Dan Bern’s folk songs bear more than a passing resemblance to Bob Dylan‘s–a high-pitched, sometimes scratchy voice is the most obvious similarity. But Dylan was neither as subversive, nor as laugh-out-loud funny, as Bern.
Bern isn’t specifically a Jewish musician, although his religion has become something of a running joke. His autobiographical song “Jew from Kentucky”– which begins “I kiss the mee-zoozah when I walk in the door/I read me a little Hebrew till a quarter ’till four”–is a staple of his live shows, and his backing band, when he performs with one, is named The International Jewish Banking Conspiracy.
The most remarkable evocations of Bern’s Jewishness, though, are the loud and bawdy ones. “Yellow Star” is a Holocaust power ballad, if such a thing were possible–“This time I will not go meekly to the slaughter,” he sings. “I’m Lenny Bruce with a machine gun.”
And “Jerusalem” is at once hilarious and startling–especially in the third verse, when Bern declares himself to be the Messiah. Its heresy is tongue-in-cheek, but Bern is making a serious point: once we stop waiting for the world to get better, and start repairing the world ourselves, we’ll be on our way to fulfilling the Messianic dream.