Rockers Who Read Right to Left

Scottian David Segal glimpsed his cyber-calling during the dark days after 9-11, when every letter was potentially poisoned with anthrax. Then pop music critic for the Washington Post, Segal glommed his way onto the story-of-the-moment with a scoop from his beat: What did Scott Ian, the lead guitarist of the speed metal band Anthrax, think of its now-tainted name?

Ian let it drop that he was actually taking Cipro, the anthrax antibiotic. He explained: "I have vowed that I would not die an ironic death."

Soon after the story ran, Segal heard from his buddy Jeffrey Goldberg, at the time the New Yorker's Middle East correspondent. "I bet that guy is Jewish," Goldberg sensed. It was that world-weary combination of irony and hypochondria.

Thus was born Jewsrock, the Web site and blog dedicated to the musical members of the tribe.

We're talking scholarship far beyond your Bob Dylans, Neil Diamonds and David Lee Roths.

How about the entire band The Knack and My Sharona, the subject of the band's biggest hit? Robbie Kreiger of the Doors? Jew. Geddy Lee of Rush? Born Gary Lee Weinrib. All of Guster, half of Lenny Kravitz and most of the Jefferson Airplane. All three Beastie Boys, as well as Pink, Peaches, Beck and Mick Jones of the Clash. Don't start with Michael Bolton.

We know these to be true Jews, because they are listed in the Challah of Fame, which is kept by Philadelphia's own Izzy Grinspan from that Yeshiva on the Main Line known as Ardmore. Grinspan, 24 and living in Brooklyn, got involved in Jewsrock by answering a want ad this spring. 

"It said, basically, 'tell us why you were born to work for this site,'" she says. Grinspan had the right schtuff - she'd taught Hebrew school while attending Friends Central. At Brown, where she majored in English and concentrated in 20th century fiction, she worked on the alternative weekly, championing the records of Ted Leo (not Jewish) and Sleater-Kinney (2/3rds). She got the call, and works full-time on the Challah Fame, which has swelled to 130 entries, the latest being Al Kooper of Blood Sweat and Tears fame.

Being Jewish doesn't get you special treatment from Grinspan, just a nod. The woman who went by Elizabeth until a fourth grade friend gave her the nickname Izzy, wrote a sour suck-candy of a story about Kenny G’s  decision to splice a Louis Armstrong vocal onto a remake of "What a Wonderful World" -- or, as she put it, "the sound of a genius forced into a posthumous duet with a bozo."

The piece, headlined Satchmo-lestation,  begins, "The reasons to be embarrassed that Kenny G is Jewish aren’t quite what you think they are."

It’s not his wedding-band sax, his geeky waterfall of curls. "No, what makes Kenny G bad for the Jews isn’t his obvious lack of cool—it’s his lack of shame."

The site has a "Jew or Not Jew" quiz. The Four Questions, originally a Passover staple, become a series of music-oriented  Q & As fielded by the likes of Jon Stewart, Al Franken, David Brooks and Maroon 5’s Adam Levine.  They’ve got Bar Mitzvah pictures from the young Max Weinberg, drummer of the E Street Band.

And the blog is filled with updates on the progress of such fellow Hebrewites as Steely Dan (Fagen, not the Yiddish-speaking Becker) and Paula Abdul. As well as those who don't seem a bit Jewish, like Megadeth's Dave Mustaine. Turns out he's half. Reached in Israel, he said:

"Although my Mom was Jewish, I didn't have any Jewish upbringing. I know a little bit about it. I'm a Christian. I've learned a lot about the history of the country. When I came here for my vacation, I got to see a lot of the country that, you know, goys just don't see."

It was something, you know, about that word he used.

Citizen Mom
Posted 07/08/2005 11:24:51 AM

Dude, don't forget Matisyahu, the Hasidic reggae superstar! And he's a local!

Posted 07/08/2005 11:42:24 AM

"All of Guster, half of Lenny Kravitz and most of the Jefferson Airplane." lol

That Dude from Philly
Posted 07/08/2005 12:19:01 PM

It's Geddy Lee, not Geddie, but anywho, if you've ever looked at him you'd know he was/is Jewish. BTW, Rush's drummer Neil Peart put out a very moving book a few years back. His wife and 19 yr old daughter both died within months of each other. the book is a travelogue of him on his motorcycle driving around North America for a year, trying to get his life back. Great read.

Daniel Rubin
Posted 07/08/2005 12:23:11 PM

thanks. fixed.

Posted 07/08/2005 03:30:41 PM

// Dude, don't forget Matisyahu, the Hasidic reggae superstar! And he's a local! // Very true. That guy rocks *and* he's playing at World Cafe Live tomorrow night. I just found this:

Citizen Mom
Posted 07/08/2005 04:19:25 PM

He's also playing, I believe, at XPN's All About the Music festival. I think...

Posted 07/08/2005 04:22:40 PM

Credit due to Adam Sandler and the Hannukah Song.

Posted 07/09/2005 09:39:06 AM

Beck is a scientologist.

Daniel Rubin
Posted 07/09/2005 09:41:49 AM

re: beck from the Challah Fame "Beck’s mother, Bibbe Hansen, was not only Andy Warhol’s youngest Factory actress but also the daughter of a Jewish mother whose own mother was also Jewish. As a result, by Halachic rules, Beck Hansen is a Jew, despite a non-religious background and a recent interest in Scientology. Like his fellow Jewish pranksters the Beastie Boys, Beck is a master of collage, mixing up folk, blues, country and funk and layering the whole stew with a hefty dollop of samples. His first album, Mellow Gold, became a success after 1994’s "Loser" taught a generation of kids how to explain how incredibly not cool they were in Spanish. His next big hit was 1996’s Odelay, which spawned six singles, followed by Mutations in 1998 and the ridiculously funked-out Midnite Vultures in 1999. In recent years, Beck seems to have finally shed his perpetual adolescence, releasing the melancholy Sea Change in 2002 and marrying the actress Marissa Ribisi."

Dr. Robert
Posted 07/09/2005 04:30:36 PM

I enjoyed Saturday's (Shabbat's) "Inquirer" article on The Rock Challa Fame (Gotta love it! Usually I hear it referred to as The Stars of David). I am a proud (and current - as of 1996) member of The Rip Chords ("Hey Little Cobra") which boasts 5 out of 6 Jews (the original '64 line-up was 2 out of 3): we have me (Bob Rush, DC - a doctor, no less!), Rich Rotkin (original), Arnie Marcus (original), Fred Brog (a shrink - nu? what else?), Mitchell Schecter (a yid) and Patrick Maley, whom we tolerate and love despite his by-birth handicap. We just returned from NC where we played at Harrah's Cherokee with The Beach Boys, and next Friday we play in Lancaster, PA (as Gene Wilder said upon seeing the Amish: "Lunztman!") So, there it is. A be guzzunt and write more nice articles so we're proud (and that's OK if you don't - we'll just sit with our guitars.) All the best, Bob

Stan Cherim
Posted 07/09/2005 04:39:14 PM

I was quite intrigued by Dan Rubin's extraordinary generosity of spirit in his admittance of people into the Challa of Fame. He seems to be be listing any individual who has even the most tenuous claim to being Jewish. I'm not sure where he derives the authority to grant the rights and privildges that accrue with a Jewish identity, but he is remarkably all-inclusive---even encompassing individuals to whom he grants a hereditary fraction of Jewishness. My son is married to a woman who claims a Jewish identity by virtue of parental heritage coming from parents who sat out World War II in Switzerland Her life demonstates absolutely no concern for or knowledge of Jewish customs and traditions. She is quite content to celebrate Christmas with my son on their children---in a purely cultural rather than religious context. My question to Dan Rubin is whether or not my grandchildren have a rightful claim to a Jewish identity even though nothing more than my daughter-in-law's birthright would tend to give credence to it. Rubin's generosity of spirit suggests that he would be in accord by rating my grandchildren as one-half Jewish and perhaps become candidates for the Challah of Fame in the fiture. However, I suspect that the rabbinical leaders in Isreal, who claim to be the ultimate decision makers, would be inclined to laugh---or simply be very angry by Rubin's presumptiousness.. In effect. Rubin is saying that it takes nothing more than a very elastic accident of birth in order to be Jewish. It would be nice if Rubin had the power to make such a decree, but I'm a bit skeptical.

Daniel Rubin
Posted 07/09/2005 05:35:39 PM

I, thankfully, am not in the business of admiting people into the Challah of Fame. It is the Web site and the writer Issy Grinspan who do that.

Kelly Dwyer
Posted 07/09/2005 10:55:53 PM

Great article, but I should point out that only Donald Fagen (and not Walter Becker) of Steely Dan is Jewish. calls him a "Yiddish-fluent non-Jew."

Daniel Rubin
Posted 07/10/2005 08:29:17 AM

This I should have known, having spent many years pouring over their sacred texts. "soft rock intellectuals," the challah put it. could debate that for weeks.

Stan Cherim
Posted 07/10/2005 02:24:02 PM

I had to smile, Dan, at the way you neatly passed the buck to Issy Grinspan despite the fact that your opinions were pretty clearly stated in your article. So, I'd love to hear from Issy and I'd expect a well-reasoned explanation of why she presumes to have the authority to determine who may be admitted to the Challah of Fame. I know she's smart being a Friends' Central School grad (I taught Chemistry and Quakerism there many years ago '57 to '69). It's a great school. So, I'll ask again: If any of my grandchildren were to become a rock star, could they be inducted into the Challah of Fame? Their only claim to candidacy is that their mother claims to be Jewish---although I doubt that she's ever seen the inside of a synagogue. You may believe that to be irrelevant if you see Jewishness as a racial issue rather than a religious one. But that's what Adolf said and most civilized people reject that notion passionately. I wish my daughter-in-law would try to discover her religious roots and encourage my grandchildren to explore possibilities. Personally, I consider the participation in the rites and customs of other faiths to be my expression of respect for the believers. I'm comfortable dipping my fingers into the holy water in a Catholic church, wearing a prayer shawl and skull cap in a Hebrew temple, or touching my head to the rug in an Islamic mosque. I think that Issy and other like-minded people may be oversimplifying the criteria for a Jewish identity. Obviosly, it is lovely and reassuring for Jews to bask in the reflcted glory heroic figures like Einstein, Freud, Jon Stewart, rock stars galore, etc., but is that what it's all about?

Daniel Rubin
Posted 07/10/2005 03:21:02 PM

Don't forget Madonna. Hasn't she taken a course or two in Kabbalah?

Posted 07/10/2005 09:54:35 PM

neil diamond is a greek. just played a jew for the movie.

Daniel Rubin
Posted 07/11/2005 07:53:12 AM

While any group would want to claim the creator of "Sweet Caroline," (but maybe not that duet with Streisand) this is what the Challah of Fame wrote: Known as the Jewish Elvis, Neil Diamond is responsible for some of the catchiest not-quite-rock songs of the twentieth century. First hitting the charts with "Cherry, Cherry" in 1966, he went on to score five Top 20 hits in a row. Diamond wrote such classics as "I’m a Believer," "Sweet Caroline," and "Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon." His filmic career includes the soundtrack to the movie Jonathan Livingston Seagull and the lead role in the 1980 remake of The Jazz Singer, the plot of which he revamped to better reflect his own life in show business. Little-known Neil Diamond trivia: he attended NYU on a fencing scholarship.

Izzy Grinspan
Posted 07/13/2005 12:08:37 PM

Stan, thanks for your feedback. I used two criteria to determine who belongs in the Challah Fame. Foremost, I listed people who identify themselves as Jews -- musicians like David Lee Roth who are outspoken about their Jewish identity. Secondly, though, I followed the laws of Halacha, the traditional rules defining Jewishness. According to Halachic law, all children of Jewish mothers are considered Jews, even if they don't practice Jewish customs. Of course, this is a complicated (and, I'll admit, somewhat problematic) claim, but since it's the criteria used by those rabbinical leaders in Israel, it seemed the appropriate one to use on the website. I hope this answers your question. Have you talked about your daughter-in-law's Jewish identity with a rabbi? I'm fairly knowledgable for a Reform-raised, secular Jew, but I think an ordained leader would be more helpful that I could ever be.

A change is coming to commenting on
Watch for our new commenting platform on April 25.
We encourage respectful comments but reserve the right to delete anything that doesn't contribute to an engaging dialogue
Help us moderate this thread by flagging comments that violate our guidelines

Comment policy: comments are intended to be civil, friendly conversations. Please treat other participants with respect and in a way that you would want to be treated. You are responsible for what you say. And please, stay on topic. If you see an objectionable post, please report it to us using the "Report Abuse" option.

Please note that comments are monitored by staff. We reserve the right at all times to remove any information or materials that are unlawful, threatening, abusive, libelous, defamatory, obscene, vulgar, pornographic, profane, indecent or otherwise objectionable. Personal attacks, especially on other participants, are not permitted. We reserve the right to permanently block any user who violates these terms and conditions.

Additionally comments that are long, have multiple paragraph breaks, include code, or include hyperlinks may not be posted.

Load comments