OK, it’s actually old news already. Last Sunday night, the Klezmatics won the Grammy for Best Contemporary World Album. In the process, they made history twice over, first for being the first “out” Jewish group to win a Grammy, and their record label, JMG, is the first Jewish record label to win a Grammy.
Now, winning a Grammy isn’t what’s got me all excited. I mean, I was happy when Jethro Tull won a Grammy for best Heavy Metal record in 1988. I happened to really dig the funky flute stylings of Ian Anderson. But when Jethro Tull won, it didn’t convince me that they were a better heavy metal band than Metallica. Or a heavy metal band at all. Â It did convince me that industry awards are mostly silly and meaningless (except as a recognition of commercial success), as well as an excellent launch pad for adolescent cynicism and self-righteousness.
Nonetheless, Grammy winners get lots of press and, I’m hoping, ample opportunities to get paid. Which is what I’m hoping for the Klezmatics. Over the last twenty years they’ve created some of the most righteous old/new Jewish soul music around. They’ve worked their asses off and they deserve national recognition. Honestly, I want to give them an award just because they made me feel pride in being Jewish at a point in my life when proud was hardly the feeling I had for my people. Raging anti-semitism was more like it.
I was intrigued by the recent discussion around here about the word JAP. Now, I grew up on Long Island. I know from JAP. I lived next door to the
spoiled, rancid, materialistic, screaming awfulness of semi-assimilated, semi-bourgeois ghetto Jewish life. Fitting in meant fitting into an oversized Benetton rugby shirt, frosted pink lipstick and the jeans with the little triangle on the butt. I didn’t fit in and I couldn’t wait to get the fuck out of there.
Back in the day, when I was in high school and the Village Voice still cost money, I used to go to the public library to read it. That’s where I saw the listing for the Klezmatics show at the old Knit. It was late December, 1992, the show was at midnight and my mom ended up going with me. My mom may be hip (maybe in an alternate, bizarro universe), but even she had her limits, as we waited downstairs for the show to begin, sipping our Rolling Rocks, she politely turned down the joint offered to us by people sitting nearby.
And then we got upstairs, and the Klezmatics tore up the place, and even brought on John Zorn at the end to add his squonking saxophone madness to the kleztasy. This wasn’t something anyone on Long Island knew about. No one at the Mid-Island Y, or Hebrew School or Temple wanted me to know about speaking Yiddish, or being an out gay Jew, or Jewish culture that had nothing to do with Israel. At the Manetto Hill Jewish Center, the shma and Hatikvah, learned by rote,Â were the totality of Jewish education. Content, in any sense, was not on the syllabus.
No, I had to go to a fire trap club, in the city, at midnight, in the dead of winter, to get a peek into what real Jewish culture could be like. And I liked it. A lot. YouÂ might even say it changed my life. So, mazl tov Klezmatics, and Grammy voters, you get a pass just this one time. Rock on, NARAS, rock on.