My Interview Part of a Radio Special about Ethnic Punk

Last night on KRNN Juneau (Alaska), Johnny Negotiable hosted a “Saturday Nite Special” about ethnic punk, including a half-hour interview with me about Punk Rock Hora. You may recall Johnny Negotiable (Jim Hale) from last year’s “Mosh Hashanah: A Punk Tribute to the Jewish New Year” radio program or his guest post about KLUNK.

The two-hour show featured songs by Jewish, Irish, Gypsy, and zydeco-punk bands. It was exciting to hear Golem, Yidcore, Moshiach Oi!, Schmekel, and the Shondes in that context. Our interview was far-ranging, discussing many facets of Jewish punk and Punk Rock Hora, but this excerpt is particularly relevant to the show’s theme:

Johnny Negotiable: In that last category [klezmer bands with punk sensibilities, aesthetic, and edge], Jewish punk becomes analogous to Irish punk, like the Pogues …. I know we both love Flogging Molly and the Dropkick Murphys—bands that take traditional Irish instrumentation and approaches to music and infuse that with a punk attitude.

Michael Croland: Absolutely! I was into Flogging Molly and the Dropkick Murphys going back to college—before I knew that there were any Jewish punk bands. What I loved about it was—I was into punk for the energy and the music, but Celtic punk was something more. There was an expression of cultural identity. The instrumentation—beyond the typical electric guitar, electric bass guitar, and drums—included instruments like fiddle, bodhran (which is an Irish hand-held drum), accordion, acoustic guitar, banjo, and bouzouki. It was adding a whole ’nother dimension. There was so much more depth to it. It was more enjoyable as a message and as expression, which is what art ultimately is—it’s creative expression. So I loved that, and I would go to shows and see the way that people who obviously had Irish roots were rocking out. And they grew up with some of those songs. I came to learn some of those Irish songs, like “The Rocky Road to Dublin,” but I didn’t know them beforehand.

[Irish punk] is really the gold standard if you’re talking about any kind of ethnic identity fused with punk rock. Gogol Bordello is great. I’ve seen them a couple of times. They’re a Gypsy punk band. Piñata Protest is a Tex-Mex punk band with an accordion. There’s different variations, and all those bands are great. But Flogging Molly and Dropkick Murphys, commercially, have been successful in a way that none of those others have. Gogol Bordello’s made a nice career, but they haven’t reached that level of success over that long a period of time. So to me, that was the framework: these Celtic punk bands—whether they were punk rock bands that were bringing in the Irish instrumentation, like Dropkick Murphys and Flatfoot 56, or Celtic folk bands with a punk energy, like the Tossers. And Flogging Molly is in between. It’s not always a neat, distinct categorization.

All that—that range—was my foundation so that when I did find out about Yidcore and then Golem and plenty of others, it was very easy for me to compartmentalize what was different about them. Yidcore was a punk rock band—they had some folk instrumentation later on—that was playing with the Jewish culture as a punk rock band as their foundation. That was different from Golem, which was a klezmer-rock band with a punk edge. And those were not the same thing.

Here is the show’s playlist. Except for Schmekel and the Pogues, I have seen each of these bands live at least twice, for a total of about 85 times! Even putting aside my interest in Jewish punk, this show was right up my alley!

  • Dropkick Murphys: I’m Shipping Up to Boston
  • The Pogues: If I Should Fall from Grace with G-d
  • The Pogues: Medley: Recruiting Sergeant/The Rocky Road to Dublin/The Galway Races
  • The Pogues: Dirty Old Town
  • Dropkick Murphys: Johnny I Hardly Knew Ya
  • Flogging Molly: Within a Mile of Home
  • Flogging Molly: Tomorrow Comes a Day Too Soon
  • Black 47: Funky Ceili (Bridie’s Song)
  • Black 47: The Big Fellah
  • Golem: Klezmerke
  • Yidcore: Tevye’s Dream
  • Moshiach Oi!: Avraham Was a Punk Rocker
  • Schmekel: The Binding of Isaac
  • The Shondes: Unstill Ones
  • Gogol Bordello: Immigrant Punk
  • Gogol Bordello: If I Ever Get Home before Dark
  • Gogol Bordello featuring Regina Spektor: Seekers and Finders
  • Zydepunks: A Fistful of Oysters
  • Zydepunks: Tumbalalaika
  • The Tossers: The Rocky Road to Dublin
  • The Tossers: Whiskey Makes Me Crazy
  • The Tossers: Siobhan

Johnny Negotiable praised both my books during the show. He called Oy Oy Oy Gevalt! Jews and Punk “a nice scholarly work that does a good job of defining a sometimes slippery genre, Jewish punk rock. … It’s a wonderful book! It’s a dissertation! You should get an honorary PhD in punk.” Regarding Punk Rock Hora, he said:

Just this year, he published Punk Rock Hora, which is Michael’s love song to this genre. … He’s passed the Manischewitz bottle around the mosh pit, he’s watched singer and audience have a bagel fight, he’s danced the hora with the volume cranked up. … One of the thrills of the book is seeing you get more and more involved in the subject. You’re certainly not a passive observer at all but, increasingly, an active participant in the Jewish punk scene. A real do-it-yourself spirit! … Punk Rock Hora’s a lovely book. It really is.

I appreciated Johnny Negotiable’s kind words and his genuine enthusiasm for the topic. For example, a few seconds into the first Zydepunks song, he chimed in, “And by the way, do you notice how many of these ethnic punk bands have an accordion as part of their sound? It’s a great sound!” He teased some Tex-Mex and Scottish punk, but he ran out of time. He said those songs would have to wait for another show, and I have no doubt that he’ll be playing ethnic punk again.

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