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Interview with Dan Bern
Jewish Community Radio
October 3, 2003
www.danbern.com

Jewish Community Radio: Okay, weíre on the air with Dan Bern. Why donít you tell us a little about that song (G-d Said No), what it means, why your wrote itÖ

Dan Bern: Well, obviously itís a conversation between G-d and myself. And itís an attempt to go back in time and right the wrongs of the past, which of course, is ultimately futile. As G-d says in the end, all you have is right now. So thatís kind of what youíre left with.

Jewish Community Radio: Did you grow up religious? Does that come from synagogue?

Dan Bern: I grew up I would say very mildly religious. Both my parents came through the Holocaust. My Dad was from Lithuania and lost his whole family other then a brother. And my Mom was born in Germany and they left finally in Ď39. So all of that all that history and that cultural history and everything that happens there always felt very close.

Jewish Community Radio: On one of your latest albums you have a song called Lithuania where youíre talking about your father and your grandparents. Thatís kind of a long in depth heavy song.

Dan Bern: Itís strange because that history, that past is so recent in many ways its almost you could reach back and touch it but at the same time its incredibly remote. I myself didnít actually go to Lithuania until two or three years ago and that was one way of attempting to make some ties between present and past and try to make the past a little bit more present.

Jewish Community Radio: Did you write the song before or after you visited Lithuania?

Dan Bern: I wrote the song before. In many ways itís easier to write in that way before things become tangible when you can simply imagine things.

Jewish Community Radio: Was it different when you actually saw the places you were writing about or you heard from your Dad?

Dan Bern: Yeah, yeah. We went to the little town he was from which is called Schood up in the north west part of Lithuania and I didnít expect to find anybody that had any recollection of the family or the times or anything. We found an old man riding a bicycle who remembered when they took everybody out and shot them and remembered hearing the shots from his house. And another old woman who was basically living in a shack who remembered the family and who remembered that my Grandfather had a shoe business. Really completely unexpected and amazing to me that there were these living people who remembered what were to me really ghosts.

Jewish Community Radio: That song comes off an album called The Swastika EP. You kind of got some humor going on there.

Dan Bern: Well yes and no. I mean yesÖ and noÖ The song that The Swastika EP refers to is called My Little Swastika and I suppose it does use humor to drive something home. Basically what thatís song does is attempt to reassign the swastika, that symbol, and to take it away from people who continue to this day to use it in harmful ways. So it basically tries to subvert the symbol. In the song for example it stands now for Groucho, Harpo, Zeppo and Chico. It stands for John, Paul, George and Ringo. Itís four sevens which is twenty-eight which is half of Joe DiMaggioís hitting streak. I mean, really absurd things, kind of a one-man crusade maybe to take the power away from the people who would still write the symbol on a wall to inflict pain.

Jewish Community Radio: Well I guess the Nazis didnít invent the symbol to begin with.

Dan Bern: Exactly, exactly. Itís a many thousands of years old symbol and wouldnít be great if in the future it didnít have the context that we know it in.

Jewish Community Radio: The song Jerusalem. That song was from your first album. You really went to Jerusalem for ten days?

Dan Bern: Yeah. My sister was studying to be a cantor at the time there.

Jewish Community Radio: Is she a cantor now?

Dan Bern: Sheís a cantor in Virginia now.

Jewish Community Radio: So not all your songs are like the past. You got that Al Kida Blues and youíre talking about modern things.

Dan Bern: Oh yeah. I think I try to weave the past and the very present. I think itís so important to be about right now.

Jewish Community Radio: And not all your songs are about Jewish topics. You got the Tiger Woods song and stuff like that.

Dan Bern: Yeah. Probably more of my songs are not what youíd call Jewish topics.

Jewish Community Radio: But it always comes up, what is a Jewish musician or what constitutes as Jewish music.

Dan Bern: What do ya think?

Jewish Community Radio: I donít know, I mean I have to choose what to play on the show. People will say, Dan Bern, is he a Jewish musician? And Iíll say, well heís Jewish and he has some songs that are Jewish. Does that ever come up for you?

Dan Bern: Well I suppose in this context. I mean I think there are some threads that run through. Itís difficult to say what it is. Is Lenny Bruce a Jewish comedian? I mean he touched on a lot of things that are very essential to a lot of Jews and he touched on a lot of things that were more about the society at large. I think that what youíd call the Diaspora, I guess, Jews have always been very much a part of the societies that they lived in as well as being part of the larger Jewish community as a whole.

Jewish Community Radio: So youíre performing this Tuesday at the Beachland Ballroom. Itís just going to be you alone?

Dan Bern: Just me.

Jewish Community Radio: And your band, you call it the International Jewish Banking Conspiracy. Whatís up with that name?

Dan Bern: It was partly tongue in cheek I guess. But I guess I wanted some way of telling my Mom that from now on when they talk about the international Jewish banking conspiracy theyíre just talking about my band.


Lithuania
by Dan Bern
The Swastika EP
2002 Messenger Records

These are my ghosts: Uncle Emmanuel, Uncle Eli, Aunt Mia
And my grandparents, Jenny and Tobias, none of whom I've ever met
I saw some letters once that they wrote to my dad in Palestine in 1940
Not too long before they all were shot
My only link to them is my dad, he knew them, he knew me, now he's gone too

Sometimes I want to get next to them, sometimes I want to drive them all away
Say: You're not my ghosts, I live in Sunny California, I drive a 1992 Red Chevrolet
I drive fast, and I drive as far west as anyone can drive
Eight thousand miles from Lithuania and if I could escape
By driving further then I would, but it doesn't get me anyplace new

I guess if I was a true American, I could write an elegy to the automobile
But when I jump in it doesn't get me any place different
Sometimes I want to dance on Hitler's grave
And shout out: Groucho Marx, Lenny Bruce, Leonard Cohen, Philip Roth,
Bob Dylan, Albert Einstein, Leonard Bernstein, Harry Houdini, Sandy Kofax!

And then I want to sing as loud as I can
Watch the chandeliers sway dangerously overhead
Proclaiming Kristalnacht is over
I say Kristalnacht is over! The only broken glass tonight
Will be from wedding glasses shattered under boot heels
We're not the ones in the museum it's you
Your curious mustache and your chamber of horrors

I've a friend my age whose parents met in Auschwitz on the Day of Liberation
She lives in San Francisco a good job just moved into a new house
I've a friend who lies in her hospital bed
After fifteen operations from a botched appendectomy
I go to visit her with a heart heavy from the things on my mind
And she cheers me up

I saw my Dad tell jokes and teach me how to laugh
Thirty years after his parents, and brothers, sister were all shot,
Murdered in the streets of Lithuania
I see trees growing tall and the sun coming upand the ocean roaring home
And know I must go on I must go on
It would be cowardly to stop
It would be an aberration to do anything else

Amid something you tried to remember for days
The fog is suddenly lifted
The haze is gone from your mind
And its no so much that your memory finally heeded
But you gave up needing to need it

Hey, the fog has gone
Hey, the fog has gone
Its time for you to come out
There's no longer a reason to die


Suicide Bomb
By Dan Bern
World Cup
2002 Messenger Records

This is the last song I will ever write
I'll plug my ears and cover up my eyes to mask my sight
I'm killing off my instincts after two-thousand songs
I'm getting with the program, now I'm gonna play along

This is my songwriting suicide bomb
This is my songwriting suicide bomb

I can't compete with blowing up yourself on a bus
Killing one of you and nineteen of us
Flying hi-jacked airplanes so thousands will die
But I can kill too and blacken out the sky
This is my songwriting suicide bomb
This is my songwriting suicide bomb

This is the last song I will ever write
The last blank page my pen will ever blight
Abandoning the fight, I'm pulling off the gloves
No longer be a soldier for God or truth or love

This is my songwriting suicide bomb
This is my songwriting suicide bomb


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