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The LeeVees, Rocking Hanukkah


Ah, 'tis the season. Department stores are decorated, houses are lit, and all the little Hoos in Hooville are gathering around the tree to sing Hanukkah carols. Eh, maybe not. But Hanukah, the eight-day celebration in memory of the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after a victory over the Syrians does have its own music; not as much as Christmas, or Passover, or Purim for that matter - but it does, like...

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) I have a little dreidel, I made it out of clay. And when it's dry and ready, oh, dreidel I shall play.

SIMON: "The Dreidel Song,: a classic, so familiar to Jewish boys and girls. And according to Adam Gardner, just a little played out. He's a member of the rock group Guster, and he's taken a side job now creating some new Hanukkah classics. Adam Gardner joins us from our studios in Chicago.

Happy Hanukkah, Mr. Gardner.

Mr. ADAM GARDNER (Musician): Thanks. To you too, Scott.

SIMON: And you founded another band just to tackle this dearth of Hanukkah music?

Mr. GARDNER: Absolutely. It actually was born from a tour. I was on tour with my band Guster, and we had an opening act called the Zambonis, who have been longtime friends of ours. They've albums and albums dedicated to the sport of hockey. So it was actually quite a natural progression from hockey to Hanukkah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Well, yeah. You've given your new group the name, too, right?

Mr. GARDNER: Yeah, we're called The LeeVees. It's an unusual spelling. It's spelled L-E-E-V-E-E-S. Think of the Bee Gees, if they were Jews.

SIMON: Well, I don't know as they're not. But I digress. Let's hear something. What do you recommend?

Mr. GARDNER: Well, I would say let's start with "Latke Clan." It's the most Christmas-type Hanukkah song that we have on the album. The album is called "Hanukkah Rocks."

(Soundbite of song, "Latke Clan")

SIMON: That's very tuneful. Now, do you see this as an anecdote or a tribute to traditional Hanukkah music?

Mr. GARDNER: As a kid growing up, you know, dreidel, dreidel, dreidel is pretty much the extent of it, as far as what songs there were available to celebrate the holiday with. So this is just our offering to Jewish kids and adults as well. You know, one of my favorites...

SIMON: Jewish kids and the Gentiles who love them.

Mr. GARDNER: That's true.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GARDNER: That's another show coming up next week.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Dr. Phil.

Mr. GARDNER: Yeah, exactly. Well, for us, you know, there are all these great Jews that wrote songs. Irving Berlin actually wrote "White Christmas." You know, that's one of my favorite Christmas songs.

SIMON: Leiber and Stohler wrote "Santa Claus is Back in Town."

Mr. GARDNER: Exactly. It's like where were these guys for the Hanukkah season?

SIMON: Well, let me read some of your titles and just chime in if you want to point out something to us. There's "Applesauce Versus Sour Cream."

Mr. GARDNER: Of course, which is about the difficult decision that each of us have to make.

SIMON: That's the latke conundrum, I believe.

Mr. GARDNER: Do you put applesauce or sour cream on your potato pancake?

SIMON: And a song called "How Do You Spell Channukkah?" I notice in this title it's got a C-H, as opposed to an H.

Mr. GARDNER: It actually has a C-H, two N's, two K's. The obvious question came up - well, how are we going to spell Hanukkah?

SIMON: And I speak from some experience here. At Hanukkah, they pass out what's called Hanukkah gelt, and it's little gold tin foil coins that are filled with chocolate. And of course, kids get hold of them. They put them in their hands and then goo results. And your song is called "Gelt Melts."

Mr. GARDNER: That's right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GARDNER: And that song is heavily influenced. It's actually a Ramones-esque punk rock song. It's a warning to chocolate coin-lovers everywhere to eat it quickly.

(Soundbite of song, "Gelt Melts")

THE LEEVEES: (Singing) Gelt melts. Gelt melts. Gelt melts. That's because of the phony money. Gelt melts. In your pocket it's chocolate runny. Gelt melts. In the end, it's not your friend. Gelt melts. (unintelligible) coins up in your hands. Gelt melts...

SIMON: Hey, I like this song.

Mr. GARDNER: Thanks.

SIMON: Is there some metaphorical value, by the way, that gelt melts?

Mr. GARDNER: Yeah, actually the chorus that's happening behind us right now is talking about how it, you know, you got to get it while you can because it won't last long.

(Soundbite of song, "Gelt Melts")

THE LEEVEES: (Singing) You got to get it while you can, because it won't last long.

Mr. GARDNER: We don't claim to understand, but we're not wrong. Gelt melts.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Now, another song - at least the title intrigues me - "Jewish Girls at the Matzah Ball."

Mr. GARDNER: Yes. There's an actual pun on the matzo ball that's a dance. It's a social that happens in major cities like New York and Chicago, and all over the country - where single Jewish people who are lonely on the holidays all get together and socialize.

SIMON: That's got happen at a Chinese restaurant, right?

Mr. GARDNER: Yeah. I'm sure it could. I think it generally happens...

SIMON: That's where Jewish families wind up during the holidays, I believe.

Mr. GARDNER: No question. And actually, we talk about that in a song called "Goyim Friends." So the song, "Goyim Friends" is actually a song that was based on my personal feelings as a child growing up a Jew in America during Christmas season and feeling like I was getting sort of the raw end of the deal, because all my goy friends - non-Jews - were getting all these amazing Christmas presents and I was getting a six-pack of socks from my mom.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of song, "Goyim Friends")

THE LEEVEES: (Singing) All my goyim friends are making up their lists. And all my goyim friends get some pretty sweet gifts, like snowboards, cell phones, paintballs guns, and iPods. Never (unintelligible) from the last (unintelligible) golf clubs. But we, we will march on, six-packs of socks from each our moms. It's oh so wrong but we will march on.

Mr. GARDNER: Basically, the end of this song concludes with, Buck up, little camper, because when you're older and you're part of the workforce, you get to take off pretty much the entire month of October for the Jewish holidays.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Is there a song on here that you would call, frankly, and in the best sense, sentimental?

Mr. GARDNER: Yeah.

SIMON: Something that recognizes this is a holiday after all, so people come together to be with each other.

Mr. GARDNER: Actually, a lot of these songs are sentimental. Sort of the theme, if I were to sum it down in three words of the record, lyrically - is food, fun and family. And probably in the order of food, then family, and fun, although fun is obviously throughout it. There's, you know - when we were making this record and writing it - first of all, it's noteworthy to say that we actually wrote it within eight days. No accident. That was a Hanukkah miracle that happened in April.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GARDNER: And I would say coogle; coogle is a noodle casserole, basically. And it's sweet and if it's made correctly, it's very high in fat content.

(Soundbite of song, "Coogle")

THE LEEVEES: (Singing) Coogle, it's sure good to see you and your sweet yellow noodles this holiday. But coogle, you're not like you used to be.

Mr. GARDNER: It reminds me of an old Chad and Jeremy song. It's a lamentation song of coogle days gone by, where your grandma's coogle is so much better than you mom's coogle because your grandma cooked with the high fat stuff. And your mom is trying to cook, you know, with the skim milk. The sort of diet-crazed South Beach sort of influenced coogle; it's just not cutting it and that's what this song captures.

(Soundbite of song, "Coogle")

THE LEEVEES: (Singing) Sorry, mom. Yours just ain't the same.

SIMON: Adam Gardner, who sings and plays guitar as Adam Leevee in The Leevees.

Mr. Gardner, Hanukkah Tov to you.

Mr. GARDNER: Same to you, Scott.

SIMON: And this is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

(Soundbite of song, "Coogle")

THE LEEVEES: (Singing) Don't you try to tell me that things they haven't changed. The way... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.