For many years while growing up, I was embarrassed by my last name: Heinstein. I was surrounded by Jews, but they got the lucky surnames -- you know, the ones without a -berg, -stein or -man. Come on, I was entering the rock 'n' roll biz; it was about crosses, not Stars of David. I can't have a geek name like Heinstein! Okay, I was aware of Lenny Kravitz and David Lee Roth, but at least their names didn't end in -stein. So, I used my middle name: Evan. Steven Evan. It was doable.
Summer 1989: I'm 17 years old and there's no way I'm gonna go to Israel for the summer to milk cows and pick fruit. I have concerts to perform and parties to attend, and if anyone heard I went to Israel for the summer, I'd be finished. So that summer was spent rehearsing and gearing up for stardom. Remember, like the white-winged dove, I was 17.
Religion was never discussed in a seedy backstage dressing room, although I once got, "You Jews don't know anything about rock 'n' roll!" This was from an engineer, who was obviously unaware of Phil Spector's religion, but let's not go there right now.
After graduating from opening for punk rock and bar bands, I was increasingly in touch with music industry types -- real Los Angeles/New York guys: either fat, balding or super hip. That's when I realized that there are Jews in rock 'n' roll. The problem was they were on the business side, not on the stage. Is that where I belonged? Was I destined to be a fat, cigar-smoking putz? I wanted to rock.
As I fell into my early 20s, I began touring. I came across other Jewish musicians, and they were good. Together, without announcing it, we merited the fact that Jews can rock. I started to realize that it wasn't about religion, but talent. Some of the most talented artists just happen to be Jewish.
In 1994, I finally made the trip to Israel, and saw that people there loved American music. In Israel, I saw that being a minority -- not only in a profession, but also in the world -- was actually special. (This was way before Perry Ferrell and Madonna rocked through kabbalah.)
When I came across the book, "Jews Who Rock" by Guy Oseary (St. Martin's Press, 2000), Madonna's business buddy, Israelite and ultra-talented A and R man, I saw my own story in Ben Stiller's hilarious introduction.
As I flipped through the book, I saw my heroes, like Mick Jones from The Clash, who is Jewish, just like me.
So, as I continue to make music, I certainly don't think about being Jewish and I'm in no rush to start a klezmer band. But this is quite a change from someone who used to be ashamed of being a Jew. Am I Jewish? Yeah, I'm Jewish. And Guy, if you're reading this, let me know where I can send you a demo. Â
Steven Heinstein is a singer/songwriter/producer who has toured and recorded internationally. Not in one place for too long, Steven currently resides in Los Angeles and can be reached at info@Elite150.com.