Thursday, November 15, 2018

Reincarnation of a Frog and Other Anthems

(Read my latest Rokhl's Golden City about transmigrations and Socalled now)

Last night Daniel Kahn and the Painted Bird brought their roaring blend of klezmer folk punk to Littlefield, part of a North American tour for the new CD, The Butcher's Share. I'm not ashamed to say I yelled my lungs out singing along with the instant anthem 99% Nayn-Un-Nayntsik. (99% is songwriter Josh Waletzky's celebration of class solidarity as well as the song that coined the essential new word fuck-u-nity. It's extreeeemly catchy. Anyway...)

Painted Bird was supported by Brooklyn radical klez phenomenon Tsibele. I felt a bit of an insider-outsider vibe when part of the crowd got really into yelling 'daloy capitalism' (down with capitalism) then talked loudly over Tsibele's incredible instrumental numbers.

Look, I'm all about a good anti-capitalist chant. We all need some catharsis these days. But I can't help getting salty about the people who are only there for the chants and get bored when it's time for a  juicy terkisher. You can't separate the one from the other, or at least, you can't where I come, which is the same place Tsibele and Daniel Kahn come from: the world of Klezkanada and integrated Yiddish folk art. But... not everyone is from that same place. And I want lots of success for my extremely talented friends, but that also means their work is going to be received by people who don't know what a terkisher is and frankly, may not even care.

Which, you know, that's obviously their prerogative. But when it comes to the political stuff I hold on to my saltiness. I have seen for the last couple of years how Dan's work, anthemic and powerful as it is, has been picked up by young Jewish radicals looking for cultural touchstones. Of course as an old fogey, I am conflicted that his work, which is so deeply playful and and nuanced and interconnected... I'm worried about that work being flattened into one crude political reading without any of the nuance that's been pre- baked into his projects. Dan loves anthems. He did a whole album of them with Psoy Korolenko called The Unternationale. The point wasn't an endorsement of Communism. Or socialism or Zionism or Bundism,  but the construction of a dialectic by putting all those anthems in the same room.

Anyhoo... I'm the gatekeeping asshole who will call you out for holding a Yiddish sign with spelling mistakes at a demo if you don't actually speak Yiddish. Sorry. You're free to hold whatever sign you want, of course. I'm not the police and I've been given no special power to stop you from doing whatever you want to do. But I will use whatever platform I have to remind Jews that you cannot divorce the politics from the language and the language from the history, and if you like the politics, and you like the slogans, I promise you'll get even more out of it if you learn how to spell them correctly.

This is all a preamble really to tell you to read my latest profile for Tablet, this one of my friend Josh Dolgin. Josh and Dan are the same age and are both fucking geniuses in their own way, as well as having been nurtured by the same cultural scene. In my review of Josh's latest album di Frosh, one of the things that struck me was that he closed the album with the mid-century pro-Israel, Yiddish language anthem Am Yisroel Chai.  It took me by surprise because while Josh has a sense of humor in everything he does, his work is most definitely not in the ironic or subversive mode you'll find on a CD like The Unternationale. It felt almost strange to encounter Am Yisroel Chai by itself, unbalanced, as it were, by an anthem of equal and opposite political verve.  Are we even allowed to be this earnest in 2018? Earnestly Zionist, even? According to Josh, at least, the answer is why the hell not?

Keep in mind that the origins of di Frosh go back to an invitation Josh got from his hometown synagogue to help celebrate their 50th anniversary with a set of new Yiddish songs. Perhaps Temple Israel in Ottawa isn't quite the place to wheel out a Yiddish IWW workers song (should such a thing even exist, for example) just for balance. But also, Josh's work is subversive in its own way, as I get into in my profile.

In any case, di Frosh is a sonic delight on every level and you should get it immediately. Right after you read my article about it.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

The Yiddish Tevye That Might've Been...

There's a rumor (ahem) that the Folksbiene's smash production of Fiddler oyfn dakh is getting extended and moving to an off-Broadway theater next year. [I've been told the New York Post got the details wrong and nothing is certain yet ... but... ]

If and when it happens, this Fiddler's move to off-Broadway isn't that surprising, Fiddler is a gem of American musical theater and this cast (with my fave Jackie Hoffman as Yente) is superb. Now, don't get me wrong, Steven Skybell's Tevye is a powerhouse; his scene with the rebellious Chava had me in tears. But, oh, what I wouldn't give to see Broadway's original Tevye, Zero Mostel, do Fiddler in Yiddish. My friend Shane Baker hipped me to this rare clip of Zero singing in Yiddish. Though the audience is laughing, his performance had me in full body chills. The man had chops. But don't listen to me. Just watch.

(The song is called Mit a Nodl, On a Nodl/With a Needle, Without a Needle)

(and the lyrics)