We Jews do not lack modern prophets. Many of them are musicians. Phil Ochs spoke truth to power with his guitar. Arlo Guthrie continued his father’s fascist-killing musical mission. Robert Zimmerman of Hibbing continues to reject the title of seer, but the fact he felt the need to do so proves he doth protest too much. In this time of great uncertainty, a fresh voice is holding those in charge accountable: Enter Randy Rainbow with a new twist on the tradition.
The comic, known for his trenchant showtune parodies of the Trump White House, is once again tackling the songbook of that Jewiest of all musicals, “Fiddler on the Roof.” In the new clip, Rainbow uses Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock’s opening number, “Tradition” to roast President Trump’s many deflections during the corona virus pandemic.
After a mock interview, where Trump — in actual footage from a recent sit-down with Fox News — invokes “Obamagate,” the strains of that familiar violin start to play. Rainbow then delivers a spot-on topical rewrite of the show’s opening monologue, laying out the precariousness of our current situation. “How does an unprepared reality TV host pretending to be president deal with such an unprecedented crisis?” Rainbow asks. “I can tell you in one word: Distraction.”
What follows are clips of some of Trump’s greatest hits — blaming Obama, Hillary Clinton, and “Sleepy Joe” Biden all while citing his poll numbers and the availability of COVID-19 tests — as Rainbow, in a rotating wardrobe of peyot, shtetl vest and Chava-inspired apron croons “Distraction,” “Election,” “Deception” and “Inaction.”
But where Rainbow truly shines is his punchup on the verses, taking the song’s most upsetting unfulfilled rhyme (the one about a promised wife a young man hopes is “pretty”) and giving it an air of exhaustion. Quoth Rainbow: “We hoped that you might lead us with some dignity and tact/We thought you’d somehow grow from this/But guurl, you’re petty.”
Even in quarantine, Rainbow is throwing shade with the best of them. But he’s also, like the best political entertainers, diagnosing what’s wrong with our leaders, using “Tradition” to expose Trump’s own legacy of bluster, blame-gaming and diversion.
For that, Rainbow belongs among the greats. But can he do it in Yiddish, we wonder?
PJ Grisar is the Forward’s culture fellow. He can be reached at Grisar@Forward.com.