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The Jazz Singer and his Cantor Father

THE JAZZ Singer was wildly popular, the first talkie (1927), although only the songs were heard. (The dialogue was still in captions). Full of schmaltz, struggle, pizzazz, and music, it told of Jakie Rabinowitz, whose cantor father disowned him for not following in his footsteps. Instead, Jakie became Jack Robin, a rising star in musical theater, a Jazz Singer. With “a tear in his voice,” especially when, in blackface, he sings “Mammy.”

Jack (a name his father does not recognize) tells his father that Jazz is the cry of a lost anxious soul for the same completeness that the cantor provides in synagogue. His audience in the theater needs him, like his father’s congregation needs him during the High Holy Days, especially Yom Kippur. Jack is referring to the danceable, joyful “song number with a kick in it,” and the passionate or sentimental, “soulful” ballads, some of which are about futility of passion and loneliness. They are most definitely not about God, or atonement through self-abnegation and submission to divine will. Read More 
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The section on this unpublished work of Roth's was self-edited far too much, and far too timidly, in Samuel Roth, Infamous Modernist. I want to publish it here in its entirety.

Sam Roth was well along in his 70s when he wrote this 341-page typescript, under his pseudonym Norman Lockridge, about the teenaged 2nd century A.D. Roman emperor. The eponymous protagonist was, as a child, a royal priest of the sun god Eliogabalus in Syria. He came to the throne at 15 as a charismatic prodigy, renown as the handsomest man in the empire, and indulged in sybaritic revels that revealed him to be a transgender (possibly even transsexual) person with two “husbands” (both slaves). In addition, he performed in “barbarian” Phoenician rites devoted to his god, wore outlandish costumes, assumed effeminate gestures and speech, and violated such taboos as having sex with vestal virgins. At 19, he was murdered by a mob incited by the next emperor, his cousin Alexander Severus.  Read More 
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