When Punk Rock Fights Nazism, I Hope You’ll Invite Me to the Party
The following was originally posted on the Oy Oy Oy Gevalt! blog.
I live about an hour away from Charlottesville, Virginia, where we recently witnessed the culmination of people who feel like the world is leaving them behind and just want to do something about it. They’re hurt: sunken deep into an ethnocultural rage they cannot pull themselves out of. They feel picked on. They feel like they used to have it good, and now they’ve lost it. Or perhaps they feel like they never had a chance. They saw other people with cultures, with labels, with identities. Where was theirs? How, or when, could they become a “protected people”?
So they became Nazis. Or the alt-right. Or whatever they could to have an identity, to have a label for their rage, a big tent they could sit under with like-minded people. They never saw how good they had it in this country. They only saw what others had and felt like they were walking around with empty pockets and empty souls. Life is a zero-sum game for these people. If you have something, it means you took it from them. And how dare you?
It’s an odd choice, a sad, sickening, wrong choice to embrace a hate politic, a hate theology, a hate understanding of the world—but some people have made it acceptable. And now we have to live with it.
As a rabbi, my job is to ensure the safety of my people. I worked on that this weekend with my physical community and virtual community. We’ll be OK because we have each other. And if you need us, we’re here for you. We’re here for anyone.
So enough of the sweet stuff. Let’s get honest with our feelings.
There’s a Psalm that goes: בָּרוּךְ יְהוָה, צוּרִי הַמְלַמֵּד יָדַי לַקְרָב; אֶצְבְּעוֹתַי,לַמִּלְחָמָה
“Blessed is HaShem my Rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle” (Psalm 144:1).
The Bible does us all a huge favor by accounting for the whole human experience, even the kind of experience we don’t want to have. It doesn’t sugarcoat life. It doesn’t help you escape. It doesn’t claim that there’s an enlightened mindfulness at the end of the tunnel if you’d just drink a kale smoothie, do Bikram yoga and clean your house. It realizes that sometimes you want to see divine justice and that sadly it doesn’t come. You want to scream. You want to see your enemies harmed. You want to see cruelty wiped off the face of the Earth with a giant flood.
But as the Torah says, the flood ain’t coming … never again (Genesis 9:11).
So now what?
I’m not advocating violence. At least not in the physical sense—the kind that takes human lives. I value human life, all lives, too much to be that kind of person. I believe you can break any mitzvah to save a human being. But I’m not a pacifist. I used to be, until I grew up and realized that you can’t fight fire with marshmallow fluff.
So what is the good rabbi advocating for? Plain and simple: I want punk rock to wake up. I want sonic “violence.”
I’m advocating for rock ‘n’ roll to get off its ass and turn off the proverbial cell phone. To quit swiping right and to quit taking cute, curated photos of itself for #Insta and FakeBook. To stop Snapchatting and start playing something real, something with an edge.
Punk rock won because it was willing to address adult feelings. Unlike Flower Power, which said “all you need is love,” punk rock was honest about the world we lived in and our heart’s normal response to it.
Our hands, our fingers, can be used for battle. But this battle needs to come from art. It needs to come from music. It needs to come from writing. So long as it’s honest, it’s good. It needs to be hard, fast, intelligent, a vessel for the Divine. It needs to be community-building, inclusive, and aesthetically challenging.
It needs to be real. Whatever real means now. Because art saves.
I get it: by musical standards I’m “old,” a has-been (really, a has-not-been) who lost the audience a long time ago. I switched to blogging and preaching, so I understand that I’m the wrong person to lead whatever this thing might end up being. I’d ruin the cool stuff that could be done by making everything a false nostalgia, my own golden calf.
So I look to people younger than me, angrier than me, motivated, energetic, too-poor-to-have-anything-to-lose. You’re the ones who will get this thing going. And I cheer for you, my fist in the air, as you blast me with whatever you’ve got.
But humbly I ask: Will you invite me along? Please?
I don’t need to host the party of the musical Heavenly Host. I just want a ticket to the party—knowing full well that I’ll be the first guy there, showing up awkwardly early before the sound guy, and the first to leave since bed time for me is like a religion and I probably have an early morning teaching Sunday school or attending a potluck.
So who wants to start a band with a 34-year-old rabbi in Richmond, Virginia? I have a dusty PA in the attic and lyric sheets ready to go. As one of my favorite bands, The Partisan, used to say: “music is the weapon.” Hopefully the kids who run this thing will let us play the 9 pm opening slot.
Rabbi Patrick "Aleph" Beaulier is an American writer, blogger, podcaster, non-denominational rabbi and spiritual leader, educator, and retired punk musician. He has been the lead vocalist for the bands The Love Drunks, Can Can, and Ice Bats.
This is one of a series of posts exploring the intersection of rock and spirituality, leading up to the release of In Pursuit, an album of original Jewish hard rock. Sign up for the mailing list to learn more.