The Jewish Songster


Carole King and Gerry Goffin

One of the legendary Jewish songwriters has faded out, his light has dimmed, yet his impact along with his other Jewish songwriting partners cannot be emphasized enough. Gerry Goffin was the wordsmith weaving these narratives of teenage love, highlighting the ubiquitous elements in every American teenager’s life. Along with his wife Carole King, another Jewish songwriter and artist, he crafted these stories of an American life. This was the American life that his parents wanted so bad for him, yet he still felt out-of-place. Many of these songwriters from the Brill Building, the building that housed the Aldon Music Publishing Company headed by another Jew Don Kirshner, were Jews from the city. They came of age in the post-war period, seeing many new avenues open to Jews, especially when it came to housing. However, these Jewish performers still felt alienated, out-of-place, and uncomfortable with the standard White Anglo-Saxon Protestant normality. Certain artists veered far away from the norm due to their inner inclinations of rebellion and alienation, such as the formidable Lou Reed. The Brill Building writers were fully aware of the fact that they were different, yet they wanted so much to identify, or at least their audience, with mainstream America.

The list of songs written by Goffin is long, yet in the decade of the 1960’s he mostly wrote along with his wife at the time, Carole King. One of their first compositions, and all around success reaching Billboard’s Top 100, was the song “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” by the black girl group The Shirelles.

The song tells, from the woman’s perspective, of that intimate moment during the splendor of the night breeze. However, it’s punctuated with the serious question of whether this is true love or just another fling. These questions, especially with the dawning of the sexual revolution of the 1960’s, rang louder at that point. King and Goffin were touring the mind of an infatuated teenage girl. The theme is a bit more risqué, as the blanching of Rock n Roll was in full swing bringing tameness to the music. These lyrics incited thought that was a far cry from the popular tunes of the day by singers like Frankie Vally and Fabian.

Another example is the following single that charted sung by Bobby Vee titled “How Many Tears.”

It speaks of the broken-hearted, lonely, and love-lorn boys experiencing their first heartbreak. Unlike the previous hit, this is geared toward the boys in school who have suffered this hardship. Still, he leaves the silver lining for love in the future. However, bobby Vee used that frequent theme of lost loves as shown in the next single they wrote for him titled “Take Good Care of My Baby.”

It should also be pointed out that Bobby Vee was a white heart-throb, while the Shirelles were black. Gerry Goffin, along with all the other Jews of the period didn’t distinguish between the color of the artists. That’s why we have Bobby Vee’s singles along with a song like “Some Kind of Wonderful” as performed by the amazing all black male group The Drifters (Who made many great songs including the much covered “This Magic Moment,” which was written by the Jewish songwriter Doc Pomus).

It could be safely said that every Jewish songwriter had that same sensibility of the Brill Building writers to Leiber and Stoller, to the rest of the boutique record label owners.

Throughout the early part of the decade of the 1960’s almost all of his songs, written with his various partners, focused mostly on love, love found, love lost, and the lamenting on the love that was either lost, found, or never existed. However, they were still the regular standard party songs that also went up the charts. One example is Little Eva’s “The Locomotion.”

A kin to the plea for everyone to dance in the streets, these were trying times in the United States. This type of song can be read as a racially inclusive song for everyone, all American teens get down and do this dance. It’s even more poignant due to the fact that Little Eva is black, and most of the record purchasers were white.

Another interesting feat is this sense of escape, due to their Jewish skin being visible. Although, this is nothing compared to the oppression of dark-skinned populations in the US and across the world historically. African-Americans have never been able to have due process under the white law, due to the excess of white exceptionalism. However, Jews are also outliers in their own so they could try to empathize with African-Americans. Certain songs written by Goffin mirrored this attempt of feeling the pain of the black man’s plight. One example is the song “Up On the Roof” by the majestic group The Drifters.

The song tells about this man’s frustrations with the world, seeking any escape route, hence you reach up on top of the roof. He tells of the drudgery of life, the hustle and bustle, and the rat race personified by the cramped and chaotic New york City living. However, if you dig deeper it might also be a plea for a black man to escape the injustice, frustration, and stifling life of white America. Conveying through music the song tells of that fresh air up on the roof were the few hang, leaving it open for the few.

There are plenty of these examples of that love, or the love shared by two individuals until the monkey wrench is thrown. Here’s to the lost boyfriend, thanks to the Jewish vocal group The Tokens (famous for their rendition of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”) and their version of Goffin’s song “He’s in Town.”

Here’s to another great tune by Goffin and King about letting it all hang out “At the Club” by the Drifters.

It has that spice with the Spanish sounding influence, along with the same concept of inclusion.

There’s the great tune pleading for the singer’s lady to not bring him down……the song is aptly titled “Don’t Bring Me Down” as interpreted by the Animals.

These themes ran through the decades of his art, yet this feeling of the outsider was never lost, like most of his Jewish contemporaries. One of my favorite’s was a song done by the Byrds, and featured in the classic film Easy Rider, titled “I Wasn’t Born to Follow.”

This could be sung as the Jewish anthem through the centuries. We as a people were never born to follow any divergence from the true path. We have been mixed and matched, thrown around, tossed in the closets of lost empires, and have treaded on the dirt of toppled kingdoms. It could be said that Jews really only follow that one entity, and through song I hope that Gerry Goffin has found solace and peace.

Z’L, and Peace



The Bronx Keeps Creating It


In the immortal words of the Hip-Hop prophet, KRS-ONE, chides the boroughs claiming that, “Manhattan keeps on making it, Brooklyn keeps on taking it, Bronx keeps creating it, and Queens keeps on faking it!!”

He belts this out in the end of his first verse as a shot back at MC Shan’s song “The Bridge.” Although KRS-ONE, performing under the name of his group BDP (Boogie Down Productions), is chiding Shan for proclaiming that Hip-Hop began in Queens, Shan was actually mentioning the Hip-Hop scene in Queens, which had been overlooked (as well as the other boroughs) due to the myth making breeding grounds of the Bronx. The Bronx is an interesting place, and to this day it still feels like a place stuck in suspended animation. The borough had been a haven for working class and middle class families, not to mention its rich history going back to the 16th century. Unfortunately, the great urban planner, and as Robert Caro labeled him the “Pawn Broker,” Robert Moses got his way and carved up the borough beginning in the 1950’s. By the end of the decade of the 1960’s the Cross Bronx Expressway cut right through residential neighborhoods, tearing asunder the cohesiveness of these homogenous communities. The many Jewish, Italian, and Irish families fled to the suburbs, yet some of the poorer families were forced to stay behind. The divestment process began at the same time in reaction to the riots in the 1960’s. Many businesses left the Bronx, creating a glut and blight that rendered the area lawless and un-salvageable. The squalor would lead the neighborhoods to band into gangs, usually with gangs like the Black Spades, which was all black, and the Young Lords, which was mostly Latino. Many positive things came out of this period of stagnation like the birth pangs of Hip-Hop culture. However, popular culture, as it does so proficiently to this day, jumped onto the myth making band wagon by churning out these outer worldly commentaries and pieces on the devastation of the Bronx. The media and Hollywood took a close look at the scene in the Bronx, and then produced these popular films to the backdrop of Hell, A/K/A The Bronx. Movies like Fort Apache: The Bronx,

Portray this area as a desolate island of crime ridden filth, where the cops (mostly depicted in the film as corrupt low lives) patrol through this lawless area where no answer is in sight. You can see in the trailer how all the major newspapers and popular press saw this as a compelling film that all eyes should gaze upon. However, activists and residents of the Bronx protested the making of the film from the very beginning, seeing it as overtly exploitative, racist, and stereotypical of the ghetto porn Hollywood was churning out at this point. Other films made at this time also portrayed the Bronx, as well as the entire New York City area as crime ridden, lawless, and a powder keg of anarchy waiting to explode. Another example is the infamous film The Warriors,
This is a glorification of gang life, as well as their potential to overthrow the city. Although the main characters, The Warriors, hail from Coney Island, Brooklyn, the main attraction is the opening scene where the meetings of the gangs takes place in ground zero, The Bronx. These films came out in the 1970s and 1980s. They kept churning these films out, and all had one common factor; They all portrayed the Bronx as the shit hole where people go to kill or be killed. Just reading the caption of this film you can sense the feeling that we’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto!!! An Italian perspective, By the 1990’s the films expanded into far-reaching historical territory, but they still felt tense as with the racial tension felt throughout the film. And of course we have the silly, and in actuality the entire film was not filmed in the Bronx, but in neighboring Queens. However, it seems far more sexy calling it Rumble in the Bronx! Who cares about a rumble in Brooklyn, and Rumble in Queens? Let us now take those blinder off and see what the Bronx is really made of. Parts of the Bronx are still in decline, but what we need is a combined campaign of reality. We need to see things for what they really are, grey and complicated. It’s unfair to call the Bronx dangerous, due to the many locations in the borough that create great products, ideas, and innovations. One fine example is a born and bred Bronxite, who’s also a very close friend of mine and just had a Birthday!!! Paul Ramirez. Paul, (pictured on the left) along with his brother Anthony have begun years ago to label the Bronx as a new innovative product for the world. They knew, as well as constantly cheer-led the idea of the many cultural facets and ideas coming from the richness that is the Bronx. Through their company Mainline Entertainment, they inspired others in the borough into creating new visuals and reformulation of the old formula, which is the Bronx. They also heralded a great project through the borough and the city by opening the magnificently tasting Bronx Beer Hall…

In their very words that I want to quote they write that, “Nestled in the heart of the Arthur Avenue Retail Market, The Bronx Beer Hall is the place to be. We offer the complete selection of Jonas Bronck’s Beer Co.’s original craft beers, as well as an original menu curated by Chef David Greco of Mike’s Deli notoriety. Whether shopping for groceries or perusing the bustling streets of the Bronx’s Little Italy, The Bronx Beer Hall is the perfect place to kick back, grab a bite and enjoy a cold one. Come on by, you are always welcome.” I couldn’t have done it better myself. This is one of the many ventures my man Paul has partook in so that he can revitalize the Bronx in a new fashion. We should all check it out, plan gatherings and give him props for the genius of looking beyond the stereotypes and rather amusing movies and seeing the Bronx for what it really is, a beautiful spot that I always felt comfortable in and glad to call it one of the best borough in New York City. Happy Be-Lated Birthday, and thanks for being my honorary Jewish brother, and for your amazing family who have shown me nothing but love, patience and compassion. Much love man, Peace

Dying of Thirst


This is the season of self-reflection for us Jews all across the globe. In this period, the time after Shavuot and leading into the greatest mourning period – the 9th of Av, we try our best to correct our lacking character traits. The age-old gain of knowledge, wisdom, and understanding comes down from our father’s books. More specifically we follow a series of building blocks given to us by our so-called fathers. The series of ethics, titled Ethics of Our Fathers, Pirkei Avot in Hebrew, sets a standard guide line for an ethical existence. For me, this is very important as this was the first real learning I did once being involved with the Orthodox establishment. Pirkei Avot is fluid and timeless chronicling the lineage of our laws coming down straight from Mt. Sinai to the current study halls all around the world. The book consists of the many sayings of the many great sages thought out the Talmudic period, which spans from the destruction of the Second Temple to the codification of the Talmud by the year 600CE. One of the things that stuck me, and still does, is how these sayings are full of wisdom that is indeed timeless. You can read through the ideas of being a proper disciple of G-d, and by living a life of piety. But, we must be sure to note that it should be balanced where wealth will not blind the eye to greed, where complete immersion in Torah can lead to an anti-social existence, or where excessive joy can blind one to the seriousness of attaining the highest peaks of spirituality and connection to the divine.

What does this have to do with my usual topic of choice. Well, Hip-Hop is the all-defined, non-defined, and waiting to be defined music. Rap music has allowed its many artists to twist in these moral tales, while some insert the religious language that Pirkei Avot can relate to. One artist and song that have been reverberating, at least in my mind, is Kendrick Lamar and his song “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst.”

The song is part of his nonlinear magnum opus, Good Kid, M.A.A.D City where he weaves this narrative of his struggles being the good kid in this insane city of lost souls. It’s very poignant as he pleads for us to sing about him, as he uses stories of people who go through the life while leaving their mark, or not, on the skin of the universe. Each character fades into their fate, as the first is shot down, while the woman in the story’s voice dims and slowly fades away. However, I’m far more concerned with the second part of the song, the part where Kendrick is dying of thirst.

As the end of the first segment hits, we realize that his character’s brother was just shot. We now await his response as he’s being goaded on by his friends to take matters into his own hands. We now know that he is tired of the bystander life. It’s time to meet out vengeance as he hits the wheel, “we dying of thirst, dying of thirst, dying of thirst.” When I see those words rummaging through my mind it opens many doors of possibility. This thirst, seeking out water for the body, but also for the soul makes this plea connect with certain words of the great Jewish sages. In the first chapter of Pirkei Avot, Mishna #4 reads, “Yose ben Yoezer, leader of Tz’redah, says: Let your house be a meeting place for Torah scholars; you shall become dusty in the dust of their feet; and you shall drink in their words thirstily.” The great French sage Rashi stated that, “One must approach words of Torah with thirst for them.” The thirst for knowledge could be another parallel for Kendrick as he thirsts for other options given to him by life as a black youth in America.

Moving on down the chapter we get to Mishna #11 which reads that, “Avtalyon says: Scholars, be cautious with your words, for you may incur the penalty of exile and be banished to a place of evil waters (heresy). The disciples who follow you there may drink and die, and consequently the Name of Heaven may be desecrated.” This verse portends the notion that we must be careful when learning, due to the damage caused by the murky waters of pseudo-teachers, scholars, and intellectuals. I would place artists here as well, hence we see many rappers who have delved in these waters, while deprecating their students’/fans’ minds. Kendrick pointed this out rapping, “Return of the student that never learned how to live righteous but how to shoot it.” The student could learn, like Torah scholars, by either choosing the “bitter toxin” of dirty water. or by choosing the “elixir of life,” ie. Torah or a righteous life.

In the end of the song we trail off to a skit hearing th soft voice of an elder lady. She sweetly asks why are these men so angry, and then extends her hand of faith. This hand of faith is extended as the libation for these thirsty souls. They then follow her through prayer, and even though they invoke Jesus there are many similarities to the Ethics of thirst, and Kendrick’s “Dying of Thirst.”




A Siyum for Tractate Rosh HaShanah: Reclaim the glory through the Sound


Rosh HaShanah, the coming of the Jewish New Year brings this immense feeling of both joy and dread, as we are celebrating while awaiting our yearly judgement. One of the most defining symbols of the Holy Day is the Shofar, which Halachically (Jewish Law-wise) has to be a Ram’s horn.

The blasts emanating from the Shofar caused the hearts, minds, and very souls of the Jewish people to quiver, losing themselves in the ecstasy of the moment. I am speaking of this for two main reasons: 1. Today is the last Daf (page) of the cycle of this specific tractate. And, 2. It is my cousin Jeremiah Lockwood’s birthday!!!

This man is the muse of Brooklyn who, unlike anyone on this green earth, has tapped into the wealth of music by bridging the gap that I can only write about. He extends the ideas of connecting African-American and Jewish traditions into the most soulful music your ears will ever hear. One of the most amazing things about Jeremiah, who also performs with his group The Sway Machinery, is that he constantly evolves never letting the rigid confines of the critics to stifle his ever-expanding creativity. I have followed this progression for some time and have seen the many faces, and talents, of the great interpreter of Jewish dreams.

You can fall into the beauty of his strumming in his performance of the bluesy “Tell it All To Me.”

This is another great performance, as well as snippets of Jeremiah’s words about his grandfather, the venerable Chazzan (Cantor) Jacob Konigsberg, and how he defies the laws of definitions and categories. He extends on the Chazzanut, which is a prominent section of his inner being, while transmitting it in a transformed method.

Another great trait, and great inspiration for myself and the rest of the stable of cousins is his fearlessness in experimentation. He could have remained in a safe house of categories, but no Jew can do that. For his next venture he, and the band, ventured to Mali and released a magnificent opus titled The House of Friendly Ghosts, Vol. 1. In this beautiful mixture of Jewish Chulent, Blues style porridge, and African soul, with the help of the majestic Khaira Arby they produced a new mixture for the world, both below and on high, to digest slowly and soulful.

Although it might seem that Jeremiah flies high above the terrain of limited geography, history is never lost. He wrote a magnificent piece on reclaiming myths, for all people to be inspired to reclaim these lost ones from the powers that be-hold the eye. He wrote that, “In the early 20th century, the modern development of the Blues reclaimed and revived the voice of this mythic lone griot…The Great Blues artists, such as Son House and Robert Johnson, sought out historic forms of African-American culture like field hollers and rural call-and-response church hymns. From these elements they constructed a new and innovative musical language. The new music was both a vehicle for personal expression and a staging ground for the exposition of a historical identity.”

Thank you Jeremiah for being one of the mythic Blues players. However, I wouldn’t even dare categorize you, due to your driving spirit.

Enjoy, and Happy Birthday!!!

Sing it on for the masses, and culture.


#JeremiahLockwood #TheSwayMachinery #TractaeRoshHaShanah


Go Tell it on the Mountain!!!


We are camped around Mount Sinai, we have separated from our spouses, and are preparing to receive the word…..of G-d. The Holy Day of Shavuot can be seen as a majestic means of obtaining Torah. Our custom of learning all night awaiting the word makes this Holy Day communal in this aspect. With the Holy Day of Passover we feast together in order to remember our exodus from Egypt. On Sukkot we reconvene, non-Jews are welcome as well, in Jerusalem to commemorate our temporary existence in the huts of travel. Sukkot comes to its great climax with the joyous, and in the Talmud varied in practice, order of the water libation. The communal aspect of Shavuot is through the act of learning, and teaching, throughout the world.

I want to honor the Holy Day (In my belated style) by focusing on the title song to this title blog post…”Go Tell it on the Mountain”

“Go Tell it on the Mountain” originally was an African-American spiritual, compiled by John Wesley Work Jr. dating back to at least 1865. Its original intentions, and lyrics, provided the backdrop for a spiritual invocation for the Christian holiday of Christmas. The song depicts the nativity scene with the lyrics ringing out…

“Go tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere,

go tell it on the mountain, that Jesus Christ is born.”

Very nice, but not that Jewish. Although, not quite yet. Many famous artists have recorded this song through the early part of the 20th Century. However, by the late 1950’s early 1960’s the song was changed due to the changing face of the United States. In 1963 the folky trip of Peter, Paul, and Mary, along with their musical director, Milt Okun, adapted and rewrote the lyrics to the song and renaming it “Tell it on the Mountain.”

According to various historical sources the lyrics reflected the Civil Rights struggle. This point was further punctuated by the use of Biblical imagery, as found in the Torah in the book of Exodus, and the call to “Let my people go” as said by Moses to Pharoah. It is theorized, although not substantiated, that it was the African-American Civil Rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer who adopted the new style to the old song.

Hamer, who was a dynamo in her own right, apparently combined this song with the spiritual “Go Down Moses” taking the last line of the chorus, and substituting it for the chorus of “Go Tell it on the Mountain.” This is compelling as we see how the notion of Jewish suffering, via the Hebrew Torah, can be felt by the African-American activists and leaders during the Civil Rights struggle. The use of the Exodus story with the singing of old spirituals provided a new soundtrack to the Civil Rights Movement, bit also the greater popular music machine in the United States.

This is a perfect example of the continuation of the mixture of Jews and African-Americans in the realm of music. By using the biblical imagery that was usually associated with Jews, the plight became fraternal between Jews and blacks. Although many Jewish composers, songwriters, and performers have been touting this since the beginning of the 20th Century, this is another example that can seem lost on the relationship between the two people. Not only was the Civil Rights era another highpoint of mutual cooperation between Jews and blacks, it was another venue for creating new musical styles and songs. This re-invention is in line with the evolution of synthesizing music by both blacks and Jews from each other’s historical experiences.

Most of the recordings of the song remain Christian based with the Christmas theme, and eschewing the Civil Rights combination. However, one the best recordings of the song, with the Hebrew component, was recorded by the great Jamaican group, the Wailers. The Wailers recorded this early on in their career, with the original core of the band. Peter Tosh’s voice bellows out the words connecting telling it on the mountain that Moses will tell the people to exodus out of Egypt land.

The Wailers, and sung by Peter Tosh.

Enjoy, and a happy belated Shavuot.