In the last few years, I’ve written about quite a few punk groups with connections to Judaism (and klezmer/folk bands with a punk edge). In an effort to “get it all out,” here are 10 that I’ve never mentioned in my writing.
Click here to read a listing of all the Jewish punk bands I’ve talked about in my articles and blog posts.
The Shondes are an all-vegetarian Brooklyn band with a political punk edge, a Jewish identity that shines through even in their name, and, perhaps best of all, captivating fiddle-playing. This morning, drummer Temim Fruchter said that The Shondes don’t just pepper their songs with Yiddish words and “liturgical melodies” but rather build them into “a bigger and more layered composition, both in a particular song and in our body of music as a whole.” Click here to watch a rockin’ live rendition of The Shondes’ “Let’s Go” (the phrase you’ll hear shouted repeatedly is “lomir gayn,” Yiddish for “let’s go”), and click here to read Teruah’s November 2007 post about The Shondes.
On Wednesday (Christmas Eve), The Shondes performed at JDub Records’ Jewltide event in Brooklyn. “One of my favorite moments was getting to engage the crowd about our song ‘I Watched the Temple Fall,’ which is largely about the importance [of] challenging and criticizing Israel and Israeli policy as Jews,” said Fruchter. “It's exciting to have positive dialogue about Israel/Palestine in Jewish spaces, and I love when that can happen through music.”
Frum Punk (who runs a blog called A Frum Punk) played guitar in Miami-based 7SEVENTY between 2001 or 2002 and 2005. The band once played at a bar mitzvah and was a big hit there. “Most common Jewish simcha songs can easily be sped up, a-la Me First style, which just makes them better to dance to,” Frum Punk said earlier this month. (Coincidentally, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes once performed and recorded a live album at a bar mitzvah.)
Frum Punk thinks that punk and Judaism can go hand in hand. “Judaism has always absorbed the music of the times, and well-played punk rock can definitely be kosher music, to the newer generation anyways,” he said. “Today, it’s amazing to me how many other bands now exist with the same idea as us, such as Moshiach Oi and, of course, Yidcore.”
Atlanta’s CAN CAN released a full-length album called All Hell earlier this month. The songs “Betrayer/Deceiver” and “Boreska Mines” draw on religious/spiritual themes (click here to read the lyrics). Patrick A., the trio’s singer and lone Jew, said last month that he relies “heavily on my faith and Jewish mysticism for inspiration for my lyrics, stage performance, and an overall sense of how I live my life and treat others.”
Last year, CAN CAN performed at a funeral party to “celebrate the death of fundie d***head Jerry Falwell.” Patrick’s explanation of that show was what won me over in my decision to consider CAN CAN a Jewish punk band:
The show we did regarding Jerry Falwell was a joke. It was a show we already had booked with some friends of ours, and then I heard Mr. Falwell had died. It was apolitical and had nothing to do with CAN CAN or his religious ideas. Which for the record, I found repulsive. Not as a Jew, but as a human being.
I don't think it's "un-Jewish" to make a comment like that about Jerry Falwell. Sure, it was a pathetic thing to say and I hope G-d grants Mr. Falwell grace (as I believe He does for all people), but that kind of fanaticism is gross to me ... and it's very Jewish to call people out on their hatred, violence, and disgust for humanity. Heck, Jews have a history of calling out G-d on His behavior. So why would we not criticize someone like Mr. Falwell?
In December 2005, I corresponded with Brett Singer of Electric Menorah (click here to check out the band’s MySpace page and listen to “Come Light the Menorah,” “Dreidel Song,” and “Oh Chanukah Bush"). Singer said, "The band is, well, one person. I played guitar, bass, did the vocals and had someone else program the drum machine on the tracks you heard (his voice is in the background as well)." He pointed out, "Little Jewish boys and girls need something to mosh to, don't they?"
Yesterday, Singer told me that he hopes to release PassoverCore (featuring “Dayenu,” “Chad Gadya,” and “Let My People Go”) in time for Passover. He added, “Punk is also a good way to express feelings that one might have that come with being born a Jew— for example, the feeling one gets when Mel Gibson tries to tell us that he's not anti-Semitic or that his father wasn't a Holocaust denier can be more satisfyingly expressed in a hardcore song (say, ‘Mel Gibson Is an Asshole') than in other ways.”
"We will not be pigeon-holed into the Lubavitch/nu-Carlebach/jazz/jam-band/punk genre!" was a slogan for Illinois-based Farbrengiton. Does that mean they were a punk band? Earlier this month, guitarist Zev Goldberg replied, “Depends who you ask. Maybe not to punks. It's kind of a genre stretch.”
The band's songs included "I Am a Jew" and "Avinu Malkeinu." According to a 2004 article in the Chicago Reader, Goldberg played “punk, jam-band music, and Credence covers” prior to forming Farbrengiton. The article also noted that Farbrengiton’s name “melds the phrase ‘bring it on’ with farbrengen, a Yiddish word for fellowship with friends.”
Gefilte F*ck’s logo was a magen David with an anarchist symbol inside. Band members wore kippot and tallesim onstage. According to the band’s Web site, “Singer Howard Hallis would come out holding a bottle of Manichewitz wine and scream out to the crowd ‘Yer all a bunch of G-d-d*** b*stards! Oy!’ and proceed to throw chunks of gefilte fish on the dance floor. The hardcore punk guitar would start, and there would be a Hora dance moving in the center of the mosh pit.”
Gefilte F*ck’s repertoire included covers (“If I Were a Rich Man” and “Diyanu”), parodies (“Smells Like Jew Spirit”), and original songs (“Kibbutz”). The band recorded five songs in 1992, which can be heard on their Web site. Despite the site’s claim that Gefilte F*ck was one of “the first Yidcore bands” (that’s “Yidcore” in the generic sense), they were preceded by Jews From the Valley (which bassist Mark Hecht also played in). The band performed at a 600-person show that was briefly shown on MTV, but it seems the biggest success belongs to fiddler Eliza Schneider (who joined after the recordings)—for five years, Schneider was the voice actor behind eight regular characters on South Park.
In January 2006, I asked Hallis if the L.A. punk scene was a good fit for a Jewish-themed band. He replied, “In the early 90’s, when we were doing the shows, it was a perfect fit. We would be billed with acts like The Imperial Butt Wizards and 7-foot-tall drag queen Vaginal Crème Davis’ band. Our Jewishness was just seen as comedy, not really pushing any kind of agenda.”
Kohane of Newark
According to a September article in the Forward, the jacket cover of Kohane of Newark’s new album “features an image of a larger-than-life bird’s eye view of a rumpled and stained velvet skullcap, doubtless donned at some Jewish function that took place around the time that Fonzie and Vinnie Barbarino dominated the boob tube.”
The two songs on the New York band’s MySpace page don’t sound all that punk to me, but I defer to the experts on this one. The Forward called Kohane of Newark “Judeo-punk,” and Steven Lee Beeber (author of The Heebie-Jeebies at CBGB’s: A Secret History of Jewish Punk) has said, “An American Serge Gainsbourg, Kohane of Newark's [debut album] probes the dark, sensitive heart of the Jewish experience. Equal parts Lou Reed/Alexander Portnoy/Jonathan Richman/Delmore Schwartz, the result is late-night therapy drenched in beautiful music.”
In January 2006, I corresponded with Jed Davis, who produced an out-of-print five-song demo for Mensch. Davis offered the following information: “Mensch performed around Manhattan for a little over a year before breaking up. Their songs were explicitly political though not without a sense of humor (the first time I heard them, they performed a tribute to Joey [Ramone] with the chorus ‘I wanna be a rock 'n' roll Jew like Joey Ramone!’). Their singer, Seth Abrams, was responsible for the band's name and ideology (the rest of the band wanted to drop the Jewish thing and change the name, which I was certainly against).”
In November 2002, Mensch played a show with Yidcore and Golem in Manhattan. In December 2005, Yidcore frontman Bram Presser said, “Mensch were around about 3 years ago. I think they broke up around then, too, just after we played with them. They were kinda street punk …. They were New York boys, and the drummer was great (he actually drummed for us on our last American tour).” In January 2006, Golem singer/accordionist Annette Ezekiel said all she could remember about Mensch’s set was “that they were really loud.” When told that the band was defunct, she replied, “Oh well ... so it goes in Jewish punk.”
I’ve mentioned before that Dan “Bjorn Turoque” Crane is my favorite air guitarist, and I was pleasantly surprised when I learned on one of his Web sites that he had played in a “punk rock Klezmer band.” In August 2006, Crane said, “I was in a pre-Golem, Golem band. Not with Annette [Ezekiel] from Golem, but with another guy who was in a band with Annette before Golem called The Murrays. It was pretty short-lived ... I played guitar.”
A guy named Mendel sings and plays all instruments for Boston’s The Schleps. Last week, JDub Records featured The Schleps’ 37-second take on “Maoz Tzur” on its Web site. JDub quipped that it’s “predicting that koshercore will finally take off in 2009 (maybe),” and Mendel agrees. He’s demoing more songs, and he’s already made connections with Jews in Boston’s punk/hardcore scene.
Mendel describes The Schleps’ music as metalcore: a mix of metal and hardcore. While JDub used the term “koshercore,” Mendel prefers “JewCore.” Yesterday, Mendel said, “My friends and I have affectionately referred to The Schleps' music as 'JewCore.' Yes, I'm aware that ‘JewCore’ has been used in other contexts and some Jewish people might consider using the word ‘Jew’ in this context to be condescending or derogatory, but we use it out of love of our heritage, the enjoyment of the music, and basically because, ‘we callz it like we seez it.’"