To paraphrase one of my favorite rock critics, (Paul Williams "Rock and Roll The 100 Best Singles"), there are two primal rock and roll traditions.... angry stupidity and cheerful stupidity. But there's a counter tradition too, smart stupidity. The court jester. The smart guy (or gal) playing dumb. Sometimes with snarky bite, like Jello Biafra and the Dead Kennedys. Sometimes with nerdy-bafflement, like They Might be Giants. But always that sense that you'd better press rewind and listen to that one again. They just said something that needs to be heard.
The first time I heard The Groggers, I didn't press rewind. The song was Get, and the band bumbled along with a power-pop finger shake at a guy who didn't deserve his girl. A well-played Orthodox novelty song, but (to my ears at the time) nothing more. I wasn't hooked yet. But tonight they sent me their new video "Upper West Side" and they got me. Court Jester. Smart Stupidity. Press Rewind.
Check it out
"Upper West Side Story" - The Groggers
Under the wide eyed naivete of singer/songwriter L.E. Staiman's vocals, is some sharp satirical bite. The phrase "I want to live on the Upper West Side where the girls always stay 29, accountants by day, speed daters by night" was delivered deadpan, but dead on the mark. (As are the hysterical West Side Story "be cool" finger snaps in the video.)
Ok, now go listen to the even better Groggers ballad "Eishes Chayil." I winced when I saw the title. Eishes Chayil, the Woman of Valor, is a regular motif in Orthodox pop music. Derived from a (sometimes touching, often awkward) Shabbat ritual, the Eishes Chayil pop song is usually over-earnest and condescending in it's celebration of the vague awesomeness of the Jewish woman. (Here's Orthodox crooner Yaakov Shwerky singing a representative example.) The Groggers skewer it beautifully. Staiman's version pushes the vague detachment of the Eishes Chayil concept as far as it will go... straight into a Weird Al Yankovic-style voyeuristic creep-fest. "If you ever need me... I'll be right out your window."
In a post on Frum Satire that went up this morning, Heshy Fried lauded them for being a Jewish band that didn't spend their time singing about religious topics, but instead sang about (Orthodox) Jewish life. That's true, and Fried's right that the Orthodox community needs more bands like that. But I think that misses the point a bit. The Groggers aren't singing about frum life, they're holding up a fun-house mirror to it.
Under their dumb lyrics are a smart insiders critique of Orthodox life. And that's brave thing to do. Smart stupidity. Court Jester. Rock and roll.
Update: I forgot to mention that The Groggers debut album "There is no I in Cherem" dropped in August. Go get it.