The Four Questions: Matthue Roth
Last week, Matthue Roth attended his first taqwacore (Muslim punk) show and quipped in his blog post that he was the only Jew in the room. I was also present, and I can't believe that in that crowd, I didn't spot an Orthodox Jew with the longest payos I've ever seen. (I got there early and stayed in the front. He arrived later and stayed in the back.) It would have been fun to show him that I was reading and carrying around a copy of his 2005 novel, Never Mind the Goldbergs, which is about an Orthodox Jewish punk girl.
Roth is also the author of Losers, Candy in Action, and Yom Kippur a Go-Go. He is the editorial director of G-dcast and the associate editor of MyJewishLearning.com.
Here is Matthue Roth in his own words.
1. How long have you been vegetarian, and what did you think of Jonathan Safran Foer's new book, Eating Animals?
I became a vegetarian when I was 14. I was working at a camp where they had a vegetarian option, and without really thinking, I started. I was like, if I don't have to kill animals and I can still be healthy, then why not?
That's kind of been my attitude toward vegetarianism for years. I think it's a good thing to do; I think it's one of the few ways that we have of making the world a better place and using our lives to do something less destructive. But I'm not the kind of person who rubs it in or who even wants to bring it up with non-vegs -- there's a million other things I'd rather talk about.
Eating Animals has sort of blown all that away. It's excellent writing, mostly excellent journalism. There are lots of arguments that don't get completely followed up, but the straight facts that he collects and the stories he tells -- the fact that chickens are being soaked [in] tanks full of their own excrement to soak up water weight -- it's written on the packages, water weight.
What's more, it's hard not to talk about them. I've stopped multiple dinner conversations because something popped into my head, and I'm really bad about not saying something. Usually in a charming and offbeat and punky way. But, uh, you can't really say this stuff charmingly.
2. You wrote the screenplay for a movie that's currently in production. And I saw that you're able to disclose the name at this point! What are you willing to reveal about the film?
I'll tell anything! I'm an awful secret keeper. But I'm actually under contracts not to talk about most things, which is still very new to me.
The film is called 1/20. It's about two girls who are running away from home. They live near D.C. and their lives are in total chaos and they want to change the world. There's some science-fictiony stuff, and some action, and some drama. There's a crazy climax at a punk club, which comes from about a zillion Dischord shows that I used to go to, concerts in churches or basements or public parks. We got the band Can!!Can to play, which was hugely exciting for me -- they're kind of friends, but I'm also kind of in awe of them.
3. There's a great line in Never Mind the Goldbergs where Hava says, "I still believed in G-d. I just didn't believe in other people. I mean, some days, I felt like G-d was the only one who believed back at me." Is that a blueprint for Jewish punk?
I don't think anything can be a blueprint for Jewish punk, although it's awesome that you asked. I think that punk is the idea of taking something in a wild new direction, innovating or mutating it, and I think that the essence of any new development/mutation/pwning in Jewish thought involves going back to the source -- to G-d, to the Torah, to the original things that Moses said -- and asking ourselves, what's my relationship to it? And then looking at the relationship that other people and the Greater Jewish World have to those same ideas, and saying that maybe we've got to get back to the source.
DIY Judaism is the way that Judaism's supposed to be. But I think it also means you have to look at the sources and really get to know them, much like food radicals need to read Diet for a New America or political radicals should learn Howard Zinn.
4. What is your connection to taqwacore?
Mostly, that I'm a big fan of the Muslim punk movement. And, yeah, that I feel more than a little bit of brotherhood to it. Michael Muhammad Knight, who founded the genre, wrote his first novel about the same time I wrote Goldbergs, even though it'd been building for a decade for me and at least as long for him, I'm sure.
We both love our religions, and, in a crazy way, we love the masses of people who follow it, even if a lot of it's f***ed up and a lot of the conclusions that most people come to are not the same conclusions that we reach with our takes on our mutual religion. Last week at a reading, he said, "My mission is to make religion applicable to people, even if it's not everything you want it to be." He and the Kominas and me and everyone else who's doing this sort of thing is playing with the same idea: we're all trying to change the world. But we all also believe that there's a force way bigger than we are that's also changing the world, constantly, in way more radical ways than we can do on our own.
heebnvegan Rock Stars: Live and In Person (Nov. 2009)
Torah Hardcore, PunkTorah, and the Influences of Up-and-Comers in the Jewish Music Scene (Aug. 2009)
Jewish Punk and Taqwacore Unite (Jul. 2009)
BookExpo America: Michael Muhammad Knight (May 2009)