I first heard the KLEZMATICS’ Rhythm + Jews (Flying Fish) over breakfast with five gay men in a purple-painted pad on Haight-Ashbury. Track one featured demonic yells and an Arab drum, track two a medley of “NY Psycho Freylekhs”—Imagine “Hava Nagila” in overdrive. The third track was a tender love song to “feygele mayn,” “my little bird” in Yiddish. Feygele is also slang for homosexual, my first inkling as to why the Haight-Ashbury house drank in the Klezmatics with their morning coffee.

The name of their first album, Shvaygn=Toyt (Piranha), rendered the ACT UP slogan “Silence=Death” in Yiddish. The mere fact of translation shouted “AIDS= Auschwitz,” precisely the kind of startling syzygy that in Klezmatic hands seems natural, even illuminating. They’ll toss a Bavarian folk song in the mix, or choose a wedding-type song to accompany an ACT UP kiss-in, or sing an old labor anthem for an AIDS

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