Stars of David: Rock'n'roll's Jewish Stories

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What Grammy-award winning band's Jewish members recite kiddush before their Friday night concerts? What member of a world-famous band blows the shofar at his synagogue on the High Holy Days? What famous rock musician packed his menorah as well as his drum set when preparing to go on world-wide concert tours? How did Judaism's historic affinity with music--the Torah was meant to be sung--translate into some of the best-loved rock 'n' roll songs of the past century?

Inspired by a backstage conversation with David Lee Roth during which the rock star revealed that he first learned to sing preparing for his Bar Mitzvah, Scott R. Benarde spent five years combining his love of Judaism, journalism, and rock 'n' roll investigating the Jewish contribution to rock music from 1953 to the present. Noting that outside of the Christian rock genre the media had rarely (with the exception of Bob Dylan) dealt with a rock star's religion or spirituality, Benarde was determined to find out how Judaism influenced rock music and the people who created it. Jews kvell when they discover that someone famous or accomplished in any field is a member of the tribe, but wouldn't it really be something if these celebrities cared about being Jewish?

Focusing on these musicians, singers, and songwriters, Stars of David offers a highly readable collection of short vignettes that demonstrate the rich strand of Jewish belief and sentiment that underscores the work of many of the best-known rock stars of our time. Among those discussed or interviewed are the legendary songwriting teams of Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller and Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, performers such as Bob Dylan, Melissa Manchester, Janis Ian, Randy Newman, Billy Joel, Kinky Friedman (of the Texas Jewboys), and David Lee Roth, and members of groups such as the Tokens, Jay and the Americans, Country Joe and the Fish, Yes, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Bon Jovi, Phish, the Wallflowers and many others.

Benarde reveals how Judaism has played a greater role in rock music than we realize and discovers that many Jewish rockers are more in tune with their Judaism than we would have imagined. Based largely on one-on-one interviews with the artists, the result is a surprisingly personal and introspective consideration of faith, art, and the relationship between pop culture and spirituality. Also revealed is the sheer variety of the Jewish experience in rock 'n' roll: from the deeply religious childhood of some to the late-in-life religious reawakening of others; from the explicit use of scripture in song to the subtle yet resonant religious motifs that influence this most secular genre of music. With entertaining anecdotes and personal revelations enhanced by more than seventy photographs, Stars of David is not so much about how Jewish these artists are but ultimately, how they are Jewish, and how their Jewishness has affected rock 'n' roll.

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Stars of David: rock'n'roll's Jewish stories

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Former rock newspaper columnist Benarde, inspired by a chance remark by David Lee Roth that he learned to sing at his Bar Mitzvah, decided to compile 57 brief sketches of Jewish rock'n'rollers. He ... Read full review


Jay and the Americans
Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil
Peter Yarrow
Bob Dylan
David Grisman
Manfred Mann
Zal Yanovsky of
Country Joe and the Fish
Janis Ian
Chuck E Weiss
Texas Jewboys
Melissa Manchester
Trevor Rabin
Johnny Clegg
Billy Steinberg

Michael Bloomfield
Barry Goldberg
Harvey Brooks
The Blues ProjectBlood Sweat
David Bryan of Bon Jovi
Eric Bazilian and Rob Hyman
Peter Himmelman

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About the author (2003)

SCOTT R. BENARDE, who has an M.A. from the University of Missouri School of Journalism, is the former rock music columnist for the Palm Beach Post and the South Florida Sun Sentinel. As a freelance journalist, Benarde has been published in Rolling Stone, Musician, Billboard, Variety, and a host of Jewish publications. He lives with his wife and two children in Delray Beach, Florida.

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