Allan Sherman was one of our great comic songwriters. Mark Cohen, author of “Overweight Sensation,” a biography of Sherman, offers his favorites.
The comic’s latest record is called ‘My Mother’s Brisket.’ Is this an unmistakable sign that he has reached the commercial no-man’s land known as ‘Too Jewish’?
The voices that come alive in “Sephardi Family Life in the Early Modern Diaspora” beat down the tiresome impulse to prove history relevant. Instead, the six excellent and painstakingly researched scholarly papers, edited by Julia R. Lieberman, prove their worth in a better way: They tell stories that reveal how besieged societies strain to hold on to their traditions and to civilized life.
Why not simply admit it? The new collection of Saul Bellow’s “Letters” (Viking 2010) is a modern reliquary. It is a treasured remnant of the beloved wonderworker. And who are the followers, the faithful? Bookish cranks, mainly, plus unstoppable line-quoters, Jewish lit fetishists, passionate scholars, and the unclassifiable lovers of living books (beautiful girl reading “Humboldt’s Gift” years ago on a stone bench at the Frick Museum, here’s something new for you!).
From this you make a living?
No undertaking deserved that Jewish punch line more than turning the French folksong “Frère Jacques” into a parody called “Sarah Jackman.” But Allan Sherman showed how that could be done.
Henry Roth’s new posthumous novel, “An American Type,” owes the attention it is getting, and indeed its very existence, to the author’s 1934 classic modernist Jewish novel, “Call It Sleep.” Nothing less than that masterpiece could have inspired the devotion required to whittle the 270-page “An American Type” out of “Batch 2” — 1,900 pages left at the writer’s death — by the aptly named Willing Davidson, a fiction editor at The New Yorker.
In the film “American Radical: The Trials of Norman Finkelstein,” the eponymous subject — denunciator of Israel, conspiracy monger and self-described “Frankenstein” — complains that the “Holocaust has long since ceased to be a source of moral and historical enlightenment.” Well, this surprisingly entertaining new documentary fixes that alleged problem.
On the way to the Contemporary Jewish Museum of San Francisco where Our Struggle: Responding to Mein Kampf opened on February 11 for a five-month run, a cranky neighborhood in my mind muttered, “History is bunk.” Then I remembered that the phrase was coined by Henry Ford, the carmaker and antisemite, and I was tossed back into history.