Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Nazis Hated It, It Must Be Good

Old joke:
What are the two things Jews know?
Suffering, and where to find good Chinese food.

So when the first three words the musician sings are, "Suffering, suffering, suffering," you know it's got to be a Jew onstage. And not just any Jew.

Do you love William Shatner, Paul Shaffer, and Geddy Lee?

Of course you do. But do you know what they have in common? They are all CANADIAN JEWS. And so is Geoff Berner, singer of the suffering, suffering, suffering (as Berner put it, it's not repetition, it's insistence - though actually he was talking about the chorus of another, equally brilliant and depressing ditty in the Hebraic tradition, "Weep, Bride, Weep.").

But Berner is special, because unlike Shatner, Shaffer, and Lee (could be a law firm, but isn't), he plays the Jewishest of all instruments, the accordion. And he plays the Jewishest of all music, klezmer. Klezmer is life celebrated in the minor key, with a shlivovitz chaser. "Suffering," for example, is a song for all those who won't come out drinking because there is too much suffering in the world. I would quote some lyrics, but having had two martinis before Berner took the stage, it turns out I woke up this morning a little fuzzy on the details.

Forget monotheism, Torah, and the Covenant. What really defines Judaism is suffering. As another hipster Jew music act, What I Like About Jew, attests, you can celebrate just about any Jewish holiday (except maybe Yom Kippur) with the refrain "They Tried to Kill Us, We Survived, Let's Eat." Berner is more interested in drinking than eating, and keeps his take on Jewish suffering focused on the Holocaust, which he is personally avenging by playing the accordion (an instrument the Nazis hated and outlawed) and whipping out Hebraic hits like "Half-German Girlfriend," about his quest to mischling the purity right out of Aryanism.

There is a reason that Charlton Heston, Lawrence Olivier, etal. are goyim. Jews can do melodrama, but not drama. But what we do best is comedy. Berner's comedic timing is impeccable, both in the songs and in the patter in-between. The best part was the encore, which he had to re-start three times because he kept screwing it up. As a mediocre accordionist, I couldn't have been more inspired.

"I'm a little emotional," he said, after the show. "That's what the British journalists say so they won't get sued for libel, when they're really saying someone was drunk." I held up the copy of his CD Whiskey Rabbi, which I had just purchased, and said, "Maybe you're just a little rabbinical."

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