Monday, December 26, 2016

I'd Love to Turn You On #169 - Allen Sherman – My Son the Greatest

Allan Sherman - My Son The Greatest (The Best Of)
In this blessed season of light you may have often found yourself asking: “What would it be like to be Jewish during the Christmas season?” An excellent question, and I can answer it for you: it is humbling, interesting, a little isolating, but most of all, it is funny. The Jewish people have a long history of finding humor in all sorts of situations, and being kind of excluded from the biggest national holiday in the American calendar could be the source of weird feelings and bitterness, and yet… most of the great Christmas songs were written by Jews and I personally love Christmas. I like the lights, I like the happiness it brings kids, I like that people try to be nice to their families and neighbors - all good! Growing up in New York, both the beauty and emotional schism of the holiday were even more apparent. Many Jews in America in the 20th century developed their own interesting and funny traditions. Going to a movie and out for Chinese (another group in some ways excluded from Christmas) food is a huge deal. Participating in the gift giving, but not really knowing why - big. Watching Christmas movies and appreciating them for their achievements in cinematography - big! But biggest for our family was Christmas 1962 when Jewish comedian Allan Sherman put out his My Son The Folk Singer album and Jews throughout America went into a spasm of laughter that, for me at least, has not subsided to this day. Sherman perfected the technique that has made Weird Al Yankovic a household name in the modern era. He took famous songs and made up new and hilarious lyrics to them.
I was lucky enough to meet Weird Al many years ago, and I asked him if he listened to Allan Sherman growing up. He actually got down on his knees, à la Wayne’s World, and said “I’m not worthy!” Yes, Allan Sherman was the best at song parodies. He brought a real sense of history, musicianship, and, as mentioned, Semitism to his work. In 1962 there weren’t that many Yiddish accents in mainstream media, yet, when Allan Sherman’s “Sarah Jackman” (a parody of “Frère Jacques”) was released and President John F. Kennedy was overheard singing it, suddenly the inverted clauses and misplaced proper nouns started to become part of American life. Sherman actually reached mega-stardom with his hit song “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh!” –which took the classical standard by Ponchielli, “Dance of the Hours, and turned it into a letter from a homesick kid stuck at sleepaway camp. The song was an enormous hit and made Sherman very famous very fast. However, in my estimation it is the least of his accomplishments. My Son The Greatest is filled with hilarious adaptations of popular songs loaded with cultural references of the moment (in the late 50’s and early 60’s). He takes on advertising, fast food, consumerism, T.V., slang, The Beatles, beatniks, history, movie stars, politics, even Christmas itself.
For me, and I suspect for many other Jewish people, the best are his parodies of Jewish family life, where he affects the heavy Yiddish accent and makes merciless fun of the Jewish people’s halting steps into American culture. “Sarah Jackman,” “The Streets Of Miami,” “Shticks Of One And Half A Dozen Of The Other,” and most importantly “Shake Hands With Your Uncle Max,” in which he spits out more hilariously rhyming Jewish surnames than seems possible in three minutes, are the songs that really hit home with me. I remember my Dad having his drink come out of his nose the first time he heard these lines delivered:
Merowitz, Berowitz, Handelman, Schandelman
Sperber and Gerber and Steiner and Stone
Boskowitz, Lubowitz, Aaronson, Baronson, 
Kleinman and Feinman and Freidman and Cohen
Smallowitz, Wallowitz, Tidelbaum, Mandelbaum
Levin, Levinsky, Levine and Levi
Brumburger, Schlumburger, Minkus and Pinkus
And Stein with an ‘E-I’ and Styne with a ‘Y’
To hear our heritage yelled out proudly and humorously on a major-label release through our own hi-fi was just too great. It made me feel like I was part of the fabric of America, not an outsider. I liked and identified with being someone who was part of a great tradition of poking fun at ourselves and the world around us.
When I pulled out My Son The Greatest to listen to for this review each song reawakened wonderful feelings of self-awareness, nostalgia and yes, a little of the magic spirit.
Merry Christmas mine friends!
-          Paul Epstein

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


There is no better example of humanity than Alan Sherman. He's the Jim Morrison of comedy. Booze fuels fools and fools fuel humanity. Why isn't he buried in Pere Lechaise Cemetery?