Q and A with ... Jeffrey Goldberg

Q and A with ...

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August 25, 2005|By Nara Schoenberg | Nara Schoenberg,Chicago Tribune

This has been a heady year for the Jews of rock 'n' roll. After three fans announced their intention to launch a Web site called the Jewish Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the already well-established Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland sued for trademark infringement.

Suddenly, a bevy of world-class lawyers was fighting over ... the right to tell the stories of Gene Simmons, Michael Bolton and four-fifths of the J. Geils Band.

Then, a few weeks ago, the legal clouds lifted sufficiently to allow the three fans -- New Yorker writer Jeffrey Goldberg, Washington Post reporter David Segal and radio executive Allen Goldberg (no relation to Jeffrey) -- to launch Jewsrock.org.

So now, the world has a place to go if it wants to find out whether Paula Abdul is Jewish and why David Lee Roth is a hero to his people.

In honor of the occasion, we asked Jeffrey Goldberg about the Web site, the Jewish contribution to rock 'n' roll, and his own experience at the hands of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Our people gave the world Albert Einstein and Anne Frank; what, if anything, do we have to gain by exploring our connection to Gene Simmons, Barry Manilow and Kenny G?

What do we have to gain? What do we have to gain by disseminating knowledge? It's knowledge about an interesting and unexplored intersection in American life, the intersection between Jews and popular culture.

So you're conceding the point? I mean, it's fair to say you're looking beyond the A-list to find most of your Jewish rockers?

What do you mean?

Gene Simmons, Barry Manilow, Kenny G ...

But we're not talking about just Gene Simmons, Kenny G; we're talking about Lou Reed and Joey Ramone and Bob Dylan. We're talking about Leiber and Stoller. We're talking about a whole range of people.

We recognize Kenny G for what he is; we put him in the category called "Bad for the Jews." But if you look at our list, there are some pretty amazing people. Malcolm McLaren, who basically invented punk rock. I don't mean to sound defensive about the Jewish contribution to rock, but Bob Dylan is the single most influential popular music writer of the last half century. And he's a person who's deeply, if fitfully, involved in his Jewishness. And don't knock Neil Diamond, OK? I know you were thinking about it, but don't do it. Just don't do it. 'Cause it -- 'cause I think he's a musical genius.

Whoa. OK.

I love Neil Diamond.

You mentioned Bob Dylan -- Bob Dylan is, I think, religiously best known for renouncing his Judaism.

Yeah, but then he came back.

So it still counts?

It totally counts. I mean, we're not judging people and their commitment to Judaism, we're simply saying these are people who are Americans and Jews and have done something interesting in music. But the fact is, he came back. And that's what counts. And, in all seriousness, I'm surprised at the depth of the American Jewish contribution to rock 'n' roll, not only in terms of performers, but in terms of the people who define the canon in some way. I mean, Leiber and Stoller, two Jewish boys from Los Angeles, wrote Elvis Presley's biggest songs. That's kind of interesting, and it's not well-known.

Who's your favorite Jewish rock 'n' roller?

If I say Dylan, is that just too obvious? It has to be Dylan, [Lou] Reed, Joey Ramone and David Lee Roth, only because he went into rock 'n' roll to disprove Jewish stereotypes. I think he's said -- semi-coherently -- on many occasions that that's why he wanted to become a rock star.

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