Matisyahu Shaves His Beard and Fan Base

December 14, 2011   |   By (see Dana's Profile)   |   Filed Under Entertainment, Headlines, Society 

Matisyahu, the world’s most famous Chassidic reggae “superstar” has just shaved his trademark beard. The people who care about the man and his music have become polarized. Matisyahu’s Twitter pictures and Facebook post were ambiguous and cryptic about the future of his religious life. And if anyone bothered to take a look at the whole picture instead of sharing half baked opinions on the Huffington Post, they’d have realized that this far more than some simple story about a Chassidic Jewish man named “Matthew Paul Miller” deciding to simply shave his beard. There is a great deal more that hangs in the balance of how this reggae opera ultimately plays out.

What Public Figures Owe to the Community

Many people are under a mistaken assumption that entertainers, athletes and other public figures owe some type of duty to the public and the community that makes up the market within which they sell their talent. Nothing could be further from the truth. Charles Barkely, famous basketball superstar, compulsive gambler, convicted drunk driver and Nike pitchman once stated in a sneaker advertisement “I am not a role model.” He sure got that right. What parents must accept is that while their children will naturally admire their sports “heroes” from a distance, these athletes have no obligation to the fans other than playing the game. NBA basketball is the product. They have a right to be a jerk and hope to polish their public image with the help of an expensive public relations team.

Matisyahu2With regard to Matthew Paul Miller aka Matisyahu, his product is religious music, not just reggae music. He is both preacher and musician. Matisyahu certainly has the right to change his mind about where in the religious spectrum he’d like to be at any time and doesn’t owe it to the public to maintain the status quo. But unlike basketball, his product and image comprise of integrity and embrace a system of moral and religious (although not necessarily Hassidic) ideology and values. While Matisyahu has the right to change, the public also has the right to believe what it wants about the genuine quality of his act, both on and off stage. It is also important to note that Matthew Paul Miller didn’t have a musical career without the help of dedicated people in the Orthodox Jewish community. So what does he owe them? Probably the same as any other person – nothing more than a dignified, respectful explanation to people who have helped along the way as to a sincere change in direction.

What is Matisyahu’s Music?

When I first listened to “King Without a Crown” I thought that Matisyahu’s music was clearly about who was #1 – God in Heaven, much of it being as it relates to his Jewish belief system. But I found Matisyahu’s “coming out” Facebook post most peculiar and revealing. He sheds his trademark religious image in the first paragraph rather easily and, in the second, makes references solely about how excited his fans should be to embrace the incredible music he will release in the coming year and that the beard is no big deal. Matishyahu’s music may no longer be primarily about God, Hashem or the Jewish people – it’s about Matthew Paul Miller’s spiritual journey as it relates to God, whatever that means at the moment. Matisyahu’s Hanukkah “Miracle” video which he promoted last year in honor of the Jewish Festival of Lights had far more commercially accessible Santa Claus and Christmas themes than I would have expected. Fast forward to Matisyahu’s December 7 Tweets where posts a picture of a Christmas tree and another of a Hanukkah Menorah with the statement “This says it all, doesn’t it?” Matis – what are you trying to tell us both in your music and in life – that your “divine mission” is the spreading your God given musical talent to as many commercially viable outlets as possible?

Matthew Paul Miller or the Next Act Emerges

Reading Matisyahu’s latest Tweets were disturbing to me. Today it was thoughts on how focusing on “dog shit” will make you miss the sunrise. First of all, I got the very clever reference to his new song about the sunrise. He also mentioned it in his “coming out” Twitter post that was a little odd – “At the break of day I look for you at sunrise When the tide comes in I lose my disguise.” Yesterday Chassidic Jew, today cursing like a hip hop star. But Matisyahu’s other Twitter posts were more troubling – such as the ringing endorsement of the services of a “New York City Massage Therapist to the Stars” whose MySpace page features her ass bare and taking a shit. While all of this is happening, Matisyahu assures us that nobody should worry about the beard because he’s still going to Shul (synagogue) and the Mikvah (religious ritual bathhouse.) Is anyone else seeing the paradox?

What I found interesting was that just days earlier Matisyahu was rambling about not being able to escape thoughts about being self-centered.

Evening meditation for y’all. Was thinking about it on plane. There is no escape from being a part of the IT. Self centeredness: If the world is centered around me then I am in control. If it is not then I am a part of it all and not in control. Very scary thought to be a part of something that you can not control. A part of the IT We don’t know what the IT is even

After reading through his Twitter and Facebook posts, Matisyahu’s / Matthew Paul Miller’s story seems to come together as a man who is possibly very self-involved and to whom music is everything and perhaps even above all. He’s certainly having fun with generating even more attention and perhaps craving more, such as the name dropping hedonist masseuse. Matisyahu is no different than many other people who have achieved success and fortune beyond most others. He is no better and no worse, probably just a man who may be struggling with his own identity and success in a mid-life crisis. Perhaps he is also wondering whether his talent is what polished his star or whether it was being the freak show attraction of a Chassidic man who could emulate both Shaggy and Bob Marley with a high degree of competence.

It’s All About Respect and Proper Communication

I’ve read many posts about people in the Orthodox Jewish community being angry with Matisyahu’s sudden unexplained rejection of his Chassidic lifestyle and potentially Orthodox Judaism and the Jewish religion in its entirety. I’ve also seen angry posts by the non-religious claiming that Matthew Paul Miller has the right to honestly just be himself without having to explain his actions to the religious zealots. But what I think many in the Jewish community are angry about isn’t Matisyahu’s change in his religious beliefs at all. Whether or not he wears a beard isn’t important and has never been the issue. It’s the seeming violation of the most honored principle of Judaism and numerous other religions – to love and treat your neighbor as if your neighbor was yourself.Matisyahu - Shaved Photo

Matisyahu’s fan base has a large component of Orthodox Jews who promoted him because he is/was one of their own. While his music is good, it’s manifestly clear that they appreciated Matisyahu not as a talented reggae musician but as a talented Orthodox Jewish reggae musician. His image and songs are the metaphor of the pious reed that does not bend in the winds of Sodom and Gomorrah. The image and religion of Matisyahu and his music are one.

Now if Matisyahu is expecting his fans to be sympathetic, loyal to his “goodness” of character and  keep buying albums, then he should have been understanding of their needs and expectations. Matish should have provided them with a dignified explanation as to his sudden 180 degree rotation in religious ideology. The notion of some cryptic message followed by a reminder of the awesome “music of rebirth” associated with some unknown religious affiliation seems thoughtless, egocentric and insulting on the surface. It seems to be the self-centered behavior he was tweeting about and a message that “it’s not so much about God as it is about promoting me and my music.” It pains me to say this, but Matisyahu’s tweet about going to Shul in the morning after his cryptic messages sounds like he’s trying to play the fence and keep his fan base by playing both sides of the coin. It’s his inability to simply be up front and clear about who he is that is striking readers as being phony – and they are now wondering how long this whole charade has been going on. It’s much more difficult to show your sincerity when you come out with a cagey message that seems above your audience.

The Sunrise

It’s difficult to judge a man without walking in his shoes. I would like to believe that Matthew Paul Miller’s spiritual journey was not all show business from the very beginning and indeed, an honest and sincere endeavor. He has shared with the world a number of different thoughts that are on his mind, some he embraces and some that plague him. Perhaps we should give Matisyahu / Matthew some leeway to further discover himself and see what he does with the time to think now that the world has reacted. He also has a wife and family to consider who have traveled with him on this journey. The true measure of a man is by his actions. At the moment, Matisyahu has merely reached out impulsively using social media, never a good choice when making serious life decisions.


One Response to “Matisyahu Shaves His Beard and Fan Base”

  1. rilalur2 on October 19th, 2015 2:38 am

    he was dropping the chsdsiaus. I thought ok his choice I know some people who have started as Lubavitch and went mainstream. Then he released his album during the 3 weeks. I thought: Uhh ok I guess I’ll have to wait to hear it. then hes started a tour that spanned the entire 3 weeks and I thought: Errr that isn’t really right but ok. Then he had a concert on Tisha B’av the one day where all mourning for all the bad things that happen to the Jewish people is condensed into one day. And the next day he put a letter on facebook rationalizing it with the parnassa argument among other not well thought out arguments. I mean the parnassa argument? You are a cross-country tour. Come on. That was when I stopped listening. Like I said it sounds like I overreacted but the betrayal feelings were kinda sharp.

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