Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: 50 Cent, Steven Tyler and Kenny G walk into a bar.
Actually, it’s a true story. That motley crew of top-shelf entertainers and an equally gaudy second tier all performed recently at the bat mitzvah — no kidding — of the daughter of a presumably well-connected New York defense contractor.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: What, no Gene Simmons?
But seriously, folks. 50 Cent may have a streetwise reputation to uphold, but we all know he’s gonna get rich or die tryin’. If a proud papa offers him hundreds of thousands of dollars to kick the hora with his daughter, Fitty’s definitely in.
Besides, the rapper’s hottest joint right now is “Window Shopping.” Safe to say that’s a pastime he might have in common with a pubescent Long Island girl whose parents reportedly gave their guests thousand-dollar gift bags stuffed with digital cameras and video iPods. Yeah, boychik.
The New York Daily News dubbed it “Mitzvahpalooza.” Earlier this week the paper reported that 50, jazz smoothie Kenny G and Tyler and his Aerosmith bandmate Joe Perry — not to mention Tom Petty, Don Henley, Stevie Nicks, “Goodies” girl Ciara and DJ AM, Nicole Richie’s boyfriend — all performed for big money at a gala bat mitzvah at Manhattan’s glitzy, skyscraping Rainbow Room. Tyler and Perry alone supposedly got $2 million in exchange for their 45-minute headlining set.
Singing for their suppers
By now such insider trading shouldn’t come as any great shock. Pop acts have been cashing some of their biggest checks to play private parties for years now. In the past decade, million-dollar corporate paydates have become routine for acts such as the Eagles, Elton John and the Rolling Stones. Bill Graham Presents, the legacy of the late San Francisco rock promoter, has a lucrative Special Events division, and there are entire agencies devoted to producing such exclusive gigs.
It’s the bat mitzvah aspect — all raging hormones and complicated dental correctives — that makes this particular affair so amusing. The first bat mitzvah in America took place in 1922, when the forward-thinking Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan decided to give his daughter the same opportunity to mark her impending adulthood that the boys had. Judith Kaplan later recalled that the event wasn’t as earth-shattering as it appeared to some members of her faith: “No thunder sounded,” she said. “No lightning struck.”
Last weekend, they might have been trying to make up for lost time. We can hear it now: “Party people! Throw your hands in the air, and wave ‘em like you’re all farblondjet.”
Now, Kenny G, we can understand. I have it on good authority that little Kenny Gorelick used to blow the shofar, the traditional ram’s horn, in his family’s synagogue on the High Holy Days.
And the web site Jewsrock.org features Aerosmith in its Challah Fame, alongside such bar mitzvahed luminaries as the Beastie Boys, David Lee Roth and yes, Kiss’s Gene Simmons (who was born Chaim Witz). The band snared its membership through its drummer, Joey Kramer.
What did he say?Pop music, in fact, is not new to the mitzvot. In the book “Jews Who Rock,” Ben Stiller recalled his own bar mitzvah, at which his youthful band, Capital Punishment, performed. They did a cover of the Beatles’ “Hey Jude.”
It was just the kind of painfully awkward moment that Stiller would later make his comic specialty. His father, he wrote in the book’s foreword, panicked. To him, of course, it sounded like “Hey Jew.”
Jewish culture has gotten a lot hipper since. There’s Heeb Magazine (“The New Jew Review”), He’Brew Beer (just chosen as one of Bravo’s 100 “Great Things About the Holidays”) and the new book “Bar Mitzvah Disco,” in which Sarah Silverman and other brave souls share pictures and stories from their own gawky fulfillment of the Commandment. Neil Diamond, the Jewish Elvis, has a trendy new album out.
And on “The Simpsons,” Krusty the Clown got belatedly bar mitzvahed, with a little help from Mr. T (“I pity the shul”). A parody band called the Beach Boys Experience provided the entertainment, sung to the tune of “Kokomo”: “Mezuzah, menorah, created from the Torah/Pastrami, knishes, on to set some dishes”…
For the right price, the real Beach Boys will sing it at your next Hanukkah party. Either them, or maybe 50 Cent.
James Sullivan is a pop culture writer and a regular contributor to MSNBC.com.