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The Heebie-Jeebies at CBGB's: A Secret History of Jewish Punk Hardcover – October 1, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this welcome addition to the annals of punk, journalist Beeber does a commendable job of illuminating the Jewish backgrounds of many of punk's pioneers, including Joey Ramone (Jeffrey Hyman), Tommy Ramone (Tamas Erdelyi), as well as Lou Reed, Lenny Kaye, Blondie's Chris Stein, CBGB owner Hilly Kristal right up to the heir-apparent to the Jewish-punk crown, the Beastie Boys. The scene was centered in 1970s New York's Jewish Lower East Side, so it's fitting that punk might have a strong Jewish tradition. Beeber ably cobbles together interesting biographical sketches of the preeminent Jewish punks, rather astutely placing the punk rockers among the pantheon of Jewish entertainers, including the controversial comic Lenny Bruce. He also neatly ties the irreverent punk ethos to the American Jewish experience. Still, the book overreaches at times, straining under the weight of too much tangential cultural history and an overly academic tone. Beeber, however, has clearly done his homework, with more than 100 primary interviews and a clear grasp of the Jewish traditions within which he places punk. And just in time: with "Jewish-owned punk landmark" CBGB slated to close on September 30, Beeber's book will open a hidden chapter for many fans. (Oct.)
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From Booklist

From Al Jolson and Irving Berlin to the Brill Building and beyond, Jewish influence on American popular music is well documented. Less known is the role Jews played in the seventies New York punk-rock scene. Profiling performers Lou Reed, Jonathan Richman, Lenny Kaye, and the Ramones as well as key journalists, club owners, managers, and producers, Beeber discloses that prime movers in creating, supporting, and popularizing punk were Jews. Jewish identity is a touchy subject, however, and Richard Hell, aka Richard Meyers, refused interviews for the book because he disassociates himself from Judaism (Beeber insists he is still defined by it, anyway). Beeber draws a line from confrontational comic Lenny Bruce to Reed to the Beastie Boys and John Zorn. As perennial outsiders, especially as immigrants, urban Jews have traditionally straddled the sacred and the secular, adopting their new homeland's popular culture and adapting it with comedy, anger, and social commentary. An interview with Malcolm McLaren and an attempt to explain the Jewish punk fascination with Nazi imagery also prove fascinating. Benjamin Segedin
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Chicago Review Press (October 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 155652613X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1556526138
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #856,625 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Clare M. Dunsford on January 29, 2009
Format: Hardcover
You don't have to be a Jew or a lover of punk to appreciate this well-researched, smartly written book. Beeber's voice, part wise guy and part acolyte, carries this book even for a "shiksa goddess" like me. He opens up a fascinating culture (or two) in an accessible, enjoyable way. I highly recommend this book.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful By toner__low on October 15, 2006
Format: Hardcover
From his thunderbolt of an introduction, talented writer Beeber launches into a terrific history of New York's punk rock movement and its roots in postwar American Judaism. Beeber not only reveals the links between the Jews who played major roles in developing the new sound and sensibility--Lou Reed, Chris Stein, half of the Ramones, CBGB owner Hilly Kristal, Genya Ravan, and plenty of others--but going below the surface, he makes a persuasive argument about how alienation can give rise to irony--after all, one of the factors that made punk so popular was its dark sense of humor. It's a thesis that Beeber teases out very delicately, without bashing the reader's head in with academic hooey. And it allows him to survey the less pleasant aspects of the movement, such as its frequent fascination--even among Jewish punks--with Nazi paraphernalia. An eye-opening, dangerous, and way-the-hell fun book--I can't recommend it enough.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By JDT on July 3, 2011
Format: Paperback
At first, the topic of Beeber's book comes off as a bit of headscratcher. But once you get into it you realize how central Judaism is to so many people and aspects of the punk rock movement. This is a well researched, excellently written and very cleverly conceived piece of cultural criticism. Great stuff!
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Michael Koenig on December 21, 2007
Format: Hardcover
In this brilliant exploration of outsider identity, Beeber uncovers the links between Jewishness and punk rock rebellion. The book includes in-depth interviews with such punk rock luminaries as Tommy Ramone, Chris Stein of Blondie, and former Sex Pistols' manager Malcolm McLaren. Beeber also explores the inherent contradictions within the punk movement, including the use of Nazi imagery by bands whose family members may have barely escaped the Holocaust. The book includes fascinating anecdotes about punk rock legends, including a chapter that describes Lou Reed's attempts to bring his dog to a seder, and Richard Hell's defensive responses to Beeber's simple question: Are you a Jew? Beeber is an insightful writer and cultural historian who makes heretofore unseen connections between origins of punk in the aggressive outsider comedy of Lenny Bruce and the work of graphic novel pioneer Will Eisner.
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11 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Regina on September 19, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Steven Beeber's book manages to be highly entertaining as well as intellectually stimulating, which is no easy feat. He examines the relationship between Judaism (both secular and religious) and punk rock and argues that punk was a logical outgrowth of the post-Holocaust generation in this country. I'm a native New Yorker and I came of age in the mid-70s, so I was fortunate enough to have seen many of the bands that are profiled in this book. However, until I read it, I never made the connection between Jews & punk, though it makes perfect sense to me now. Beeber is a terrific interviewer and a fine social historian (and his investigative skills are quite impressive: who knew that Alan Vega and Tommy Erdelyi are both Jewish? And there's lots more where that came from). This is a great read and I suspect I'll be buying a few more copies to give as gifts.
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15 of 21 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 24, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Like most music freaks, if you ask me where punk rock originated, I wouldn't hesitate to tell you that it happened in England. After all, the Brits lay claim to pogo dancing, safety pins as a fashion statement, and the Sex Pistols. The whole concept of punk rock is, essentially, very Clockwork Orange.

Steven Lee Beeber's The Heebie Jeebies at CBGB's: A Secret History of Jewish Punk challenges that notion by showing us that punk began in New York -- and was heavily influenced and shaped by a variety of Jews from a variety of backgrounds. Beginning with the cutting-edge comedy of Lenny Bruce and the musical innovations that were Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, Beeber shows us how the music evolved. It is clear that without the involvement of Jews, there would have been no punk movement.

Chapter by chapter, Beeber traces the bands and the people, focusing on the Jewish players who coalesced around the Jewish-owned punk mecca, CBGB. This is dense reading, best taken slowly so that all of the facts and details -- not to mention the personalities -- can sink in.

One theme that Beeber refers to often is the link between the Holocaust and punk. His claims make perfect sense: the emotions invested in the children of survivors provided the fuel for punk's trademark anger. Yes, there is anger that so many people were eradicated, but one of the more surprising revelations is that some of the anger comes from and is fueled by the fact that the Jews allowed themselves to be victims. At the same time, though, there is an awareness that the word allowed is inaccurate. That anyone, faced with such a circumstance, would have done exactly the same thing.
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