I’ve published four books since 2016: Oy Oy Oy Gevalt! Jews and Punk, Punk Rock Hora: Adventures in Jew-Punk Land, Air to the Throne: A Poetry Chapbook about Air Guitar, and, just this week, Celtic Punk Superfan: Recaps & Reflections Chapbook, 2002–22. While plenty of bands come up in three of the four, only two artists appear in all of the books: Flogging Molly and NOFX.
Flogging Molly are one of the primary subjects of Celtic Punk Superfan. Two pieces are entirely devoted to them—”Flogging Molly Put the Rock Back in ‘Shamrock'” and “King David: Molly’s Pilgrim”—and they come up extensively beyond that. Here’s an excerpt from the latter, about Flogging Molly singer Dave King: “I was scheduled to interview Dave for The Tartan last month, but the group’s manager answered the phone instead. He told me that Dave was under the weather and resting his voice. It would be inconceivable for a fan to prefer anyone but the all-around front man. I instead chose to interview fiddler and tin whistle player Bridget Regan, who also played with Dave in his previous musical endeavor, the Dave King Band. She was informative and helpful, but it almost didn’t matter with whom I spoke. In concert, Dave sheds the inner lining of his core being more than he could in any interview. Lyrical themes of cultural and historical struggle in Ireland come across personally from the displaced Dubliner. The band’s lyrics know no limit in baring all: bereavement for the father he hardly knew, missing his widowed mother, and homesickness for Ireland. Dave’s soul probably weeps every night in reminiscing about his past, but he doesn’t hesitate. He never appears to be suffering. His trusty sidekick of Guinness alleviates the pain so that he can perform gleefully, smiling and dancing. I was disappointed that I could not interview Dave, but hearing him preach from his altar was the next best thing.”
In Oy Oy Oy Gevalt!, the Introduction explains, “In some ways, Jewishness in punk is analogous to how Celtic … and Gypsy punk bands … incorporate traditional instruments, cover canonical songs from their respective traditions, and express ethnic and cultural pride.” Elsewhere, White Shabbos are described as “a Jewish response to the Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly—a folk-punk band with a Jewish message at the center.” Both topics are discussed in greater depth in Celtic Punk Superfan.
Flogging Molly pop up a few times in Punk Rock Hora, including when I recap my third time seeing Golem: “I had a euphoric high listening to their performance. It reminded me of my college days when I’d see Flogging Molly and the Dropkick Murphys play and appreciate their sense of Irish pride and culture but wish that I could connect to a band like that as a Jew. Golem filled that void.”
“DIY Flogging Molly” is the finale of Air to the Throne. The poem encourages air instrument players to go beyond air guitar and try air bass, banjo, violin, accordion, and drums. The opening couplet is “It’s well-known the Celtic punk of Flogging Molly/Will make you want to jig-mosh and feel jolly.”
Oy Oy Oy Gevalt! features a section about NOFX. among other examples. It begins, “Among prominent punk rock bands, none has ever put group members’ Jewishness on display so overtly, frequently, and humorously as NOFX has.” NOFX singer/bassist Fat Mike and guitarist Eric Melvin are both Jewish. There are too many examples to include here, but here’s a highlight: “Fat Mike’s and Melvin’s Jewishness was on full display when the band went to Israel in 2007, as captured in a television series called Backstage Passport. When Fat Mike went to the Western Wall while wearing a Bad Religion T-shirt, he was approached by Orthodox Jews. Fat Mike quipped, ‘Of course, the rabbis take one look at me and think, “There’s a Jew who needs a prayer.”‘ Upon donning tefillin (ritualistic leather straps) at the Wall, Fat Mike compared the experience to bondage. He joked that he had been ‘tied up hundreds of times by [his] wife before, but never by an old Jew.’ Fat Mike recited the mourner’s kaddish (mourner’s prayer) for his parents at the Wall, but then he told Melvin that the kaddish was ‘cheesy’ (before clarifying that the pun was ‘cottage cheesy’).”
In Punk Rock Hora, NOFX’s “The Brews” is featured in “Passover Punk Playlist”: “The number-one Jewish punk anthem of all time is ‘The Brews’ by NOFX. The song hailed the Brews (short for ‘Hebrews’) as an Orthodox street gang that celebrated Shabbat by drinking Manischewitz wine and beating up non-Jews. The Brews were described as skinheads with ‘anti-swastika tattoos.’ The song ends by chanting the chorus of ‘Dayenu.'”
NOFX have a passing mention in Celtic Punk Superfan. In an article about Shamrockfest in 2010, I wrote, “During the opening set by Celtic punk band Charm City Saints, an audience member wearing a NOFX sweatshirt shouted, ‘The Brews!’ For a split second, I thought that he knew something I didn’t and that a Celtic punk band with a few skinhead-looking members might cover the definitive Jewish punk anthem.”
Two-time world air guitar champion Airistotle is the hero of Air to the Throne, and “The Americans Were Looking Good” recounts how he played Fat Mike’s favorite NOFX song in the Air Guitar World Championships in 2014: “Stotle played ‘Separation of Church and Skate’ by NOFX/Shutting up any naysayers and their what-the-hecks.” Click here to watch his masterful performance!