Jeff Rosenstock is only 34, but he’s been in the punk scene for half his life. From ska-band The Arrogant Sons of Bitches to the capitalist-subverting Bomb the Music Industry! (the music was free), Rosenstock has been around, but he’s come to greater prominence recently, releasing three solo albums in five years.
These albums are a delight, because they are the most punk look into the Jewish psyche since, well, lots of punk music is Jewish, but the point is, Rosenstock is neurotic AF and is here to rock about it.
After all, the man’s latest album, from 2016, is called WORRY.
“I got so tired of discussing my future/I’ve started avoiding the people I love/Evenings of silence and mornings of nausea/Shake and sweat and I can’t throw up,” goes his arguably most popular song, “Nausea.”
Rosenstock was raised in Baldwin, on Long Island. His last name is actually German, not Jewish— his father is Catholic, and his mother is Jewish. So in a roundabout way, he wound up Jewish with a Jewish sounding name. His sister Kim is a TV writer and playwright— they’ve even toyed with the idea of writing a musical together (please, do that, though she’s probably a bit busy at the moment working on Cyndi Lauper’s Working Girl stage adaptation).
In his solo music, Rosenstock worries about everything. He worries about death, he worries about his friends outgrowing him, he worries about capitalism’s impact on his self-worth, he worries about his kitchen being infested with roaches. It would be exhausting if it weren’t all so fun.
Seriously, Rosenstock even describes depression with an energetic passion that can only mean punk rock, or Jewish angst, or both. A song called “The Lows” may sound exhausted, but it’s not melancholy. And even the good things are a cause for concern. A successful encounter with a woman at a party leads to a spiral of self-doubt, in a song entitled, of all things, “I Did Something Weird Last Night.”
Rosenstock is rebellious in attitude, but in an overthinking, self-deprecating sort of way— adult enough to dismay in the world around him. Take “Festival Song”:
“It feels completely ridiculous/That I’m a willing participant/Gazing at the purples and pinks/In the shadow of a bank-sponsored skyline/’Unite against the establishment!’”
Rosenstock writes “jokes that end up being really sad in the end,” he told Jewcy in an interview back in 2010. “That’s how I roll. I guess it’s that old defense mechanism coming out.”
Take the music video for “Nausea,” in which he’s stabbed to death at one of his own shows— his body is also full of nachos, and he vomits confetti. Classic Jeff.
And for good measure, have one more great lyric, from his song of spiritual angst entitled “Amen”:
“Now I can’t get to sleep because I have this useless conscience/And I can’t get revenge due to this stupid moral compass/And honestly I feel that all these feelings aren’t worth it in the end.”
Listen, you obviously don’t have to be Jewish to suffer from anxiety or self-doubt. But there’s something intimately familiar about the recursive cycle of neurosis to navel gazing, and so on. Ditto to the sense of humor, and the extroversion about one’s feelings, and the almost celebration of life even while you’re cursing it. The cover of WORRY. is a photo of a guest looking thrilled at Rosenstock’s wedding, with the dissonant album title looming over him. But on the flipside? Despite the ongoing blur of anonymous background guests and the grey, overbearing text, the guy is having a great time.
For Rosenstock, the cycle continues. His latest single? The perfect antidote to “Nausea”: “Dramamine.”
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Gabriela Geselowitz is a writer and the former editor of Jewcy.com.