New Jewish Punk Memoir by Joe Trohman, Lead Guitarist of Fall Out Boy

On September 12, I was interviewed by a University of Oxford student conducting ethnographic fieldwork on alternative Jewish music. I pointed out that even though Jewish punk has largely been on the back burner during the pandemic, there continue to be exciting developments since I published Oy Oy Oy Gevalt! Jews and Punk in 2016. Case in point: Joe Trohman, the cofounder and lead guitarist of Fall Out Boy, was releasing a memoir, None of This Rocks, the next day!

References to Trohman’s Jewishness are peppered throughout the book. For example, the author bio on the back flap says that he has been “bar mitzvahed once.” When talking about Fall Out Boy’s first stadium tour, he quips, “To say it was a religious experience would be wrong, because I never had this much fun in synagogue.”

Trohman connects being at home in the punk scene with feeling out of place in South Russell, Ohio, where he faced anti-Semitism:

I was hopelessly searching for something to identify with, to feel less alone. I wanted to be a part of something, something larger than myself that wasn’t so preordained, as Judaism was. And the moment I was exposed to punk, not just as a genre of music but as a full-on culture, that’s when I began to find my sense of personal identity outside of just being a Jew. But funnily enough, given my family’s history of ostracism in Europe due to being Jews, punk culture felt like a familiar and a natural thing to gravitate toward. Jews and punks have both dealt with excommunication. And we take pride in our strong sense of community.

When Trohman got his first guitar and formed his first band, they “just endlessly performed the chorus to NOFX‘s ‘The Brews’ until becoming tired and sweaty.” “The Brews” is “the number one Jewish punk anthem of all time,” as I explained in Oy Oy Oy Gevalt!

Trohman used his “bar mitzvah money to fund the band” during Fall Out Boy’s “embryonic stage.” Had I known, I would’ve gladly included this in my 2019 book, Punk Rock Hora: Adventures in Jew-Punk Land! In that book, I discussed how Lou Reed, Joey Ramone, Youth Brigade’s Stern brothers, Red Hot Chili Peppers‘ Hillel Slovak, and Jane’s Addiction’s Stephen Perkins all benefited musically from their bar mitzvah money/gifts. For example, the Sterns “started BYO Records and put out the label’s first release with money they had received for their b’nai mitzvah.”

Fall Out Boy was an enigma in my Jewish punk research. While I knew that the band members came from punk/hardcore backgrounds and their music started out as pop-punk, they moved in a pop-rock direction. I’m certainly not a pop-punk naysayer; I’ve belted out Fall Out Boy at karaoke, I was looking forward to seeing them in 2020 until the pandemic struck, and I dig some of their less punk material like “Dear Future Self (Hands Up).” I likely didn’t know that Trohman was Jewish when I published my first book, but I did by 2017. I still didn’t mention him in Punk Rock Hora because I didn’t think his Jewishness was significantly connected to his punk identity or musical output. Having read his memoir, I would’ve looked to interview him if I were working on a Jewish punk book now. He would’ve fit right in!

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