The new release from indie rockers Silver Jews takes us back to the early days before they got big. Their songs are messy affairs, captured on a small hand-held tape player.
Diane Arbus’s disturbing and spectacular gallery of photographs were of a piece with the rest of her disorderly life that ended in suicide, William Todd Schultz writes in a new book.
It’s tempting to see the generous and imaginative essays of Daniel Morris’s ‘After Weegee’ as an argument that yes, Virginia, there is a Jewish photography.
When Michael Meyer published his classic book, “The Origins of the Modern Jew,” more than 40 years ago, that Jew turned out to be German. Because of the fitful and disastrously unsuccessful nature of Jewish emancipation, German Jews confronted modernity with an existential and intellectual intensity perhaps unequalled in the West. In order to enjoy the promised fruits of progress, they had to become citizens of an increasingly secular state and learn to identify with that odd mystical entity, the German nation. They needed to give up their communal ties. In short, they had to figure out new ways of being Jewish.
The Silver Jews — one of the most durable indie bands of the early 1990s — have a problem with their name. When the band’s founder, David Berman, came up with it, he didn’t know what it meant, so he fabricated all sorts of stories to explain it. While Europeans want to talk about the name, English-speaking fans frequently try to avoid it. They spell it “Joos,” in order to steer clear of writing things like, “The Jews played a great set last night.” The name clearly makes people uncomfortable.
Dan Fishback — a 27-year-old performance artist, musician, and recent winner of a significant grant — isn’t surprised when Jews reject him. After all, he is unabashedly gay, resolutely Jewish, strongly critical of Israeli policies and firmly against the Iraq War. His work presses a lot of buttons.
The history of comics has been big recently, and there’ve been a number of books and articles about it. Because so many Jews were there at the creation of both the comic book and the great superheroes who served as the main attraction, you have to ask the obvious question: What, if anything, does it mean that the industry was so heavily populated by Jews?
First there was bluegrass, then there was newgrass and now, perhaps inevitably, there is Jewgrass. It’s not yet a trend. Call it a development. You can find it in New York, Denver and suburban Washington, D.C. It’s still rare enough to sound like a high-concept gag — Jed Clampett in a tallis — but it’s not.
Not everyone would look at Scotch Tape and think of snails, but Sam Gross did and came up with the most popular cartoon in his 50-year career. One snail looks at another and says, “I don’t care if she’s a tape dispenser. I love her.” It’s a high concept sight gag and it’s all in the shapes — the dispenser and the snails look uncannily alike.
About halfway through the first installment of David Grubin’s three-part documentary “The Jewish Americans,” a voice-over reads an 1862 letter from a northern Jewish officer, one Marcus Spiegel. In it, Spiegel explains to his wife why it is that he is willing to fight, perhaps die, for the Union. The letter is loaded with pathos, because Spiegel was subsequently killed in an ambush in Louisiana. This short sequence is an obvious echo of one of the most famous moments in one of the most famous PBS documentaries, Ken Burns’s “The Civil War.” There, over a painfully haunting fiddle tune we hear a similarly haunting letter from another union soldier this one destined to die at Bull Run. Grubin’s nod to Burns expresses, in miniature, the central message of “The Jewish Americans”: We Jews have been here from the start. We have loved America as much as anyone. In the face of discrimination, we have prevailed.