Based in part on the recent interviews with more than 125 people —among them Tommy Ramone, Chris Stein (Blondie), Lenny Kaye (Patti Smith Group), Hilly Kristal (CBGBs owner), and John Zorn—this book focuses on punk’s beginnings in New York City to show that punk was the most Jewish of rock movements, in both makeup and attitude. As it originated in Manhattan’s Lower East Side in the early 1970s, punk rock was the apotheosis of a Jewish cultural tradition that found its ultimate expression in the generation born after the Holocaust. Beginning with Lenny Bruce, “the patron saint of punk,” and following pre-punk progenitors such as Lou Reed, Jonathan Richman, Suicide, and the Dictators, this fascinating mixture of biography, cultural studies, and musical analysis delves into the lives of these and other Jewish punks—including Richard Hell and Joey Ramone—to create a fascinating historical overview of the scene. Reflecting the irony, romanticism, and, above all, the humor of the Jewish experience, this tale of changing Jewish identity in America reveals the conscious and unconscious forces that drove New York Jewish rockers to reinvent themselves—and popular music.
In this welcome addition to the annals of punk, journalist Beeber does a commendable job of illuminating the Jewish backgrounds of many of punk's pioneers, including Joey Ramone (Jeffrey Hyman), Tommy Ramone (Tamas Erdelyi), as well as Lou Reed, Lenny Kaye, Blondie's Chris Stein, CBGB owner Hilly Kristal right up to the heir-apparent to the Jewish-punk crown, the Beastie Boys. The scene was centered in 1970s New York's Jewish Lower East Side, so it's fitting that punk might have a strong Jewish tradition. Beeber ably cobbles together interesting biographical sketches of the preeminent Jewish punks, rather astutely placing the punk rockers among the pantheon of Jewish entertainers, including the controversial comic Lenny Bruce. He also neatly ties the irreverent punk ethos to the American Jewish experience. Still, the book overreaches at times, straining under the weight of too much tangential cultural history and an overly academic tone. Beeber, however, has clearly done his homework, with more than 100 primary interviews and a clear grasp of the Jewish traditions within which he places punk. And just in time: with "Jewish-owned punk landmark" CBGB slated to close on September 30, Beeber's book will open a hidden chapter for many fans.