Jewish Telegraph, March 2009
ROCK star Dan Reed was in tears the first time he flew to Israel . . . even though he isn’t Jewish.
The Portland-born singer — who sold millions of albums in the 1980s with his group The Dan Reed Network — said that as he looked out over Tel Aviv from his plane, the tears started flowing.
“The man in the seat next to me asked why I was crying. I said it was in appreciation that this happened for the Jewish people,” Dan — who releases his solo album Coming Up for Air in the autumn — said.
In fact, Catholic-raised Dan loved Israel so much that he stayed for three years . . . and even studied at a yeshiva.
Amazingly, Dan, who talks a lot about peace in the region in his blogs, found his writings classed as antisemitic “because I criticised the Israeli government”.
The 46-year-old said: “I have criticised the American government many times, but I am not anti-American. I am so pro-Israel because I believe Jews have suffered enough. There have been so many centuries of them not having a homeland.”
Dan was adopted from birth. His birth father was Filipino while his mother was native American/German.
“I strayed from religion when I was around 15 — the same time I got into music,” he said. “I was asking too many questions of the clergy and the answers didn’t make sense.”
His interest in music started when he played organ in church at the age of 10. After singing in his high school choir, Dan was taught the guitar by Tsumo Ooki, a Japanese foreign exchange student.
“Tsumo became a newscaster on Japanese television,” Dan said. “The first time he saw me play was in 1990 when Dan Reed Network supported The Rolling Stones at Wembley Stadium.”
Dan’s family were supportive of his move into music. His father, who died at the age of 94, bought him his first guitar and trumpet, while his mother, who is now 89, was a vocalist in the 1940s and 50s on army bases.
“I became friends with my birth mother at the age of 21 but she had lost touch with my birth father,” Dan revealed. “I know his name and what country he is from, but I had a great father growing up, so there was no hollow space inside me that needed filling.”
Dan put his success in the 1980/90s down to playing live. The band would perform virtually every night, playing a number of cover versions alongside their originals.
After releasing a six-track EP called Breathless, the band signed to Mercury Records with the aid of Glaswegian Derek Schulman — featured in the Jewish Telegraph last year. They were managed by legendary concert promoter Bill Graham.
In 1987, Dan Reed Network released their eponymous debut album, which featured their first hit single, Ritual.
Dan Reed Network released another two albums, Slam (1989) and Heat (1991), before Dan called it a day.
“The band was disappointed in my decision at the time,” Dan said. “We had a six album deal and had only done three. It was everyone’s livelihood. We had this huge machine behind us.
“Being in a band is difficult because you are travelling so much. We were on the road for nine months, then home for a month. You don’t have a garden or a life except on the road.
“I’m appreciative that I got to see the world, but at the time it did my head in.”
Whereas a lot of musicians become involved in drugs, Dan waited until he was out of the music industry before he fell into that trap.
He said: “In 1999, I bought a nightclub. That was a big challenge. I started drinking and doing drugs. But my father, Thomas, got ill and passed away, so I decided to clean up my life and get rid of my addictions.
“I started doing construction work and built houses — even in Jerusalem.”
Leaving Portland, he headed back to India — where he had previously interviewed the Dalai Llama for Spin magazine.
He spent a year in India, during which time he studied Buddhism in a Tibetan monastery guesthouse, but then, after meeting a number of Israeli artists and musicians, he decided to explore the Middle East.
Settling in Jerusalem, he built a small studio and started recording music again, bridging the cultural and political divide by working with Israeli and Palestinian musicians.
“In Delhi I met fashion designer turned energy healer Adi Hadani,” he said. “She invited me to go to her store opening, so I visited her in Haifa. I also visited other friends I met in India from Israel.
“I fell in love with Jerusalem. I split with Adi, but lived there for three years. I love the whole country. I went to the West Bank, too, to try to understand the conflict more.
“I befriended many people in the military. Once you learn about it you see many different complexities. There is no trust. How do you build trust in a situation like that. There has to be a way of Palestinians getting a government not to promote violence as a solution to their problems. Then the Israeli government will have to change its policies.
“Every time there is an incursion or violence on the Israeli side when not provoked, it is very hard for Palestinans to not use violence. It breaks my heart when I read these things. It’s sowing the seeds of future violence.”
While in Jerusalem, Dan said he was often approached by Orthodox Jews asking about his Judaism.
“They would say they could see it in me,” he revealed. “I befriended Rabbi Yom Tov Glaser and he asked if I knew my background. I explained that my birth mother was adopted too, but didn’t know her real parents. There were some real questions there. I was trying to do my lineage, but I ran into a dead end.
“The rabbi invited me to classes at the Aish HaTorah Yeshiva in Jerusalem. I enjoyed it so much I went for nine months. I became good friends with the rabbi. We would go mountain bike riding together.
“The yeshiva students treated me well. I would spend many Shabbats and festivals at different houses. I could read Hebrew, but couldn’t speak it well.”
Before he went to Israel, Dan said he only knew what he had read in the newspapers.
“I knew about the conflict,” he said, “but I didn’t know about the traditions. I now understand more about the conflict and Jews.
“One of the things that amazed me was when I heard a story about a rape in Tel Aviv. The whole country talked about it — to this day that amazes me.
“We breeze over headlines like that in America, but in Israel, the whole country was appalled.
“That is something people don’t understand about Israel. There is a collective there of people who want peace.”
Dan, who now lives in Manhattan, believes that the Jewish psyche is that it will not allow the Holocaust to happen again.
He added: “In the Palestinian territories they have 60 per cent unemployment. There is no mobility, they can’t leave to find other jobs. They can’t work in Israel because of trust issues. The whole population is of people ripe with frustration, resentment and anger.
“My hopes are that a character like Ghandi is born out of the situation in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority. If they use non-violence to protest situations, then true change will come. It will no longer be an eye for an eye. Peace could be born.”
Dan’s passion for peace in the region also led him to help found the Middle East Peace Civic Forum.
“It was born out of conversations with people in Washington DC who were frustrated with the immobility of the peace movement,” he said.
“There are so many amazing peace organisations who aren’t being listened to by governments. We tried to create something that would have a voice, put stuff on the floor in the House of Congress, to work with everybody.
“Joel Segal started it after we were hanging out together. He said there needs to be a voice for all these peace groups around the world. I am one of the vice chairmen and part of the communications committee.”
Dan had been due to return to Israel this month to perform a benefit for ENOSH (the Israeli Mental Health Association). But the concert was called off when organisers failed to find a venue.
ENOSH was set up by Chanita Rodney, a kindertransportee who was raised in Liverpool, where she was housed by the late Dolly and Leo Levy.
“I long to go back to Israel. I would love to have a house there,” Dan said.
Working with Israeli and Palestinian musicians, Dan discovered that everyone can get on. He said: “Musicians are a different breed. They all speak with the language of music, it doesn’t have any religion. Music can move people around the world. It can communicate with strangers.
“When the subject of the wall, occupation or terrorism came up, the conversations tended to end quickly.”
In January, Dan played a number of events to celebrate Barack Obama’s inauguration as president.
He performed his song, Jerusalem Sky, composed for the Jerusalem Sky Foundation, in White Plains, New York. This was an exhibition of Mark Podwal’s artwork, which promotes and fosters an open dialogue between Muslim, Jewish and Christian children.
Dan decided to relaunch his music career with the help of Derek Shulman. He said: “People listening to my songs told me I should start performing again. I had learned Tibetan throat singing and fell in love with acoustic guitars.”
Dan includes about six Dan Reed Network songs in his new live set.
He is selling a live album of last year’s acoustic tour which will only be available on his UK tour, and he will be releasing a new album, Coming Up for Air, in the autumn.
The album will include the track The Dictator, based around Charlie Chaplin’s speech from the classic film The Great Dictator.
Anyone attending one of Dan’s show could even get to chat to him. He said: “I speak to fans after the shows. There is a lot of love. I look forward to meeting all my fans.”
Dates include Bury’s Hark To Towler on April 25 and 26, Alexanders in Chester, on April 27 and Sheffield’s Corporation on May 17.