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Jews Rock! (plus story on the Knack)

Old 07-06-05, 11:23 PM
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Jews Rock! (plus story on the Knack)

Here's a fun rock website about Jews that rock. I highlighted the Knack article since that's how I found out about the site. Plus they're a great band so there!

His Sharona

by John F. Kelly

Doug Fieger is a mensch. It doesnít matter if I believe that or you believe that. All that matters is that Sharona Alperinís parents believed it back in 1978 when they met the leader of a Los Angeles band called the Knack.

If they hadnít believed there was something inherently admirable about Fiegerówho was then 26 and had been kicking around in rock bands for a decade, first in Detroit, then in London, finally in LAóitís doubtful they would have let their then-16-year-old daughter hang out with him.

No Sharona, no "My Sharona."

No "My Sharona," no "Get the Knack," the bandís 1979 debut album and as perfect an aural encapsulation of male teenage lust as has ever been committed to magnetic tape. The fact that this male lust was directed at an actual teenager didnít bother Sharona Alperinís parents and so it shouldnít bother you.

But in 1979 it did bother a bunch of people and so did Fieger, who struck many as a smarmy misogynist, and so did the Knack, who came across to some as a calculated confection who were somehow "bad" for rock and roll, as if rock and roll was an endangered owl rather than an art form created to simultaneously get into a girlís pants and celebrate having gotten into a girlís pants.

I sometimes think too much is made of "My Sharona." It has become the inky paintbrush that has tarred the Knack, one of my favorite bands, with the most dreaded of pop monikers: "one-hit wonders." But itís hard to make too much of that song, because itís a great song.

The back story: One day in 1978 Fieger was introduced by his then-girlfriend, the Israel-born Judy Halpert, to a teenaged employee at Los Angeles clothing store. Fieger decided then and there that he must possess Sharona Alperin, and in time-honored horny rock guy fashion invited her to come see the band that he had recently formed.

"The original band," said Fieger recently, "were all part of the 52 Jews in rock" (an expression Fieger said he picked up from Tom Petty drummer Stan Lynch, who once confided that he fantasized about creating a deck of rock-o-Judaic playing cards with Bob Dylan as the joker).

Fieger grew up in Oak Park, Michigan, a predominantly Jewish suburb of Detroit. Fiegerís parents (his labor-lawyer father was Jewish, his union-organizer mother had converted) werenít particularly religious, being, in fact, atheists. In one of those odd occurrences that would seem implausible in a novel, Fiegerís older brother is Geoffrey Fieger, a political gadfly best known as Jack Kevorkianís lawyer. Their sister, Beth, is a television writer.

Lead guitarist Berton Averre was Fiegerís mirror image, with a Jewish mother and a father who had converted. Bass player Prescott Nilesís original name was Prescott Fine??? And drummer Bruce Garyís father had changed the family name from Ginsburg.

In other words, four nice Jewish boys, which may have been the reason, Alperin told me recently, her parents didnít mind her hanging out with them

Sharona became Fiegerís muse. But this museness was complicated by the fact that Fieger was still going out with Judy Halpert. It was in the apartment that the couple shared that Fieger and Averre actually wrote "My Sharona," somewhat stealthily, one presumes.

Alperin remembers driving over to the Knackís rehearsal studio during her lunch break one day to hear them practice. "I was in there for 20 minutes and it was like 'Should we play it for her? Okay let's play it for her.í Then cut to the next scene in the car and Iím going 'Did I just hear this pretty cool song written about me? Was my name in the last song?í"

Yes, her name was. "Itís an Israeli name," Sharona said, "even though Iíve never been to Israel."

The rest of the world heard the song about a year later, after the Knack had stormed through LAís club scene, jammed on stage with the likes of Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen, picked Capitol Records after a dizzying bidding war, and chosen Mike Chapman (the Sweet, Blondie) to produce their album, which went on to sell 6 million copies, buoyed by a song whose stuttering chorus was inescapable that summer.

To understand why "My Sharona," the No. 1 single the week of Aug. 25, 1979, landed with such a splash, one has only to consider the second through fifth top-rated singles of that week: "Good Times" by Chic, "Main Event/ Fight" by Barbra Streisand, "After the Love Has Gone" by Earth, Wind & Fire and "Bad Girls" by Donna Summer.

"My Sharona" rocked at a time when most songs on the radio didnít. It exploded from transistor radios on beaches and clock radios in suburban teenage bedrooms.

Even if you didnít listen to the words it was hard to ignore the insistent beat--a signature time signature that allows you to name that tune in 2 seconds--and Berton Averreís killer sublime guitar solo, a perfectly-modulated riff that Fieger said was meant to evoke afterglow. Whether you think "My Sharona" is somehow deviant depends on how you react to lyrics like "I always get it up for the touch of the younger kind."

Sex--the promise of it, the denial of it--is what "Get the Knack" is all about. While it includes some undeniably "pretty" songs ("Your Number or Your Name," for example), the bulk of the album chronicles what itís like to be a randy teenage boy, in thrall to the local foxes. The only thing missing is a song devoted to every high school boyís default pastime, masturbation, although self-abuse seems implicit in the album-closing "Frustrated," which includes such blue-ball lyrics as "sheíll be pulling the string/ but sheíll tie it in a knot before she gives you anything."

Some critics hated more than just the nasty lyrics, charging that the Knack was somehow trying to hijack the iconography of the original four-piece power pop band. The photo on the front of "Get the Knack," they said, looked like "Meet the Beatles," the back looked like the Beatles on "Ed Sullivan" and Capitol had revived the rainbow-colored paper label that adorned the Fab Fourís U.S. releases.

Why this should have so enraged the critic-class is hard to understand 25 years on, but the Knackís cause wasnít helped by their refusal to do interviews, even when offered the cover of Rolling Stone. (Drummer Gary, long estranged from Fieger, says this is just one on the many ways Fieger burned bridges. But itís hard to imagine what the Knack would have said had they talked to the press: That they didnít really get it up for the touch of the younger kind, or that they did?)

In retrospect, Fieger couldnít have been too surprised by the eventual backlash, a critical dubbing that, in those days of the SALT II treaty, spawned a "Knuke the Knack" campaign. The problems the band would encounter were foreshadowed when he and Averre had shopped around the bandís two-song demo tape, which consisted of "Thatís What the Little Girls Do" (lyric: "Does she tell you lies then apologize, does she make you crawl?") and "Good Girls Donít" ("Sheís your adolescent dream, schoolboy stuff, a sticky sweet romance, and she makes you want to scream, wishing you could get inside her pants").

These guys just laughed at us," said Fieger of the A&R men who would later scramble to sign the band (and other "skinny-tie" acts). "They said 'This is novelty music.í And to them it was, because it was about teenage lust. It wasnít about saving the whales or some other such thing that to me didnít really have a place in what my love of rock and roll was."

The Knack stuck it out for two more albums, each of which contained some stellar power pop songs and a few embarrassments. (The third album, "Round Trip," includes the song "We Are Waiting," which features the title chanted in Hebrew as the tune fades out. "Just a little tip of the hat to our roots," said Fieger.)

The original line-up (minus Gary, who works as a sideman and plays often with Jack Bruce) has reunited to record three more albums, the most recent 2001ís "Normal As the Next Guy."

Fieger says he occasionally goes to temple on the high holy days.

"But do I consider myself a Jew?" he asks. "Yeah, absolutely. It is my cultureÖ. Iím not a big guy on organized religion. I think that the universe is too big to limit yourself to one train of thought. I like to be able to get off at different stations and pick up a train to somewhere else."

He and Sharona Alperin did become boyfriend and girlfriend. Thatís her on the picture sleeve of the "My Sharona" single, wearing a membranous white sleeveless T-shirt in a photo that must have been taken on a very, very cold day, if you get my drift. She toured with the band, experiencing the Knackmania of limos, jets, fine hotels and pharmaceutical overindulgence. "The fortunate thing about the Knack," she says, "was even though it was short lived, unfortunately, they did it so first class."

After four years, the couple split up. "It was just time for me to become my Sharona," is how she puts it.

Alperin is now in her early 40s, with two kids and a successful career as an LA real estate agent specializing in finding homes for celebrities. ("A lot of them relate to me, having that pop culture icon thing you know," she said to me on her cell phone as she drove through LA traffic).

She often makes restaurant reservations under the name "Sharon," since otherwise strangers canít help warbling "M- m- m- m- myyy Sharona" then saying, "You mean, like the song?"

I confess I was too embarrassed to ask Sharona if any of it embarrassed her: the naked lust, the nipples, the sticky sweet romance. But I think I know what she would have said: Are you kidding? I looked great in that picture. I was famous. I had a No. 1 song written about me.

I was your adolescent dream.

John F. Kelly is a columnist at The Washington Post. He played three records every day when he got home from Rockville High School in the fall of 1979: Elvis Costelloís This Year's Model, Queen's News of the World, and the Knack's Get the Knack.
Buford T Pusser is offline  
Old 07-07-05, 01:18 AM
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cool site. i like jew who a lot too. (forgot exact adress for that)

being jewish myself I know quite a few jewish musicians, but these suprised me:

gavin rosdale

michael bolton


mick jones

members of x are anti semites?
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Old 07-07-05, 02:27 AM
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Originally Posted by whynotsmile
x are anti semites?

This is obviously in reference to the song Los Angeles. It's a fucking story song. There are no anti-semites in X.
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Old 07-07-05, 02:32 AM
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cute site
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