A Hip Jewish Role Model

College women’s music listening can usually be divided between the sweet Christian imagery of the Indigo Girls and the grange noise of grrrl groups like Hole or L7. Now there’s Brenda Kahn, “She is so funny—and she is Jewish,” says Jennie Fennel!, a college radio DJ at a small, conservative college in Virginia.

Starting off her major label debut. “Epiphany in Brooklyn,” with the manic refrain “I don’t sleep, I drink coffee instead.” Kahn is an acoustic rocker with an overflowing love of language and a sardonic wit about romance between the sexes—”I left a stain on your glass/You called it a scar’.” She muses about the faults of intellectual men—”You find that your life is a frustrated vision/Of Gauguins, Rodins and excellent diction.” Unlike other women singer/ songwriters influenced by both the Clash and Phil Ochs, her rockin‘ poems now admit to a lover that “there’s a woman in your mouth who sighs your name” and that “I’d do anything to be in his arms again.”

Kahn’s travels with her guitar are all grist for her lively verbal landscapes; now 26, since her teens she’s peripatetically moved from her parents’ home in New Jersey to Israel. Alaska, the London School of Economics and other places from where, she sings. “Brooklyn is a long cab ride away.” Projecting a gutsy image to young women as she tours widely (including opening for Dylan in Europe), she first produced her own purple vinyl 4.5 rpm record in Minneapolis, then a demo that turned into a driving feminist college radio hit for a small label in Brooklyn, before recording for a SONY subsidiary in 1992.

Kahn recently sent her fan mailing list her ruminations on the linguistic power of anti-Semitism, likening it to “being on the playground as a child and someone says, ‘he has cooties’ and everyone makes a face because the person is endowed with a strange, unfortunate, albeit imaginary disease-like affliction.” As she concertized at campuses this year with Dylan’s Orthodox son-in-law Peter Himmelman. Kahn was unusually open for a rocker about being Jewish, providing a much needed hip role model of Jewish identity for college-age women.