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The Yiddish Are Coming: Mickey Katz, Antic-Semitism, and the Sound of Jewish Difference(1).

The Jew speaks the language of the nation in whose midst he dwells from generation to generation, but he speaks it always as an alien.

--Richard Wagner

Don't let the schmaltz schmaltz also schmalz  
1. Informal
a. Excessively sentimental art or music.

b. Maudlin sentimentality.

2. Liquid fat, especially chicken fat.
 get in your eyes, don't let the lox get in your socks

--Mickey Katz

In 1965, my great-grandparents celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary with a party at a west Los Angeles
  • West Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, a neighborhood of Los Angeles
  • West Los Angeles (region), a popularly identified region of Los Angeles, incorporating the neighborhood above
 hotel, and for the occasion one of their sons, my great-Uncle Norm, was put in charge of securing the evening's entertainment. He chose a performer who he knew was a favorite of his immigrant parents, both of whom grew up in Yiddish-speaking households--the band leader, clarinetist, and Yiddish-English parodist Mickey Katz Mickey Katz (June 15, 1909 - April 30, 1985) was a U.S. Jewish comedian who received his first moments of fame in the 1940s as a member of Spike Jones and His City Slickers where he was most famous for his "glugging" vocal sound effects on tunes like "Cocktails for Two" and others. , himself the son of Latvian and Lithuanian transplants.

Katz had reached his professional peak during the 1950s with a series of full-length albums for Capitol records Capitol Records is a major United States-based record label, owned by EMI, located in Hollywood, California. Its headquarters building, the Capitol Tower, is a major landmark near the corner of Hollywood and Vine.  that were predominately heard by Jewish-American audiences. Though he had released an acclaimed album of traditional Eastern European klezmer klezmer (klĕz`mər), form of instrumental folk music developed in the Eastern European Jewish community. The style had its beginnings in the Middle Ages; its name is a Yiddishized version of the Hebrew klei zemir  recordings, Music for Weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, and Brisses (and later his own deferential deferential /def·er·en·tial/ (-en´shal) pertaining to the ductus deferens.

Of or relating to the vas deferens.


pertaining to the ductus deferens.
 and nostalgic salute to Fiddler on the Roof), in 1965 Katz was still best known for what the sleeve notes to Mickey Katz and His Orchestra describe as his "humorous treatment of the nation's favorite songs," a polite way of characterizing the ninety-plus anarchistic an·ar·chism  
1. The theory or doctrine that all forms of government are oppressive and undesirable and should be abolished.

2. Active resistance and terrorism against the state, as used by some anarchists.

, irreverent, and wildly ethnic klezmer parodies of midcentury popular songs that he recorded from 1947 to 1957.(2) Katz's dissonant dis·so·nant  
1. Harsh and inharmonious in sound; discordant.

2. Being at variance; disagreeing.

3. Music Constituting or producing a dissonance.
 and aggressively unassimilated interlingual in·ter·lin·gual  
Of, relating to, or involving two or more languages.

 parodies spiked English storylines with Yiddish phrases and punchlines Punchlines was a comedy game show series that was produced by LWT and aired on the ITV network from 1981 until 1984. The programme was hosted by Lennie Bennett. Series Guide
  • 79 episodes and 1 special
  • Series 1 13 x 30' 03/01/81 - 28/03/81
 and inserted skilled Eastern European klezmer explosions into a postwar crazy-quilt of swing, calypso Calypso, in Greek mythology
Calypso (kəlĭp`sō), nymph, daughter of Atlas, in Homer's Odyssey. She lived on the island of Ogygia and there entertained Odysseus for seven years.
, polka, mambo A popular open source content management system (CMS) that is used to create and manage Web sites. Written in PHP and using the MySQL database, Mambo was released in 2001 by Peter Lamont of Miro Construct Pty Ltd., Melbourne, Australia. , opera, and rock and roll.(3)

When Katz received the call from my uncle Norm, he was in the middle of a Broadway run of Hello, Solly!, an "English-Yiddish Musical Revue" that was part Yiddish theater, part vaudeville, part stand-up shtick shtick also schtick or shtik  
n. Slang
1. A characteristic attribute, talent, or trait that is helpful in securing recognition or attention:
, and part chorus-girl-revue-goes-shtetl. Katz was never one to pass up a gig, so he flew west, corralled a few of his usual sidemen, and after a droll droll  
adj. droll·er, droll·est
Amusingly odd or whimsically comical.

n. Archaic
A buffoon.

[French drôle, buffoon, droll, from Old French drolle
 fifteen minute sermon from my family's one-time rabbi, took the stage and turned the banquet hall Definition
A banquet hall is a room used for social gatherings like receptions, reunions, parties, and business events.
 into a Jewish carnival. A few cha-cha-chas, a little "Alexander's Ragtime ragtime: see jazz.

U.S. popular music of the late 19th and early 20th centuries distinguished by its heavily syncopated rhythm. Ragtime found its characteristic expression in formally structured piano compositions, the accented left-hand
 Band," some requisite jokes about doctors and bobbes, then on to what everyone was waiting to hear: the sound of Mickey Katz making the world Jewish. First, there was "Downtown Strutter's Ball," his send-up of "Darktown Strutter's Ball" which took the song's famous tale of an African-American dance ball and turned it into "a real freilach affair at a Second Avenue palladium ... a mishige matzoh ball Noun 1. matzoh ball - a Jewish dumpling made of matzo meal; usually served in soup
matzah ball, matzo ball

dumpling, dumplings - small balls or strips of boiled or steamed dough
!" Then it was on to "McNakatz's Band," his kilt-and-yarmulke ode to Scottish Jews done in a home made Scottish-Yiddish accent, and "Max the Messer," which recast Bobby Darin-via-KurtWeill's slick and polished mass cult icon "Mack the Knife" as Max, a "big shlub shlub  
n. Slang
Variant of schlub.
" who works as a kosher butcher on Fairfax Avenue Fairfax Avenue is a street on north central Los Angeles, California. It runs from La Cienega Boulevard (which separates the Westside from the central part of the city) with Culver City at its southern end to Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood on its northern end. . Towards the night's end, Katz invited my uncle Norm, still wearing his ceremonial tsitsis, on stage for "Yiddish Mule Train" (an uproarious desecration of "Mule Train," Frankie Lane's number one frontier fantasy hit from 1949), dressed him up as a Hollywood cowboy, and asked him to crack a whip in time with the band and yell "Huh, Ho!" between choruses. "There's a package of salami for a Mendel in Miami," Katz sang with voice-cracking glee, "There's a load of lox and bagel for a cowboy in Las Feygl."

The Heard of Difference: Assimilation and the Jewishness of the Wail

Katz's hybrid brand of antic-Semitic American pop performed Jewish difference too loudly for many Jews of the 50s who preferred a more hushed and deethnicized entrance into the American national body. The unabashed "Yidditude" of Karz's playfully deconstructive musical readings of dominant American culture threatened to spoil the melting pot's harmonious broth with unassimilated notes of Jewishness(4). I want to use Katz's refusal of dominant mid-century narratives of Jewish assimilation into postwar whiteness, and consequently, their often negative reception by American Jews to explore what I am calling "the aurality of Jewish difference." How can we characterize Jewish audio-raciality? Does Jewish alterity Al`ter´i`ty

n. 1. The state or quality of being other; a being otherwise.
For outness is but the feeling of otherness (alterity) rendered intuitive, or alterity visually represented.
 have a sound? How has the sound of Jewish difference impacted the formation of Jewish-American identities?

I ask these questions precisely because of the ocular bias that has characterized the majority of inquiries into Jewish difference. As much of the work within "new Jewish cultural studies" demonstrates, theories and arguments about the construction of Jewish difference have historically been deployed across a primarily visual terrain. When discourses of Jewishness intersect with discourses of race and racial formation, the point of crossing is most frequently a visual marker--the Jewish nose, the circumcised penis, or any other coordinate along the map of "the Jew's body" that disrupts the hygienic hy·gien·ic
1. Of or relating to hygiene.

2. Tending to promote or preserve health.

3. Sanitary.
 body of the nation.(5)

Scholars like Sander Gilman, Ann Pelligrini, Jay Geller, and the critics, artists, and curators represented within the 1996 "Too Jewish? Challenging Traditional Identities" exhibit have all put the "visible body" at the center of their studies of Jewish difference. The questions they all pose are vital to my discussion here, yet someone like Mickey Katz whose mode of performance was primarily oral and audible (not specular spec·u·lar  
Of, resembling, or produced by a mirror or speculum.

specu·lar·ly adv.

Adj. 1.
 and visible) requires us to take Jewish aurality and Jewish noise seriously when investigating questions of race and ethnicity in American culture. In The Jew's Body, Gilman does devote considerable space to the history of sounding "too Jewish" yet his focus is language and voice, not the whole of musical performance. And while the allegedly secret, hidden language of the corrupting Jew spoken in the Jew's voice is central to understanding Katz's negotiations with postwar American whiteness, it is only part of the overall structure of his hybridized klezmer-pop compositions and aggressive ethnic parodies of the 50s pop mainstream.

Similarly, "the seen of difference" that Ann Pelligrini has argued for in her important efforts to "re-sight the performative per·for·ma·tive  
Relating to or being an utterance that peforms an act or creates a state of affairs by the fact of its being uttered under appropriate or conventional circumstances, as a justice of the peace uttering
" at a psychoanalytic crossroads of race and gender only gets us so far when dealing with musical performance. Pelligrini roots the "seen" of difference in Freudian theories of identification and sexual difference where "seeing what the other hasn't becomes the model for all of life's misrecognitions big and small."(6) Yet how do we approach misrecognitions and (mis/dis) identifications produced by acts of hearing and scenes of listening? Is there a "heard" of difference?(7)

Katz's parodies arrived at a rich and complicated juncture in the history of Jewish racialization in the U.S. Most accounts of the Jew as a racialized subject mark the years before World War II, before the ineffable moment when racialization begot be·got  
Past tense and a past participle of beget.


a past tense and past participle of beget
 racial genocide, when Jews were frequently considered "Negro," "Oriental," "less than white," or "off-white"--significantly inferior to and categorically different from the whiteness of the naturalized American citizen. "As a kind of third term," Pelligrini argues, "Jewishness may thus represent the crisis of racial definition."(8) This was particularly true during the ethno-racial ambivalence of the 50s when Jews walked a tense and sensitive tightrope between early twentieth-century views of the Jew as a racial group (often held responsible for the racial contamination of imaginary national purity) and post-Hitler attempts to reconfigure the Jew as meltably ethnic, white Americans no different from anyone else on the suburban block. And with race displacing ethnicity as "the paradigmatic See paradigm.  problem of America" within the larger culture of American racialization of African-Americans, Latinos/as, and Asian-Americans, Jews became, in David Biale's words, "doubly marginal: marginal to the majority culture, but also marginal among minorities."(9)

Katz performed this ethno-racial liminality: we can hear it in his voice, in his music, in the reactions of his audience, in the denouncements of his critics, in the joy he brought to some, and in the fear he brought to others. When Jews wanted to be ethnic Americans and not racial outcasts, Katz revived what had become a stereotyped greenhorn greenhorn

a raw, inexperienced person; especially a new cowboy. [Pop. Culture: Misc.]

See : Inexperience
 Yiddish accent, mispronounced his English, chose a freilach over Percy Faith, and wore his difference so loudly on his sleeve that no one knew exactly what to do with him.(10) At a time when most American Jews had their sights set on the profits and rewards of becoming a part of the majority culture, Katz created what Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari describe in their study of Franz Kafka as a "minor music," one built on a minor language, minor keys, and minor comedy that used musical humor to feed off the majority culture in order to ridicule it and traverse it.(11)

One way to explore Katz's parodies in the context of racialized sound is to listen to them against what jazz critic Gary Giddins so memorably called "the whiteness of the wail" in his 1977 discussion of white bebop bebop
 or bop

Jazz characterized by harmonic complexity, convoluted melodic lines, and frequent shifting of rhythmic accent. In the mid-1940s, a group of musicians, including Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, and Charlie Parker, rejected the conventions of
 saxophonist Art Pepper.(12) But as Giddins indicates, "the pursuit of the white wail" has historically occurred through the active and witting appropriation of black musical aesthetics. Likewise, discussions of the whiteness of the singing Jewish voice have primarily been concerned with performers who actively negotiate their Jewishness through varied degrees of self-conscious investment in the fetishized identity-morphing potentialities of black culture and black music (and the black bodies that perform it). This may occur Through actual blackface performance or more symbolic manifestations of racial cross-dressing and racial "surrogation" by which, to borrow Joseph Roach's framework, "black music pours from a white face" and burnt cork becomes an aural costume.(13)

We may have begun to learn how to talk about the Mezz Mezzrows, Al Jolsons, and William "Upski" Wimsatts of the world, but how do we talk about a very different tradition of Jewish-American identities in sound whose voices also produce "echoes in the bone" of whiteness, a tradition of Yiddish and English musical comedy that, while based in some aspect of African-American musical tradition which is at the center of all American popular music, avoids using the many possible outfits within the racial cross-dresser's closet to enact a new identity, be it mainstream white American or marginal "white Negro" outlaw.(14) How do figures who preceded Katz (Barton Brothers, Menasha Skulnick, Monroe Silver, Fanny Brice, Jennie Goldstein) and those who followed him (Belle Barth, Lee Tully, Eli Basse, Allan Sherman) speak to the role of the Jew within the racial drama of whiteness?

I do not want to suggest, however, that Katz had no engagement with African-American music. He began his career as a straight-ahead jazz clarinetist playing in white jazz bands in Cleveland, was fully literate in African-American jazz, blues, and ragtime standards, and throughout his career joked that his instrumental music ought to be called "Jewish Jazz," a term that was frequently used to describe early-twentieth-century klezmer music performed and recorded in the U.S.(15) The difference is that when Katz took any of these standards on as a parodist, he didn't approach them, like so many of his fellow "white" Jewish musicians did, as tickets into an authentic Americaness where Jewish difference became masked and silenced. Jazz and pop standards were just one more way for him to enact his difference, to turn the world upside down with strategically unleashed Jewishness, and, if only in the three-minute space of one song, bring the Jew out from the margins, unmasked and unveiled.

Katz's version of WC Handy's classic "St. Louis Blues," for example, which he recorded as "St. Looey Blues," was delivered almost entirely in Yiddish, and Katz replaced the saxophone frequently at the song's center with plaintive plain·tive  
Expressing sorrow; mournful or melancholy.

[Middle English plaintif, from Old French, aggrieved, lamenting, from plaint, complaint; see plaint.
 violins more typical of Eastern European klezmer. The original's "St. Louis woman St. Louis Woman is a musical by Harold Arlen (music) and Johnny Mercer (lyrics) based upon the novel God Sends Sunday by African-American writer Arna Bontemps. " becomes "my St. Lou-ya madel" who wants a "fox fur coyt," and after Katz howls, in a mock blues growl, "O mama, ain't got no naches," the song shifts from midtempo jazz into a frenzied klezmer-dixieland bridge.(16) Thus, there is no attempt by Katz to hold "St. Louis Blues" up as a vessel of racial authenticity or treat it as the musical key that opens the cross-racial door to black culture and, by proxy, American culture itself. Instead, the fetishizing of musical blackness that has so often accompanied white participation in black culture and that has so guaranteed the terms of whiteness itself is nearly displaced by Katz's own fetishization of his Jewishness. The result, then, is a racially hybridized composition, one that switches between languages, bridges tradition and styles and plays on histories of musical racialization.

Katz's difference from other Jewish-American singers and musicians invested in jazz and blues is perhaps most clear in his parodies of "the jazz singer" himself, Al Jolson. As Michael Rogin has so convincingly demonstrated, Jolson is the quintessential example of the pre-World War II blackfaced Jew who used the mask of black music and black culture to transform himself from a racialized less-than -white Jew into a white American.(17) In the 1927 film The Jazz Singer, "Toot, Toot, Tootsie toot·sie  
n. Slang
1. Toots.

2. A girl or young woman.

3. or toot·sy A person's foot.

[Origin unknown.
" is one of the songs that turns Jolson's character Jakie Rabinowitz, cantor's son, into Jack Robin, headlining American entertainer. It is one of the songs that secures his distance from the sacred cantorial melodies of his father's Jewish traditionalism, the distance between his new deethnicized American self from his older Jewish one.

When Katz recorded the song in the 50s he went the opposite route, so much so that I think the song can be heard as Katz's commentary on the way Jolson elided overt performed Jewishness in his voracious quest for the whiteness of stardom. The singer of Katz's version of "Toot, Toot, Tootsie" is an immigrant Jew, not a white American. To begin with, he can't even pronounce Tootsie ("Tchut, Tchut, Tchyootsie"), he replaces Jolson's famous, warbling "good-byyyyye" with a smug "I'll send you some pickles and rye," and instead of the pubs and beer halls that get Jakie into so much trouble, Katz takes us to first-and second-generation Jewish vacation destinations such as casinos and hot springs. After a platform conductor announces "Trains leaving for Liberty, Monticello, Mt. Clemens, Murietta Springs, and the Desert Inn in Las Wegas" (in Katz's world, even the conductor has a Yiddish accent), Katz tempers the swinging bravado of Jolson's farewell to his "tootsie" with "Goodbye, tootse-la, have a good time, go to the mikveh ... and don't catch a cold." Later in his career, Katz even caricatured Jolson's patented singing style. Towards the end of the slinky slink·y  
adj. slink·i·er, slink·i·est
1. Stealthy, furtive, and sneaking.

2. Informal Graceful, sinuous, and sleek: wore a slinky outfit to the party.
 after-hours cocktail jazz of "Schleppin My Baby Back Home," Katz slips into a Jolson warble and sings, "Now, we shlep along and I'm singin' a song, the title is `The Thrill is Gone.'"(18) It was a Yiddishified verse that Jolson/Jack Robin would never have sung himself. When Katz does it, he reminds the jazz singer of his Jewishness.

Of course, the differences between the vocal performances of Katz and Jolson also mark their very different: investments in musical performance as a method of cultural assimilation. To evoke the Lower East Side world of Abraham Cahan's 1890 novella novella: see novel.

Story with a compact and pointed plot, often realistic and satiric in tone. Originating in Italy during the Middle Ages, it was often based on local events; individual tales often were gathered into collections.
 Yekl, Katz repeatedly failed to properly oysbgreen himself into Americanism, and unlike Mary Antin, "the wandering Jew" in Katz never sought forgetfulness Forgetfulness
See also Carelessness.

Absent-Minded Beggar, The

ballad of forgetful soldiers who fought in the Boer War. [Br. Lit.: “The Absent-Minded Beg-gars” in Payton, 3]

absent-minded professor
. In The Promised Land, one of the canonical texts of Jewish assimilation, Antin thinks of her Jewish identity as "a heavy garment that clings to your limbs when you would run" and describes how she and other immigrant Jews work to shed both "our despised immigrant clothing" and "our impossible Hebrew names."(19)

So instead of following in the footsteps of the studio Jews and the Tin Pan Alley Tin Pan Alley

Genre of U.S. popular music that arose in New York in the late 19th century. The name was coined by the songwriter Monroe Rosenfeld as the byname of the street on which the industry was based—28th Street between Fifth Avenue and Broadway in the early
 songwriters who used popular entertainment to reinvent America as a desemitized winter wonderland of white Christmases, winter parades, and plantation fantasies, Katz used it to reinvent America as a great big bar mitzvah ranch that stretched from the Catskills to Murietta Hot Springs, from Hester Street to the Friar's Club, and from Broadway to Billy Gray's Band Box on Fairfax Avenue. And as David Kaminski became Danny Kaye, Jerome Levith became Jerry Lewis, Asa Yoelson became Al Jolson, and Milton Berlinger became Mr. Television, Katz propped himself up on a deli butcher's block on the cover of his Mish Mosh album with clarinet in hand in front of rows of hanging salamis Salamis, ancient city, Cyprus
Salamis (săl`əmĭs), ancient city on Cyprus, once the principal city. St. Paul visited it on his first missionary journey (Acts 13.5).
, trumpets, and bagels, and laughed mischievously at both the world he created and the world it replaced.

Katz's songs were the melting-pot gone awry, the melting-pot in which nothing melted. Everything just floated, audaciously, to the surface. At the peak of his career in the 50s, Katz turned Tennesse Ernie Ford's 1955 coal-mining tale of manual labor and piling debt, "Sixteen Tons," into a kosher deli work song ("You load sixteen tons of hot salami/Corned beef, rolled beef, and hot pastrami"). The 1953 hit from Moulin Rouge, "Where Is My Heart?" became "Where Is My Pants?," a hunt for Katz's lost trousers ("I found my galoshes and a package of matzohs/ It's mishige, it don't make sense/Where is mein pants?"). For Katz, Patti Page's "Doggie in the Window" was an all-purpose "Pickle in the Window" ("I read in the papers, there are burglars/ A ganef who robs you in bed/ A pickle will come in so handy/With a pickle I'll break him his head"). The "Flying Purple People Eater" that had bobby-soxers running for their lives was really a klezmer-loving "Flying Poiple Kishke kish·ke also kish·ka  
See derma2.

[Yiddish, from Russian kishka, intestine; see (s)keu- in Indo-European roots.]

Noun 1.
 Eater" who parachutes out of the sky with "eyes like latkes." As the sleeve notes to Mish Mosh put it, "Mickey's approach to a song is simple. He grabs the nation's favorites and gives them the stamp of his unique and abundant wit. The poor unsuspecting tune suddenly finds itself with more twists than a barrel of pretzels and more spice than a plate of pastrami."(20)

I want to stress, however, that Katz's antiassimilationist strategies work not only at the level of lyrics and subject matter but also involve significant Jewish musical interruptions and hybridizations of numerous pop styles. About half way through each parody, Katz typically overturns whatever style he is playing and suddenly leads his band, without any warning to the listener, into a spirited klezmer freilach. These jarring, often violent klezmer "breaks," not at all unlike the role of the break in jazz or hip hop, serve as loud Jewish musical ruptures within the pop structure and style of each song--unfettered moments of musical shifting, release, and perforation per·fo·ra·tion
1. The act of perforating or the state of being perforated.

2. An abnormal opening in a hollow organ or viscus, as one made by rupture or injury.

A hole.
 that turn every pop hit of the day into a piece of Jewish wedding music.(21) The free-wheeling minor keys of the midsong klezmer explosion became as much of a Katz trademark as his lyrical Yiddishisms.

Katz's reliance on the minor keys of klezmer, the heavy accents and wordplay of Yiddish language and humor, and his in-your-punim parodic subversion virtually guaranteed his marginality within the entertainment industry. Besides a five-year stint as the DJ of an all-Jewish music program on a Los Angeles radio station in the early 50s, Katz was never an American radio personality. Unlike the most widely adored Jewish comics--Berle, Lewis, Kaye, George Burns, Eddie Cantor, Jack Benny--Katz was never a televised fixture in American living rooms. And though he made constant reference to the Catskills and the Borscht Belt, though his song "She'll Be Comin' Round the Katzkills" was featured in the 1972 documentary The Rise and Fall of the Borscht Belt, and though Katz's routines and songs are reminiscent of a veteran Catskills toomler (the infamous "tumult makers" who worked as resort social directors), Katz was never a Catskills comic. He never actually played any of the major Catskills landmarks so pivotal to the iconic construction of the Jewish-American comic. "As far as I know," he lamented in Papa, Play for Me, "I am the only American Jewish entertainer who had never played the Catskills. But that's the way the matzoh ball bounces." The closest he came was in 1958, when he toured his own B-grade version of "the Catskills," what he defined as "anything north of Atlantic City ... every kochalyn and boarding-house from New Jersey to Albany."(22)

As a result, Katz never reached the mass popularity and commercial success of all those other Jewish men--the stand-up shpielers, the variety show ringleaders, the bumbling schlemiels, the postminstrel toastmasters, the violin-playing Everymen--who would one day be his bridge partners at the Friar's Club. It was mostly the way Katz did what he did that prevented his achievement of large-scale popularity and success. Mickey Katz was too Jewish for 50s America. Over the course of his 20-year career as a parodist and comedian, only three of Katz's songs ever made their way onto the pop charts (and not one of them ever charted higher than 18): his 1950 version of "Music! Music! Music!," his 1951 take on "Come On-A-My House," and 1952's "Herring Boats," Katz's parody of "Shrimp Boats."(23)

Yet it is clear that Katz did have a loyal audience of Jewish listeners who--whether in public or, as was most often the case, in private--enjoyed his music. In Growing Up Jewish in America: An Oral History, David Sager explains how his "feel for Jewishness" came mostly from his grandmother's record collection, which included a number of Mickey Katz records, "especially the hilarious take-off on `Tico, Tico.'" Marcia Lee Goldberg, whose father played with the Pittsburgh Symphony and who grew up singing "Ave Maria" and "O Holy Night," also remembers the presence of "Jewish music," particularly her "brother's favorite, the Mickey Katz record of `Don't Let the Lox Get in Your Socks.'"(24)

Jewishness in Public: Language, Performance, Censorship

In his 1977 autobiography, Papa, Play for Me: The Hilarious, Heartwarming heart·warm·ing or heart-warm·ing  
1. Causing gladness and pleasure.

2. Eliciting sympathy and tender feelings: a heartwarming tale.

Adj. 1.
 Autobiography of Comedian and Bandleader Mickey Katz, Katz goes to great lengths to discuss the many occasions when his music received a far less complimentary reaction from Jews working in different branches of the entertainment industry. His in-group musical humor may have worked with many within in the safe confines of the private, but in public many also found it distasteful, insulting, and offensive--the musical realization of the worst of age-old Jewish stereotypes. As historian Howard Sachar has noted, the prevailing attitude after World War II was a fear that anything that promoted a "separate identity as Jews ... would somehow lend credence to Hitler's racial theories."(25) The often negative reception of Katz's parodies by fellow Jews working in the entertainment industry made it clear that in the 50s the memory of such theories--racialized anti-Jewish discourse and the belief in the immutably impure im·pure  
adj. im·pur·er, im·pur·est
1. Not pure or clean; contaminated.

2. Not purified by religious rite; unclean.

3. Immoral or sinful: impure thoughts.
 racial alienness of the Jew--was still a viable factor within the American ethno-racial imagination.

After Katz's second public performance of his parodies at Slapsie Maxie's in Los Angeles (where he also debuted his "cowboy outfit with `Bar Mitzvah Ranch' plastered across it," which I will discuss in more depth later), the club owner and manager, Sy Devore, told Katz: "I will not have this! There will be no Yiddish done in this club! Get that through your head right now!" Though Katz acknowledges that "the Yiddish lyrics were admittedly a problem to those in the audience who didn't understand Yiddish," he knew full well that Devore's reaction to Yiddish had as much to do with accessibility as it did with ethno-racial performance (in the very same act, Katz also performed a series of non-Yiddish language parodies that included his cross-dressing opera diva parody "Il Bacio"). In fact, Devore's vehement reaction to the sounds of Yiddish--and the ethnic memory coded within it--was typical of negative responses to Katz's music that emerged during the 50s. The Jewish manager of radio station KFWB, for example, refused to play Katz's records "because they're an insult." "He was a Jewish gentleman," Katz wrote, "but he simply would not play my records."

Another Jewish station manager in Philadelphia (whom Katz refers to as "one of the most despicable anti-Semites I've ever had the misfortune to meet") had been playing some of Katz's early parodies but then decided to pull them off the air "because some of our listeners are offended." After Katz points out that the DJ has played other types of ethnic pop music, such as Italian-American and polka records, the manager responds with a more specific rejection: "I will not play any record with Yiddish. Yiddish is the language of the ghetto." Katz continues to put pressure on him and the following exchange ensues:
   "My friend," I said, "Yiddish is the language of our forefathers." "I do
   not care to hear it." "Then why don't you play some of my instrumental
   records? They're some of the greatest music in the world, played by some of
   the greatest musicians in the world- Ziggy Elman, Mannie Klein, Nat
   Farber-" Again he cut me off mid-sentence. "There will be no Yiddish
   spoken, and no Jewish music played, on this station."

In his review of Katz's parody of Walt Disney's "Davy Crockett Theme," the Jewish editor of Weekly Variety--Katz calls him "the frightened Jewish editor"--accused Katz of "defiling" the legend of Davy Crockett. Katz was stunned by the editor's response. "The original Davy Crockett recording was itself a parody!," he responded. Even the comedy DJ Hawthorne, the first DJ to play Katz's parodies on the air, was eventually prohibited by his station manager from playing Katz's records because "he'd gotten a little flak from a few Jewish (!) listeners." And when Katz was hired to play a gig at the Frontier in Las Vegas he was told not to perform his Yiddish-English material because, as he put it, "Las Vegas was still fighting the Civil War as far as ethnic shows were concerned." Katz acquiesced, and "instead of taking a `Jewish' show to Las Vegas," he came prepared to perform jazz and dance standards. Katz recalled his surprise that not even his veteran Vegas agent, "Bookie" Levin, had "the clout necessary to pull the Las Vegas doors open wide enough to admit Mickey Katz ... The house talent booker at the Frontier ... said I was `too Jewish.'"(26)

The Jew and the Yankee: Music's Jewish Problem

To begin to fully understand these reactions we must position Katz's music within the historical relationship between Jewish aurality and Jewish racial difference, particularly during the years of Katz's musical career. Debates surrounding American musical culture in the 1920s--the very years when Katz first began "faking all the hit tunes of the day" and turning canonical children's tales into what he would later call "literary matzopieces ... not-very-Grimm fairy tales"--made a specifically musical argument concerning the alienism al·ien·ism  
See alienage.

the study or treatment of mental diseases, especially in their relation to legal problems. — alienist, n.
 of the Jew. Indeed, it is crucial to remember that anti-Semitic and nativist na·tiv·ism  
1. A sociopolitical policy, especially in the United States in the 19th century, favoring the interests of established inhabitants over those of immigrants.

 discourse was and is employed not only through a visual vocabulary. By listening to Katz's music through the ear of antiSemitic ideology we can hear just how threatening his performances of Jewishness are to discourses of racially pure American univocality. The way early-twentieth-century boosters of American nativism nativism, in anthropology, social movement that proclaims the return to power of the natives of a colonized area and the resurgence of native culture, along with the decline of the colonizers.  and anti-Semitism understood Jewish difference as manifesting itself as a sonic force capable of destroying American whiteness--a musical agent of aural infection--is crucial to understanding the critical sound worlds and audio-raciality that Katz's music evokes and, by unwitting extension, becomes implicated with.

As Macdonald Smith Moore has so effectively traced, early-twentieth-century champions of a musically realized "Yankee redemptive culture" racialized Jews as "Oriental middlemen between whites and blacks" responsible for corrupting national culture with foreign elements and primitive sensuality. Critics such as Daniel Gregory Mason Daniel Gregory Mason (Brookline, Massachusetts, November 20, 1873 - Greenwich, Connecticut, December 4, 1953) was an American composer and music critic. Biography
Mason came from a long line of notable American musicians, including his father Henry Mason.
 and John Tasker Howard gave new twentieth century life to Count Arthur de Gobineau's theories of racial biology by accusing Jewish composers such as George Gershwin, Ernst Bloch, and Aaron Copland of being racial aliens to national consciousness, agents of "semitization" and "miscegenation Mixture of races. A term formerly applied to marriage between persons of different races. Statutes prohibiting marriage between persons of different races have been held to be invalid as contrary to the equal protection clause  " who polluted "Yankee musical identity" with the musical residue of Negro and Oriental blood.(27)

"The Jew and the Yankee stand, in human temperament, at polar points," Mason wrote in his polemical guidebook to American musical nationalism, Tune in, America. "Where one thrives, the other is bound to languish." With the increased presence of Jewish composers, songwriters, musicians, and publishers, Mason feared that this natural polarization was under threat of dissolution. What threatened American music most was a Jewish tendency toward "Oriental extravagance, their sensuous brilliancy and intellectual facility and superficiality, their general tendency to exaggeration and disproportion disproportion /dis·pro·por·tion/ (dis?prah-por´shun) a lack of the proper relationship between two elements or factors.

cephalopelvic disproportion
."(28) Mason's theories were shared by Henry Ford. In a pair of essays attacking the "Jewish monopoly" of Tin Pan Alley originally published in The Dearborn Independent, Ford solidified the image of the musical Jew as a sly and clever ragman rag·man  
A man who collects and sells rags.
 who creates compositions by scavenging from the work of others, picking up pieces here and there, and then repackaging them for profit. According to Ford,
   In this business of making the people's songs, the Jews have shown, as
   usual, no originality but very much adaptability, which is a charitable
   term used to cover plagiarism, which in its turn politely covers the crime
   of mental pocketpicking. The Jews do not create; they take what others have
   done, give it a clever twist, and exploit it.(29)

Ford was expressing what had become a common sentiment among boosters of musical nativism who repeatedly returned to the alienness of Jews and their music--"the Jewish infection"--as an auditory "menace" to the whiteness of American music. "Jews did not create popular music, "Ford decried, "they debased it."(30) To Ford's ears, the Jews of Tin Pan Alley had taken perfectly good American music--patriotic songs, operas, folk tunes--and turned it into "Yiddish moron mo·ron
A person of mild mental retardation having a mental age of from 7 to 12 years and generally having communication and social skills enabling some degree of academic or vocational education.
 music." Judging by his disgust at a Jewish singer who "could not pronounce English words" and who "sang through his nose," we can only imagine what his reaction would have been to the sound of Katz's Yinglish transformations of Rossini's The Barber of Seville into the klezmer pop opera of "The Barber of Schlemiel schle·miel also shle·miel  
n. Slang
A habitual bungler; a dolt.

[Yiddish shlemíl, perhaps from Hebrew
," Bizet's Carmen into the tragic Jewish heroine "Carmen Katz," and the patriotic national march of "Bugle Call Rag" into the deli counter klezmer jazz clowning of "Bagel Call Rag."

The Sound of Jews (Not) Becoming White Folks

Katz's parodic rereadings of 50s American pop were heard as too Jewish precisely because they disarticulated the Jew from American whiteness, hinting that the postwar status of the Jew as white was not as stable as many would have liked to believe. The category "American" rests on requisite performances of whiteness, to the extent that to be fully American, one must also be white; that is, one must always enact whiteness, perform it. "One might say that the very idea of American citizenship is a racial and even racist idea," Walter Benn Michaels Walter Benn Michaels is a literary theorist, known as the author of Our America: Nativism, Modernism and Pluralism (1995) and The Shape of the Signifier: 1967 to the End of History (2004).  writes, "racist not because it embodies ... preference for white skins but because it confers on national identity something like the ontology ontology: see metaphysics.

Theory of being as such. It was originally called “first philosophy” by Aristotle. In the 18th century Christian Wolff contrasted ontology, or general metaphysics, with special metaphysical theories
 of race."(31) For Jews in the 50s, trading in Old World identities and paying James Baldwin's "price of the ticket" for entrance into the whiteness of American citizenship was so common--in 1952, 160,000 American Jews either shortened or replaced their last names, a number twice as high as before World War II--that it became a nearly compulsory act, the dominant narrative of post-World War II Jewish-American life.(32) Mickey Katz resisted this urge to purchase the dream of whiteness like few others in the 50s entertainment industry. His dream of becoming American didn't entail a becoming-white. To paraphrase Deleuze and Guattari, Katz chose the opposite dream: he became-minor, he became-Jew.(33)

Karen Brodkin Sacks has located the years following World War II as the peak season for the whitening of American Jews. Primarily anchoring her comments in postwar Jewish upward economic and social mobility (a boom period upgrade from working-class to middle-class), increased financial and educational awards (courtesy of federal programs like the GI bill and benefit-granting organizations like the Federal Housing Administration Federal Housing Administration (FHA)

Federally sponsored agency chartered in 1934 whose stock is currently owned by savings institutions across the United States. The agency buys residential mortgages that meet certain requirements, sells these mortgages in packages, and insures
), and the subsequent rush for suburbia, Sacks positions Jews as central participants in the construction of a postwar American whiteness.(34) Yet it is precisely this 50s Jewish move toward whiteness that Katz's music complicated. Where Frankie Lane heard the "Cry of the Wild Goose" in 1950, Katz heard the "Geshray of de Vilde Kotchke." When Kay Starr, Bobby Wayne, Eddie Wilcox, Sunny Gale, and the Bell Sisters all tried their hand at the "Wheel of Fortune" in 1952, Katz did it his own way, singing, "I'm a schlemiel of fortune." Guy Mitchell's 1952 hit "Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania" was rebuilt and remapped as a Jewish bathhouse enclave, "Shvitzburgh, Pennsylvania."

But in order to fully appreciate just how anomalous Katz's records sounded when they were originally released between 1947 and 1957, we must remember the type of pop cultural climate he was working against. In the wake of the Holocaust the majority of American Jews working in film, TV, and music wanted nothing more than to become part of what David Marc and Robert Cantwell have respectively called the "emerging alrightnik culture" and the "strange detergent culture" promoted by the postwar institutionalization Institutionalization

The gradual domination of financial markets by institutional investors, as opposed to individual investors. This process has occurred throughout the industrialized world.
 of mass culture and mass media.(35) The new national market that the rise of the television industry and the advent of the long-playing record (and the continuing presence of radio and film) helped solidify created a new sense of Americaness, one that linked a distinctly American character to the rise of a national consumer culture. The result, in Marc's words, was a televised pop cultural landscape of "dented fenders, forgotten anniversaries, wives with charge accounts, impossible in-laws, the darned darned  

Adj. 1. darned - expletives used informally as intensifiers; "he's a blasted idiot"; "it's a blamed shame"; "a blame cold winter"; "not a blessed dime"; "I'll be damned (or blessed or darned or
 plumbing and so on. If there could be no poetry after Auschwitz, there could at least be New Rochelle."(36)

As a result, both TV and movie screens witnessed the diminished presence of Jewishness. George Burns and Jack Benny were celebrating Christmas and playing golf at the country club, and The Goldbergs had already made its move from a tenement in the Bronx to a home in the Haverville suburb.(37) Seen next to assimilationist feature films like 1952's The Jazz Singer and 1958's Marjorie Morningstar, it was all part of a much larger "de-Semitization" of American culture that Henry Popkin documented in a polemical, decade-marking essay for Commentary, "The Vanishing Jew of Our Popular Culture." Popkin recognized the disappearance of the Jew and of Jewishness everywhere he looked, from the reprint editions of pocket books like Irving Shulman's The Amboy Dukes to Broadway plays like The Grass Harp. For Popkin the reasons were many: an overall postwar fear of refanning the flames of Nazism, the lingering shadow of the 1934 Hays Code (which prohibited the ridicule of religious groups), and a general 50s drive toward cultural uniformity and sameness. "Jews are an intrusion," he wrote, "they do not belong to the pretty picture. Their presence is suppressed just as other odd, unsightly things are suppressed."(38)

This climate led to an attack on the tradition of "dialect comedy" that Katz was so much a part of.(39) In a Commentary article written in response to Popkin's fear of Jewish vanishing, "The Dialect Comedian Should Vanish," Sam Levenson (himself an ex-dialect comedian) claimed that he didn't believe in "between you and me jokes" and that "to mimic broken English is as painful to the immigrant as mimicking a limp is to the cripple." He compared a nightclub with a dialect comedian on stage to a Nazi beer hall with SS men laughing at the funny little Jew on stage. It was a common Jewish sentiment of the time: people might be laughing at the Jew and not with him, and after the Holocaust

Main article: The Holocaust
Further information: The Holocaust (responsibility)
The Holocaust became the dark symbol of the 20th century's crimes against humanity.
 the risk of experiencing the potential consequences of such laughter was just too high. In an article that patriotically ends by trying to equate the immigration immigration, entrance of a person (an alien) into a new country for the purpose of establishing permanent residence. Motives for immigration, like those for migration generally, are often economic, although religious or political factors may be very important.  of Eastern European Jews to the arrival of the Pilgrims on the Mayflower, it is significant that Levenson singles out Katz's "American-Jewish" Broadway musical revue, Borscht Capades, for lacking "any real sense of Jewish culture."(40)

The Vocalized Jew: Musical Mauscheln, Dialect, and Linguistic Difference
   One can never, it seems, escape the sense that once one's voice is heard,
   one is instantly revealed as a rootless, cultureless Jew.

   --Sander Gilman

It is worth remembering at this juncture that Katz broke with this suppression of Jewish presence not by being visible but by being audible. It was the sound of his music and the sound of his voice that most immediately and urgently marked him as different, as alien, as the Jewish Other, and that most forcefully resisted the deethnicized harmonies and symphonies of assimilation. After all, Katz's abrasive tones, bilingual wordplay, and clownish, anarchic delivery were the polar opposite of the singing style most popular in the 50s. It was the era of "the singer," a time when Frank Sinatra, after leaving the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra in 1942, could become known simply as The Voice and jazz singers were moving into the public spotlight more than ever before, becoming the top draws on stage and radio and eventually garnering more commercial success than big bands themselves.(41) But next to Bing Crosby, Ross Colombo, and Perry Como, Katz was the anticrooner, belting, howling, hiccuping, mugging and glugging his way through rhymed, guttural guttural /gut·tur·al/ (gut´er-il) faucial; pertaining to the throat.

Of or relating to the throat.


pertaining to the throat.
 verses of Yiddish and English. His commitment to continue singing popular songs in Yiddish put him in a camp that included few others in the 50s--Eli Basse, Lee Tully, and Leo Leo, in astronomy
Leo [Lat.,=the lion], northern constellation lying S of Ursa Major and on the ecliptic (apparent path of the sun through the heavens) between Cancer and Virgo; it is one of the constellations of the zodiac.
 Fuchs (on novelty singles like "Gevalt" and "Kreplach krep·lach  
Small pockets of noodle dough filled with ground meat or cheese, usually boiled and served in soups.

[Yiddish kreplech, pl.
")--when most major record company labels discontinued their branch of foreign language recordings (Katz was himself signed to RCA See RCA connector and video/TV history.  Victor's foreign language series in 1947 before moving to Capitol during the 50s). With the introduction of the long-playing record and the seven-inch 45 rpm single after World War II, the market for foreign language recordings had taken a drastic dive.

Similarly, the sound of Yiddish was being exorcised from the Hollywood big screen. The original print of Warner Brothers' 1946 The Jolson Story--released a year before Katz debuted his Yinglish jazz singing on "Haim Afen Range"--contains a scene in which Larry Parks, who plays Jolson, performs a Yiddish song. After a test screening audience responded negatively the scene was cut.(42) For Jack Robin in The Jazz Singer and Al Jolson in The Jolson Story, "jazz" was an instrument of white-washed Americanism, a way to shed old identities. A Yiddish song would have disrupted the sound of American assimilation that both The Jolson Story and Jolson's career relied on.

The sound of the Jewish voice--the vocalized language of the Jew--has always been central to constructions of Jewish difference and, in turn, to the anti-Semitic imagination. Hearing Katz as sounding too Jewish for American whiteness cannot be separated from a long tradition of anti-Semitic literature and ideology that hears the Jew's voice as emblematic of a hidden, mysterious, and secret inner language that specifically signifies Jewish difference. By dialogizing English-language pop sounds with Yiddish and publicly parodying mainstream American culture with Jewish topics, Katz's performances of Jewish difference operate within the history of Yiddish (particularly as spoken language, as words in sound) as a sign of linguistic impurity im·pu·ri·ty  
n. pl. im·pu·ri·ties
1. The quality or condition of being impure, especially:
a. Contamination or pollution.

b. Lack of consistency or homogeneity; adulteration.

 and corruption and an audible expression of what Hannah Arendt describes (in her discussion of nineteenth-century European Jews) as the Jew's "despised, incomplete symbiosis symbiosis (sĭmbēō`sĭs), the habitual living together of organisms of different species. The term is usually restricted to a dependent relationship that is beneficial to both participants (also called mutualism) but may be extended to  with the dominant common culture."(43)

In The Jew's Body, Sander Gilman follows the sound of the Jew's voice from the Gospels to late-twentieth-century American popular culture, arguing that alongside a visual tradition of seeing the Jew as Other there is also an aural tradition of hearing the accents, syncopations, gestures, and tones of his voice and spoken language as audible manifestations of the Jew's corruption. As a result there emerges a deep anxiety among Jews toward sounding too Jewish, toward sounding too much like the Jew of anti-Semitic legend: rootless, parasitic, pollutant, cultureless. He writes of an anti-Semitic study of Jews issued at the beginning of the Third Reich that claimed that even if Jews don't speak with a recognizable Jewish accent, they judeln or "Jew" in their speech. Something innate in the Jew's voice actively corrupts and transforms language by "Jewing it," a process that the study of course claimed was impossible for non-Jews, especially Aryans, to duplicate.(44) According to Gilman, "the Jew becomes the agent who uses corrupt language, while the corrupt discourse becomes the embodiment of the nature of the Jew."(45)

In nineteenth-century Germany the secret, hidden language of the Jew was most frequently characterized by its mauscheln--its use of a Yiddish accent or vocabulary. Mauscheln, as linguistic difference, not only became a sign for Jewish difference on the whole but actually began to stand in for the Jew him- or herself.(46) As Gilman indicates, mauscheln's Yiddish accent of difference posed a threat to national integration and German cultural citizenship. Likewise, for Jews eager to assimilate into the whiteness of 50s American identity, Katz's public use of a musical mauscheln seemed to come too close to reenacting the nativist and anti-Semitic view of the Jew as a language-corrupting, racial alien. For many Jews of post-Shoah America, performing this difference from the monocultural national mainstream in public was too great a risk.

Katz trafficked in a manic, code-switching Yinglish mix that was a rapid-fire, exclamatory fusion of English word fragments, Yiddish monologues and punchlines, guttural vocables, throaty throat·y  
adj. throat·i·er, throat·i·est
Uttered or sounding as if uttered deep in the throat; guttural, hoarse, or husky.

 glugs, and manic glossolalia glossolalia (glŏs'əlā`lēə) [Gr.,=speaking in tongues], ecstatic utterances usually of unintelligible sounds made by individuals in a state of religious excitement. : a dizzying mishmosh of sense and nonsense, of obligatory rhyme and optional reason. "She's a doll" could be followed by "Yeah, Yisgadal," "You'll never get rich" coupled with "You old galitz." Indeed, much of the humor and import of Katz's songs has to do with the way he makes language sound, not so much what he makes it mean. The way Katz delivers his Yinglish lines--nasal, hurried, exaggerated--is as important as what he actually sings. As sociologist Herbert Gans put it in a 1953 American Quarterly article about Katz, "the lyrics are not really lyrics, but series of rhymes filled oust as many Yiddish phrases and words as possible."(47)

Katz's musical Yinglish was particularly reminiscent of the much maligned ma·lign  
tr.v. ma·ligned, ma·lign·ing, ma·ligns
To make evil, harmful, and often untrue statements about; speak evil of.

1. Evil in disposition, nature, or intent.

 "potato Yiddish" that was the common linguistic currency of a later stage of Yiddish theater, the shund (trash). Consisting of "fractured Yiddish and English" and "diluted with ... Americanisms," this broken or hybridized version of Yiddish was seen as both an insult to the "real" Yiddish of real Yiddish theater and an embarrassment to upwardly mobile Jews who wanted to discard the "trash" of their ethnic pasts for a future in English.(48) As Alisa Solomon has argued in her study of Yiddish theater and queer Jewish performance, the shund was somewhat of a dangerous mode of Jewish performance for Jews who craved assimilation and cultural uniformity because of the way it "magnified, manipulated, mobilized, made merriment of the Jew's marginality."(49)

The way Katz's music extended the shund tradition into merry and marginal pop music parody struck terror in the hearts of Jews eager to forget their ethnic pasts, eager for the benefits and masks of whiteness. One man told jazz critic Gary Giddins, "You know I grew up around this music and was always a little embarrassed by it." Giddins compares this reception of Katz's klezmer parodies to the "embarrassment" BB King's blues caused middle-class blacks, arguing that "the relatively corny corn·y  
adj. corn·i·er, corn·i·est
Trite, dated, melodramatic, or mawkishly sentimental.

[From corn1.
 rhythms and relentless minor-key melodies of klezmer cut too close to the bone of assimilated Jewish experience, with its reminders of urban shtetls and old-country accents."(50) Music critic Chip Stern remembers, "I got the distinct impression my folks were ashamed of him. Even today, in my current neighborhood, a devout orthodox woman recoiled in horror at the mere mention of klezmer."(51) Even Katz's son Joel admitted to being embarrassed at one time or another by his father's music.(52) And when I told my great-aunt of my own interest in Katz, she was shocked: "Why on earth would you want to talk about him?"

Yiddish belongs to the private Jew, not the public American. Instead of making music out of Yiddish in intimate spaces, Katz loudly inserted Yiddish into the public sphere. Instead of leaving Yiddish as a site of nostalgia and pastness, Katz made it current and thrust it into the center of contemporary postwar life. Katz's music plays a part in Maria Damon's meditation on what she explains as the "word-ambiences" of Yiddish (specifically those evoked by Lenny Bruce and Gertrude Stein), those semantic environments performed in kitchens, family scrapbooks, and bedrooms loaded with secret clues and private meanings. "What words in your families were landmines?" Damon asks, "Does your body come alive at the smell of stuffed cabbage because of the loving and haimish haim·ish also heim·ish  
adj. Slang
Warm and comfortable; homey; folksy: "It is very gentle and sweet up here. It's . . . sort of haimish" Janet Malcolm.
 dinners inscribed into your nerve endings? Or do you blush and quiver at the sound of Mickey Katz on those rare and cutesified klezmer specials on listener-sponsored radio?"(53) Like stuffed cabbage, Katz's music was not only too Jewish but too haimish, too familiar. If heard in private it might produce pleasure. If heard in public, in front of the wrong crowd, it might be a landmine. His music quickly came to represent an audible, in-your-face call to remember when the impulses of 50s American whiteness were asking Jews to forget. Or as Katz put it in 1966, "in those days, Jews were scared to be Jewish. But now it's different. Now, it's in to be Jewish."(54)

"Haim Afen Range": Parody, Re-Semitization, and the Jewish Grotesque
   The Jew can be charged with the longest-standing crime in history. He has
   been able for two thousand years to turn his neighbor into a jackass.

      --Ben Hecht

Katz did not simply use Yinglish in his speech however. He used it to parody and re-Semitize a de-Semitized 50s American mass music culture. Ethnic parody has always functioned as a guerrilla act of reversal and neutralization neutralization, chemical reaction, according to the Arrhenius theory of acids and bases, in which a water solution of acid is mixed with a water solution of base to form a salt and water; this reaction is complete only if the resulting solution has neither acidic nor , a subversive seizure (in Katz's terms, a "grabbing" of hit songs) of exalted cultural forms by the weak and the small. Alessandro Portelli divides musical parody into three different modes of attack and media resistance: reversal (which leaves the original song virtually the same, changing only an occasional word to transform the overall message), appropriation (using "positive connotations" of the original by making selected changes in it), and neutralization ("using only the popular tune as a convenient vehicle for new words"). Katz's parodies most frequently operate through appropriation and neutralization: changing the vast majority of the song's words, feeding off of the positive connotations of the original (the very things which helped secure its mass appeal), and then using it as a springboard for the creation of something entirely new and recognizably, unquestionably un·ques·tion·a·ble  
Beyond question or doubt. See Synonyms at authentic.


No matter the strategy, though, all parody remains a form of criticism. "To parody a song is to criticize it," Portelli writes, "but also to recognize its power. At the least, it is an acknowledgment of its popularity."(55) Indeed, the only qualification Katz adhered to when choosing which songs he would appropriate and neutralize was popularity, the extent to which the song could safely be called a "nation's favorite." Some of Katz's critics have suggested that this was purely a crass commercial strategy on Katz's part, his way of blindly cashing in on the popularity of songs in order to help guarantee his own success. Yet I want to emphasize the significance of parodying songs based solely on their acceptance by mass audiences in the 50s, songs that by virtue of their sales and radio airplay air·play  
The broadcasting of an audio or audiovisual recording on the air over radio or television.


the broadcast performances of a record on radio
 ("Rock around the Clock," "That's Amore") or merely their place in the national mythology or popular imagination ("Home on the Range," "She'll Be Comin' Around the Mountain") were considered universal hits, national favorites, musical symbols of a unified consumer culture. The more universal a song was thought to be, the more popular, the more representative of a national mass audience, the more necessary Katz thought it was to make fun of it, ridicule it, mix it with Eastern European klezmer, and Judaize it. This led him to take on two of the biggest trends within the polystylistic ethnic crazy-quilt that was 50s pop music: Exotica ex·ot·i·ca  
Things that are curiously unusual or excitingly strange: such gustatory exotica as killer bee honey and fresh catnip sauce.
 and the Latin Craze. As clarinetist Don Byron put it in the liner notes to his 1993 tribute Don Byron Plays the Music of Mickey Katz, he "sensed the ridiculousness of it all."

Take, for example, two parodies that appeared on The Most Mishige, "It's a Michaye in Hawaii" and "Chinatown, My Chinatown," Katz's versions of "Hawaiian War Chant (Ta-Hu-Ha-Wai)," a hit for Spike Jones in 1940 and the Ames Brothers in 1951, and "Chinatown, My Chinatown," a 1952 hit from Up and Down Broadway that had already been popularized by Louis Armstrong, The Mills Brothers, Ray Noble and many others. In their original versions both songs relied on ethnic stereotypes of the exoticized other: the mystery of the East transplanted to the urban West and the World War II serviceman's fantasy of South Pacific island paradises and tropical native primtivism. Instead of perpetuating those stereotypes, Katz exposed them as stereotypes by performing stereotypes of Jewishness alongside them. "Shalom Aloha from Hono-luya," Katz proclaims at the beginning of "It's a Michaye" before introducing his listeners to "Waikikishka," his Judaized version of the South Pacific that comes complete with "pineapple matzoh brie-ah," and a new member of his band, "Mendel Farber from Pearl Harbor," who can play Hawaiian freilachs.

The original Orientalist pop version of "Chinatown, My Chinatown" is meant to be sung from the point of view of an immigrant Chinese-American in a stereotyped voice against the crashing of gongs and the clang of cymbals. But in his version Katz complicates the song's Orientalized singing subject by calling him "Fu-Man Shnook," a "Chinese Litvak," and by interrupting the Eastern instrumentation with his obligatory klezmer bridges. He mixes stereotypes of the Chinaman with stereotypes of the bumbling Jew, so that calling him "Fu-Man Shnook" becomes a double play on one-dimensional ethnic representation. By deflecting some of the derisive de·ri·sive  
Mocking; jeering.

de·risive·ly adv.

 laughter onto himself Katz is able to overturn the song's original intent and strip it of its power to wound.

The effectiveness of these ethnic-on-ethnic klezmer parodies is most clearly felt when heard against the Exotica records released in the mid to late 50s by artists such as Les Baxter and Martin Denny that fetishized mythical non-Western geographies as eternally primitive landscapes of tom-tom pounded ritual, taboo, and savagery. As Joseph Lanza has written, this was music conceived as "an environmental recreation, a musical whirlwind tour inspired by the notion that the entire non-Western world-from the dynastic palaces of China to the straw hut promenades of New Guinea--really is an assortment of devil-masks, radiant volcanoes, coral reefs, stone gods, jungle rivers, and enchanted en·chant  
tr.v. en·chant·ed, en·chant·ing, en·chants
1. To cast a spell over; bewitch.

2. To attract and delight; entrance. See Synonyms at charm.
 seas compiled from fantastic travel brochures."(56)

Take, for example, Baxter's dark continent soundscape sound·scape  
An atmosphere or environment created by or with sound: the raucous soundscape of a city street; a play with a haunting soundscape.
 "Quiet Village," which was released on Capitol, the same label that issued Mish-Mosh, the home of Katz's own mythic African travelogue "Knish knish  
A piece of dough stuffed with potato, meat, or cheese and baked or fried.

[Yiddish, from Ukrainian knysh, probably of Turkic origin.]

Noun 1.
 Doctor" (his version of "Witch Doctor"). Instead of employing stock primitivist images of Africa in order to ensure its otherness, Katz merges those images with ones closer to home. He claims that he came up with the idea for the song as he was "trudging along with lox and bagel through darkest Delancey." Katz performs a sort of reverse exoticism ex·ot·i·cism  
The quality or condition of being exotic.

the condition of being foreign, striking, or unusual in color and design. — exoticist, n.
 by turning the ethnographic ear onto himself, away from Africa and the witch doctor and towards the wild urban jungles of Delancey Street and its legendary master of delicatessen ritual and street vendor magic, the "knish doctor."

The 50s parodies that perhaps revealed the most about the interethnic musical crossings Katz was involved in were his takes on the Latin Craze. Tapping into 50s "mambo mania," Katz transformed himself into a mambonick in a series of Yinglish klezmer mambos that were parodies of the numerous "mamboids," or watered-down, Anglicized pseudo mambos of the time that were flooding the marketplace after the stateside state·side  
1. Of or in the continental United States.

2. Alaska Of or in the 48 contiguous states of the United States.

adv. Informal
 success of Perez Prado in the early 50s and the adoption of an all-mambo policy by the Palladium Dance Hall in New York City New York City: see New York, city.
New York City

City (pop., 2000: 8,008,278), southeastern New York, at the mouth of the Hudson River. The largest city in the U.S.
 in 1952 (Perry Como's "Papa Loves Mambo" and Rosemary Clooney's "Mambo Italiano" among them).(57)

Katz's "Yiddishe Mambo," "Gehatke Mambo," and "Tickle, Tickle," while all musically competent and nearly eloquent mambo performances both poked fun at mambo's commercialization and appropriation within the U.S. mainstream and paid tribute to the genre's immense popularity with U.S. Jews (the Yiddishe mambo fan, the so-called "mambonick," became a badge of countercultural pride for many 50s Jews ensconced in the Latin dance scene). Katz carried this historical transition farther than most of his contemporaries. On "Yiddishe Mambo," Katz's bubbe is "on an Afro-Cuban kick" that unleashes a series of classic Katz rhymes about some of the leading mambo bandleaders of the day--"Her kugel ku·gel  
A baked pudding of noodles or potatoes, eggs, and seasonings, traditionally eaten by Jews on the Sabbath.

[Yiddish kugel, ball (from its puffed-up shape), from Middle High German.
 is hot for Xavier Cugat," "She's backing her challahs for Noro Morales," and "Perez Prado, she loves him a lot-o." On "Gehatke Mambo" Katz introduces us to the culinary bandleader "Xavier Cugal," drawls "Buenos Naches you all," and exchanges Perez Prado's famous "logoclassic" grunt ("Uggh!") with his own version of Yiddish-Latino logoclassia, "Everybody kvetch- Ugggh!"(58)

Katz's first attempt at recording a Yinglish parody of a Latino dance composition was 1947's "Tickle, Tickle," his slapstick slapstick

Comedy characterized by broad humour, absurd situations, and vigorous, often violent action. It took its name from a paddlelike device, probably introduced by 16th-century commedia dell'arte troupes, that produced a resounding whack when one comic actor used it to
 remake of "Tico, Tico," which had been a hit by Miguelito Valdez, Tito Puente, and Xavier Cugat among others. That year Katz performed his first major solo show as a musical comedian at the Million Dollar Theater in Boyle Heights, an East Los Angeles East Los Angeles, uninc. city (1990 pop. 126,379), Los Angeles co., S Calif., a residential suburb of Los Angeles, in an industrial area. It has a large Mexican-American population. There is a performing arts center and a cultural center. A junior college is there.  neighborhood that in the late 40s contained a mix of Jews and Mexican-Americans. According to Katz's account in Papa, Play for Me, the audience at the Million Dollar was split between Jews and Mexican-Americans, and he was "a double-ethnic smash ... [a] bagels-and-bongos triumph" receiving a much warmer reception than he would months later at Slapsie Maxie's. Katz relished the popularity of "Tico, Tico" with Latino audiences and in Papa, Play for Me tells the following anecdote about the types of cultural crossing he liked to achieve:
   There was a music store on Brooklyn Avenue on Boyle Heights named the
   Phillips Music Company. The clientele was combined Jewish and Mexican, like
   my fans at the Million Dollar. Bill Phillips told me that one day two
   little Mexican girls came in. They said they wanted that new record of
   "Tico, Tico." The clerk asked if they wanted the "Tico, Tico" by Xavier
   Cugat. No. The one by Tito Puente? No. The one by Miguelito Valdez? No. But
   this struck a nerve. One of the little girls said, "I know--we want the one
   by Miguelito Katz.(59)

Yet whether he was parodying mambos, polkas, opera, or pop the end result was always the same. Katz was a musical funnyman fun·ny·man  
A humorous person, especially a professional comedian.
 out to make fun of whatever music he touched, a 1950s torchbearer torch·bear·er  
1. One that carries a torch.

2. One, such as the leader of a government, who imparts knowledge, truth, or inspiration to others.

Noun 1.
 of grotesque realism: the Jewish clown, the Semitic fool, the Renaissance court jester gone self-proclaimed "Borscht Jester." On the cover of his album of that name, Katz lets us catch him in the act of parodic usurpation Usurpation

presumptuously assumed David’s throne before Solomon’s investiture. [O.T.: I Kings 1:5–10]

Anschluss Nazi

takeover of Austria (1938). [Eur. Hist.
. Wearing a multicolored court jester costume complete with upturned slippers, harlequin cane, and a hooded cap topped with a dangling bell, Katz has so brazenly uncrowned power that now he's sitting in the throne himself with a mischievous smile, smoking a cigar and holding a salami.(60)

This was Katz's own version of the tradition of the badchonim, Jewish musical jesters who were the featured performers and MCs at Eastern European Jewish weddings. Weaving short and playful poetic jingles with biblical and Talmudic phrases, mixing comic monologues with insults hurled playfully at the guests, the badchonim were originally known as leitzim (scholarly comedians). By taking successful, chart-topping popular songs and introducing them to the worlds of the secular, vulgar Jew, Katz's badchonic recordings and live shows gave grotesque realism a new home in 50s Jewishness--the Jewish grotesque rendered through hybrid pop musical performance. For Mikhail Bakhtin the job of the grotesque realist is to "degrade, bring them down to earth, turn their subject into flesh." Katz's parodies operate precisely in this way, degrading popular songs by bringing down from the heights of the hit parade to the secular, everyday, vulgar world of postwar Jewish America. Katz's parodies trafficked in a central practice of grotesque style by recasting hit songs according to the sights and smells of the Jewish "material bodily stratum," the world of the Jewish delicatessen and the "belly, buttocks, and bladder" of the open, self-transgressing Jewish body-in-excess that populates it. Almost all of Katz's parodies come back to the "substratum sub·stra·tum  
n. pl. sub·stra·ta or sub·stra·tums
a. An underlying layer.

b. A layer of earth beneath the surface soil; subsoil.

2. A foundation or groundwork.

 laughter" produced by food--gribbenes, matzoh, shmaltz, pickles, kishka Kishka can be:
  • Intestine or gut, in East Slavic languages, used in English-language Yiddishisms, such as Joshua's kishkes are aching from all that vermouth in his peach martini.
, bagels, latkes--and its digestive impact on those who consume it.(61) The result is parody's most threatening and potentially dangerous effect: the displacement of one world by another at the hands of a wise-cracking outcast who hurls jokes from the margins.

Robert Alter has argued that Jewish-American writers like Saul Bellow and Bernard Malamud have used "the wryness and homey realism of Jewish humor" to deflate (file format, compression) deflate - A compression standard derived from LZ77; it is reportedly used in zip, gzip, PKZIP, and png, among others.

Unlike LZW, deflate compression does not use patented compression algorithms.
 the myth-making postures characteristic of literary high modernism.(62) A contemporary of Bellow bellow

one of the voices of cattle. Usually refers to the arrogant call of the bull used to announce territorial rights. Abnormalities of the voice include hoarseness as in rabies, or continuous repetition as in nervous acetonemia. See also low, moo.
 and Malamud, Katz was also what Alter calls a "de-mythologizer," and he used the rebellious mockery and subversive laughter of parody to deflate myths of American national identity and make a mockery of national institutions. Songs like "Sound Off" (his take on "Duckworth Chant" as recorded by Vaughn Monroe in 1951) and "Bagel Call Rag" (a klezmerization of the 30s chart staple "Bugle Call Rag" in which Dixieland meets the deli in an army barracks) poked fun at the U.S. military. Years before Mel Brooks would promise to put "Jews in Space" in his mock preview for the second installment of History of the World Part One, Katz took the U.S. space program down a few pegs by creating his own Jewish astronaut, "Nudnick nud·nik also nud·nick  
n. Slang
An obtuse, boring, or bothersome person; a pest.

[Yiddish, nudne, boring (from nudyen, to bore; see nudge2
, the Flying Schissel," a song he described as "my personal answer to Sputnik Sputnik: see satellite, artificial; space exploration.

Any of a series of Earth-orbiting spacecraft whose launching by the Soviet Union inaugurated the space age.
," that details the galaxy travels of a space-age Yid who drops bombs made from knishes, voyages where "Fleishedicke saucers sail from the Milchedicke Way," and beats out klezmer drum rolls for troops stationed in Little Rock, Arkansas Little Rock, Arkansas

required military intervention to desegregate schools (1957–1958). [Am. Hist.: Van Doren, 556–557]

See : Bigotry

But more than anything else, Katz's travels led him to the mythologized frontier landscape of the American West and to that figure so central to the construction of Anglo-American masculinity, the cowboy. As numerous critics have noted, the frontier has long been a symbolic and ideological space crucial to American self-making and the construction of American whiteness out of the shards of European ethnic pasts. "In the crucible of the frontier," Frederick Jackson Turner Noun 1. Frederick Jackson Turner - United States historian who stressed the role of the western frontier in American history (1861-1951)
 famously explained, "the immigrants were Americanized, liberated, and fused into a mixed race--English in neither nationality nor characteristics."(64) But as we shall see, the American produced in the crucible of Katz's frontier--a specifically Jewish cowboy--acts and sounds little like the rugged American maverick of Western myth.

While perpetuating the proliferation of frontier myths in popular discourse that Richard Slotkin has chronicled in The Fatal Environment, Katz created his own version of the frontier's mythic subject. For starters, a frequent part of Katz's live show and a staple of his act in his Borscht Capades revue was performing a string of Yiddish-Western pop parodies live in a cowboy costume with "Bar Mitzvah Ranch" emblazoned across his chest, elaborating on an earlier tradition of Jewish cowboys such as Will Dickey's "Yonkle, the Cow-Boy Jew" and Leo Fuchs' "Shalom Pardner pard·ner  
n. Regional
A partner, companion, or friend.

[Variant of partner.]

Noun 1.
" and "Yiddisha Cowboy" and anticipating Lee Tully's "The Lone Stranger" and Gene Wilder's horse-riding Hasid in The Frisco Kid.

In "Shleppin' My Baby Back Home," his lyrical overhaul of Johnny Ray's hit "Walkin' My Baby Back Home," Katz sings of a night of dancing at "the Bar Mitzvah Ranch" and of having to shlep his wife home because she drank too much at the "Matzoball Gulch." Katz took on Frankie Lane and the Muleskinners' number one 1949 Western hit, "Mule Train," and put enough Jews in the wagons to rechristen it a "Yiddish Mule Train" that transported salami, lox and bagels to Jewish cowboys in Miami and Las Vegas. The haunted prairies of Vaughn Monroe's self-described "cowboy legend" of 1949, "Ghostriders in the Sky" (with its eerie "yipee-ay-ay"s and "yipee-ay-o"s) tell a very different story of Western migration than "Borshtriders in the Sky," in which klezmer becomes the frontier's new soundtrack while Katz sings of a Jewish cowpoke who wanders into "a vegetarian restaurant called Nate's" and injects his horse with enough borscht and sour cream to win a horse race.

Katz further deflated the myth of the ruggedly individual Anglo-American cowboy when he reimagined the singing subject behind Johnny Mercer's staple from the frontier's musical mythos my·thos  
n. pl. my·thoi
1. Myth.

2. Mythology.

3. The pattern of basic values and attitudes of a people, characteristically transmitted through myths and the arts.
, "I'm an Old Cowhand." There was little that the American cowboy of pop lore had in common with the cowboy protagonist of Katz's parody. This cowhand hollers "hi ho shmendrick" and "yippie, ooo, ooo, who-ha!," oversees a plot of land crowded with overweight cows and Passover tables, and proudly declares his origin on one of the frontier's rural ethnic ghettoes: "I'm a cowboy mensch mensch or mensh  
n. pl. mensch·es or mensch·en Informal
A person having admirable characteristics, such as fortitude and firmness of purpose:
, from the bar mitzvah ranch." Katz's cowboy is a failed one. He is not a cowhand but "an old cowshlub." He has "never bagged a deer, never roped a steer" and admits that "tonight, I think I'm gonna lose my shtetl shtetl

any small-town Jewish settlement in East Europe. [Jewish Hist.: Wigoder, 552]

See : Rusticity
" when he hears of an approaching band of Indians--Jewish Indians that is, "Apatchke Indians." It is significant, I think, that this is Katz's only Yiddishization of Native Americans. Unlike Minikes' "Among the Indians," Eddie Cantor's Indian drag in Whoopee, and Mel Brooks' Yiddish Indians in Blazing Saddles, when Katz went West he always went as a cowboy--dialogizing the symbol of Anglo-American masculinity instead of identifying with its victims.

Katz's career as a parodist actually began on the frontier On the Frontier: A Melodrama in Two Acts, by W. H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood, was the third and last play in the Auden-Isherwood collaboration, first published in 1938.  with his first single in 1947, "Haim Afen Range," a Jewish hijacking hijacking

Crime of seizing possession or control of a vehicle from another by force or threat of force. Although by the late 20th century hijacking most frequently involved the seizure of an airplane and its forcible diversion to destinations chosen by the air pirates, when
 of "Home on the Range" (Katz called it a "chance parody") that was coupled with its equally absurd B side, "Yiddish Square Dance," in which Katz impersonates "an Arkansas hog caller calling a square dance in Yiddish." Katz's Yinglish makeover of "Home on the Range" repopulates the frontier with unmeltable immigrant Jews and transforms the song's ponderosa nostalgia and loping Western Americana into a manic, schizophrenic tale of Yiddish-shpritzing cowpokes who dream of escaping to "Oy Vegas" while trying to maintain order amidst "alter cougars" and requisite bursts of klezmer madness.

"Home on the Range" belongs to a small group of songs that have become virtually synonymous with the grand myths and ideas of America. It was one of the many cowboy songs collected by U.S. audio-ethnographer John Lomax in his 1910 Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads, a musical anthology designed to capture the authentic spirit of populist, indigenous American ballads, what Lomax heard as "human documents that reveal the mode of thinking, the character of life, and the point of view, of the vigorous, red-blooded restless American."(65) Yet as Robert Cantwell reminds us, "Home on the Range"

was not a cowboy song. It did not come from a restless, red-blooded American freely roaming the myth-lined open spaces of the prairie but from a black cook who worked on a chuck wagon on a San Antonio cattle trail.

The canonization canonization (kăn'ənĭzā`shən), in the Roman Catholic Church, process by which a person is classified as a saint. It is now performed at Rome alone, although in the Middle Ages and earlier bishops elsewhere used to canonize.  of "Home on the Range" as a musical emblem of American freedom and unencumbered individualism obscures its own origin in "a racially and ethnically hybridized subculture." In a sense, then, Katz's hijacking and overturning of the cowboy myth not only contests deethnicized Anglo-American subjectivity but redirects the cowboy to its ethnic and racial roots. I am not trying to suggest that by creating a Yiddish home on the American range Katz was returning the song to the working-class black culture that spawned it, but that his dialogization of the cowboy-frontier myth exposes the song's genealogy outside of whiteness and reminds us of the extent to which the whiteness of American identity has historically been enacted through the appropriation and then suppression of racialized and ethnicized cultures.(66)

Katz's insertion of the Jew into the symbolic spaces of the frontier myth becomes even more revealing when he rewrites the story of Davy Crockett, the Tennessee frontiersman who ran for Congress in 1 829 and who has survived through legend and pop cultural memory as a symbolic embodiment of the American character. More specifically, Katz parodies "The Legend of Davy Crockett" (as recorded for the Disney film Davy Crockett) with a tale of a much lesser known legend who might be considered the disembodiment dis·em·bod·y  
tr.v. dis·em·bod·ied, dis·em·bod·y·ing, dis·em·bod·ies
1. To free (the soul or spirit) from the body.

2. To divest of material existence or substance.
 of the American character, Lower East Side frontiersman "Duvid Crockett."(67) Instead of hailing from the mountain tops of Tennessee, Katz's frontier hero is "Born in de wilds of Delancey Street/Home of gefilte fish and kosher meat." In 1813 Duvid Crockett leaves Delancey Street to go fight "redskins ... all over the shtetl" and learns to chew tobacco. He then heads to the South, where he meets his wife and gets elected president of the "B'nai Mississippi." Like the legendary Davy Crockett, Duvid also travels West, but instead of the untamed and unclaimed frontier he lands in Las Vegas, where he loses all of his money and decides to return to Delancey Street. Unlike the heroic victories of Davy Crockett, Duvid is a Western failure, a failed frontiersman who ends up right where he started. Indeed, the repeated refrain that fades the song out to end is "He's back on Delancey Street.(68)

If, as Slotkin has demonstrated, Davy Crockett has come to symbolically embody the free individual, unattached to cultural patrimonies, tradition, and community, Katz's Crockett becomes a sort of anti-Crockett whose alien tongue, immigrant accent, Old World religion, and ethnic culinary preferences prevent him from being successfully melted within the frontier's crucible of whiteness. Slotkin describes Davy Crockett as the legend of the man who leaves the "moral or material ruin" of the Metropolis seeking "self-renewal on the frontier."(69) Katz's Crockett loses his money in Las Vegas and, after experiencing no self-renewal, is forced to return to the ethnic neighborhood in the Metropolis from which he originally departed. In Katz's parodic legend, "the immigrant" of Turner's thesis wanders west only to return east, against the flow of the frontier's narrative traffic.

While Katz certainly does not reject or refuse the role of frontier symbology sym·bol·o·gy  
1. The study or interpretation of symbols or symbolism.

2. The use of symbols.

1. the study and interpretation of symbols. Also called symbolism.
 in U.S. nation formation and in the shaping of cultural citizenship, he does deflate it by exposing the myth as failure. Duvid Crockett, an unassimilated Yiddish-speaking Jew from New York's Lower East Side, does not experience the "grand transformations" of self, "character, fortunes, and institutions" that were fundamental to the frontier experience.(70) Be it the Bar Mitzvah Ranch, a Yiddish haim on the range, or Duvid Crockett, the frontier has no Americanizing, whitening, or regenerative effect on Katz's Western Jews. For Katz the frontier is more a place of self-deprecation than self-transformation, yet another stage for the performance of Jewish difference, not the site of its erasure ERASURE, contracts, evidence. The obliteration of a writing; it will render it void or not under the same circumstances as an interlineation. (q.v.) Vide 5 Pet. S. C. R. 560; 11 Co. 88; 4 Cruise, Dig. 368; 13 Vin. Ab. 41; Fitzg. 207; 5 Bing. R. 183; 3 C. & P. 65; 2 Wend. R. 555; 11 Conn. . He repeatedly uses the symbols and myths of the frontier to his own ends, dialogizing them "with his own accent" and appropriating their stable of meanings to shape something that he could call "his own," a frontier space of racial and ethnic performance that was as much a bar mitzvah as it was a ranch.(71)

"Too Much Jewish": Parody for Americans

By the mid 60s, there were few audiences left for Katz's parodies. The mild-tempered, innocuous, and sadly nostalgic stories, jokes, traditional songs, and "Heb-bop" that run through the Carnegie Hall recording of Hello, Solly: An English-Yiddish Musical Revue--his last-ditch effort to revive his successful musical revue Borscht Capades--make it clear that Katz's audience had not changed and in fact had only gotten older and smaller. By the time he played my great-grandparents' anniversary party few young American Jews could demonstrate a working knowledge of Yiddish. More assimilated third-generation audiences wanted little to do with his Old World accents and dated portrayals of first- and second-generation Jewish subject matter. Katz found his most receptive and loyal audiences at private weddings and bar mitzvahs, and towards the end of his life became a regular fixture on the Florida condo circuit.

Katz's outlaw parodies cleared the space necessary for less threatening performers such as Eli Basse, Lee Tully and, perhaps most famous, the top-selling musical parodist of the 60s, Allan Sherman. With Sherman's string of popular album the road to whiteness that Katz's parodies had so loudly problematized in the 50s had become even more well-traveled in the 60s. Katz's first- and second-generation klezmerized world of bubbes, zaydes, blintzes, sbvitzes, and Yiddish punchlines had become the Americanized, English-speaking world best summarized by the cultural and financial landscape that resulted when Sherman molded the traditional Jewish song "Hava Nagila" into "Harvey and Sheila": suburban lawns, Ivy League universities, attorneys, CEOs, trips to Europe, and GOP tendencies.(72) No Yiddish, no dialect accents, no uproarious klezmer frailachs. Just humorous and harmless parodies that replaced popular songs with a cast of white Americans who also happened to be Jewish. Sherman was even invited to play for President Lyndon Johnson and headline the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.

When Sherman played the Catskills hotels--those holy meccas of Jewish laughter that were always just slightly out of Katz's reach--his distance from Katz was never more apparent. "I realized I'm at my worst in front of all-Jewish audiences," Sherman recalls in his 1965 autobiography The Gift of Laughter, "because they seem to want something from me that I can't give them. They want me to fit into a mold that I never made but they did. They want me to be a professional Jew, an inside Jew, and they want me to sit there and laugh their version of the hipsters' laugh- `I dig you, but the goys don't.' And I can't give them that--that's too much Jewish."(73)

What was "too much Jewish" for Sherman was just Katz's way of adding his "two-cents plain" to the racialized national symphonies of American identity. It was his way of challenging both the trappings of Jewishness and, if only for single musical moments in his size 3 7 tuxedo, the terms of American cultural citizenship.

This essay would not have been possible without the support, assistance, and encouragement of Ron Katz and Grace Katz. Special thanks are also due to Michael Rogin, Waldo Martin, George Lipsitz, David Meltzer, and my fellow Katz scholar Donald Weber. Versions of this essay were presented at the 1997 Modern Language Association Convention and the 1997 Making and Unmaking of Whiteness conference at UC Berkeley.

(1.) "The Yiddish Are Coming" nods to the 1967 Verve recording, The Yiddish Are Coming! The Yiddish Are Coming!, the third in a series of wonderful Bob Booker and George Foster comedy ensemble records. In 1973 the phrase memorably reappeared on Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner's 1973 album for Warner Brothers, 2000 and Thirteen, with Brooks' Yiddish-inflected two-thousand-year-old man claiming that Paul Revere Revere, city (1990 pop. 42,786), Suffolk co., E Mass., a residential suburb of Boston, on Massachusetts Bay; settled c.1630, set off from Chelsea and named for Paul Revere 1871, inc. as a city 1914.  was actually an antisemite who rode through the streets shouting "They're coming, they're coming. The Yiddish they're coming." I borrow the incredibly suggestive phrase "antic-Semitism" from Ronald L. Smith, who uses it throughout his indispensable Goldmine Comedy Record Price Guide (Iola, Kansas, 1996).

(2.) Sleeve notes, Mickey Katz and His Orchestra, Mickey Katz and His Orchestra (Capitol H298).

(3.) Klezmer music developed in the Jewish shtetls of Poland, Romania, Ukraine, and Russia and has long served as the principal secular music of celebration within Jewish communities across the Jewish diaspora. "Klezmer," a word initially used to describe the musician himself, is derived from the Hebrew words "kley" and "zemer" which together mean "instrument of song." Intinerant groups of klezmer musicians, known as kapelye, were typically made up of violins, tsimbl, string bass, and clarinet. With the mass immigration of East European Jews Until the Holocaust, Jews were a significant part of the population of Eastern Europe. Outside Poland, the largest population was in the European part of the USSR, especially Ukraine (1.5 million in the 1930s), but major populations also existed in Hungary, Romania, and Czechoslovakia.  to the US at the turn of the twentieth century, klezmer made its first inroads in American popular music, and its popularity continues to this day. For a cursory introduction to the history of klezmer see World Music: The Rough Guide (London, 1994), 641-47.

(4.) Maria Damon, "Word-landslayt," in People of the Book: Thirty Scholars Reflect on Their Jewish Identity, ed. Jeffrey Rubin-Dorsky and Shelley Fisher Fishkin (Madison, 1996), 384. Applying the impulses of the Negritude Negritude

Literary movement of the 1930s, '40s, and '50s. It began among French-speaking African and Caribbean writers living in Paris as a protest against French colonial rule and the policy of assimilation.
 movement to the Yiddish word-worlds of Allen Ginsberg, Lenny Bruce, and Gertrude Stein, Damon uses "Yidditude" to allude to the defiant recovery of a downtrodden down·trod·den  
Oppressed; tyrannized.


oppressed and lacking the will to resist

Adj. 1.

(5.) See for example Sander Gilman, The Jew's Body (New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of
, 1991); Howard Eilberg-Schwartz ed., People of the Body (Albany, 1992); the essays by Daniel Itzkovitz, Jay Geller, Jack Kugelmass, Ann Pelligrini, and Marc Shell in Jews and Other Differences: The New Jewish Cultural Studies, ed. Jonathan Boyarin and Daniel Boyarin; Ann Pelligrini, Performance Anxieties: Staging Psychoanalysis, Staging Race (New York, 1997); Norman Kleebatt ed., Too Jewish?: Challenging Traditional Identities (New Brunswick, 1996).

(6.) Pelligrini, Performance, 10.

(7.) On the power of disidentification as a strategy of minoritarian self-making, see Jose Munoz, Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics (Minneapolis 1999).

(8.) Pelligrini, Performance Anxieties, 21.

(9.) David Biale, "The Melting Pot and Beyond: Jews and the Politics of American Identity," in Insider/Outsider: American Jews and Multiculturalism, ed. David Biale, Michael Galchinsky, and Susannah Herschel (Berkeley, 1998), 27.

(10.) Freilachs are syncopated, up-tempo, and highly rhythmic klezmer songs meant to accompany traditional fast-paced circle dances.

(11.) Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature (Minneapolis, 1996), 5-6, 26-7.

(12.) Gary Giddins, Riding on a Blue Note: Jazz and American Pop (New York, 1981), 252-7.

(13.) Joseph Roach, Cities of the Dead (New York, 1996), 69. Here I am also thinking specifically of Michael Rogin's work on the Jewish blackface of Al Jolson and Eddie Cantor in Blackface, White Noise (Berkeley, 1996) Eric Lott's work on the contemporary resonances of nineteenth-century minstresly in Love and Theft (New York, 1993) and "White Like Me: Racial Cross-Dressing and the Construction of American Whiteness," in Cultures of United States Imperialism, ed. Amy Kaplan and Donald Pease (Durham, 1993), Ann Douglas' work on Irving Berlin and Al Jolson as doubles in Terrible Honesty: Mongrel mongrel

of mixed or uncertain breeding; said of dogs in particular but also used adjectivally to refer to any species.
 Manhattan in the 1920s (New York, 1995), Maria Damon's work on Mezz Mezzrow and Lenny Bruce in "Jazz-Jews, Jive, and Gender: The Ethnic Politics of Jazz Argot ar·got  
A specialized vocabulary or set of idioms used by a particular group: thieves' argot. See Synonyms at dialect.

," in Jews and Other Differences, Ann Pelligrini's work on Sandra Bernhard's "whiteface" in Performance Anxieties, William Upski Wimsatt's musings on white hip-hoppers in Bomb the Suburbs Bomb The Suburbs, by William Upski Wimsatt is a mix of storytelling, journalism and original research on a broad range of topics like suburban sprawl, hip hop culture, wiggers, youth activism, graffiti, and Chicago.  (Chicago, 1994), and David Meltzer's overlooked work on jazz as a white mythology in his excellent "pre-ramble" to Reading Jazz (San Francisco, 1993).

(14.) Roach, Cities, 33-71.

(15.) See, for example, Henry Sapoznick's wonderful compilation Jakie Jazz'em Up: Old-Time Klezmer Music 1912-1926 (Global Village Music, 1984). In the liner notes Sapoznick points out that many Jewish klezmer musicians such as Harry Kandel's Orchestra, whose song "Jakie Jazz-em Up" gives the collection its name, and Jospeh Cherniavsky's Hasidic-American Jazz Band often mixed their music with jazz overtones in order to further Americanize the klezmer sound, "fueling the need of their audiences to reconcile the familar with the foreign."

(16.) Mickey Katz, "St. Looey Blues," Comin `Round the Katskills (Capitol W 1307).

(17.) Rogin, Blackface, 73-120.

(18.) Mickey Katz, "Toot, Toot, Tootsie," Comin `Round the Katskills and "Schleppin My Baby Back Home," Katz Puts on the Dog (Capitol T934).

(19.) Mary Antin, The Promised Land (New York, 1997), 3.

(20.) See Mickey Katz, Mish Mosh (Capitol T799) for "Sixteen Tons" and "That Pickle in the Window" and The Most Mishige (Capitol T1102) for "The Flying Poiple Kishke Eater" and "Where Is My Pants?".

(21.) See, for example, Tricia Rose's discussion of break beats as moments of sonic rupture in Black Noise (Hanover, NH, 1994)75-6. "Breaks" occur when the rhythm section suddenly moves to the foreground of a particular composition. Explains Rose, "These break beats are points of rupture in their former contexts, points at which the thematic elements of a musical piece are suspended and the underlying rhythms brought center stage."

(22.) Mickey Katz, Papa, Play for Me: The Hilarious, Heartwarming Autobiography of Comedian and Bandleader Mickey Katz (New York, 1977), 190-4.

(23.) All chart information is from Joel Whitburn's invaluable Pop Memories 1890-1954 (Menomonee Falls, WI, 1986).

(24.) Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer, Growing up Jewish in America: An Oral History (New York, 1995), 219-20. The song Goldberg refers to is actually "Don't Let the Schmaltz Get in Your Eyes," from the Mish Mosh album.

(25.) Howard M. Sachar, A History of the Jews In America (New York, 1992), 553.

(26.) Katz, Papa, 126-33, 162-3.

(27.) Macdonald Smith Moore, Yankee Blues: Musical Culture and American Identity (Bloomington, 1985), 68-71.

(28.) Daniel Gregory Mason, Tune in, America (New York, 1930), 160-1.

(29.) Henry Ford, "Jewish Jazz Becomes Our National Music," in Jewish Influences in American Life, Volume III of The International Jew, the World's Foremost Problem (Dearborn, 1921), 68.

(30.) Ford, "How the Jewish Song Trust Makes You Sing," Jewish Influences in American Life, 75.

(31.) Walter Benn Michaels, "The Souls of White Folk," in Literature and the Body: Essays on Populations and Persons, ed. Elaine Scarry (Baltimore, 1988), 192.

(32.) James Baldwin, "Introduction: The Price of the Ticket," in The Price of the Ticket: Collected Nonfiction, 1948-1985 (New York, 1985), xiv-xix; J. Alvin Kugelmass, "Name-Changing-- And What It Gets You: Twenty-Five Who Did It," in Commentary 13 (August 1952).

(33.) Deleuze and Guattari, Kafka, 26.

(34.) Karen Brodkin Sacks, "How Did Jews Become White Folks," in Steven Gregory and Roger Sanjek ed., Race (New Brunswick, NJ, 1994).

(35.) David Marc, Comic Visions: Television Comedy and American Culture (Malden, MA, 1997), 73 and Robert Cantwell, When We Were Good: The New Folk Revival (Cambridge, Mass, 1996), 201.

(36.) Marc, Comic, 73.

(37.) Marc, Comic, 36-42.

(38.) Henry Popkin, "The Vanishing Jew of Our Popular Culture," Commentary 13 (July 1952): 47-53.

(39.) Jewish dialect comedy is generally understood to refer comedy--spoken, sung, or otherwise--that derives its humor from the Yiddish inflection, pronunciation, and accent most commonly associated with immigrant Jews from Eastern Europe. The first dialect comedians to emerge around the turn of the century were, not surprisingly, the second-generation American-born children of these immigrants who found comedy in the linguistic travails of their greenhorn parents. See Esther Romeyn and Jack Kugelmass, Let There Be Laughter!' Jewish Humor in America (Chicago, 1997) and Henry D. Spalding, "Dialect Stories," in A Treasure Trove TREASURE TROVE. Found treasure.
     2. This name is given to such money or coin, gold, silver, plate, or bullion, which having been hidden or concealed in the earth or other private place, so long that its owner is unknown, has been discovered by accident.
 of American Jewish Humor, ed. Henry D. Spalding (Middle Village, NY, 1976).

(40.) Sam Levenson, "The Dialect Comedian Should Vanish," Commentary (August 1952): 168-70.

(41.) For more on the role of the crooner in the evolution of the jazz vocal see Will Friedwald, Jazz Singing: America's Great Voices from Bessie Smith to Bebop and Beyond (New York, 1990), 205-22.

(42.) Neil Gabler, An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood (New York, 1988), 300-01.

(43.) Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (New York, 1966), 66.

(44.) Gilman, The Jew's Body, 2.

(45.) Gilman, The Jew's Body, 20.

(46.) Sander Gilman, Jewish Self-Hatred (Baltimore, 1986), 139.

(47.) Herbert Gans, "The Yinglish Music of Mickey Katz," American Quarterly 5 (1953):214.

(48.) Sarah Blacher Cohen cohen
 or kohen

(Hebrew: “priest”) Jewish priest descended from Zadok (a descendant of Aaron), priest at the First Temple of Jerusalem. The biblical priesthood was hereditary and male.
, "Yiddish Origins and Jewish-American Transformations," in From Hester Street to Hollywood, ed. Sarah Blacher Cohen (Bloomington, 1983), 349.

(49.) Alisa Solomon, "Azoi Toot a Yid," in Re-Dressing the Canon: Essays in Theater and Gender (New York, 1998), 99.

(50.) Gary Giddens, "Don Byron: Sketches of Klez, "The Village Voice (October 10, 1989), 10.

(51.) Chip Stern, "Don Byron's Katz," Musician (September, 1993), 22.

(52.) Ron Grossman, "Klezmer Music Finds Its Soul Man," The Chicago Tribune (September, 1993), 3.

(53.) Damon, "Word-landslayt," 381.

(54.) Katz cited in Smith, Goldmine, 190.

(55.) Alessandro Portelli, "Typology typology /ty·pol·o·gy/ (ti-pol´ah-je) the study of types; the science of classifying, as bacteria according to type.


the study of types; the science of classifying, as bacteria according to type.
 of Industrial Folk Song," in The Death of Luigi Trastulli and Other Stories: Form and Meaning in Oral History (Albany, 1991), 172-3.

(56.) Joseph Lanza, Elevator Music: A Surreal History of Muzak, Easy-Listening, and Other Moodsong (New York, 1994), 120.

(57.) For more on the definition and history of the "mamboid," see Gustavo Perez-Firmat, Life on the Hyphen hyphen: see punctuation. : The Cuban-American Way (Austin, 1994). The "mamboids" by Clooney and Como can be found on the "Saludos Amigos AMIGOS Advanced Mobile Integration in General Operating Systems " compilation CD, Latin-American Holidays (Sarabandas, 1992).

(58.) On Prado's "logoclassia," see Perez-Firmat, Life, 87.

(59.) Katz, Papa, 125.

(60.) Mickey Katz, The Borscht ]ester (Capitol [ST.sub.145]). For a broad historical survey of the subversive behavior of the fool and the Jester, see Barry Sanders, Sudden Glory: Laughter as Subversive History (Boston, 1995).

(61.) See Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World (Bloomingston, 1984), 20-1 and Sanders, Sudden, 155.

(62.) Robert Alter, "Jewish Humor and the Domestication domestication

Process of hereditary reorganization of wild animals and plants into forms more accommodating to the interests of people. In its strictest sense, it refers to the initial stage of human mastery of wild animals and plants.
 of Myth," in Jewish Wry: Essays on Jewish Humor, ed. Sarah Blacher Cohen (Detroit, 1987), 27.

(63.) Mickey Katz, "Nudnick, the Flying Schissel," The Most Mishige.

(64.) Frederick Jackson Turner, The Frontier in American History (New York, 1928), 23.

(65.) See Cantwell, When, 71. For further examples of Lomax's approach to anthologizing musical Americanism, see John and Alan Lomax, Folk Song U.S.A., (New York, 1947).

(66.) Cantwell, When, 72.

(67.) For a more complete reading of "Duvid Crockett," see Donald Weber's wonderful essay, "Taking Jewish American Popular Culture Seriously: The Yinglish Worlds of Gertrude Berg, Milton Berle, and Mickey Katz," Jewish Social Studies 5:1-5:2 (Fall 19981 Winter 1999): 139-44.

(68.) Of course, Katz was not the only one dialogizing Davy Crockett. In the mid 50s Chicano musician Lalo Guerrero wrote his own bilingual, Spanish-English parody of the Crockett theme song, "The Ballad of Pancho Lopez," which had success on both the Spanish-language and English-language charts. For Guerrero's own history of the song, see Steven Loza, Barrio bar·ri·o  
n. pl. bar·ri·os
1. An urban district or quarter in a Spanish-speaking country.

2. A chiefly Spanish-speaking community or neighborhood in a U.S. city.
 Rhythm: Mexican American Music in Los Angeles (Chicago, 1993), 75-7.

(69.) Richard Slotkin, The Fatal Environment (New York, 1985), 163.

(70.) Slotkin, Fatal, 40.

(71.) Mikhail Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination (Austin, 1981), 293.

(72.) Allan Sherman, "Harvey and Sheila," My Son, the Celebrity (Warner Brothers, 1963). For another reading of Allan Sherman see Herbert Gans, "Allan Sherman's Sociologist Presents ..., "The Reconstructionist (May 1963): 25-30.

(73.) Allan Sherman, The Gift of Laughter (New York, 1965), 171, 288.

Josh Kun is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of California, Riverside The University of California, Riverside, commonly known as UCR or UC Riverside, is a public research university and one of ten campuses of the University of California system. . His arts column, "Frequencies," appears in the San Francisco Bay Guardian The San Francisco Bay Guardian (also known as the SF Bay Guardian, Bay Guardian, and the Guardian) is a free alternative newspaper published weekly in San Francisco, California. The paper is owned mostly by its publisher, Bruce B.  and the Boston Phoenix, and his writings on popular culture have appeared in SPIN, Rolling Stone, The Village Voice, LA Weekly and other publications. He is currently working with Wesleyan University Press Wesleyan University Press, founded (in present form) in 1959, is a university press that is part of Wesleyan University (Connecticut). External link
  • Wesleyan University Press
 on the republication The reexecution or reestablishment by a testator of a will that he or she had once revoked.

REPUBLICATION. An act done by a testator from which it can be concluded that be intended that an instrument which had been revoked by him, should operate as his will; or it is
 of Mickey Katz's Papa. Play for Me.
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Date:Dec 1, 1999
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