Finding the Jewishness in Air Guitar Poetry

I just self-published Air to the Throne: A Poetry Chapbook about Air Guitar. Whereas I previously ran the Jewish vegan blog Heebnvegan and wrote two Jewish punk books, this book is new territory for me because it isn’t overtly Jewish.

Since 2005, my published writing has focused on animal protection issues and punk rock from a Jewish perspective. I often found myself approaching research similarly and framing the content through a Jewish lens. My primary audience was Jews. I was a Jewish writer not just because I was Jewish but also because the content was explicitly Jewish. This consistency was comforting. Being a Jewish writer became a core part of my identity.

While I had written about not specifically Jewish topics sporadically, they weren’t on the front burner. After writing poems about air guitar since 2014 and compiling them into a chapbook, I realized that I was putting out a book that wasn’t a “Jewish book.” It wouldn’t be marketed as a Jewish book or to Jews. And yet there are Jewish elements that I couldn’t escape.

I include Yiddish words, as I typically do. Even if they are part of the English lexicon, they’re Yiddish first and foremost. I call traveling from New York to the Air Guitar World Championships (AGWC) in Finland “a far schlep.” I suggest that if Oprah Winfrey hosted a TV special about air guitar, both Shreddy Mercury (the air guitar stage name of Seth Leibowitz) and Seth Leibowitz (a distinct individual who uses the other guy’s real name as his stage name) could broadcast live from a Finnish sauna “for a shvitz.” The content might be ridiculous—and Finnish—but the Yiddish words are there.

Yishai Romanoff, singer of the Jewish punk band Moshiach Oi!, inspired me to give up nivul peh (obscene speech) a decade ago. I confess that I miss the mark sometimes. But in my books, any necessary curses contain asterisks. Stage names and quotations might lose their rock ’n roll edginess, but I won’t compromise my values to preserve the integrity of Rear Admiral Kicka**!

Björn Türoque (real name Dan Crane) appears frequently in the poems and has a blurb on the back cover. Pointing out Jewish considerations for musicians who don’t put their Jewish identity front and center is a key component of my punk books, and it carried over here. In his 2006 memoir, Crane facetiously claimed to be “the only Jewish air guitarist from Sweden” (he isn’t Swedish), in addition to declaring, “I am the Jews of America!” More recently, he hosted a Jewish podcast called The Kibitz. Knowing all this, even if I don’t say as much in Air to the Throne, inspires me to bring him up more than I would otherwise.

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Two-time AGWC winner Airistotle has played along to songs by quite a few different bands, but I deliberately name the two featuring famously Jewish punk rocker Fat Mike. No prominent punk band has put its members’ Jewishness on display as overtly, frequently, and humorously as NOFX has. And Me First and the Gimme Gimmes recorded a live album at a bar mitzvah!

After vegetarian air guitarist Hot Lixx Hulahan won the AGWC in 2008, I interviewed him for Heebnvegan. He exuberantly talked about touring Israel alongside Useless ID, Israel’s most famous punk band. One poem talks about how air guitar could bring about world peace, and I use Hot Lixx Hulahan as the example in the couplet about Israel.

In my earlier books, I included “ב”ה” — for “Baruch Hashem,” or “Bless G-d” — at the top of the acknowledgments section. In a 32-page chapbook, the acknowledgments came at the end of the preface and didn’t get their own section. It seemed odd to put “ב”ה” before the acknowledgments in the middle of the page.

But I did sneak in a clarification about monotheism in the preface: “The author does not believe that there is more than one G-d.” Initially this was because I called Airistotle “the second coming of air deity Quetzalcóatl.” Deep down, I figured that if I couldn’t put “ב”ה” right before the acknowledgments, I could find a creative way to proclaim (with just one paragraph in between): “Hear, O Israel! The L-rd is our G-d. The L-rd is One.”

In 2008, Teruah Jewish Music profiled me as an air guitarist. The blog noted that I had played air guitar to Jewish punk. It included a quote from me: “Judaism plays a major role in my life. That might not be obvious when I’m air guitaring, but Judaism is always part of the picture somehow, at least in my mind.” Even back then, I understood that my interests were integrated. I was more of an air guitar performer than a poet, but I didn’t check my Jewishness at the door.

Air to the Throne isn’t a Jewish book, per se. It is the product of a Jewish writer.