Forty years after punk was born in the Bowery, its influence is everywhere.
Yet few today know the extent to which punk was a Jewish phenomenon. Handsome Dick Manitoba, Yishai Romanoff, and Gary Lucas join moderator Steven Lee Beeber, author of The Heebie-Jeebies at CBGB’s: A Secret History of Jewish Punk, to discuss punk’s origins.
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Steven Lee Beeber is the author of The Heebie-Jeebies at CBGB’s: A Secret History of Jewish Punk, the editor of AWAKE! A Reader for the Sleepless and the associate editor of the literary journal Conduit. His work has appeared in The Paris Review, Harper’s, The New York Times, Spin, Mojo, Heeb and elsewhere. He teaches creative writing and creative nonfiction at Lesley University, Grub Street and Harvard Summer School, and blew sax for the Atlanta-based, Gospel-punk band The Chowder Shouters.
Educated in Jewish day schools, as a teenager Yishai Romanoff gravitated to the Punk Rock scene, where he found an outlet for his manic energy and passionate beliefs. In 2008, after rediscovering his Jewish roots, he began writing hardcore-punk songs with subject matter like learning Torah and bringing Moshiach (the Messiah). He soon formed Moshiach Oi!, which played its first shows in venues around NYC. Moshiach Oi!’s debut album, Better Get Ready, appeared in 2009 followed by This World Is Nothing in 2012. The band continues to use music to “spread the message of God, Torah … and Redemption.”
Dubbed “The Thinking Man’s Guitar Hero” by The New Yorker, Gary Lucas has roots both in early punk and its later Jewish offshoots. A guitar player for the proto-punk rocker, Captain Beefheart, he also was a pivotal figure in the Radical Jewish Culture movement, in which New York musicians wed traditional Jewish music to punk and other musical styles. Today he is an acclaimed solo performer and the leader of Gods and Monsters, a veritable supergroup of punk featuring original members of The Modern Lovers, The Talking Heads and Television.
Bronx-native Handsome Dick Manitoba (ne Richard Blum) is one of punk’s founding fathers. Best known for his thirty-year stint as lead singer of The Dictators, he was an integral part of the nascent punk scene at CBGB. After The Dictators’ breakup, he led Manitoba’s Wild Kingdom, and today he is back onstage in a revamped version of his original band, The Dictators NYC. His radio show, "The Handsome Dick Manitoba Radio Program" airs as part of Little Steven Van Zandt's Underground Garage on Sirius - XM Satellite Radio (Ch. 25 Sirius, Ch. 59 XM), Mon.-Fri., 8pm-12am (ET) and his East Village bar Manitoba’s is a punk-themed institution