Farts Will Be Heard: Jewish Audacity and the Punk Aesthetic

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In my days as an undergraduate at Brooklyn College, I attended an interesting array of classes. Being a history major I usually trolled the halls of the history department. However, being a Judaic Studies minor I also spent, as well as attended, many hours in the Jewish studies department. One of the classes I took was on American Jews and was taught by an extremely intelligent, and extremely old, professor. Professor Druks was his name, and most of the classes were his diatribes about the stupidity of our founding fathers. He went off on the doctor, and Declaration of Independence signer, Benjamin Rush. Apparently Rush was a huge critic of Jew and Judaism, while trying to convert them or put the fear of hell in their hearts. He also championed the idea of bloodletting, where he would dump the blood into the Potomac River. Not such a great idea s it attracted mosquitos and hence you have a leading cause of Malaria in the nation’s new capital. Besides that he also prodded us to seek out these stories of eccentric Jews who shook the rafters, seeing the status quo crumble to its knees. It was in this class that I decided to write my research paper on one of my favorite Jewish iconoclasts, Mel Brooks.

The paper, titled “Farts Will Be Heard” to the dismay of my professor led me to various sources, especially the book American Jewish Filmmakers by David Desser and Lester D. Friedman. The third chapter is devoted to Mel Brooks, and is titled farts will be heard. From the moment I saw the title I fell out laughing, but I also knew exactly what they were talking about. In one of Mel’s greatest films, Blazing Saddles, there’s a scene depicting an enormous amount of gas escaping from a group of cowboys’ rears.

Originally the studio was against the scene as the executives thought it was done in poor taste. However, the unrelenting attitude of Mel Brooks would never allow it. During the heated exchange between Mel and the studio executives he proclaimed in his New York Jewish accent that, “Farts Will be Heard.” Being one to never back down Mel has pushed the envelope going back to his first film The Producers. We take for granted the fact that humor and the Holocaust can be used in the modern-day, but when upon the film’s release this subject was extremely taboo. However, Mel being a boorish Jew, like the Jews before him, his contemporaries and future Jewish iconoclasts, pushed sensitivities that make these issues easier to embrace. Unfortunately, the US has gotten so sensitized to the idea of talking about race that a film like Blazing Saddles would not have gotten such a rave review if it was released in the present.

Mel Brooks is a genius, but he’s also got chutzpah, loosely meaning audacity, to push these ideas to shock and prod, but also to entertain and open the debate. Many Jews have done this in the many professions especially in popular culture, as this was the main way to make money when coming during the great immigration to the United States. This low-brow humor would prod the audience to laugh, but also to think about the constructs heaped on us by the elite, and usually waspish persuasion. Brooks brought that brand of comedy to the fore, forever changing the concept of American comedy.

Woody Allen is another example, although unlike the brashness of Brooks, Allen was started out with slapstick and would evolve into quite the auteur. Very few filmmakers can compete with the sheer amount of films, nor can they compete with the amount of accolades heaped on many of his films. His range is insane from the slapstick material (Bananas, Sleeper, and Take the Money and Run to name a few), to the sentimental nostalgia of New York City (Manhattan), to the complexity of relationships (Annie Hall and Husbands and Wives), and even the bizarrely serious (Interiors and Match Point), and this is just the tip of the iceberg. Both he and Brooks are not a rare breed as they are part of a bigger heritage of Jewish iconoclasts. We have to hark back before they came of age to the great Jewish comedian Lenny Bruce for a clearer picture.

Lenny Bruce’s influence lingers to this very day through the routines of such comedians as Chris Rock and Louis CK. Bruce had quite an influence by being one of the first successful comedians to use dirty language along with a smart-ass New York City attitude. His routines veered from language, as he was a supporter of the word “fuck,” but he also pushed an anti-establishment message. In the book The Heebie-Jeebies at CBGB’s by Steven Lee Beeber, the author links Bruce to the performance traditions of the Lower East Side of Manhattan, a Jewish bastion of performers. The author also asserts that before Bruce that “almost all comedians entertained both Jewish and non-Jewish worlds even as they internalized their exclusion and accepted it” (Beeber, p. 4). This feeling of exclusion was felt by Jews, but also by the best comics of the time as well who were African-American. He further shows that Bruce was aware of his Judaism because he said that, “I like to think of myself as a scholar of the Talmud of rock ‘n’ roll” (Ibid. p.7).

In the realm of music it could be argued that many of the iconoclasts who pushed the music were Jewish. We have the olden days of Jazz, Ragtime, Blues, and what would become R&B and Rock ‘n’ Roll. However, by the decade of the 1960’s two entities ruled the world of music, The Beatles and Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan, along with other Jewish songwriters at the time fused their Jewish versions with Americana. Sean Wilentz’s book Bob Dylan in America encapsulates specific eras of his life, while showing that his music always harked back to an American source. Other great artists of the time like Lou Reed (who was one of the first to record songs about Sadism and Masochism and Heroin) kept pushing the content further. Reed came from a typical Long Island suburban Jewish family, yet he embraced “suburban alienation and resentment.” Jews coming of age might have had a comfortable bed in their suburban household. However, this didn’t necessarily mean that they were fully assimilated into the American way.

By the decade of the 1970’s the musical terrain had gotten so bloated, even Rolling Stone magazine moved to posh locations amidst rising skyscrapers. So, naturally who would be the new crop of iconoclasts clothed in a new/old music later labeled Punk? It’s the Jews! to little surprise. Also, when the Punk culture began to take shape in New York City, as well as in Cleveland, Ohio, most of its roots were based on the antics of Lenny Bruce, the destitution of Lou Reed, and Bob Dylan’s Resolve. Beeber’s book is a treasure trove of information because he shows how most of these progenitors of Punk were almost all Jews. Along with the influence of Lou Reed, Danny Fields was another mythical character.

Danny Fields is standing on the right, along with Dee Dee and Joey Ramone, Linda Stein and David Bowie.

Danny Fields came from a conventional background, and is a very smart scholar who pushed and helped publicize various punk styles and groups from the MC5 to the Stooges to the Ramones. He’s also such a character that when seen being interviewed you laugh out loud. He a charmer and one of the early cheerleaders of the proto-Punk bands like the MC5 and The Stooges, to the Punk era Ramones. Many others were also part of the tribe like the duo of Martin Rev and Alan Vega, known as Suicide.

Suicide was an event to watch as their art was confrontational street culture, personified through minimalist performances, influential to many in the scene. Through a violent performance Vega interacted with the crowd while acting in a masochistic fashion. With the use of vocals and synthesizer, they paved the way for many minimalist groups like Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire. There are countless others including Jonathan Richman, of the Modern Lovers, was another sentimental straight man who gave us ballads Punk ballads about Boston, the proprietor of the legendary CBGB’s, Hilly Krystal, was another Jew who lived on a commune in upstate New York during his youth, the main singer (“Handsome” Dick Manitoba) and songwriter (Andy Shernof) of the first American Punk group to release a record, The Dictators, Joey and Tommy Ramone of the Ramones, Richard Meyers, B/K/A Richard Hell of Television, and the Voidoids, Chris Stein who molded the Punk goddess Debbie Harry of Blondie, were all Jewish.

Talking about women I have to mention the first real all girl rock group. Goldie and the Gingerbreads preceded the record company manufactured Runaways. Goldie – Genyusha Zelkowitz or best known as – Genya Ravan, is considered the mother of the Riot Grrrl music scene. Her and Helen Wheels were very influential but their brashness intimidated the men. These women who paved the way for the Riot Grrrl wave in the 1980’s and 1990’s, were mostly Jewish women. Being of little coincidence is the fact that many of these groups like Bikini Kill, Sleater Kinny have Jewish members.

There’s even an argument that the same goes for the Punk scene in England that was spearheaded by two Jewish businessmen. Malcolm McLaren, who would go on to manage the Sex Pistols as well as make some legendary rap records, was one and the other was Bernie Rhodes who would manage the Clash.

Besides the iconoclasts of music, music journalism by the late 1960’s and early 1970’s was beginning to change. In the past music journalism was on the fringe, or a marginal pariah where the journalist was usually treated like a sub-human species, like crap! By the 1970’s a new breed of journalists were taking the DIY (Do-It-Yourself) model, fusing it into their words. The new crop consisted of such luminaries as Lenny Kaye, Richard Meltzer, Sandy Pearlman who wrote for Crawdaddy, Jon Landau and Lisa Robinson who wrote for Creem, Greil Marcus and Nik Cohn who wrote for Rolling Stone, and Andy Schwartz who wrote for the New York Rocker.

 

John Holmstrom and his founding of Punk magazine along with Legs McNeil was another watershed moment for the movement. He embraced the idea of naming the magazine Punk because it was like a curse word and very forceful to viewers, a la Lenny Bruce. This magazine would pave the way for the label that historians would position it with this music. These journalists became celebrities in their own write, and the print culture in New York was changing with the likes of R. Crumb and the founding of MAD magazine. There was also a change of tone in the content with more serious slant and topics in the comic world in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, which paved the way for innovative comic works like Maus and Ghost World. All these writers and publications formulated the rules which were anti-establishment, DIY, and promoting the punk aesthetic.

Now let us come full circle with Mel Brooks and the Punk aesthetic. One of the main markers of Punk was the use of Nazi imagery. The use of Nazi imagery in Punk music was prevalent and Beeber asserts that the “responses to the Holocaust range from the mocking to the shocking to the world rocking”(Beeber, p.164). Punk groups (both in the US and UK) dealt with the issue through their art as scholar Jon Stratton argues in his book and articles, especially the articles. He also makes the same point about England’s pride at beating the Nazis and loss of their dominance, the reactions to the loss of an empire. When he veers to France and the popular Jewish artist Serge Gainsbourg, who lived in France during the Nazi occupation wearing a yellow star, there is a comparison to Mel Brooks and his first film The Producers. In 1975 Serge Gainsbourg released his album on the legacy of the Nazis and the Holocaust titled Rock Around the Bunker. It was done for shock values, an element of rebellion, while tearing down the symbols of oppression, as well as oppressive seriousness. Mel Brooks achieved the same goal by breaking down the barriers of accepted comedy. Bruce did this, as the Punk musicians did the same with the music. There is even a connection with these Jews and the Jews who would be involved in the other burgeoning art of 1970’s New York City, Hip-Hop.

What does it all mean? G-d only knows, but thankfully farts were heard!

Peace

#MelBrooks #BlazingSaddles #WoodyAllen #CBGB’s #LennyBruce #StevenLeeBeeber #SeanWilentz #TheHeebie-JeebiesatCBGB’s #Suicide #The Ramones #TheProducers #PunkMagazine

 

 

 

 

JewDan’s Manifesting

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My Dissertation Ideas for the Masses

This blog post is part of my dissertation ideas and the analysis. The dissertation analysis will cover the historical relationship between Jewish Americans and African Americans in popular American music. Were Jews responsible for the theft and exploitation of black artists? Or was the relationship more complicated, as shown by the past half-century of scholarship. In the past five decades scholars have written on this so-called relationship by chronicling its heights, such as with the labor unions, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the Civil Rights Movement, to its fracturing due to black militancy, Islamic extremism, and Jewish disillusionment. Other scholars have written on the fiction of a cohesive relationship that never existed, or at least in the way it is portrayed. Historians like Hasia Diner, Paul Berman, Seth Forman, and Ethan Goffman have written on this myth over the decades in their works. According to the Jewish scholar Emily Miller Budick their works, along with Jeffrey Melnick’s study, are all part of the larger argument that, “Identification and the utilization of black cultural materials were less acts of Jewish commitment to the black cause than a way American Jews had of positioning themselves as white Americans within a racist and potentially anti-Semitic social structure.”[1] This is not the entire story because Jewish immigrants to the United States had their past severed by these scholars. European Jews constantly faced violence and oppression due to their beliefs. It would take centuries for them to attain emancipation from the ghettos, but the next challenge would be assimilation. European Jews have always adapted their country’s culture, so much so that most of the Jews who perished in the Holocaust were not observant. Once the great waves immigrated to the United States they naturally continued the process of assimilation. These scholars also do not state the fact that European Jewish immigrants had a long tradition of music through liturgy, one example being Mark Slobin’s book Tenement Songs, and other religious observances and celebrations, not to mention that the Eastern European Ashkenazim and the Middle Eastern and North African Sephardim have very distinct differences with regards to tunes, melodies, and music making. The story of the Jews in music, as well as their relationship with black artists, is far more complicated and rich.

 

These Jewish immigrants, and their children, had very little encounters with African Americans before the 20th Century. Once they both arrived at the urban centers of the United States due to the immigration rates and the great migration from the south, they began to encounter each other. They worked with each other and though Jews began to gain more power by positioning themselves as owners, they still were not the settled Christians of the nation. Due to their history in Europe there was a sense of anxiety, which in certain sections remains to this day, so they felt far more dutiful to assimilate. Scholars have asked why so many Jewish personalities have been part of the music industry, especially when working with black artists? Jonathan Karp argues that certain Jews could immerse themselves in blackness while remaining distant to its true implications. He writes that, “Jews attracted to the black mystique may have sought escape from their own ethnic heritage through immersion in the culture of a hipper “other,” but such empathy did not mean sharing in any debilitating anxieties that blacks may have felt over their capacity to succeed in business.”[2] These individuals he calls “non-Jewish Jews” or “Jewish white negroes” were mostly the businessmen of the 1950’s and 1960’s. By the 1960’s and 1970’s many Jews became visible artists, yet they shared the same interests in black music promoting the electric blues genre, as argued by Jon Stratton in his work Jews, Race and Popular Music. This sentiment changed, but the equation would remain for the next great music genre, rap music.

The wage of whiteness is important to mention because these Jews were still considered white, yet some felt far more akin with blacks. This kinship is complicated because Jews are white therefore they have more power than blacks in the industry, which was built on illegality and racism. This issue is important with regards to the relationships being called exploitative or one sided. This is the case in certain examples, but it wasn’t the norm. By the decade of the 1950’s and 1960’s the Civil Rights Movement, and later the Black Power Movement, African Americans were becoming far more empowered than in the past. They had more control over their destinies, yet the music business remained racially hierarchical. By the decade of the 1970’s a new art form began to take hold first in New York City, and later in the tri-state area, and globally in the present. Hip Hop is the newest musical form created by blacks, as well as Hispanics, and the dynamic remains. Just like the independent record labels of the 1950’s, which were overwhelmingly almost all owned by Jews, and mentioned in Karp’s article and by other writers like Jon Stratton and Michael Billig, the same story occurred with the early years of rap music. Rap music saw the rise of many Jewish personalities, and the best example of this literature is by Dan Charnas, who have helped it in its infancy to become the global phenomenon it is today. But unlike the past African American artists, as well as producers, label owners, radio personalities, and promoters, were far more empowered than in the past. This has sparked some controversy with rappers openly chiding Jewish ownership. However, the relationship between Jews and blacks in Hip-Hop is far stronger today than ever before. This bond helped create American popular culture, and remains fixed in most of our imaginations.

[1] Budick, Emily Miller. “A…..

[2] Karp, Jonathan.

The Blurred Lines…….of Music

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The man awakes in his cave, wipes the corn out his eyes while shuffling around his man cave. He then walks to the entrance of the cave awaiting the news from the neighboring caves. He waits, waits, and waits until he hears the faint sound of news. Apparently like this cave dweller of land’s past we all know the fateful outcome of the copyright infringement lawsuit against Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams. They were found guilty of flagrant usage of Marvin Gaye’s great boogie down anthem “Got to Give It Up.” The song “Blurred Lines” used the same bass line and drum break sequence in order to give it that party feel akin to the song by Marvin Gaye. In his recent article: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/12/arts/music/whats-wrong-with-the-blurred-lines-copyright-ruling.html?_r=0 on the verdict New York Times columnist Jon Caramanica laments the fact that this was an antiquated interpretation of music making. The verdict followed the sheet music, but Caramanica adds, and I agree, that the current state of music making is very different from the past. Gone are the days of the Brill Building where songwriters competed in order to peddle their songs to the young singers and groups. The modern interpretation of music making is complex due to the vast technological chasm that we leapt into a few decades ago. However, has music always been pure and original or is it all borrowed from previous sources? This quandary has been explored by many scholars and popular writers, but it should be re-examined in light of this verdict.

 


Music is always created in a context where place, time, and the state of affairs all impact its creation. Johann Sebastian Bach, the great German organist, choir master and composer who lived from 1685-1750, created these magnificent pieces every Sunday for his church. He was influenced by the Renaissance and the musical modes of the chants. However, we take for granted the fact that he was virtually unknown outside of the Germanic lands until after his death. What propelled him to be considered the father of the Baroque period? It was Mozart who, influenced by this master, pushed for his music to be played and used ideas from his compositions. It was Mozart who championed Bach’s music being played in the concert halls of Vienna. Right there we see an influence, and it’s no surprise that Mozart used certain modes and notations in order to bolster his material. Did Bach mind? Probably not, but we see the influences, both conscious and unconscious, and how they are constantly re-interpreted.

The entire case against Thicke and Williams revolves like a whirlwind around Marvin Gaye’s song “Got to Give It Up.” The song was created, chiefly by Gaye, in a hybrid situation where he was surrounded by friends and family at the studio. The song was recorded for his upcoming album Here, My Dear, which would pay off his debts to his first wife and daughter of Barry Gordy Jr. Although some critics lump it into the disco phase of Motown artists, this song is not disco. The song has a funk and R&B feeling while the track has a lot of sounds and voices, including a friend who he shouts out by the name of Don. That’s Don Cornelius of Soul Train fame. The point of this is that Marvin Gaye had the idea for the song and its lyrics, but it was the group effort by these fellow travellers and musicians who lifted the song off the ground. So the question beckons as to was this purely Marvin Gaye alone? And even more so, was it Gaye’s property that was violated or the group itself that should all be compensated. A parallel to this is the case of Rap music sampling beats while solely crediting James Brown. Brown was a prolific singer, composer and musician, but he took all the credit for every note played, which scholars know was unfair to the rest of the musicians.

The greater mystery surrounding this controversy is the complexity of music, and its intangible nature. Music is thought up or comes from a spark, is created, and then it flies off into the ether, never being the same again. Musicologists and scholars from various disciplines have grappled with this notion for the past two decades. Two recent works have thrown more complexity into the issue with regards to the racial barriers as well as the drive for financial success. Karl Hagstrom Miller’s great book Segregating Sounds: Inventing Folk and Pop Music in the Age of Jim Crow discusses these complexities. The book shows how the recording industry has always had a keen eye on its audience, dating back to its infancy in the late 19th Century. They had various streams of income mainly from live recordings, studio recordings and publishing. He argues, through the use of original source material, that it was this industry that created the “black” and “white” categries, which remain pervasive and salient to this very day. It is ironic how cyclical the music industry recycles these successful models. The big companies of the past provided the guidelines that were still used by MTV, VH1 and BET.

Another recent feat of scholarship argues in the same vein. David Suisman’s Selling Sounds: The Commercial Revolution in American Music, argues that with the rise of music as big business these lines became far more rigid. The blurred lines of music are far more obscure than we think. The question then beckons as to what is original music. These questions of copyright have been brought to court before, and the first cases that came to my mind included rap songs that sampled sections of songs from the days of yore.

The cases of De La Soul and Biz Markie set the precedent for the friday night showdown between music and the law. Although it should be known that rap music wasn’t the first genre of music to be sued for lifting literal sections of recorded music onto new interpretations. One example is the a 45′ record released in 1956 titled “The Flying Saucer Parts 1&2″ by Bill Buchanan and Dickie Goodman. It’s the earliest example of what we consider a “mashup,” which featured these samples of popular songs amidst a report of a visit from a flying saucer. It’s a first of its kind where the samples compliment the main thread of the track, in this particular case being news of flying saucers. Some of the samples on the record include “Open Up That Door” by Nappy Brown, “The Great Pretender” by The Platters, “I Want You To Be My Girl” by Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, “Long Tall Sally” by Little Richard, “Poor Me” by Fats Domino, “Heartbreak Hotel” by Elvis Presley, “Earth Angel” by The Penguins, “I Hear You Knocking” by Smiley Lewis, “Tutti Frutti” by Little Richard, and “The Magic Touch” by The Platters. Interestingly enough the people who created the track were sued, but the lawsuit was quickly retracted. Why? Once it came out more people heard these songs, had them in their heads, and ended up buying them raising revenue for the original recordings. This was usually the case when it came to covers, but the logic remains that the sample would create the incentive to find the original.

 

 

De La Soul was sued in 1989 by the group the Turtles for using a sample from their 1969 hit “You Showed Me.” The De La soul track that sampled the song, titled “Transmitting Live from Mars” from their debut album 3 Feet High and Rising, is a minute long with an ominous feel as it segues into the next song. The most interesting thing about the case was that none of the members of The Turtles actually wrote the song! Unlike the case against Biz Markie By Gilbert O Sullivan, this seems rather perplexing. There are also vast amount of recordings that never reach stardom that are sample laden. Madlib’s first Quasimodo Album The Unseen is filled with an, pun intended, unseemly amount of samples that were probably never cleared, but who cares he ain’t famous. When the law gets involved it becomes a contradictory, ingenuous battle, that is extremely biased and racist. The intervention of the courts also eschews the fact that the history of the music business, up the present, has been built on illegalities and criminal intentions. The criminal element was in the guise of mob connections, exploitation, and financial gain at the expense of the real artists. The business isn’t called shady for nothing.

Music is always light years ahead of the so-called system. When the Recording companies were banned from recording music in the early 1940’s the system was reacting to unpaid wages of union musicians. However, this boycott hurt the musicians more than it helped. This shows that the industry is always three steps behind the music. These complications and various factors blur the true intent of music. Music is heard, music influences, and music is a creation that prods artists to create something better. The Beatles were influenced by many artists, and no lawsuits were filed when they used classical pieces in their pop music. The yellow brick road leads us down two paths, One is a form of imitation through musical flattery, and the second points to the true rooted nature of music. It is always created outside of a vacuum, and it always pushes for more variation, more artistry and more style.

 

The Jews Are Everywhere…..In Music

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There has been a spate of books written on Jews and the American music business. They were deeply entrenched in music by the turn of the 20th Century, and so much so that they owned almost all the music publishing companies. This naturally expanded out to performance where you had Jewish musicians like Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor, Sophie Tucker, George and Ira Gershwin, Irving Berlin, and Jerome Kern melding their music with black cultural materials. This led to an exhaustive debate about the nature of the Jewish and black relationship, especially in the realm of music. Certain historians have put this as part of the longer narrative of the story of a bond that became strong through activism, but was later torn by that same notion. Historians have lumped groups together in order to convey certain ideas and patterns about their existences and extinctions. This does a great disservice to all groups, no matter how they are categorized, especially Jews. Jews have had such a long and rich history that touches almost every continent on the planet earth. Historians and scholars, especially Jews, should be careful because they are perpetuating a myth that is getting harder to ground in any reality.

When it comes to music there is the age old debate of wether it was love or theft, or a bit of both. I argue that it was an admixture of all these elements including the very DNA strung through these Jews for centuries. Jews have sung for many reasons, and there are plenty of these examples in the Torah, and the additions of the Prophets and Writings making up what Jews call the Tanach. When the hard-hearted Pharoah took up his chariots after regretting letting the Jews go he followed them with a vengeance. In a trip that took the Israelites three days, he thrust the jet packs onto his horses and gained within a day’s ride. Once the Israelites were trapped they had nowhere to go but through the water. The sea parted and the Israelites ran through, followed very closely by their Egyptian pursuers. Once they all passed through to dry land the waves crashed down, pummeling Pharoah and his men, and just to be safe G-d raised them out and threw their dead bodies in front of the Hebrew nation. So what would you do after this miraculous feat? Sing! This was a joyous occasion as all the people sang along with Miriam picking up a tamborine and playing it with the women. There are other examples like the song of the Judge Deborah, as well as one of the ways that G-d gave the Israelites the word, as it was done through song. To negate the fact that Jews have always sang is negating tradition rooted in Jewish history.

Jews have not only been very musical they have also gone through great pains to assimilate, especially after the gates of the ghettos came tumbling down. Jews have attempted to assimilate into European culture in various ways. Wether through Moses Mendelssohn’s Haskalah Movement, or through the changing of customs, and other Jewish markers most western European Jews went through the process. Out of that process the Jewish immigrants to the United States were following their own lead. This leads me to the first real encounters between European Jews and African Americans.

Jewish scholars have written about the immigrant experience as well as their initial encounters with African Americans. I’m mostly interested in the realm of the music business. Most of these scholars, most recently being Jeffrey Melnick, argue that it was more selfish than we are led to believe. Jews who exploited, and he makes sure to state that it was one-sided exploitation, these artists didn’t care at all about blacks, but only about positioning themselves as white folk.This notion would stand only if all of these Jews, and all American Jews in general, want to be white. That is not the case as been shown by many writings of Jewish artists who felt closer to blacks than whites. Some even felt closer to blacks than to other Jews mostly due to socio-economic issues, which are still very pervasive in the present. The question also begs to be asked as to why Jews continued using black cultural materials after they were considered white?

There are a few books about Jewish artists spanning past the Jazz age to the Brill Building and beyond. These Jews still felt anxiety as they didn’t fit geographically, in the cookie cutter suburbs with all the Wasps, or even musically, by eschewing the teen idol craze for greater pastures. Scholars like Michael Billig, Jon Stratton, Steven Lee Beeber and Scott Benarde have written about these iconoclastic artists like Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Paul Simon, Mike Bloomfield, and Al Kooper to name a few who veered into the safer havens of black music. This continued on with rap music and writers like Jeff Chang, and most importantly Dan Charnas, have proved that the same goes for Hip Hop. Jews involved in Hip Hop, and this spans to all ages from the older generation who got their start at rap’s infancy, to the younger artists, still have an affinity for black culture. So much so to the point where they are very uncomfortable when asked about their whiteness.

Another reason why some of these Jewish scholars and historians are stuck is because it was of their own making. These are the scholars who wrote about American Jewish history, without taking into consideration that that history has fragmented. They never truely wrote about the entire Jewish community because there are so many labels, affiliations, movements, and sub-labels that keep being teased out every so often. Most of them also grew up in a specific background that has enriched them over the years. This means that they live in the suburbs and their children are far removed from the other side, the dark side, the poverty stricken side where plenty of Jews reside. That is why the group history idea is a farce, a sweet dream made possible by these scholars, who are mostly Ashkenazi nebbeshe middle-aged men. They, and their children, will never understand the various connections to the seedy underbelly of America. That is why they will always have this anxiety that serves no purpose for growth. Because they don’t immerse themselves, nor listen to the music, they will never fully grasp this Jewish and black connection on the street level. They are also the antithesis of a hip-hop head, especially certain Jewish rappers who are loud, abnoxious, insulting, and in your face thanks to the raw expression of rap music.

That is rap music, and Jews who participate in it, are so foreign, and dare I say threatening to these scholar Jews whole way of life. I’m not taking away credit for their work, but it’s time to give the whole entire story. These Jews who are part of the story of rap from Rick Rubin, to Bill Adler to Necro to Edan to El-P to Paul Barman to Despot, etc. etc. all know this seedy side. It is disingenuious to blanket them all in a white label because they would be insulted. They aren’t white, they aren’t black, they’re just some fucking Jews who can rap, who can make beats, who can tag, who can spin, and who can revolutionize this genre.

Besides the music world the broader question remains, how many of these Jews still remain? Unfortunately not as many as the assimilated, and that’s a problem. The assimilated Jew will act like his white friends while not identifying with his or her background. Another really disappointing trend I’ve seen, as well as read about, is the political leanings of these people. Not so much the assimilated Jews, worse but also the Modern Orthodox and ultra orthodox have adapted this insane notion of conservatism, which is partnered with a growth in racism. I hate saying this but upon hearing a DC Rabbi say that gay marriage happens more in the black community, which is what he termed “the canary in the coal mine,” I was stunned at how wrong he was and how racist he sounded. I also had another exchange with a congregant who teaches in the urban part of Baltimore. At first he chided me for not knowing how the other half, black people live, and then I lashed back at him saying not only do I know but I lived in these areas as well. He eased back, and then looked very seriously disturbed as he told me with a sad confidence that I was one of the few in the congregation. It’s sad and ridiculous how becoming more observant means becoming more conservative, which means becoming far more sexist, and racist. That’s why these people laughed me off when I told them that I studied to be a Hip-Hop scholar. However, the divide has withheld and I’m hoping that scholars like myself can demolish these notions of Jewish guilt and white supremacy I see all too often.

Peace

Top Ten Scratch Moments

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It was the Scratch that drew me to rap music. Being a wee young lad living in the soon-to-be large city of Tel-Aviv I remember that the scratch is what hit me first. When my virgin ears first heard the sounds of rap music I was amazed at the booming bass, the banging thuds of the back beat, and the intensity of the rapper, or rappers if it was a crew. However, what really drew me to the difference of this music was the cut, the scratch, the moment best translated to the rock gods as an ill guitar solo a la Eddie Van Halen or Jimi Hendrix. As an avid music lover I get the same sensation when hearing a great scratch sequence as when I hear an aria from Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.” This feeling of elation and spiritual elevation when the music hits you with that pure moment of beauty is how I feel it. I know that some don’t agree, but music lovers understand that feeling deep in your core when you hear that celestial sound coming from your favorite group. The talent of the DJ on these rap records was just as important as the rapper because it held a pristine balance that was lost when rap hit the big time in the late 1990’s. I remember it because the 1980’s, especially with the start of Def Jam, and the early 1990’s the authentic was heard through the guise of an MC, DJ, two turntables and a microphone.

The history of Hip-Hop culture surrounded the DJ. The culture began with parties in recreation centers, high school gyms, and later parks surrounded by apartment complexes. This was a natural extension of what they learned from their parents parties growing up. Who was the focus? The focus was on getting down on the dance floor, which relied on the music, which all relied on one person, The DJ. The DJ was the focal point in the start of Hip-Hop and remained the focus, even after the emergence of the early rap groups, until the music began being recorded in 1979. One of these defining moments was the recording of “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash the Furious Five. Although none of the MC’s were on the record except for Melle Mel, Flash was nowhere to be heard. Like earlier recordings Flash, the legendary DJ pioneer and innovator was pushed to the side.

This didn’t necessarily mean that the DJ was dead, because there were a few recordings that acknowledged the DJ. One of the best is Flash’s masterpiece of a record titled “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash On the Wheels of Steel” from 1981.

This was an amazing record because it was one of the first DJ records on Sugar Hill Records, and he did it all by hand. There was no digital sequencing so he had to find the time on the record and mix it all by ear and hand. Flash should get so much credit as he invented some of these techniques.He and the many DJ’s who were lost should receive plenty of accolades and honor for their innovations. So, a big ups to Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaata (who along with Flash are the founding fathers of Hip-Hop), Disco King Mario (The sound system man), Grand Wizard Theodore (Inventor, or accidental find of the scratch), Jazzy Jay (Zulu alumni and the DJ who started Def Jam), Grandmaster D.ST (Way out in outer space hanging with Herbie Hancock), Whiz Kid (parter of Caz and a funny guy, just watch him on the VH1 doc NY77: The Coolest Year in Hell), Afrika Islam (Sharp on the cut and DJ for Law & Order MC Ice-T), Breakout (who is forgotten but held down a part of the Bronx along with the founding fathers), Charlie Chase (Cold Crush fame and first of the great Latino DJ’s), AJ Scratch (down with Kenny G and Lovebug Starski, and another DJ for Cold Crush), Johnny Thunderbird (Harlem disco and R&B head), Lovebug Starski (The multifaceted entertainer who could do R&B or Hip-Hop, one of the few renaissance men of Hip-Hop), Hollywood (contemporary of the legendary Pete DJ Jones, who played in Manhattan and is another slept on pioneer. He also had one of the first MC’s, like Coke La Rock for Kool Herc, by the cool name of Eddie Cheeba), Gradmaster Flowers (The best sound system heard playing the bomb disco beats out of Brooklyn, RIP), and of course everyone’s favorite Kiss FM DJ Kool DJ Red Alert.

Without further ado, here’s my top ten list of the best tracks with the best scratch breakdown, or use of the tables in a superior manner. These are the top ten, but in no specific order as they all totally rule!!! Please be advised that it’s a bit subjective, but I don’t care.

10. “Doper Skiller” – Viktor Vaughn feat. Kool Keith off of his VV2: Venomous Villain album.

Coming off the first Viktor Vaughn album, this track from the sequal (which surprisingly banged as hard as the first album) is great. The fact that you have Doom and Kool Keith on the same track is like listening to a late night chat between Rasputin and Nostradamus. To top it all off you had this scratch down which is amazing, and done by the producer (?) by the name of DiViNCi.

9. “End to End Burners” – Company Flow, single released on the heels of their first classic Funcrusher Plus.

Great track and the DJ, Mr. Len cuts it up nice. It’s even better with the video because he swipes his hands like a wizard bubbling up something wicked.

8. “Blue Flowers” – Dr. Octagon from his masterpiece album, Dr. Octagonecologyst.

I can never get enough of Kool Keith and it’s not his fault that he’s worked with some great DJ’s. This album, produced by heavy-weight drum taster Dan the Automator, is bizarre, experimental, and far out of this world. Also, DJ Qbert, legendary scratch DJ in his own right, kills it as you can hear.

7. “Ugly People Be Quiet” – Cash Money and Marvelous, off of their Where’s the Party At? album from 1988.

DJ Cash Money should have been mentioned with the list of pioneers above. He’s an amazingly talented, and award-winning, DJ out of Philly, and this is an example of his prowess.

6. “On & On & On” – Dungeon Family, off of their seminal powerhouse of an album Even In Darkness.

Great track off the family album which includes the Goodie Mob, Outkast, and more. This track is essentially a Goodie Mob hit with Big Gipp, T-Mo, and Khujo from the MOB along with Witchdoctor and Big Boi from Outkast.

5. “Alive” – The Beastie Boys, an unreleased track that appeared on their boxed set titled, Beastie Boys Anthology: The Sounds of Science.

I know that since the Beastie Boys picked up Mixmaster Mike that you can pick other notable tracks. However, the second chorus part (at the 2 minute mark to be anally precise) where he spins KRS-ONE hollering, “Bring it back that old New York rap!!!” is my kind of anthem.

4. “Who’s Gonna Take the Weight?” – Gangstarr, from their second album titled, Step Into the Arena.

This is another dispute because the group consisting of the man, the myth, the holy legend of scratching by the name of DJ Premier, should have other picks. However, this track hits the head with the piercing beat throughout the song, and Premier just adds the singer to the song with his tables. You – Can’t – Handle – The – Whole Weight……..cut!

3. “Madness” – Deltron 3030 from the album titled 3030.

This is not so much a chop down for the breakdown, but why not veer away from categorization? Deltron, consisting of Del the Funky Homosapian, Dan the Automator on the boards, and Kid Koala on the tables, is an unconventional and criminally slept on album from the turn of the century. Kid Koala’s work is genius in the way he uses the tables as an instrument, via the sounds of the trumpet. Like the cool darkly lit rooms of Jazz, this is the same only light years away in a far off galaxy.

2. “Rebel Without a Pause” – Public Enemy from their masterpiece, that should be mandatory high school listening titled, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold us Back, circa 1988.

This is THE group, consisting of the fiery verse spitting Chuck D. and the court jestering of Flavor Flav, the S1W’s, and the hard-hitting beats of the Bomb Squad – you know they got the best DJ – Terminator X. The mysterious DJ behind the huge sunglasses cuts it the hardest on this track as Chuck screams his name he cuts it up like a funky drummer.

1. “Interview With Colored Man” – Rob Swift Feat. Supernatural & DJ Radar, from Rob Swift’s album titled, Sound Event.

This, hands down, is one of my personal favorites and I feel one of the best rap songs of all time. It has all the key ingredients with one of the best DJ’s, Rob Swift, and a helping hand with DJ Radar along with one of the most underrated battle rappers of all time, who never got his justice on wax, by the name of Supernatural. The cuts play along with the interviewers words, but they also carry the tempo while Supernatural weaves his tales of the adventures and life of the super hero known as Colored Man.

It’s a biting commentary on how non-blacks view black men as both dangerous, mysterious and exotic beings. These images are strewn throughout popular culture, and remain in the white psyche to this day. Interestingly enough it reminds me of one of my family’s most favorite Richard Pryor albums with the same idea titled….

Enjoy the cutting and scratching and I’ll see you in the next dispatch,

Peace

#ViktorVaughn #CompanyFlow #Dr.Octagon #DJCashMoney #DungeonFamily #BeastieBoys #Gangstarr #Deltron3030 #PublicEnemy #RobSwift #MCSupernatural

 

 

 

Jews Have Horns!!! Unforgivable Jewishness

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My fiancée and I attended a lovely Friday night Kabalat Shabbat service two weeks from this past Friday. We are part of the Jewish Renewal Movement based out of Northern New Jersey. What drew us to the congregation was the spiritual ease and loving affection given to us by the Rabbi and the congregants. Their ways of devotion are beautifully connected to a more humanist message, but full of deep Jewish spiritual wisdom and meditation. Interestingly enough Saskia (my Jewish-wife-to-be) and I are the youngest congregants so we’re extra caring and observant of the elder community, as well as the elderly in general. We learn so much from our elders, yet this generation has discarded them at such speed that it’s sad to see the disconnect. Now they can bestow upon us with great wisdom due to their many experiences, love found, love lost, as well as tragedies that pulled them away from Judaism.

The Parsha for that week was the first from the second book of the Torah, Shemot or Exodus. The Rabbi decided to ask us to share our thoughts on the concept of assimilation in the United States, and asked if we ever compromised, or played down our Judaism, in this white Christian nation. Many of the congregants, being middle-aged ranging from their 50’s to their 60’s in age, had stories of being emotionally, physically, or even psychologically abused by certain classmates in their school days. Some spoke of seeing the drawn swastikas, some spoke of teachers being extra abusive due to their lack of Christian or Waspish etiquette, while others spoke of being picked on by disgruntled individuals. Then came the moment that threw me off completely shoving me into a Woody Allen scene straight out of his masterpiece film Love and Death. A congregant spoke of an incident in St. Petersburg, Florida. Apparently she was asked by a certain individual if she was Jewish, and she replied in the affirmative. As a follow-up question the person asked her, “where are your horns?”

The moment she said that I flashed back to that particular scene in Woody Allen’s film. The scene is hilarious because it exploits this stupid idea that came from a misinterpretation of the Torah, big surprise. When I came back to reality I couldn’t even fathom to think that an American Yukal would think such a primitive thought. But what annoyed me more, as well as made me immensely proud, was the fact that I NEVER compromised my Jewishness. Nor did I ever compromise my Zionism and love for Israel. This post is not a dirge into the history of Jews and horns. No, it’s much closer to your humble narrator’s love of Jews and Rap music.

In its entire history Rap music has been about an unadulterated form of expression. This form could take on many shapes from political lyrics, to braggadocio, to the more nonsensical raps coming from the far out likes of Kool Keith, Ghostface Killah, and MF Doom to name a few. But what they all have in common is the freedom to express what ever they want on record. Now we should differentiate between the corporate crap that is fed to most American teens and the many diverse underground, indie, and local rap scenes across the globe. On a whole greater scale music is that platform which allows us to shed our inhibitions and repressed feelings. Hip-Hop is the mother of all these forms as we’re striding through the beginning of the 21st Century. That is why I, and many other Jews, am so drawn to the power of rap music, and how I identify as part of the Hip-Hop Generation more than most American Jews I’ve met in my lifetime.

I was made aware of the fact that from the moment I moved to the United States, at the age of twelve, I was very different from my co-religionists. American Jews are a different breed than me and my brothers, but there are many like me out there. Some where in the far reaches of the world you’ll find half-breeds like myself who spent times in both the US and Israel. I attended an all black Middle school in New Haven, CT and then moved to the uber-suburbs of Guilford in the same blue-law state. But what struck me, from my early years all the way to today, is how others identified me as an “other.” I always got the saying that “you’re not like them” or “you’re not Jewish, you’re Israeli,” which was my acceptance card to most inner cliques and circles. It’s quite an experience, but it’s made me even more resolved to be nothing more or less than an unapologetic Jew!

Peace and watch out for the snow…daze

 

Top Ten Beatbox Moments!!!

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Viewing the urban landscape for the past two decades you will not be surprised that many youngsters equate Hip-Hop with Rap. Rap music has been at the forefront of the culture, because it was the easiest way to sell part of the culture. Unfortunately, like DJ’s once rap was put down on wax, other aspects of the culture dimmed from the mainstream lights. The art of graffiti writing has been around for centuries, but it was also, and remains, a key aspect of the culture. If it wasn’t for the tags and pieces of the 1970’s and 1980’s in New York City street art would not be what it is today. DJing has also had its ups and downs with regards to greater public exposure. However, I’m sad that the great art of the Beat Box has fallen by the wayside. Gone were the days where the street ciphers were helped by the one person who would create the beat with their mouth. Beatboxing, like the other arts, is the epitome of creating something from nothing. Once the art grew many beatboxers accompanied rappers or became rappers themselves. There are many great recordings with prominent beat boxers. This is my top ten since the genesis of Hip-Hop. Many of these artists have multiple tracks of beatboxing gold, but these tracks are my personal gems to the masses. Although it’s a personal list, feel free to enjoy and put your mouths together and blow

#1 – Biz Markie – Beatboxing on the track titled “Mr. Large” from Prince Paul’s seminal A Prince Among Thieves, and accompanied by the great MC, Chubb Rock. Biz has been part of the history of Hip-Hop and a cultural maven of many trades. He still performs by DJing while keeping his title of crowned clown of Hip-Hop. He has many beatboxing tracks including a great rendition of “Def Fresh Crew” alongside Roxanne Shante from the newly released Dutch documentary from 1986 titled Big Fun in the Big Town.

#2 – Click the Supa Latin – Beatboxing on the track titled “Click Beat Box” from the group Styles of Beyond’s debut, 2000 Fold. In a past blog of albums you never heard I wrote about this album. This short segment is amazing and he’s also a rapper along with his wife who is also a performance artist.

#3 – Davey DMX – Beatboxing on the track titled “Kool and Deadly” from Just-Ice’s album of the same name. Davey DMX use to beatbox for the group Mantronix who produced Just-Ice’s debut album Back to the Old School. DMX got his name from the beat making machine of the same name, and later another beatboxer turned rapper took the name, hence we have DMX.

#4 – Scratch – Beatboxing on the track titled “3rd Acts/ Quest vs. Scratch …Electric Boogaloo.” He was part of the Roots crew so it was on their fourth album titled Things Fall Apart. No so much emphasizing the beat, Scratch uses his mouth to manipulate the sounds of scratches from a record played on a turn table. The Roots crew at one time had him and the grandmaster of beatboxers Rahzel.

#5 – Buff Love, AKA The Human Beat Box from the Fat Boys on the track aptly titled “Human Beat Box.” The track is from their self-titled debut album release in 1984. Buffy is undisputedly the original grandmaster Beat boxing king! He uses the sounds along with his girth in order to complement his two compatriots, while always carrying a sense of humor, like the Biz! RIP.

#6 – Doug E Fresh giving a live demonstration in the streets of Harlem in 1983, footage is from the Dutch documentary listed above. We’re all familiar with his work with his Get Fresh Crew, and his work backing Slick Rick when he was called MC Rickey D. However, this opening segment is a perfect example of his skills. It should be noted that he lived next door to Spoonie Gee, and ran up to him one day to show his skills. The rest is history.

#7 – Rahzel from the Roots crew, and the track is titled “Quest vs. Rahzel” from their amazing sophomore effort titled Do You Want More?!!!?!. Rahzel’s main talent is how he can manipulate sounds from either a voice or instrument, and then he reinterprets it with his mouth. These albums that had both him and Scratch remain the pinnacle for the Roots that has since set.

#8 – Boogie Down Productions – “Breath Control” from their third album titled Ghetto Music: The Blueprint of Hip Hop. This is not so much highlighting a specific beatboxer, as I’m not sure if it was D-Nice or a stand-in who did the beatboxing, but it’s on point. The track is even greater due to the domineering presence of one of the greatest rappers of all time, KRS-ONE!

#9 – Run-D.M.C. – “Son of Byford” from one of my personal favorites of theirs, Tougher Than Leather. It’s a simple 30-second snippet about D.M.C.’s family tree with a strong beatbox for quite the emphasis.

#10 – Edan The Humble Magnificent – The track is titled “Primitive Plus” from his debut album with the same title. It makes sense to loop the circle with a rapper who draws on the treasure trove of beats and lyrics from rap’s obscure corners. Keep em coming.

 

Honorable Mentions

#11 – Eazy-E – We don’t hear much beatboxing from the West Side of the country, but this is a great song about what we love best, a “Fat Girl.” It’s also funny as an ode with similar sounds from the Fat Boys’ “Human Beat Box.”

#12 – Bad Boys Featuring K-Love – on the track titled “veronica,” which might sound kitschy and dated, but you gotta love it.

#13 – The two ladies from the Club Scene from one of the greatest movies of all time, Coming to America. In this scene Eddie and Arsenio are looking for Eddie’s ideal mate. Fast Forward to the 1:17 mark and you’ll see and hear the best rhyme and beatboxing by some of the finest ladies of Queens!!!

Who could rock a rhyme like, “My name is Peaches, and I’m the best, all the Dj’s want, to feel my breasts,” followed by a great roll.

Enjoy

#BizMarkie #ClickTheSupaLatin #Scratch #Rahzel #TheRoots #DougEFresh #BDP #Eazy-E #ComingToAmerica