Category Archives: Guest Post

Yidcore Year-Round (Michael Croland)

Guest Post by Michael Croland, author of Oy Oy Oy Gevalt! Jews and Punk

Yidcore, the quintessential Jewish punk band, broke up eight years ago, but their music continues to have relevance year-round. Here are Yidcore songs for Jewish holidays and other occasions throughout the year. From covers of liturgical classics to zany originals, Yidcore shows why punk rock is the perfect approach to Jewish music.

New Year’s: “Happy New Year Atom”

Atom (of Atom and His Package) had a fun tradition with Yidcore singer Bram Presser. When it was still December 31 in Atom’s U.S. but already January 1 in Presser’s Australia, Atom asked “what it’s like next year” because Presser was “living in the future.” Presser manages to sneak a “shana tovah” into a song about the secular New Year.

Shabbat Shira: “Sabbath Prayer”

Shabbat occurs weekly, but there’s no better time to appreciate Shabbat music than Shabbat Shira. With their magnum opus, Fiddlin on Ya Roof, Yidcore covered the full Fiddler on the Roof score. In “Sabbath Prayer,” Yidcore rocks out in a way Tevye never could. The orgasmic “Amen!” at the end is a force to be reckoned with.

Purim: “Shalosh Pinot”

This is a fun song for kids to sing about Haman’s three-corner hat. Yidcore pulls off a blistering cover in about six seconds, making it the shortest song in their oeuvre. Why beat around the bush? No matter how many times I play Yidcore’s version for my wife, she still doesn’t recognize it as “Shalosh Pinot.” Click here.

Passover: “Dayenu”

Dayenu” is arguably the most appreciated melody in the Passover seder. Presser recalled, “The running gag for a long while was that Yidcore was started with the express primary purpose of speeding up the interminably long and boring seder. Anything beyond that was just a bonus.” At least five punk bands have covered “Dayenu.”

Yom HaAtzma’ut: “Hatikvah”

Yidcore ended their self-titled debut album with a speedy version of the Israeli national anthem. They outdid themselves with an even shorter version on Scrambles. Click here.

Yom Yerushalayim: “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav”

Written after Israel won the Six-Day War in 1967, this beloved folk song by Naomi Shemer—which translates to “Jerusalem of Gold”—was like a second Israeli national anthem. When Yidcore played punk rock covers at a university revue in 2000, they threw in “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav” as a token Hebrew song—and it kick-started the band. Shemer said she was appalled by Yidcore’s approach on Israeli TV shortly before she passed away. Click here.

Tu B’Av: “You! Toilet Wall! Me! Marriage!”

On this Jewish Valentine’s Day, single women would wear white and dance in the fields in an effort to be paired up with men. In this contemporary love story, the narrator sings about discovering a woman’s number in a bathroom stall. “To find true love this could be my last chance,” declare the romantic lyrics.

Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kippur: “Avinu Malkeinu”

This High Holidays prayer asks G-d for mercy and has also been covered by Barbra Streisand and Phish. Yidcore’s take starts off slow before embracing punk rock frenzy, especially when they rock out in the coda. Click here.

Chanukah: “Punk Rock Chanukah Song”

In this spinoff of Adam Sandler’s “The Chanukah Song,” Yidcore celebrates the many Jews in punk rock that came before them, including members of the Ramones, Television, the Dictators, The Clash, NOFX, and Bad Religion. “When you feel like the only punk without a Christmas tree, here’s a list of people who are Jewish, just like you and me,” sings Presser.

Christmas: “Lonely Jew on Christmas”

The slow version sung by Kyle Broflovski on South Park is funny, but by playing loud and fast, Yidcore improved on the original. “I’m a Jew, a lonely Jew/ I’d be happy, but I’m Hebrew,” bemoans Presser. Yidcore’s cover was just named one of the “best Aussie Christmas songs of all time.”

Michael Croland is the author of Oy Oy Oy Gevalt! Jews and Punk, which was published by Praeger (an imprint of ABC-CLIO). Check out the book to learn more about Yidcore and other Jewish punk artists!

Header photo: Bram Presser lights a menorah onstage in San Francisco. (Michael Croland)


Daniel Kahn & The Painted Bird: The Butcher’s Share (Album Review by Michael Croland)

Guest Post by Michael Croland, author of Oy Oy Oy Gevalt! Jews and Punk

Daniel Kahn & The Painted Bird herald their new album as “klezmer-punk anthems for the revolution or the apocalypse,” with songs that “speak to the political moment as much as they address eternal struggles of class and liberation.” Kahn has often played with the past and the present, letting radicals and revolutionaries from yesteryear have a say through a contemporary lens. In the era of Trump, the alt-right, and Brexit, his approach isn’t a stretch. It’s timely.

Following a short intro song, The Butcher’s Share kicks off with its boisterous title track. The lyrics discuss an ignorance-is-bliss approach to “the power people wield” and human rights, stressing the importance of “our needs” over “evil deeds.” In the last few lines, once the point has been become clear, Kahn snarls and shouts to vehemently deliver his message: People pay someone else to do the dirty work and look the other way.

The group made a video for the catchy “Freedom Is a Verb,” which posits that freedom is “something you must constantly” work for in order to have it. Upon introducing the song at a show in New York on the last night of Passover, Kahn talked about how the theme of freedom was timely. But the song doesn’t narrowly define freedom as liberation from a ruler’s enslavement. As in other songs on the album, the socialist Kahn has biting social commentary about the masses who have gotten the short end of the stick, which is all too timely year-round nowadays. Kahn sings: 

But lower pay and higher rent’s another kind of violence / The violence of silence and of greed / The violence of feeling your irrelevance revealing / Every way in which you never will be freed“.

“99%—Nayn-Un-Nayntsik” pits the 99% vs. the 1%. It’s an anthem in Yiddish and English for the era of Occupy Wall Street, Bernie Sanders, and beyond. Kahn sings, “Ninety-nine is a community, one percent is a f–k-you-nity.”

“Arbeter Froyen” is a prettier folk song about hard-working women. The electric guitar solo is a rockin’ interlude, but it’s not intense or reminiscent of punk.

Of course, this so-called “klezmer-punk” isn’t punk rock. Kahn’s longer label, “Radical Yiddish Punkfolk Cabaret,” is more fitting. Kahn has never been restricted by a singular vision in his art or his message. The Butcher’s Share features four songs that were written for a 2016 staging of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s Enemies, A Love Story and two Abraham-themed “bonus tracks.” There’s a song with lyrics by the late Adrienne Cooper and music by Frank London (The Klezmatics and Hasidic New Wave). The album includes guest vocalists Michael Alpert (Brave Old World), Sarah Gordon (Yiddish Princess), Sasha Lurje (Goyfriend), Lorin Sklamberg (The Klezmatics), and Psoy Korolenko (The Brothers Nazaroff). Those contributors give a feel for a wide range of what contemporary klezmer has to offer. The same could be said for the album. As timely as the social commentary songs are, there’s more to The Butcher’s Share.

Michael Croland is the author of Oy Oy Oy Gevalt! Jews and Punk, which was published last year by Praeger (an imprint of ABC-CLIO). Check out the book to learn more about Daniel Kahn & The Painted Bird and other Jewish punk artists!

Moshiach Oi! Double the Na Nach on Rock Rabeinu (Michael Croland)

[Michael Croland was kind enough to share yet another guest post with JMU. My own thoughts on this album will be posted in the near future.]

Moshiach Oi! have narrowed their focus over the past nine years.

When I first found out about Moshiach Oi! in 2008, guitarist Menashe Yaakov Wagner described Moshiach Oi! as “perhaps the world’s first hardcore vegan straight-edge Orthodox Jewish punk band.” By the time I met and interviewed them a few months later, the label was more succinct: “Torah hardcore.” In 2009, their debut album dealt with a multitude of topics from an Orthodox perspective, including celebrating Shabbos, learning Torah, and wanting the Moshiach (messiah). In 2011, their sophomore album addressed varying topics such as Torah, idolatry, and Abraham. Reflecting front man Yishai Romanoff’s religious leanings, there was one recurring topic that stood out in five of the album’s songs: Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, a rabbi born in the 18th century.

With their newly released third album, Rock Rabeinu, Moshiach Oi! put the Rebbe Nachman theme front and center. “There is probably at least twice as much Na Nach on this album!” Romanoff told Jewish Music Underground earlier this month. “Maybe Michael Croland will be up for the task of counting how many times we say ‘Na Nach’ on the album.”

As much as I cracked up at that comment (it’s likely because of my quantitative analysis of Moshiach Oi! songs in the preface of my book, Oy Oy Oy Gevalt! Jews and Punk, and an article I wrote for Jewcy), I am not up for the task.

“Na Nach Nachma Nachman MeUman,” also known as the New Song or the Song of Redemption, can be heard in many songs on Rock Rabeinu. The title track discusses how rock (a pun on rock music and the Hebrew word for “only”) Rabeinu (Rebbe Nachman) matters. In “Rabeinu’s Army,” Romanoff sings that he’s “a soldier in Rabeinu’s Army.” “Country Petek” and “Smoke the Petek” deal with the petek, a note that Rebbe Nachman posthumously sent to one of his students, and the latter, quite amusingly, discusses “getting high” off of Rebbe Nachman’s teachings. “Ain Yeush” and “No Despair” deal with Rebbe Nachman’s teaching of not having despair.

The song “Rabeinu Rebbe Nachman” best summarized why this focus is so important to Romanoff. The lyrics explain that Rebbe Nachman sent a letter with the Song of Redemption and that it’s “the key to set us all free.” Singing “Na Nach Nachma Nachman MeUman” is the “key to the redemption of all humanity,” which is why they “spread it all around.”

Moshiach Oi! made a concept album about Rebbe Nachman. Singing “Na Nach” in different catchy melodies and cadences was certainly one way to do so, but with songs like “Smoke the Petek,” they had varied approaches. It’s still rockin’ music that’s meant to praise Hashem and bring Moshiach, but it goes about those goals in a more targeted manner.

Michael Croland is the author of Oy Oy Oy Gevalt! Jews and Punk, which was published last year by Praeger (an imprint of ABC-CLIO). Check out the book to learn more about Moshiach Oi! and other Jewish punk artists!