Australian author Bram Presser just wrapped up a weeks-long U.S. book tour for The Book of Dirt. (Check out my 2017 post and Matthue Roth‘s review.) In addition to speaking about his award-winning book, Presser discussed his past as the singer of Yidcore, the quintessential Jewish punk band, at events and in interviews.
I attended two of Presser’s New York events. On October 12, he was the guest speaker at Chabad at Columbia University’s Shabbat dinner. We met up at a bookstore and walked over together. I hadn’t seen him since a Yidcore tour 12 years earlier, and it was great to catch up. As much as he’s a larger-than-life character in my writing and a commanding, charismatic personality onstage, he’s an easygoing, down-to-earth guy. When we sat down for dinner, I asked if it was safe to be around him given the presence of hummus. He assured me that it was, and I can confirm that he neither smeared hummus on himself nor threw hummus at anyone! His presentation discussed both Yidcore stories and The Book of Dirt, and the former especially are so entertaining that even black-hat Jews unfamiliar with punk rock couldn’t help but be amused.
Last night in Crown Heights, Hevria hosted a double book launch for Presser’s The Book of Dirt and MaNishtana’s Ariel Samson: Freelance Rabbi. Both authors read from their novels, and Matthue Roth moderated a discussion with them. The three of them had terrific chemistry. I enjoyed the vibe of the event, which encouraged attendees to converse with the writers and each other.
Yidcore took up a big chunk of Presser’s hour-plus interview on HevriaCast last week. Presser talked about different types of audiences for Yidcore, but he especially hit the nail on the head with one segment of the audience:
[D]isaffected Jews, who were, like, I have had nothing to do with Judaism for 10 years, since my parents forced me to go to summer camp or whatever, but here’s something that speaks to me. So this is actually a way to enjoy being Jewish without having to do the usual stuff. And also, like me, they got a bit of enjoyment out of, essentially, slaughtering the sacred cows.
Presser explained that for “in-the-box Jews” who weren’t necessarily into punk rock, a Yidcore show was “a highly energetic way of having fun to songs that they already knew and loved.” He explained:
You know there’s not a great deal of difference between a mosh pit and a hora. All the difference is is the speed. We played a couple of, strangely, bar mitzvahs … [we] had these manic horas, which looked not dissimilar to what was happening in front of me at a punk show. Because they’re both running around in circles and jumping up and down and smashing into each other.
Listen to the podcast for plenty more enjoyable anecdotes and reflections about Yidcore, and read The Book of Dirt!