Jewish Self Loathing, music edition....

To paraphrase William S. Burroughs, much like the man dressed as a woman to board the last life boat leaving the ship Titanic, we now have a new measure for deeply ingrained self loathing.

Can it be that we, the comfortably assimilated Jewry of America, have drifted so far from our roots that we must now tear down anyone who chooses to cling to them?

Submitted for your review and comment is this article from the Jewish Chronicle (UK,) entitled "Turn off the klezmer and turn up the Ramones" by Paul Lester.

(Besides being poorly written, an important affectation of "Rock" writing in England in the new post-Modernist world, it could be the very first time I've ever had an occasion to ever read the rag.)

Dig this chestnut:

There are plenty of musicians who today play very little other than the music of past centuries. Some play it for its eternal qualities. Others, however, are more concerned to convey “authenticity”.

Such musicians peddle klezmer as though it were the truest expression of the Jewish experience. They perhaps even imagine that, if there is a Jewish “voice” in music, klezmer captures it best.

But, for me, the best Jewish music — or rather, the best music by Jews — reflects the moment and is somehow a response to the times in which it was made. And if there is a “Jewish voice”, it is not to be heard in klezmer, maybe because it is being drowned out by all those clarinets, violins and accordions.


Tell Frank London that to his face. Or Aaron Alexander, or Alex Kontorovich, or... I could go on and on. Here's an authentic Jewish voice for you: Are you high?

Well, lets be honest here, there are some mighty crappy bands that "peddle" pap as culture. Yale Strom's clumsy horror show is a fine example of poor scholarship wedded to poor musicianship and presented in a an overly precious package. And there's a whole genre of low-brow, low-rent"klezmer" acts out there: Maxwell Street, Yiddiche Cup, Best Little Klezmer Band in Texas, ect..I was in one of these dog-and-pony-shows for a time (Austin Klezmorim) so I know of what I speak. I'm sure if all you had heard was that, I reckon the article's thesis would ring true. As Earl Scruggs once famously remarked when asked why Bluegrass music wasn't as popular in the 70's as it was a generation before, "It because of the lousy Bluegrass bands playing today." Emmis.

This reminds me of a similar polarization in criticism in the African American community when discussions of "jazz" and the sort of expressive musics of the avaunt guard. To my mind, this essay, like those critics, reject anything that smacks of "plantation" (or concentration camp) and promotes only those art forms which reflect the values of the dominant culture. And much like our African brothers, we kikes routinely beat the pants off the goyim even playing by their rules (see author of "White Christmas," and "Easter Parade.") Accomplishments to be rightly proud of. But here it sounds like the rant of what Black writers would call a "porch nigger" (or my favorite curse, a "kapo.") Mr. Lester has chosen an "either/or" scenario that doesn't exist in the real world.

I'm guessing too, and this is simply a guess, that Mr. Lester has never been denied admittance into a public pool for being Jewish. Nor has he has a swastika painted on his door, or a cross burnt in his lawn. Nor was he regularly quizzed about his personal association with the death of Jesus in English class. Like many today, he displays an attitude born of a life of complete enfranchisement, comfortable and safe in his identity. Nu?

And I guess I should note that I myself, a Yiddish music musician, the very kind that this writer rails against, has spent a life engrossed entirely reflective of the modern music of the culture around me. I have roadied for the Flaming Lips, provided a PA and a crash pad for Black Flag and Husker Du. My bands have opened for the Butthole Surfers, sold out shows at CBGB's and No Doubt once opened for me. I have played honky tonks across Texas with Dale Watson, Wayne Hancock, the Derailers and Don Walser (Google 'em, yankees.) I recorded a Grammy nominated CD for Tex-Mex accordion legend Santiago Jimenez, and have played festivals with members of the Savoy Family of Eunice LA. I am a first call musician in the Czech and Polish dance bands around greater Houston.

Not bragging folks, just try to explain that those of us who choose to listen to and respect the cultural gifts of our heritage generally live entirely in the here and now. And we love accordions. And clarinets. And we aren't one bit ashamed to say so. Oh, and by the way we rock out better then anyone too.

With "writers" with this sort of agenda supported by the mainstream Jewish press, it seems what I feared for many years really is true: my own community actively rejects me and my work. Why else then is it that to perform Yiddish music, I must travel back to old Europe, sometimes standing on the very spot of my extended family's destruction, to find an appreciative audience? Conversely, I have performed for my local JCC a total of 3 occasions in 15 years. How sad can it be that the children of the murderers find meaning in my culture when the children of the murdered actively despise it. I'll let Mr. Lester (ne' Lowenstein, maybe?) work that out on the couch years from now when the vacuousness of the Goldyne lands shallow consumer culture finally leaves him flat. By then, there may not be anybody left to say a kaddish. ("It doesn't really reflect the true Jewish sentiment of today" one imagines they might be heard to say.)

Once, I was told by a nice little old lady (and one time guest of the nice folks at Bergen-Belsen) once that "who needs Hitler? We have plenty enough Jews eager to end Yiddish life."


Mark Halata in Richmond VA

Some musicians will disagree with me I'm sure, but one of my favorite aspects about presenting and performing folk music is when you're doing so for kids. Here Tex-Czech band leader Mark Halata and I played a couple public schools while we were in Richmond to perform at the Richmond Folk Festival back in October.

Yeah, that's me singing Czech and playing a borrowed guitar on the tune Czervena Ruzika aka Red Rose Polka.