Log in

entries friends calendar profile Jonah Rank Previous Previous Next Next

Leave a comment
I want to clear up something very, very important.

Recently, I released a satirical song titled "Genetic Test" that was the hypothetical ABBA song that would have been included in Mamma Mia! and would have resolved the plot of the show by virtue of a genetic test discovering in fact who Sophie's father is. In promoting this song, I made the mistake of claiming that this song was rejected by ABBA from me in 1973 back when I was their primary songwriter. However, this is not true. In 1973, I was neither alive nor a primary songwriter for any Swedish pop groups. Furthermore, I fabricated a letter from the members of ABBA in which the band rejected "Genetic Test". This fabricated letter was also never written by ABBA; furthermore, it was never read by ABBA. Initially, these went by largely unnoticed; however, after my song appeared on YouTube in the form of a fan music video from a non-existent fan, backed by the story of a band named JMJM that, despite having real human beings performing on the recording of "Genetic Test", was a band solely assembled initially for the recording of "Genetic Test", these tidbits became noticed. Although I included mention of my later date of birth in many of my webpages (and, now, in the information on the song's YouTube video), the information, by being located in separate sites, might not have been obvious to new listeners.

Yet, as I mentioned, I have unfortunately gone about promoting this song improperly, and I will be changing the fashion in which I'll be advertising this song in the future. And despite the controversy that this song has caused, I do hope that this song will appear more appropriately, promoted in a different light, on an upcoming comedy album which I am in the midst of recording.

To all those aware of the TRUE story of my song "Genetic Test", I apologize for any confusion or hard feelings that my improper promotion of this song may have caused.
Leave a comment

In yet a further attempt to deny my allegations that Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus have taken the credit for years of work I put into writing the songs for ABBA, it seems that the film of Mamma Mia! changed certain facts around to hide further that I gave them the perfect song for the musical.

First off, Bill Austin became Bill Andersson: as if nobody would catch the heavy hand of Benny Andersson in that move.

Secondly: the date of August 15th was conspiratorially moved to August 11th.

Actually, that was the most that they had changed; though I didn't notice the first time that I saw the show that in fact Donna had a last name, as carved into the guitar with the initials D.S....

Don't give into the lies. The truth is clearly out, no matter what Benny and Björn say.
2 comments or Leave a comment

As we are eleven days away from the very sobering release of the film version of Mamma Mia!, it is hard for me to restrain myself from revealing the truth and telling the little-known story behind why Mamma Mia! has such little plot.

It all started in early 1970, when Mike Klein and I had begun to write songs for our local friends Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus who were working on an album called Lycka, for which they wanted some original songs. At the time both Benny and Björn were going through a lull period of their songwriting careers, and they called upon Mike and me to write them a few songs that would fit their style. Mike and I each wrote a few songs and presented them to Benny and Björn, who fell in love with our songs. At the time it had not crossed either of our minds of that Mike and I should claim the copyrights to these songs, so we told Benny and Björn just to take these songs and consider them their own.

As neither Mike nor I were employed at the time, we just kept on writing more and more songs: all in a style that appealed to Benny and Björn specifically. As the songs piled up and we kept on giving them and their copyrights away to Benny and Björn, Mike and I had a realization: if we wanted to make it big in Sweden, we needed to be in a pop band with two female singers and two male singers whose first names’ first letters could form an acronym, and we needed more songs in English.

Acting upon our impulses, Mike and I hired Michal Mechlovitz and Jessie Winkler to sing our songs while Mike and I played guitar and piano respectively while singing very quietly in the background. In a burst of excitement, I knew I had to tell Benny and Björn the news of the potential success Mike and I were about to attain with Sweden’s biggest pop band with songs in English: JMJM! I wrote Benny and Björn a very lengthy and detailed letter explaining our theoretical formula for success. However, I did not hear back from either Benny or Björn for some time.

By the end of 1970, I knew that things would never be the same again between Benny and Björn, and Mike and me. I realized this one day when listening to a song of Benny and Björn’s on the radio, and I heard two female singers in the background. “Drat!” I thought. “They stole my idea of having two female singers in addition to two male singers!” However, I was contented that they had not stolen the ideas of having an acronym for a band name or having very many songs in English. Both of those were still trademarks of JMJM.

However, by 1973, I began to hear of Anni-Frid, Benny, Björn, and Agnetha being referred to as “ABBA”, and I noticed that more and more of the songs that they were singing were not only very familiar, but they also were in English. I knew that I should have stopped sending Benny and Björn the songs Mike and I were writing in English, but it was already too late. By September that year, Mike and I had already written and sent Benny and Björn every song that they were to record (and would claim to have written) over the next 34 years.

On the seventh day of October of 1973, I received a letter from Björn rejecting the final song I had sent him and Benny. This song was called “Genetic Test”, and it was the story of a young girl who wants her father to give her away at her wedding, but she needs a genetic test in order to find out who exactly her father is. (Although it is still unclear to me as to why this song was rejected, Björn’s letter regarding “The Missing Abba Song” has actually been reproduced in the last blog post on this website.)

Decades went by, ABBA nearly broke up, and neither Mike nor I had heard a word from Björn or Benny since the rejection letter from 1973. The first piece of news to come out that would interest me for a long time was the creation of Mamma Mia!, a musical with ABBA songs narrating a story about a young girl who, though she wants her father to give her away at her wedding, does not know who her father is. This query certainly could have been resolved with a genetic test, but as ABBA had rejected their one opportunity to include my song about a genetic test (namely, “Genetic Test”), there was no chance that the musical would have been able to resolve thusly the question of who the girl’s father was. For approximately a decade, I have remained silent and not offered my solution or the true story: that Mamma Mia! could have had a better resolution to the conflict in the story.

Yesterday, Michal, Jessie, Mike, and I reunited after a long hiatus of inactivity. The four of us recorded “Genetic Test” with newer technology than we did so many years ago (but we certainly gave it a bit of an older sound yesterday just for the fans!).

If you thought that there could have been so much more to the story of Mamma Mia!, then you are not alone. This international hit has been misunderstood and misrepresented throughout the world. However, the world need not wait any longer. The world can now appreciate JMJM’s gem: the missing ABBA song, “Genetic Test.”
Leave a comment

My dear fans and friends:

Below is the authentic handwritten letter (reproduced here in the exact font most similar to Björn's very own handwriting) written to me several years ago from when ABBA collectively rejected "Genetic Test" (after having accepted so many of the other songs I had written them)!

Please do realize that had the band accepted this one song, Mamma Mia! would have had so much of a better and more sensible plot!

7 October 1973

Dear Jonah,

Say you forgive my errors in English in this letter. Writing from one Swede to another, there really should be no reason that you and I speak of business in English rather than Swedish, but I also do not know why we bother singing in English to begin with. Anyway, no time for crying about the Anglo-Saxon hegemonic state of the music business. Let's get started with my letter to the rock and roll band—namely yours, JMJM*.

Thank you for the music—for giving it to me. Benny "and the Jets" Andersson (that's what we call Benny nowadays) and I really like the melody for this song: not too many notes and not too musical either. And like you did before for our other songs, you arranged the song's ending such that it fades out. (I know Benny "and the Jets" Andersson didn't mind it, but I am offended when you write us up-tempo songs in Major keys that end with cadences rather than fade-outs; I can't stop myself from crying out loud whenever we go into the studio and try to record that "Boomerang" song you wrote us as I am so uncomfortable with the ending.)

Unfortunately, there is something different or in a way unique about this song. It's nothing special; in fact, it's a bit of a bore. And the song is funny but has no sense within the lyrics—that is to say, the lyrics make no sense. I really tried to make it out. I wish I understood. But, perhaps this could be none other than the final song in an incoherent musical about a young girl who needs to find out who her father is exactly. But that would be silly, for anybody could be that guy! Neither Benny "and the Jets" Andersson nor I have any use for a song of this type. If all history goes well, there never should be a need for such a song.

But, don't go wasting your emotion. I am not mad at you at all. Neither you nor I'm too blame when all is said and done. This "Genetic Test" song is neither a product of your adept craftsmanship as a songwriter nor our sincerest plagiarism as performers. It's time to forget this song, and I forgive you immediately for the best. This song you have sent me shall be known throughout Sweden and the hegemonic Euro-American world of pop music as "The Missing ABBA Song" if ever asked about.

Hasta manana,
Björn Ulvaeus

On behalf of myself, Benny "Hans Christian" Andersson**, Agnetha Fältskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad

*Do send my best to Michal, Jessie, and Mike. I do also hope you change your names to form an acronym that will be found more euphonic and easier on the tongues and ears to the rest of the English-speaking world.

**Since beginning this letter, we have changed his nickname back to the old one.
Leave a comment
I wrote the following article in August for the Tishrei 5768 edition of the Koach E-Zine. I have also published this article at my website, my WordPress, and my Blogspot.

Contemporary Music in Contemporary Hebrew for Contemporary Jews

By Jonah Rank

One of my favorite parts of Talmud Torah, the lifelong commitment to Jewish study, is studying Jewish language. Today, Jewish language is more than the poetic language of rabbis; it is also the spoken language of the Jewish State. Today, it is just as important for us to be literate in the Hebrew we sing aloud or read in a siddur as it is to learn the Hebrew we’d speak in Israel.

Since 1948, many North American Jews have chosen to pronounce Hebrew the way Israelis pronounce Hebrew – no longer how 18th century Europeans would: many of us now say “Shabbat” (not “Shabbos”), “B’rit” (not “Bris”), “Etrog” (not “Esrog”), “Shavu`ot” (not “Sh’vuos”), and so on. Deciding to pronounce Hebrew as Israelis do also meant that we, like Israelis, now strived to understand the language of our ancestors.

Today, many of us now pronounce Hebrew more like Israelis than 18th Century German Jews, and many of us agree that we want to know what we sing about in shul – regardless of our level of understanding Hebrew. In spite of this changed frame of mind though, many of us still pray with tunes that, though we might not realize it, might no longer jive with a modern Jew’s attitude towards Hebrew prayer.

Many tunes we use for prayer today might make it hard for us to accent a word the way an Israeli would. For example, most tunes I know for “Lekhah Dodi” force me to sing “SHA-bat” (instead of “sha-BAT”, how Israelis pronounce “Shabbat”). These tunes were written for Jews who sang “Shabbos” (like “SHA-bos”) and emphasized that first syllable anyway, or these tunes were based on older tunes written for such Jews. In fact, this problem comes up with a good number of words in just about every other prayer – where we might sing “MIZ-mor” instead of “miz-MOR” or “le-HO-dot” instead of “le-ho-DOT” or all sorts of words that we unconsciously sing in an old-fashioned way.

Another pet peeve for the modern Jew: many of the tunes we use don’t reflect the prayers’ sentence structures. Take for example Psalm 29 (“Mizmor Ledavid: Havu Ladonay B’ney Elim…”). Nearly every tune I know for it has musical phrases that end in the middle of a sentence. In these tunes, the words “yecholel ayyalot”, for example, which are often connected to the next few words or marked with a comma, are sung as one would sing the end of a sentence. Though I always find the end of the musical phrase kind of catchy here, if the musical phrasing should match the phrasing of the actual words, then I have to admit that this music does not go with the flow of the language.

This past summer, in the midst of playing with my sound recording equipment (when I should have been doing work for summer classes), I decided that I would like to take up the prayer-language issues that I had only become aware of in the past few years.

In fact, I have begun composing new tunes: tunes where the words fit when pronounced in modern Israeli Hebrew; tunes where the musical and the grammatical phrasing match; and – most importantly – tunes that I hope the modern Jew would find catchy but not campy, didactic but not demeaning, and spirited, spiritual, and inspiring.

I have so far composed and written out sheet music for “Lekhah Dodi” and Psalm 29 (plus a few other prayer texts). My current plan is to finish setting all of Kabbalat Shabbat to new, modern tunes and, after recording them (to be released on CD by December 2008), to offer these modern tunes to all modern Jews interested, and to share the tunes with all of my own personal Tefillah communities.

Jonah is a sophomore at Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary, where he studies music and Jewish music (respectively). Jonah's debut CD, Loud and Dumb, is available on iTunes. Jonah also prates at www.jonahrank.com almost daily.
18 comments or Leave a comment

Feel free* to purchase!

*The music is not free - monetarily speaking.
Leave a comment
For a better visual presentation of this, please see http://www.jonahrank.com/article/368/excerpt-from-the-writings-of-mr-scott-a-shay-discussing-conservative-judaism

The following excerpt, from Chapter X of Getting Our Groove Back: How to Energize American Jewry by Mr. Scott A. Shay and published by Devora Publishing (December 1, 2006), has been reprinted with the permission of Mr. Shay and Devora

(Numbers in brackets refer to my footnotes ["fn"] at the bottom of the entry.)

Read moreCollapse )
8 comments or Leave a comment
My response to the above excerpt from Mr. Shay's Getting Our Groove Back: How to Energize American Jewry in brief:

Starting with a minute point (a nitpicking which might be picking apart a mere mistake of phrasing or typing), I wish that Mr. Shay had phrased as a principle “at least weekly synagogue attendance.” The written phrasing of “weekly synagogue attendance” conjures, in my mind, a Judaism in which the obligation to pray is fulfilled by praying once a week rather than three times a day. In my own perception of an ideal Conservative mini-Movement, prayer could be obligated to men three times a day and to women at least once a day. (While I’d be fine accepting that some Conservative Jews would, according to their mini-Movement, be not need to observe Jewish law, I personally would like to see some Conservative Jews who, in accordance with mini-Movement, observe Halakhah [i.e. Jewish law].)

If both Conservative and non-Conservative Jews can come to recognize Conservative Judaism as being the collection of movements above and beyond the idea of Jewish denominations conceptually "between" Orthodoxy and Reform, then perhaps Jews currently affiliated with the small movements of UTJ, Reconstructionism, the Masorti movement, the Neolog Movement in Hungary, and others will be able to unite in the great coalition that Conservative Judaism can be.

For the meantime, I do believe it is intellectually accurate to describe Conservative Judaism as a Coalition of Jews of non-Orthodox and non-Reform Jews (and perhaps non-Reconstructionist Jews, etc.). In Coalitions, people leave (as UTJ and many others have done). In Movements, people move together. Moving together in a pluralistic Movement that evolves in multiple directions is impossible though. There are multiple Movements of people moving similarly in the Conservative Jewish Coalition currently; therefore, we are not a single Movement. However, for the purposes of speaking simply, I am willing to settle to call the Conservative Coalition a "Movement" and the Conservative movements individual "mini-Movements."

I would personally be fine accepting a Conservative Coalition that includes different schools and different schools of thought in each school. Here’s something I can see: the externally highly “traditional” school in Budapest, the extremely liberal school in Philadelphia once associated with Kaplanism, a spiritually inclined Los Angeles school, an academically intensive JTS in NY, an egalitarian but traditional school in Jerusalem, a very traditional school with women clergy in Argentina, a traditional non-egalitarian school in New Jersey, and who knows what else.

On a side-note, I have a lot of faith in JTS’s Chancellor-Elect Arnold Eisen, and there are a lot of great thinkers out there. I hope that more great energetic thinkers can come together to reform Conservative Judaism. I hope that Chancellor-Elect Arnold Eisen (with the help of everyone necessary) will set the movement in its proper place.

And a note on another detail: I believe that patrilineal descent is an issue that the Conservative Jews (a population currently existing and to exist in greater numbers with the reformation of the movement) will come to be more noticeably divided about.

Another final detail: a Law Committee might be unnecessary in at least one individual mini-Movement. I would like to see some Conservative Jews, who according to their mini-Movement, accept the notion that each individual rabbi is the authority deciding the law of her or his own community.
14 comments or Leave a comment
but this one isn't.
Leave a comment