This stuff is a little bit scary. Hear me scream:
Steven Lee Beeber is the author of the book ‘The Heebie-Jeebies of the CBGB’s‘, which revealed the over-representation of Jews in the first wave of New York punk in the 1970s. Members of the Ramones, Suicide, Blondie and many others came from Jewish households. Beeber goes on to make a series of claims about the links here. He says that punk was an attempt of these young Jewish men to overturn the stereotype of the feeble, brainy Jew. According to Beeber, these early Jewish punks looked upon the Holocaust as a moment of weakness; posing with swastikas and ‘ironically’ embracing Nazi imagery was a way to shock their opponents and prove their strength. More generally, Beeber sees a similarity between the punk and Jewish communities in their simultaneous desire to be separate from mainstream culture, and to fit in. He writes, “Punk reflects the whole Jewish history of oppression and uncertainty, flight and wandering, belonging and not belonging … being both in and out.”
Contemporary Jewish punk outfits continue in this shock-and-awe, taboo-breaking, line-crossing lineage. The band Jewdriver reflects and parodies the neo-Nazi group Screwdriver. They frequently make references that many would think of as going too far. On their website they list a fake song of theirs titled, ‘I was killed in a gas chamber, so give me $100000!’ Yidcore, from Melbourne, push a very triumphalist, anti-Nazi image. Check out the video clip of the song we played, in which Nazi pigs keep Jewish chickens in cages, until a fighting rooster appears to save the day; among other things, he knocks the Hitler pig into a sausage-making machine. With a kind of macabre humour, one of the sausages that shoots out has his characteristic black moustache on it.
It’s not all anti-Nazi, of course. Both of these bands, along with a group of Gentiles who play folk-punk fusion (including some Yiddish lyrics) named the Zydepunks, played in a 2006 tour named Eight Crazy Nights. They played eight gigs on the eight nights before Hanukkah, and incorporated elements of Jewish ritual into their gigs – many band members wore yarmulkes (skullcaps) and they ‘lit’ a menorah candle each night, which is traditionally done in Jewish households in the lead-up to Hanukkah. Yidcore have also released punk covers of all of the songs from Fiddler on the Roof, a classic Jewish musical.
The Groggers are a New York-based pop-punk group who explicitly draw on their common Jewish heritage. They try to write music “for both audiences.” A song about failing to find a girl is named ‘The Shidduch Hits the Fan‘ – a pun on the practice among Orthodox Jewish communities named shidduch, whereby young Jews are introduced in a kind of arranged dating. The combination of Jewish and secular concerns in their music led critic Heshy Fried to positively say that he forgot he was listening to Jewish music: “****, even Matisyahu can’t go a few lines without throwing in some Biblical verse,” he wrote.
Right, so that’s Jewish punk. Next we return to safer waters, with Christian J-Pop. Peace!