Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Heebie-Jeebies at CBGB’s – a Secret History of Jewish Punk by Stephen Lee Beeber

An engaging – and amusing – concept for a book that I, as a mid-western catholic, had never really thought too much about.

Sure, I’ve always been aware of the Jewish influence on popular culture, especially in the 60’s and 70’s. I grew up with Mad Magazine and all of the Yiddish phrases that they threw around. And, of course, there were plenty of Jewish comedians, writers, songwriters, etc around. I think that I accepted it as part of pop culture, not necessarily part of Jewish culture.

But part of that is probably because being a white, middle class Midwesterner, I didn’t really have a culture to call my own – I was a blank slate. I drew upon influences from everywhere – blacks, british, hippie, bohemian and yes, Jewish. Which is, I’m sure, a reason why I find these types of books – those written with a spotlight on a group’s background – interesting and somewhat mysterious. It’s not something that I can really identify with. I freely admit that I am a mutt and have most often described myself as a freak. I have always been outside of any group that I was part of tangentially. I never really fit in and never really felt part of any ethnic group or even any movement. So, seeing someone put so much emphasis on a background is odd for me, though Stephen does make a good case for a lot of his subjects.

Since “punk” did start in New York and New York is one of the most Jewish towns in America, there is certainly a connection. The fact that members of pre-punk bands such as the Dictators and the Blue Oyster Cult – as well as many of their collaborators, producers and writers – were Jewish adds to the thesis. Obviously, not everyone in the movement were part of this ethnicity, but there were always some connections – whether it was a band member, a producer, a manager, or, arguably one of the most important contributors to the NY punk scene, Hilly Kristal, the owner of CBGB’s.

Beeber does stretch things sometimes and even seems to be trying to force people to admit to influences that are not necessarily there, and there are a few annoying mistakes (such as calling Andy Shernoff the Dictators’ lead guitarist!), but it is a fun concept that is explored fairly in depth.

He does lose me with his final chapter concerning John Zorn, who I am not familiar with and who seems to be a fairly minor character in the punk scene, though he certainly seems to be a player in the New York Jewish music scene.

But, all in all, an enjoyable read with some new and fascinating information.

(PS - sorry for the Amazon.com blurb on the cover photo - I couldn't find a clear photo without it!)


Blogger G-D said...

Hey Rich,

Just came across your comments on my book and thoroughly enjoyed them.

While I'm sorry to hear I lost you in the last chapter about Zorn (who you really should check out, he's amazing), I'm glad that over all you enjoyed the book.

Believe it or not, I've found even more connections since finishing "Heebie-Jeebies" as I've continued my research informally and readers have approached me with factoids and stories of their own. I hope to include these updates in the paperback version of the book, which will be coming out next year.

Since I'll also be correcting any mistakes in that version (I thought I'd already corrected the one about Andy Shernoff), I'd be very interested in any others you might have caught. Same goes for your readers. Just bear in mind that if for some reason you have an advance readers' copy, that could be the problem. I corrected a few things that slipped through in that not-quite-final version.

Oh yes, one last thing. If you'd like to see more info on the book -- including some very cool panel discussions I've led with punk principals such as Danny Fields, Lenny Kaye and Legs McNeil -- visit my website at www.jewpunk.com. The panels will soon be added to the Web Extras page.

You can also reach me through the email link on my name at the bottom of the web page.

Gabba gabba chey!


9:29 AM  

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