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Yiddish—an oft-considered "gutter" language—is an unlikely survivor of the ages, much like the Jews themselves. Its survival has been an incredible journey, especially considering how often Jews have tried to kill it themselves. Underlying Neal Karlen's unique, brashly entertaining, yet thoroughly researched telling of the language's story is the notion that Yiddish is a mirror of Jewish history, thought, and practice—for better and worse.
Karlen charts the beginning of Yiddish as a minor dialect in medieval Europe that helped peasant Jews live safely apart from the marauders of the First Crusades. Incorporating a large measure of antique German dialects, Yiddish also included little scraps of French, Italian, ancient Hebrew, Aramaic, the Slavic and Romance languages, and a dozen other tongues native to the places where Jews were briefly given shelter. One may speak a dozen languages, all of them Yiddish.
By 1939, Yiddish flourished as the lingua franca of 13 million Jews. After the Holocaust, whatever remained of Yiddish, its worldview and vibrant culture, was almost stamped out—by Jews themselves. Yiddish was an old-world embarrassment for Americans anxious to assimilate. In Israel, young, proud Zionists suppressed Yiddish as the symbol of the weak and frightened ghetto-bound Jew—and invented modern Hebrew.
Today, a new generation has zealously sought to explore the language and to embrace its soul. This renaissance has spread to millions of non-Jews who now know the subtle difference between a shlemiel and a shlimazel; hundreds of Yiddish words dot the most recent editions of the Oxford English Dictionary.
The Story of Yiddish is a delightful tale of a people, their place in the world, and the fascinating language that held them together.
Augie Ratner, the proprietor of Augie's Theater Lounge & Bar on Hennepin Avenue, was the unofficial mayor of Minneapolis's downtown strip in the 1940s and '50s. In a few blocks between the swanky clubs and restaurants on Eighth Street and the sleazy flophouses and bars of the Gateway District, the city's shakers-and-movers and shake-down artists mingled. Gangsters and celebrities, comedians and politicians, the rich and the famous and the infamous—all of them met at Augie's: Jimmy Hoffa, Henny Youngman, Kid Cann, John Dillinger, Jack Dempsey, Peggy Lee, Groucho Marx, Lenny Bruce, and Gypsy Rose Lee. Augie Ratner knew everyone, and everyone knew and liked Augie, and they told him everything.
Mixing careful research with long suppressed family and community stories, Neal Karlen, Augie's great-nephew, tells the real story of the seamy underside of Minneapolis, where Jewish mobsters controlled the liquor trade, invented the point spread in sports betting, and ran national sports gambling operations. Even after Mayor Hubert H. Humphrey supposedly cleaned up the town, organized crime quietly flourished. And Augie was at the center, observing it all.
A warm and surprisingly real-life biography, featuring never-before-seen photos, of one of rock’s greatest talents: Prince.
Neal Karlen was the only journalist Prince granted in-depth press interviews to for over a dozen years, from before Purple Rain to when the artist changed his name to an unpronounceable glyph. Karlen interviewed Prince for three Rolling Stone cover stories, wrote “3 Chains o’ Gold,” Prince’s “rock video opera,” as well as the star’s last testament, which may be buried with Prince’s will underneath Prince’s vast and private compound, Paisley Park.
According to Prince's former fiancée Susannah Melvoin, Karlen was “the only reporter who made Prince sound like what he really sounded like.” Karlen quit writing about Prince a quarter-century before the mega-star died, but he never quit Prince, and the two remained friends for the last thirty-one years of the superstar’s life.
Well before they met as writer and subject, Prince and Karlen knew each other as two of the gang of kids who biked around Minneapolis’s mostly-segregated Northside. (They played basketball at the Dairy Queen next door to Karlen’s grandparents, two blocks from the budding musician.) He asserts that Prince can’t be understood without first understanding ‘70s Minneapolis, and that even Prince’s best friends knew only 15 percent of him: that was all he was willing and able to give, no matter how much he cared for them.
Going back to Prince Rogers Nelson's roots, especially his contradictory, often tortured, and sometimes violent relationship with his father, This Thing Called Life profoundly changes what we know about Prince, and explains him as no biography has: a superstar who calls in the middle of the night to talk, who loved The Wire and could quote from every episode of The Office, who frequented libraries and jammed spontaneously for local crowds (and fed everyone pancakes afterward), who was lonely but craved being alone. Readers will drive around Minneapolis with Prince in a convertible, talk about movies and music and life, and watch as he tries not to curse, instead dishing a healthy dose of “mamma jammas.”
Told with the gritty, up-close feel of a behind-the-scenes documentary film, this is the story of three young women who wanted to play rock and roll like the boys. It follows their coming together in the underground grunge-rock scene in Minneapolis, their early club days, and their discovery by Warner Bros. Records. It tracks their dramatic breakup (and reconfiguration), goes through the often funny, sometimes inspiring, and always emotional recording sessions for their album Fontanelle, and goes stage-side as they film their all-important video for MTV. Veteran journalist Neal Karlen was given unprecedented access to Warners marketing and strategy meetings, where he observed firsthand the star-making machinery that runs the pop music business. From punk rockers in the mosh pit to rock stars in mansions, Babes in Toyland contains revealing snapshots of Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love, Soul Asylum's Dave Pirner, Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder, and R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe, as well as Beavis and Butt-head, today's most powerful rock critics.
Center-stage in this story are the members of Babes in Toyland: Kat Bjelland, the punk-rock poetess who'd dreamed of being a star since she was five years old; Lori Barbero, the dreadlocked drummer and band mother who was best friend to everybody in the alternative music scene; and Maureen Herman, the brainy bassist who struggled to fit in with the group. There's also Tim Carr, the Warner Bros. A & R man who saw in the Babes the talent and drive to make it to the top of the grunge scene. Finally, there's Babes in Toyland's triumphant spot on the 1993 Lollapalooza, the most prestigious tour in rock and roll. In this real-life version of The Commitments, readers will also see how success can do more to damage a band of best friends than failure.