While strict Shabbat observance is certainly enriching, singer and songwriter Sean Altman has captured some of its potentially inconvenient consequences.
“It’s Friday night / and here’s my plight /I got no right / to turn on the light / I’m a God-fearing man / So in darkness now I stand,” begins the doo-wop-style song on his “Jewnormous” album.
The chorus: “Be my little Shabbos goy / Lend a Christian helping hand / and spread some Shabbos joy.”
After a line about waiting for someone to press the elevator button after walking 18 miles home from shul, just when you think that Altman might be auditioning to write the lyrics for the next holiday video of Aish Hatorah, the Orthodox outreach organization, the song takes a decidedly unorthodox turn – a bit off-color, with lyrics that are not appropriate for this newspaper.
It is not the sort of song Altman could have performed when the group he helped found, Rockapella, served as the house band of the PBS children’s show, “Where In the World is Carmen Sandiego?”
Instead, Altman mixes the sacred, the silly, and the salacious in his Jewmongous show, which he will bring to Teaneck’s Mexicali Live on Dec. 27.
After leaving Rockapella and recording solo albums, Altman wrote “Taller than Jesus,” a variation on John Lennon’s infamous statement that the Beatles were “bigger than Jesus.”
“It got such a great response, I thought maybe I’d write another novelty song,” said Altman. “The Jewishness thing crept in there.”
Says Altman, “In some circles I’m not Jewish enough, and in other circles I’m as Jewish as they come. To my Orthodox friends, I’m not Jewish enough. In that community, I’m an ignoramus. To my non-Jewish friends, I’m a professional Jew. They call me when they have a question, and then I call one of my Orthodox friends.”
His Orthodox friends include his colleagues in religious a cappella groups such as Kol Zimrah, with which he performs at weddings and bar mitzvahs and – on two occasions – White House Chanukah parties.
And it enabled him to craft a yeshivah-worthy version of the classic punk rock song, “I Wanna be Sedated,” by Joey Ramone.
“Joey Ramone was born Jeffry Hyman,” he said. “I wondered what it would be like if he had ‘Jewied’ it up. My version starts off in a minor key, then bursts into a kind of klezmer romp.”
“I’m tremendously grateful I found an outlet for expressing my love of Jewish culture,” he says. “Without this project, I would just be another bar mitzvah Jew.”