Tues. Dec. 24
Singer-guitarist Sean Altman sometimes goes by an alter-ego, Jewmongous, and writes humorous pop songs, most of them based on his experiences as a member of the Tribe – caustic, venomous or nasty things that make some people think, “Oh my gosh, is he kidding?” Yes and no. Altman, who says “at any given moment I have five musical projects going on,” is usually busy in December. Something to do with Chanukah and Christmas. He’s at Club Passim Tuesday Dec. 24, playing songs from, “Taller Than Jesus,” songs like “They Tried To Kill Us (We Survived, Let’s Eat),” “Jews for Jesus,” “My Pact With Satan” and “Christian Baby Blood.”
Let’s deal with the album title first. It is obviously a play on John Lennon’s flip comment in 1966 about the Beatles being more popular than Jesus. The Beatles were one of Altman’s favorite groups and he – he’s quite sure – taller than Jesus. The singer-guitarist stands 6’3” and notes that most Jewish men of the time were no taller than 5’6”. Now, the songs … like “Christian Baby Blood.” “It’s meant to dispel the myth of blood libel,” says Altman. “ To some people merely the mention of it, is the equivalent of making a joke and using the word Hitler. But I’d like to think most people think the way that I do -that these subjects that have been taboo, should be made fun of.” He notes that by calling his act Jewmongous, “No one’s going to show up thinking it’s a reverent Jewish act.”
Altman was, for years, a member of Rockapella and notes, now with Jewmongous, his “novelty” music has proved to have greater appeal than his straight stuff, which he calls “quirky, angst-ridden middle-aged singer-songwriter” music. He can live with it. He’s found new respect for comics who demand frequent laughter and for the art of injecting humor in song.
“In Judaism or Jewish comedy, Jesus takes a bit of a beating,” says Altman. “Jesus to Jews is like Babe Ruth to the Red Sox – we had star player and let him get away and start a dynasty somewhere.” What really tees him off is Jews for Jesus, as you can tell from his song or what he says here; “They’re a cult, ever present in New York. I’m not religious, but when I see them in action in makes my blood boil – them preying on the weak-willed of my tribe. They teach a lot of falsehoods. On the song, I end up beating the crap out of them.”
The album closes with the Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated,” a rather semiticized, sad, folky version that turns into joyous punk. “Joey was born Jeffery Hyman,” notes Altman. Which is to say, the late Ramones singer was Jewish, although he never made much point of it one way or the other. (Exception, maybe: “Bonzo Goes to Bitburg.”) Altman says, “I sang backup for him once, at the Losers Lounge tribute series. He sang at the Kinks tribute, and I sang “Tired of Waiting for You” with him.”
So Altman continues to make his peace with Jewmongous. “It started out as this little novelty side project,” he says, “and it’s obviously struck a chord my solo career never did’ – he has three solo three solo albums, ten with Rockapella. “It’s an ongoing dialog I have with myself. Jewmongous’ success is somewhat bittersweet because the novelty act is getting vastly more attention than the ‘true artiste,’ and that’s what it was with Rockapella, too.” (He formed Rockapella with three other pals from Brown University in 1986 that mixed rock, R & B, jazz and doo-wop.) “It’s strange to have an act where the entire focus is getting laughs,” says Altman of Jewmongous. “It’s kind of high pressure.” But when you’re playing to soldout rooms – he says his audience tends to be 70% Jewish – that helps make the fun happen. How often can you celebrate and send up your ethnicity and make a living at it? Well, if you’re not Jackie Mason.
Check ’em on on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rAvTUXPEozo
Tickets for Jewmongus’ show, with the first show at 6 and second 8:30. Tix are $18 advance and $20 day-of.