You may remember Sean Altman from the group Rockapella that provided the music cues and clues for the popular PBS kids’ show Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego back in the 1990s (he co-wrote the series’ catchy theme song). These days (among other things) Altman writes and performs Jewish comedy in the guise of equally catchy, very funny, often slightly blue and occasionally provocative songs under the name “Jewmongous.” His songs are irreverent in a Jon Stewart-ish sort of way, and written and performed with obvious affection for his heritage.
Jewmongous’ first-ever CD Taller than Jesus (Altman's "tribute" to John Lennon's 1966 misunderstood declaration that the Beatles were "bigger than Jesus" ), will be released April 20th, just in time for Passover. The album, which will be available on iTunes and at Jewmongous.com, offers a dozen Altman originals exploring a variety of musical genres from Ska to Metal to a very Jewish take on The Ramones' “I Want To Be Sedated.”
His lyrics are vaguely Kinky (as in Friedman) and his humor is occasionally Weird (as in Al). But the mixing of musical genres with slightly irreverent Borscht-Belt takes on modern Jewish life is fun and very worth a listen.
Altman’s ode to the upcoming festival of Passover (Pesach) is a funnily fractured synopsis of Jewish History called: “They Tried to Kill Us (We Survived, Let’s Eat).” Those very words, practically a ritual at every Seder table in America, will be uttered by someone's uncle or brother-in-law who wants to cut to the chase, skip past all of those prayers, stories, songs and rituals–and start eating, already! (Reminder: Passover begins at sundown next Saturday night, April 19th.)
I have to say, however, that my favorite track on the CD is “Today I Am A Man.” It is an ironic and sardonic anthem to the Jewish coming-of-age ritual known as the “bar mitzvah.” Introduced by the painfully cracking and off-pitch voice of a soon-to-be 13 year old boy chanting his bar mitzvah “portion” (also known as the Haftarah — verses from the Biblical Book of Prophets), the song suggests the many ironies of being considered an “adult” but not really very grown up:
Man with the powers God granted all men/Whenever I want I can stay up 'til ten/My manhood's a flower just starting to bloom/"Stop touching your penis and go clean your room!"
If the lyrics (on most of the songs) weren’t so “R”-rated, I recommend this as a great (and cheap, or rather, economical) bar mitzvah gift. As it is, I still recommend it, but it really is an adult album. So, maybe it’s a good present for the parents of the bar mitzvah kid (who, after all, probably could use a few laughs).
But, according to Altman, Taller than Jesus is not just for Jews. His website provides the reason: “Sean worked, albeit reluctantly, with non-Jewish producer Jon Spurney on specialized high-tech equipment to professionally capture the JEWMONGOUS repertoire in rabbinically mandated SEMITI-SOUND, while still achieving the crystalline pop sheen that the goyim love.”