With Apologies to Lenny Bruce
By Esther Werdiger
Jewdar. You know, that thing that sort of starts buzzing when I spot someone who looks vaguely Semitic, somebody who’s surname ends in a …man, …stein or a …berg, someone with a generous nose or kindly eyes. I’d walk into a room, my eyes maniacally scanning its inhabitants for some telltale sign: matzah crumbs, bagels, dried Red Sea mud on the backs of shoes and so forth.
In a way, I apply similar principles when I listen to a record.
There are certain musical genres which are automatically entirely Goyish. Japanese anything, which is hugely unfortunate, mainly because it rules out the possibility of ever having the Boredoms over for Shabbos. Swedish anything is also Goyish. Which is odd, because Sweden was officially a neutral country during the Holocaust. Although I do hold the belief that a Swede (please let it be Jens Lekman) is more likely to convert than someone Japanese. I’m sorry, but proper bluegrass, country and first-wave American Folk (basically up until Dylan), is Goyish. Same with Scottish anything. Again, a huge shame.
Punk is Jewish. Psych is Jewish, but really only when it’s American, especially Californian. 90’s era slacker lo-fi is definitely Jewish. Gangster Rap? Jewish like Wilbur, which was the name of the pig in Charlotte’s Web. Secretly, in my head, De La Soul are Jewish. Stephen Malkmus is Jewish, even though he’s completely not.
I need to know who’s Jewish because obviously, I need to know who I can marry. There’s no point being in love with a non-Jewish rock star. It’s futile. But if they’re Jewish, you’ve at least got a foot in the door.
But aside from the obvious ones (Lou Reed, Modern Lovers’ Jonathan Richman, Yo La Tengo’s Ira Kaplan, Ben Kweller, Karen O and Nick Zinner), there’s always room for the occasional pleasant surprise. Nick Valensi from The Strokes. What sort of a Jewish name is Valensi? Here’s news: A Jewish one! (Not to mention Albert Hammond Jnr. who converted after deciding that Jewishness was a giant lady-magnet.) And Beck: fair-haired, hailing from Texas, last name Hansen. A Scientologist, noch. Although he’s already married, so whatever.
And there are those who ought to be Jewish. I was convinced Jeff Magnum was Jewish, except for that track on Aeroplane Over The Sea where he sings all about Jesus. Kim Deal should be Jewish. She just exudes such familiar warmth.
Most New York-based bands need to have at least one Jew in them. Interpol has Daniel Kessler. I’ve never heard anything to actually suggest that he was Jewish, but I’m just going to take it and run. TV on the Radio has David Sitek. I don’t think anybody even suspects a Jewish cell in his body but that name does sound vaguely Eastern European (hopefully not in the pogrom-making sort of way) and I’ll support him based on that.
I was once re-editing my Myspace profile and in an effort to appear irresistibly quirky and adorable (I’ve since moved on), I included narcolepsy as one of my interest. Within days, I was receiving emails from narcolepsy sufferers inquiring as to whether I wanted to unite and be narcoleptic together. As a Jew but simultaneously a citizen of the world, I understood the plight of this minority! And in a way, I’m doing a similar thing. I’m looking for people to grab and claim as my own. I’m searching the world for my brethren, looking in dark corners, in an effort to reunite my scattered people, wherever they may be. Because I do believe that this whole Jewish Music thing is somewhat of a farce. What most people are referring to is what I refer to as Music Regarding Overtly Jewish Topics. My Jewish music is a little bit different, obviously. It sounds a bit like Lou Reed, Carrie Brownstein, Stan Getz, Mirah, Leonard Cohen, Karen O, The Beastie Boys, Jenny Lewis, Adam Green but like a lot of other things too, quite possibly including Kenny G and maybe even Stephen Sondheim.
Let the naches ensue.