Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Responding to a Jewish Punk rant

So, one of the regulars on the Jewish Rockers myspace group recently posted a long rant against Jewish punk. He'd already received some excellent responses from folks like the rapper Y-Love and Jewish rocker Moshie Skier, but I thought I'd add my two cents. Here's an excerpt from the rant followed by my response.

"...Punk rock, as defined by good old Merriam Webster, is rock music marked by extreme and often deliberately offensive expressions of alienation and social discontent. Originally it was played by misfits of various types; in both the tone and the lyrics, this was the way these misfits expressed themselves and spewed their venomous attitudes toward society and the system. Mind you, I don't mean this as a value judgment - G-d knows I was a misfit for much of my life, and in some sense I still am, even though I never was a punk rocker.

This, however, is a value judgment: Punk rock is NOT a valid way to express your love for G-d and Torah. ... Punk is about anger, venom, frustration, angst, nihilism, hopelessness, "no future." There are lots of issues in the Jewish world that could stand a dose of punk piss'n'vinegar. ... The Biblical prophets dealt with just such issues in their day, and their words speak to the world today as well - why not adapt some of their words to a loud, hard, and fast punk rock song, instead of a silly punk version of "Hineh mah tov" or whatever that narishkeit was?"

You've already gotten better responses than I can offer (particularly from Y-Love and Moshe Skier) but, well, beating a dead horse is about as punk as you get so I thought I'd add my 2 cents.

You heard punk and are not moved and so condemn punk. But was the problem with the music or with your connection to it? Punk is a form of music with a particular sensibility to it that calls to certain people. I grew up in the punk scene in CT, NY, and MA in the 80's. Describing it as nihilistic and looking to Sid Vicious and the Ramones as touchstones isn't wrong, particularly if that's your primary image of it, but it's a gross over-simplification. Punk was always more about unbridled individual passion in an age of conformity that it was about alienation. Some punk bands and songs were pretty obnoxious, but some were really smart (Dead Kennedys), and some even uplifting (check out the 7-Seconds and Fugazi). If you, personally, don't connect with punk that's fine. But don't confuse your lack of connection with a lack of merit in the music or the musicians. For me, growing up in that music and resonating with it deeply, and connecting the individual passion of the music with my loneliness of being Jewish in a Christian culture, it works great. Revving up a punk Hineh Mah Tov sounds great to me! The point is, you're entitled to feel that punk is a silly way for YOU to express YOUR love for G-d, but don't judge me or anyone else for feeling that it can be great way to do it.

To me the image of a room full of wound-up, pent-up, kids spinning in circles, crashing into each other and singing/yelling 'Hineh Mah Tov Uma naim, shevet achim gam yahad!" (Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!) with all their hearts gives me the shivers.


Anonymous said...

Did you ever read that Heebie-Jeebies at CBGB's book?

Jack said...

Grin. I bought the book at the recommendation of Metal Jew" but it's sitting on my shelf unread. But thanks for the reminder. I'll get at it this weekend.