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Punk was the last thing you’d expect American pop music to produce. And disgruntled Jews were the last people you’d expect to become rock stars.

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Joey Ramone, circa 1970. (Richard McCaffrey/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

The predominance of Jews in American popular music is an old story. From George Gershwin to Amy Winehouse, Jewish composers and entertainers have carved their place in the mainstream. But in the 1970s, a very different sort of Jewish artist emerged. Joey Ramone, Handsome Dick Manitoba, Sylvain Sylvain and the other founding fathers of punk rock were as disdainful of the culture as their predecessors were eager to help define it. Wearing leather jackets, singing about sex and drugs, and cultivating their status as rejects, they made music that was loud and fast and much more true to the traditional status of Jews as eternal outsiders.

Four decades later, the musical genre they helped invent is no longer controversial; punk bands like Green Day have their own musicals on Broadway. But to understand just why punk had become so popular, and what its success says about the American Jewish community, it is necessary to go back to New York circa 1974, where a group of nerdy Jews were busy reinventing themselves. Unofficial punk historian Jeff Wengrofsky talks to Long Story Short host Liel Leibovitz. [Running time: 49:40.]

to Long Story Short.

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Really amazing. Can you post the names and info of each sound clip?

“The predominance of Jews in American popular music is an old story. From George Gershwin to Amy Winehouse, Jewish composers and entertainers have carved their place in the mainstream.”

Since when is Amy American ? :-)

Leigh Dolin says:

Great show and enjoyed the comments and music. But I think calling the Barton Brothers (new to me) predecessors of punk is a bit of a stretch. Their musicians played their instruments too well. Punk is the Ramones, 3 chords, and avoidance of melody at all costs.

George Petros says:

Very cool. Jeff Wengrofsky is to be congratulated for his panoramic overview of Punk’s early history. He authoritatively articulates the genre’s alienation and triumphs. Keep up the good work.

This was an extremely enlightening, affirming, elucidating, fascinating, and all in all, truly *uplifting* program.
Then again, this reaction is coming from one chronically depressed, permanently alienated, wrong-half Jewish atheist, former USSR immigrant via Israel, who’s nearest idea of a self-identity is that of being a “punk” — how terribly sad that punk is not understood in that original sense anymore! …and there is no other term close enough to qualify as substitute.
However, I cannot thank Jeff Wengrofsky enough for shedding this light on my own darkly muddled and nearly invisible identity – and even giving it some certain context – dare i say, implicate a shared experience with other ‘outsiders’ that is more than merely the experience of being an ‘outsider’….
May you live to 120 years of age, you punk!!!

Liz Byrnestein says:

This is BRILLIANT in many ways. The questions are probing and the answers are sering. I found this particular discussion riveting. Jeff Wengrofsky’s song selections are prime examples of true punk and it’s original philosophy. What incite… מאוד חינוכי

Hank Payne says:

Jeff, thank you for a fascinating interview. I honestly had never stopped to think about nor realized the broad influence that Jews have had on Punk. Very interesting stories you shared on the amazing musicians. Mazel tov & now, I’m hearing The Banshees “Israel”!

For me as a ‘punk-rock-layperson’ this interview is extremely helpful to gain insight into the history of punk and the decisive role the American Jewish community played in originating it. Thanks!

Great interview! I love it! Really scratches below the surface of this cultural moment, and from an ethnic angle that I hadn’t heard before. Although I had made the connection between punk and other, more intellectual forms of cultural criticism, as far back as the turn of the century; modernity has been alienating people for as long as there’s been modernity.

Steven Blush says:

Jeff Wengrofsky’s insightful interview not only made me re-examine cultural history, but it made me realize that Jews in punk is American as apple pie and Chinese takeout. Mazel tov!

Thank you for composing informative content. I’m impressed with your ability to write persuasive material. You’ve given me a large amount of thought-provoking views to consider.

PunkyJewster says:

For those of you interested in Jeff’s talk, you might want to check out the book “The Heebie-Jeebies at CBGB’s: A Secret History of Jewish Punk.” It’s about the exact same thing, yet goes into infinitely more detail. It came out here in 2006 and in Germany in 2008. The writer’s website is

look at the movie revenge of the nerds they were always dressing like punk rockers

the marx brothers were punk rockers because they always were thinking outside of the box

i think that the NEW YORK DOLLS started the entire punk rock scene

Bob Lelli says:

Sorry, but as far as I know none of the Stooges were Jewish. Try 1967 for the invention of Punk Rock and it was Detroit, not New York, sorry.

Dick Manitoba? Father of punk rock? What about 1972 the UK Subs? Everyone alwasy forgets about them. This article is just a guy looking for a niche. Some people are jewish. But punk didn’t happen because they were jewish. Anymore then it happened because they were left handed, had a vitiman E deficiency or because they have ingrown toe nails. But it’s really obvious that this writer is a friend of Dick Manitoba, because outside of his friends, no one knows who he is!!! How do I know? I was a freind of Dick Manitoba, but he’s such a raging ego maniac he doesn’t even remember me. And that’s fine, I’m sure I’m not missing much. NYC was an amazing place in the early 80’s when I was a kid. l played in some bands. Some of the people I played with were jewish. What does it mean? WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN? It means that people claw their way to relevancy. They need to find an angle, so their opinons matter. Is it gross? It can be. Depends on how serious they take themselves. I give this guy a 6 on a scale of 1-10. So it could be worse. But for some jewish people, it might be entertaining. For me, I’m only jewish by association. So ya know… I’ll never really understand…. chicken john


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Punk was the last thing you’d expect American pop music to produce. And disgruntled Jews were the last people you’d expect to become rock stars.

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