“The kids are losing their minds … the Blitzkrieg Bop!” — Jeffrey Ross Hyman, aka Joey Ramone
On Dec. 6 — two days after the date of Frank Zappa’s death, two days before the anniversary of John Lennon’s assassination and smack dab in the middle of Chanukah — a radio station to the south of us will spin three hours of music by Jewish rockers both beloved and reviled.
For the 12th year in a row, DC101 DJ Greg Roche — not a Yid but a guy who knows a good schtick when he hears one — is programming a “marathon” of rock by Members of the Tribe with a passion for screaming electric guitars and pounding tom-tom drums.
It will last from 4 to 7 p.m. during the evening rush, a mere blink of an eye to an iconic Jewish celebrity like the late Jerry Lewis, who thankfully spent more time trying to find a cure for muscular dystrophy than singing. However, the comedian’s son, Gary Lewis, and his band the Playboys had a number one hit in 1965 (at the height of Beatlemania) with “This Diamond Ring,” penned by a Jewish rocker named Al Kooper, born Alan Kuperschmidt in Brooklyn in 1944.
Kooper, who founded Blood, Sweat & Tears and produced the first three Lynyrd Skynyrd albums, was famously on the Hammond organ in ’65 when he backed up the greatest of all Jewish rockers, a one-time folkie from the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” who “went electric” at the Newport Folk Festival. But we’ll get to Bobby Z. a bit later.
It is doubtful you will hear Gary Lewis when Roche goes through his list, but you will get plenty of Van Halen (David Lee Roth began singing while preparing for his bar mitzvah); Rush (bassist Geddy Lee Weinrib, both Canadian and Chosen); and KISS, founded by Haifa native Gene Simmons (born Chaim Witz), the son of a Holocaust survivor, and Paul Stanley (born Stanley Eisen), lead singer and rhythm guitarist for the cartoon rockers from New York.
Throw in Lou Reed; Marc Bolan (get it on, baby, bang a goblet); the rhymin’ Paul Simon (not quite a rocker, better get to the shul, Yul!); “The Chanukah Song” by the very Jewish and very much not-a-rocker Adam Sandler; some Jane’s Addiction (Perry Farrell, born Peretz Bernstein); and a whole lotta commercials (ka-ching – what a friend we have in Jesus!) and you’ve pretty much filled three hours.
And don’t forget the hard-rocking, cowbell-clanging roof-raiser “Mississippi Queen” by Mountain, led by the “Great Fatsby,” Leslie West, one of the premier guitarists of the rock era, born Leslie Weinstein in 1945 in Joey Ramone’s hometown of Forest Hills, N.Y.
Roche (the DJ uses one name, like that singin’ hillbilly from Tupelo who used to buy Cadillacs for strangers) says he was unaware that Simmons’ mother was a concentration camp survivor and did not know that Elvis was a Shabbos goy in Memphis when the Presley family lived in the same house as Rabbi Alfred Fruchter and his family.
“This is why we do the ‘Jew Rock Marathon,’ to learn about Jewish culture,” said the Philadelphia-born Roche, who launched the event a dozen years ago without his bosses’ knowledge and has tended the ritual with the help of “Jewish Rock Mother” Meredith Jacobs, chief operating officer of Jewish Women International.
“I’ve been doing it for 12 years, and there’s still a ton for me to learn,” said Roche. “I hope the same is true for DC101’s non-Jewish listeners.”
The DJ’s latest fave Jewish rockers are brothers named Adam, Jack and Ryan (no, the band is not called the Pep Boys) of the trio AJR. But Roche concedes, and how could he not, that the greatest Jewish rocker of all time is that old, nasal song-and-dance man born Robert Allen Zimmerman on May 24, 1941, in Duluth, Minn., to a guy named Abraham who owned a hardware store and his wife, Beatrice.
As George Harrison said at the Concert for Bangladesh, “Ladies and gentleman, Bob Dylan…”
Or as he might be introduced in Upper Park Heights: שבתאי זיסל בן אברהם
You don’t think a harmonica player with a Nobel Prize in Literature can rock? Why, child, you cut me to the quick. Hey, Mister DJ, I have a request! Play an especially hard version of “The Groom’s Still Waiting at the Altar” so I can TURN IT UP LOUD with a tall, fizzing glass of Brioschi like my uncle and flush the Neil Diamond (that’s his real name!) out of my system.
All hail Bob!
Listen to Roche’s Jew Rock Marathon Dec. 6 from 4-7 p.m. on DC101. Watch for next year’s JRM — it will be the event’s bar mitzvah year.
Rafael Alvarez was born on Bob Dylan’s 17th birthday. He can be reached via email@example.com.