Clean Folk Song”?

“This is one of those rare cases where you can choose to put the comma wherever you want. For instance: ‘A Clean, Folk Song’ or ‘A Clean Folk, Song’, etc.”.

You’re renowned for your poker face and your calm disposition. Are you stressed these days?

“No, not at all. But I have to say in all seriousness, that in all those reports about covid patients, number of infected, of dead etc. in Israel and in the world, they don’t tell us that all those who died were people with weak immune systems, chronic pre-existing conditions, who have lived on pills their whole lives, or were heavy smokers, and those people usually don’t stand a chance even against a common cold at times. Most of them are the elderly, but some are young too”.

“Since they don’t report this information, people are panicking, getting extremely stressed. I even heard that a young guy who got sick wanted to commit suicide. If he had known that his immune system is strong and that all he had was a common flu, he wouldn’t have tried to kill himself.

They also fail to report that there are cases of 90 years old people who caught the virus and recovered completely because their immune system is strong”.

Speaking of the song of Haim Hefer that you composed: ‘I Know I’ll Die in Summer’, what are your plans for the summer? 

“I prefer to die in summer out of consideration towards others, since at a summer funeral there would be no rain. I would also like it if at my funeral people would have a feast, tell jokes and sing happy songs that everybody likes. I would like it to be a happy event. In my will, I intend to ask that if a street should be called after me, it should be one that already is full of crime, because from this bottom you can only go up. There are many examples of streets that started as parts of a good neighborhood and gradually deteriorated into slums. I prefer it the other way around”.

How many members are in your family?

“Four. My wife, myself and our two daughters”.

How do you pass the time? 

“We cook more now, to break the routine. Usually, at days where each of us has their own errands and work, we go out and get back home, grab something to eat or make a little snack, and only once or twice a week we prepare a nice family dinner and sit down and enjoy it together. Now we do it every day, and that’s what’s out of the ordinary I guess”.

Last November you celebrated your 70th birthday. How does it feel to be part of the high-risk group?

“Look, we still don’t have a coach for the high-risk group, but there are many talents”.

The sense of chaos that’s in the air has reminded me of Noah’s arch. You have two songs about this theme.

“Yes. ‘The Farewell from Noah’s Arch’ and ‘Noah’ performed with ‘Chocolate, Mint & Gum’. There is a story about Noah getting ready to set sail when suddenly there’s a knock on the door. He looks out the window and sees an animal. He opens the door and asks: ‘who are you?’ the animal answers: ‘I’m a camel’. Noah says: ‘hold on a minute let me check’ and looks back inside the arch. He turns back and says to the camel: ‘I’m very sorry, but I already have two of your kind’. The camel answers: ‘Yeah but I’m special’. Noah asks: ‘How come?’ And the camel says: ‘I’m the one who’s back got broken by the last straw’”* *popular Israeli saying: “this is the last straw that broke the back of the camel”.

Speaking of Noah’s arch, I think we would pass on the bat today right?

“I never particularly liked that animal”.

Speaking of crisis periods, I remember that in the Yom Kippur war you had a music tour for soldiers with Leonard Cohen. That must’ve been a moving experience.

“We would tell jokes to each other. He told me his name in Hebrew was Eliezer so that’s what I called him. We slept in sleeping bags on the sand. You know, it was in various places in Sini. It wasn’t only our experience but the experience of that time”.

The cover art of one of your records, which is said to be maybe the most beautiful in the history of Israeli music, is the one of the second album (aka “the doorbell”). How was that created?

“It was my idea, a doorbell with my name written on it in my handwriting. And that’s it, the rest was made around it”.

You do realize that today a doorbell is regarded as a virus incubator.

“So next to it you can just put half a barrel just like they used to do in the Kibbutz. You know, back then when there was the foot-and-mouth disease, they would put a barrel cut in half at the entrance of the Kibbutz which was full of water that was probably mixed with a special substance to protect against the disease. Each vehicle that passed had to go through a puddle filled with this water, and also pedestrians had to immerse themselves in that water before they could enter the Kibbutz. So, I think you can just put a hand sanitizer facility next to the doorbell”.

Or you can press the doorbell with your elbow.

“Yes. A man explained to his friend how to get to his house. ‘On the third street you turn right, and at the third building from the left you go to the fourth floor, and when you get out of the elevator, you will see the door to my apartment to your right, and then just press the doorbell with your elbow’.

“And his friend asks: ‘Why with my elbow’?

“And he answers: ‘You wouldn’t arrive emptyhanded now, would you’?”

I have some more silly questions about your songs. When you recorded the song: “Ho, what will be, what will be”, did you know what will be?

“This is actually a song about a choice between options, or: ‘What will (it) be’. I just didn’t say what the first option was”.

How will you be able to sing: “You took my hand in yours” now?

“I don’t see any problem, because it’s in the past tense. Now you can’t take my hand in yours because I won’t let you”.

You also wrote the song: “I Opened a Window” which has a sense of prohibition nowadays since it invites outside air and viruses into your house.

“It’s a song that can be useful also when you’re having an argument at home. I feel too cold and she feels too hot, and she says: “Open the window” and I refuse because it’ll be too cold for me. When I’ve had it, I finally open it and say: “There, I opened the window. What more do you want”?

How do you solve the restriction of visiting others with the song: “Day by Day I Go to Your House”?

“If it’s my wife that’s not a problem, we live in the same house”.

You would still have to update the home front command where you went, unless you change the title of the song to: “Day by Day I Go to Your House, but No Further than 100 Meters”.

“It is indeed an option to think about”.

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