What Brother Jesse may have been referring to when he reportedly called New York "Hymietown" was the distinct nature of Jewish criticism, which requires performers seeking to please audiences to adjust their approach. One can observe Clinton and even Giuliani make the switch when addressing observant crowds. A politician in Hymietown has to appeal to the moral sensibilities of the assembled, whereas in Christian?even Christian right?territory, a sensual display will do. My point is not that Jewish audiences are any less likely to be misled (consider how well the Clintons' cynical appropriation of Michael Lerner's Politics of Meaning went over in '92), but that their communities still manifest Hebraic tradition in what has become an overwhelmingly (Jews included) Hellenic country. Apart from any sense of piousness or pretense to higher morals, Hebrews differ from Greeks in the belief that every single decision is an ethical one.
I take it as proof of the mind-boggling durability of this ethos that Jews like me, largely ignorant of the laws designed to guide decision-makers, orient ourselves along Hebraic lines anyway. For years, in these pages, I've been presenting questions about which musicians to hear, screenings to watch and performances to attend as if readers' souls hung in the balance. I've also taken Mosaic issue with critics whom I regard as mere epicureans, approaching the world of sensation as a smorgasbord of earthly delights. "Heimytown" is a tasteless joke, of course?a shabby metaphor linking the oldest and grandest of Western traditions to a high-strung critic with a bully pulpit and a chip on his shoulder. Which is why the choice for this column's name was so intuitively appropriate.
For crowd-pleasing, substance-dodging Christian performance art in our time, it'd be hard to beat the President's Elvis act, though I'd argue that the family tag-team of Jerry Lee Lewis and Jimmy Swaggart prefigured Slick Willie. For the apex in sensual live entertainment among the Hebrews, you have to go all the way back to Jesus, which is what one local artist is doing this week. As part of a gallery show featuring a 701-pound, illuminated Book of Job, Brainard Carey of Brainard Gallery offers free foot washings on Shabbat. (9/25, noon-4 p.m., 279 E. 10th St., betw. Ave. A & 1st Ave., 533-3143.) I can't wait until Hillary steals this idea for her stump stop in Crown Heights.
But what do I know of all that, having roots in a school of criticism that turns away from imagery to revel in the power of the word? I'd rather dirty my feet along 5th Ave. this weekend, where Sunday's culmination of the 21st-annual New York is Book Country Festival will take place. The grand marshal of this year's celebration is that local woman of letters, a true literary giant, Rosie O'Donnell. Yeah, the street fair is kind of a sham?lots and lots of corporate flackery booths?but the concentration of used-book dealers makes it worth the trip. It's kind of like shopping at the Strand without having to go inside the Strand. (9/26, 11 a.m.-5 p.m., on 5th Ave. from 48th to 57th Sts.) For more serious browsing, there's the Chelsea Antiquarian Book Fair?a new adjunct to the New York Antiquarian Book Fair, which has been held every spring since 1993?at Chelsea Pavilion. (Fri.-Sun., 9/24-26, 192 W. 18th St., betw. 6th & 7th Aves., 777-5218, $12; Thurs. evening preview on 9/23, 6-9 p.m., $25.)
There won't be any holy, clean feet trudging through Times Square this Saturday night, despite the whole Disney thing, thanks to a coalition of artists and sex workers who will stage an effort to "Make 42nd St. Dirty Again." Installations and presentations commemorating the history of erotic entertainment, peep shows, body painting, music deejayed by WBAI's Delphine Blue and fetish art by the Baroness will comprise a show boasting a "huge pile of dirt" as its centerpiece. Oh my, how decadent. (9/25, 9 p.m.-2 a.m., 111 W. 42nd St., betw. 6th & 7th Aves., $5.)
I expect the scene in Times Square will be even more Satanic on Wednesday, when hordes of young women will work themselves into a frenzied, screaming, blubbering mass for no good reason. The bad reason will be an appearance by the Backstreet Boys, signing autographs at the Virgin Megastore (9/22, 4-7 p.m., 1540 B'way at 45th St., 921-1020), so as to stoke as much maenad madness as possible on their way to New Jersey, where they'll perform on Thursday and Friday nights. (9/23-24 at Continental Airlines Arena, East Rutherford, NJ, 201-935-3900.)
In the rabbinic mood I'm in it's hard to recall what I like about the blend of sexual rhythm and Dionysian ritual called rock 'n' roll. Maybe that's just a natural after-effect of the CMJ Marathon. This week offers a couple of chances to explore the naivete of 60s romantics who thought rock culture might have something to do with social justice: on Tuesday the Pink Pony's "Cine Noir" film series presents "Sounds of the Sixties, Part 1," a 1991 BBC program that features complete and uncut performance clips of Dylan, the Kinks, Tim Buckley, John Lee Hooker, the Stones and others (9/28, 9 p.m., 176 Ludlow St., betw. Houston & Stanton Sts., 253-1922, $3); and Tibor De Nagy gallery is currently displaying Allen Ginsberg's "Snapshot Poetics"?a collection of hand-captioned photos of the poet's friends and acquaintances, among which he counted every Beat-related artist you can think of and more. (Through 10/9, 724 5th Ave., betw. 56th & 57th STs., 262-5050.)
Okay. In the spirit of Ginsberg and the legion of self-fascinated Jewish Buddhists he spawned, I just sat still for several moments, meditating on rock. I suppose the thing I like about devil music is the invocation of life-or-death stakes. Those are, perhaps, a prerequisite for any real appreciation of lessons from the Bronze Age, when manifestations of "the wrath of God" didn't take a leap of imagination to apprehend. We're so relatively safe now that the dominant culture is epicurean even about nature, but such lofty idealism falls apart in the presence of entertainment products that acknowledge the horrifying alternatives to civilization. Maybe rock is simply medicine for comfort poisoning.
Only when it's of high quality, of course?as is the case with Matador Records' output, for the most part. Many of the acts on Matador's roster will be performing over three days, Thursday-Saturday, at Irving Plaza, in celebration of the local independent label's 10th birthday. Pavement, Yo La Tengo (who for their humble optimism I'd single out as Hebraic), Mogwai, Solex, Chavez and Cat Power will all join the party?see the listings for details. (9/23-25, 17 Irving Pl. at 15th St., 307-7171, $20 per night.)
Harmony Korine is a filmmaker I'd describe as kosher in spirit, though he canceled a recent interview by claiming to have just puked up a ham sandwich. Still, Kornie's commitment to a singular cinematic ideal that the rest of the movie world is certain does not exist could fairly be called Abramic. Asked by Anthology Film Archives to guest-curate a program, Korine opted to screen five short documentaries by his father, Sol Korine, and partner Blaine Dunlap. All five were shot on video or 16 mm, down South, presumably before Harmony was born. There's Hamper McBee: Raw Mash, about a mountain balladeer and moonshiner (Thurs., 9/23, 7 p.m.; Sat., 9/25, 5 p.m.; and Sun., 9/26, 7 p.m.); Sometimes It's Gonna Hurt, about a rodeo school in Oklahoma (Fri., 9/24, 7 p.m.; Sat., 9/25, 5:30; and Sun., 9/26, 5 p.m.); and three more, Showdown at the Hoedown, Mouth Music and The Uncle Dave Macon Show, also about rural American music and culture. Also showing will be the younger Korine's Gummo (Thurs., Fri. & Sun., 9 p.m.; Sat, 7 p.m.; filmmaker present Fri. & Sat.)?a devotional artwork the mainstream media's secular-humanist gatekeepers could not handle. (32 2nd Ave. at 2nd St., 505-5110, $8, $5 st.)
Finally, for those wondering what the heck I meant by "epicurean about nature," here's a chance to catch up on the latest from the frontier of the biocentrism movement: a Bar of the City of New York symposium on "The Legal Status of Non-Human Animals." (9/25, 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m., at the House of the Association, 42 W. 44th St., betw. 5th & 6th Aves., 382-6663, $95.) This paper's editors have no patience for the challenge to humanism posed, often unwittingly, by animal rights activists, but on Saturday a bunch of law profs and ethicists?including Peter Singer of Princeton's Center for Human Values?will spend the entire day getting all Talmudic over issues the nation's religious and political authorities agree are of little consequence.
Again, sort of like Yiddishkeit. I'll add, though, that the people of the book?and hey, Heimytown is Book Country?have a saying about animals, and it goes, "The worm lies in horseradish, and thinks there's nothing sweeter." Happy New Year, and don't be a worm.