The New York Times
December 13, 2000
A Tribute by So Many to Interpret a Solitary Man
"I grew up detesting Neil Diamond," Sean Altman said during "Hot
December Night," the Loser's Lounge tribute to that self-described
Solitary Man, which ended its four-night run on Saturday at the
Westbeth Theater Center.
Taking his turn in a lineup that featured 30 different singers
interpreting Mr. Diamond's songbook, Mr. Altman said he had
initially been repulsed because his parents embraced the hirsute
singer-songwriter. But then Mr. Altman raised his silky tenor voice
in a rendition of Mr. Diamond's "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon" that
produced chills, despite its dubious lyrics about gentle
(The full review
is on the New York Times web site.)
The Washington Post
July 22, 2000
NEW YORK ≠≠ "Being Jewish isn't a problem for some rock stars," says Rob Tannenbaum, a
New York freelance journalist who often writes about pop music. "If you want to be a
singer-songwriter who writes smart, sensitive lyrics, that fits in with the archetype
of Jews as being smart. But if you want to be in a hard rock band, then it's more of a problem.
"Overall, rock is about appearing cool," he explains. "And the pre-rock archetypes of being
Jewish are really more about being smart and nerdy, which isn't cool."
Tannenbaum's observations were the impetus behind "From the Shtetl to Heavy Metal," the
latest installment of his performance series "What I Like About Jew." The new show, presented
Thursday night at the downtown CB's Gallery, underscores the often-downplayed Jewish
contribution to hard rock and heavy-metal music.
"From the Shtetl to Heavy Metal" is a tongue-in-cheek celebration of Jewish rockers ranging
from such '70s and '80s embarrassments as Kiss, Van Halen and Blue Oyster Cult to the seminal
New York punks the Ramones and heavy-metal acts like Anthrax and Quiet Riot. "This evening,"
Tannenbaum announced as the show began, "pays tribute to loud stupid Jews with lots of chest
A ragtag assemblage of musicians performed electric and unplugged versions of songs by
various Jewish rockers, as well as their own original material. The program was a showcase
rather than a revue, with a sprinkling of comedy between sets. There were plenty of jokes about
circumcision and much self-deprecating humor; often, the two intersected. Audience participation
was part of the show. One guy inexplicably sat in the front row and waved a chicken puppet
throughout much of the evening. Tannenbaum co-hosts the series with singer-guitarist Sean
Altman, whose father, Al, had traveled from Massachusetts for the performance. When Tannenbaum
boasted about his sartorial splendor-"the full Miami" of white pants, white shoes, white belt
and a striped blazer-Al Altman, like any Jewish parent, had a better idea. "Gold chains!" he
bellowed. "No gold chains!"
Tannenbaum says he wants the series to be a cross between Van Halen and Billy Crystal, which
might explain the song "Jews, Jews, Jews," whose lyrics include: "Jews run banks/ For this we
get no thanks/ But we wonít have control of Hollywood / Until we have Tom Hanks." Then there
was humor in the Catskills tradition. As singer-songwriter Lee Feldman settled in front of
his keyboards, Sean Altman asked if he was comfortable. "I make a living," Feldman replied.
Feldman performed "Sally Canít Dance" by rock icon Lou Reed ("also a Jew!" crowed Tannenbaum).
A Long Island woman, described in the program as "the artist formerly known as princess," sang
Van Halenís "Hot for Teacher," a nod to "the Jewness" of the bandís former front man, David Lee
Roth. Altman shared a taped snippet of what he said was cantorial singing by his grandfather
before playing really bad cover versions of really bad songs by Van Halen, Kiss and Blue Oyster
The evening included Andy Shernoff, songwriter and bassist for the vintage punk band the
Dictators, but the most riveting performer was Howie Statland, a scruffy rocker who wore a
T-shirt that read "I Partied at Joannaís Bat Mitzvah" and who opened his two-song set with a
terse comment about the anatomy of Jewish men that broke with the eveningís theme of
For Tannenbaum, a drawling downtown wisenheimer, the subject of Jews in rock is a treasure
trove of yuks. "Take as an example one of the most heavily Jewish rock bands," he said after
the performance. "Iím sure there are lots of fans in the Kiss army who donít know how Jewish
the band is. The two main singers and songwriters are both Jewish. One is Paul Stanley, whose
real name is Stanley Eisen-heís the guitar player with the really hairy chest. . . . The other
is the bass player, Gene Simmons, the guy with the long tongue. His real name is Chaim
Witz, and he was actually born in Israel.
"If youíre calling yourself Eisen and Witz, itís great for an accounting firm, but itís not all
that great for a rock band."
According to Tannenbaum, these artists are engaging in what he calls "the entertainment
business equivalent of assimilation: In music, so much of it is about persona and invented
identity. Thereís a long tradition of Jews and non-Jews changing their names. Whether youíre
John Lydon or Chaim Witz, you want a cooler name, like Johnny Rotten or Gene Simmons." But
Feldman views the subject with a little more gravity. "So many people change their names," he
laments. "Maybe theyíre afraid or embarrassed about their Jewish identity and not that
comfortable with their Jewishness." Feldman thinks that this may be changing, and he points to
composer John Zornís recent "Radical Jewish Culture" series at the Knitting Factory, as well
as the klezmer revival of the last decade. "As a Jewish musician working in New York, I find
that affirming," he says. "From the Shtetl to Heavy Metal" ended with Tannenbaum inviting "all
Jewsicians to the stage" for a grand finale version of Kissís "Rock and Roll All Nite" that
felt a lot like karaoke. He reminded the audience that the next installment of "What I Like
About Jew" will take place around the Jewish holiday of atonement, Yom Kippur, and that its
theme will be Songs of Sin & Redemption."
Standing outside CBís Gallery, Al Altman boasted about his sonís accomplishments, including a
song he wrote titled "Hanukah With Monica." The elder Altman, who
is a college professor, has another son, the doctor. But he insisted he was never troubled
by Seanís career choice in rock-and-roll.
"Disappointed? No," he said. "I just hope he makes a living."
Special to The Washington Post
Last updated: December 14, 2000
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