Friday, February 9, 2007

Metal Jew and A Secret History of Jewish Punk

I ran across the blog "Metal Jew" this morning. The author Keith Kahn-Harris describes himself as a "Semi-ambivalent Jew, ambivalent Metaller. Occasionally ambivalent sociologist, researcher and educator. Non-ambivalent husband and father." That description resonates for me, though, of course, the details are wrong (I'm a human-computer interaction scientist and not ambivalent about being Jewish). Definately non-ambivalent father and husband. The "Metal Jew" blog has been active since May of '06 and Keith's book "Extreme Metal: Music and Culture on the Edge" was published in December '06. Mazel Tov, Keith.

Another place where Keith and I diverge is that I was never an "ambivalent Meteller." I was an ambivalent punk. Black trenchcoat and beret. Dead Kennedys, the Adolescents, 7 Seconds, the Cure and Siouxsie and the Banshees. I even had a mohawk hair cut once (I looked like an idiot). This was the 80's. The Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union were only slightly scarier than Thatcher and Regan. We watched movies like "The Day After," "War Games," "Suburbia," and "Red Dawn" and were sure that nuclear war was right around the corner. We also read the Diary of Anne Frank and watched the Marathon Man. The cold war had the shadow of the Holocaust all over it and we knew it. Punks were fascinated with Nazi symbology, either applying it to our current governments policies or (for the "skinhead/Nazi Punk" minority) getting nostalgic for it's clarity.

Keith reminded me of all this by blogging about the new book "The Heebie-Jeebies at CBGB's: A Secret History of Jewish Punk" Here's the blurb from the book's website:

Based on recent interviews with more than 125 people — among them Tommy Ramone, Chris Stein (Blondie), Lenny Kaye (Patti Smith Group), Hilly Kristal (CBGBs owner), and John Zorn — this book focuses on punk’s beginnings in New York City to show that punk was the most Jewish of rock movements, in both makeup and attitude. As it originated in Manhattan’s Lower East Side in the early 1970s,
punk rock was the apotheosis of a Jewish cultural tradition that found its ultimate expression in the generation born after the Holocaust.
As a kid who hung out in punk clubs in New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, I have to say that I never found punk a particularly Jewish experience and never identified with it at that level. Other than the Nazi/Holocaust references, punk music was only Jew friendly in that it lacked Heavy Metal's preoccupation with Christian imagery.

So, I don't know if I agree with the author's view, but I can't wait to read the book and find out.

1 comment:

krotix said...

I am Jewish by birth and was Bar-Mitzvahed and live in a suburb in NJ near Philly. I was and am introverted, but music always made me feel connected on many levels. I started on stadium rock in the 70s and in the years 76-78 became fervent about Punk and all of it's strains and sub genres. I am ambivalent about organized religion, but I am still passionate about the arts ( music, art, books, etc). I think the reason there was and is a large percentage is in large part due to the suburbia of 60's on and College. Intellectually Punk was cynical and informed by Nixon and Reagan, the Far Right, and a sense of being alienated..marginalized..and ironically made to feel like someone of color. It is true that most of us self inflicted some of these feelings, but back then there were no researchers nor did anyone think about the roles of religion, race, sexuality, or even personal or political leanings unless they trended far right or far left.