Arts & Culture

A Pre-Shabbat Blessing: Gangsta Rabbi

If you haven’t had the good fortune of experiencing the Gangsta Rabbi, we are pleased to give you an introduction.  This prolific one-man band combines bass guitar (with the distortion turned way up), vocals, drum machine, and flute. Add that … Read More

By / April 2, 2010

If you haven’t had the good fortune of experiencing the Gangsta Rabbi, we are pleased to give you an introduction. 

This prolific one-man band combines bass guitar (with the distortion turned way up), vocals, drum machine, and flute. Add that up, and you get a combination that isn’t the epitome of commercial appeal. What the Gangsta Rabbi does embody is a dedicated artist who has stayed true to his craft for two decades, with punk aesthetic and a shout-it-out-loud Jewish identity.

This interview can be read in it’s entirety at Heeb’n’Vegan. You’ve called yourself "The King of Jewish Punk." In what way does your music capture the essence of "Jewish Punk"?

Michael, I know if anyone would have a degree in all things "Jewish Punk," it would be you, based on your extensive research and writing on the subject, and far more artists in your theses would qualify over me as "king." But what’s cool is that both "Jewish" and "punk" are outsider groups, and no researcher can ever deny my outsiderness, or my Jewishness, or my punkdom. In my own beliefs, I am so not a "king" but a "servitor" based on [the idea that] we all must possess humility to properly serve G-d. But a proper "king" must have gotten there by suffering, toil, battle for one’s beliefs, and the like, all of which I did much of just in order to make music. I was in college when the Ramones and Sex Pistols first came out, so unlike most if not all of Jewish punk artists, I witnessed the birth of punk and its evolution and wanted to do something about it when it first died. Years after my 1st tape, 1991’s Bang the Bass Bopmania, as I studied, it was a natural thing to meld this abrasive music with stories of the plights of the Hebrew people, from Biblical times to post-Holocaust. And I did it, in different degrees over the 18 CDs [including one already recorded album that has yet to be released in either CD or digital format], perhaps peaking with #16, 2009’s Diaspora, which is a concept CD going historically from Abraham to the 2008-9 Gaza conflict. I go on stage anywhere from a biker bar, where danger lurks all around for a proud Jew, to a much more safe JDub Records-sponsored event, with the star of David, my heritage, and service of my G-d all shouted proudly to the punk beat and chords. I’ve been doing this for 20 years and will do it for 20 more. I hope at least some think it’s "Cool to Be Hebrew" because of me and proclaim me the "servitor of Jewish punk" (not as catchy as "king" but more true!). Do your Jewish beliefs inform your decision to be vegetarian?

It was actually a very pivotal time in my life, the winter of 1994-1995. I was 36 1/2 and already going through mid-life crisis for years. In December 1994, like 2 weeks before I played my first big show as a solo act, the Freeport First Night New Year’s Eve thingy, someone left a gift-wrapped Bible in my office, anonymously. For the 7 years following my bar mitzvah, I was very religious, but I lost my way because of playing in bands and multiple marriages/divorces in a short time. On the night of 12/19/1994, I opened the Bible and read the entire Torah. When I got to Genesis 12, Abram’s calling, I thought again, "Wow, I’m one of G-d’s Chosen people." By early 1995, I studied feverishly and became observant overnight. At this same time, for the 3rd time in my life, I pondered vegetarianism. The first 2 times, in 1979 and 1980, after 6 weeks I became progressively quite sick with anemia both times. This seemed like a perfect time to try again. Originally, although G-d gave man dominion over the animals, both were given only plants for food. It wasn’t until Genesis 9, after the fall of mankind, that He give Noah and his sons the right to eat their fellow creatures. Although throughout the Scriptures there are Commandments dealing with the kindness to animals, epitomized in Numbers 22, when G-d gives Bala’am’s donkey the power of speech after his cruelty to her, much of the Torah and history accounted for in the Books of the Prophets dealt with ritual animal sacrifice to G-d, so vegetarianism is not in itself required to serve G-d. I went to the Long Island Game farm and was petting a cow, and she licked me, just like my puppy Buttons would do. Buttons was my first dog, a subject of many of my early tunes. If this cow had a related soul to Buttons, I should no longer have her kind killed for my benefit. So on the 18th of Acher’on-13 3445, 3/20/1995, in this spirit, I became vegetarian, never to stray for 15 years this month.