Last Thursday I went to see two groups from New York: “Nice Jewish Girls Gone Bad,” vaudville, comedy, music, burlesque of seven young Jewish women; and Golem, a klezmer/rock band. It was a soldout show in the little backroom at Tangier Restaurant in Los Angeles
“New Jewish Girls Gone Bad” is fronted by the Goddess Perlman, a singer/comic/bad Jewish chick. Well, if I ever wondered what raunchy vaudeville on the 1920s was like, I got to see it. Perlman entered in one extraordinarily breast bearing costume after another, and acted like a female Lenny Bruce. Fifty years ago Bruce showed a Jewish boy could talk dirty, and it’s only taken fifty years until a Jewish girl could also talk dirty on stage. She said such lines as “I put the whore back in hora.” The audience didn’t laugh—it seemed too much for them as if they were thinking, “Nice Jewish girls don’t talk that way onstage.” Well, sometimes they do.
In the show there were two comics telling us about dating disasters; a spoken/word poet Vanessa Hidrary, a writer/actress whose work combined Jewish feminism, slam poetry, and hip-hop to affirm her Jewish identity to jokers in bars; singer Michelle Citrin, a former Jewish camp singer who wore dreadlocks and sang her own blusey songs. The best of all were then Shiksa dancers (a.k.a. Hot Pink Feathers from San Francisco) came in stage. First, three young women dressed like Eastern European girls from Fiddler on the Roof arrived, moaning about who will fix them up a marriage match and then two young women dressed as Hasids with big round fur hats flirt with them. Then the two Hasids proceed to do a striptease. Definitely, not a pious reworking of the tradition. At the end all the performers came back in star studded short blue costumes and did a can can.
The second hour was the wonderful band the Golem, named after the original Frankenstein created by a rabbi in Prague some centuries back. Annette Ezekiel, who is a bandleader, accordionist and singer, created this new Golem. Ezekial is also a diva, commanding the room with her brilliant singing, her dark beauty, and her joy in the music. The fine vocalist Aaron Diskin also helped wonderfully to bring Golem alive. They were a tight, superb band, bringing to life that jazzy nightclub side of klezmer but reworking it for 2005. The band sang songs from the new CD “Homesick Song,” powerful songs about love, usually from a women’s viewpoint; each of the songs was set in a different city of southern and Eastern Europe. While “Nice Jewish Girls Gone Bad” were in-you-face confrontative, Golem was seductive, wooing the audience with it superb musical reworking of traditional klezmer added to jazz and rock.
Seeing the two acts together reminded me that in American popular culture the defintion of Jewishness is Fiddler on the Roof, celebrating a life lived in Eastern Europe 100 years ago--a definite act of nostalgia. My great-grandmother was the last women in my family who had an arranged marriage and that was before 1900. But what's omitted is the last one hundred years of living, as if social history--the actual lives of three generation of Jewish Americans-- is a big taboo. Well, "Nice Jewish Girls Gone Bad" and Golem gave us a little taste of the last 100 years of Jewish life we've been missing on stage.