BtP has recently been notified of two pieces, very closely-related, that relate Keith Reid's writing to the traumatic history of Jewish families in Europe before the Second World War. The author, Scott Benarde, is a journalist based in Delray Beach, Florida, who has just finished writing Stars of David: Rock 'n Roll's Jewish Stories. He appears to have interviewed Keith specially for this project, and – judging from the frankness of the responses – appears to have gained the normally-reticent lyricist's confidence.
From Jewish Community Online
Keith Reid, the non-performing member of the British classical rock band Procol Harum, who provided the lyrics for the band's ten albums from 1967 through 1977, and a reunion album in 1991, bears emotional scars that he traces to the Holocaust.
"The tone of my work is very dark and I think it's probably from my background in some subconscious way," says Reid. Best known for co-writing the international hit A Whiter Shade of Pale, Reid is the grandson of Holocaust victims.
His father, a Viennese lawyer fluent in a half dozen languages, was one of 6,547 Jews arrested in Vienna during Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass), Nov. 9–10, 1938. The majority of Viennese Jews were sent to Dachau, then released several months later after promising to leave the country. Reid's father, Irwin, fled to England along with a younger brother. The paternal grandparents Keith never knew vanished. Their fate was never determined.
Reid's mother, born in England of Polish parents, maintained a Jewish home and made sure Keith and his older brother, Michael, became bar mitzvah. Reid, however, had heard enough Holocaust stories and suffered enough anti-Semitism in primary school that a bar mitzvah was the last thing he wanted.
"The last thing you wanted to do as a kid was to stick out, but I just stuck out," Reid says. Judaism, he adds, "only has negative associations for me. It goes back to my dad and what happened to him and the events of those times."
from South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 7 April 2002
Songs out of Shadow: Holocaust's influence reaches to today's rock music
One of the first things Gene Simmons reveals in his new autobiography, Kiss and Make-Up, is that he is the child of a Holocaust survivor. The co-founder and bassist of Kiss, one of rock's most commercially successful bands, writes that his mother – Flora Klein, a Hungarian Jew – was sent to concentration camps at age 14, "where she saw most of her family wiped out in the gas chambers."
The ghostly tentacles of the Holocaust, which will be recalled this week with Holocaust Remembrance Day, have reached farther and wider than perhaps realized, even casting a shadow on rock music. Simmons is but one of a number of prominent rock and pop musicians whose families suffered during the Holocaust. That flesh-and-blood connection to such a cataclysm has colored their lives and music.
Piano man Billy Joel, Procol Harum lyricist Keith Reid, WAR harmonica player Lee Oskar and Ten-Wheel Drive lead singer Genya Ravan are the children of those who survived the Holocaust, or fled before the Final Solution became Nazi policy. Sharing similar histories are Bob Glaub, longtime bass player for Jackson Browne and Linda Ronstadt, and singer-songwriter Dan Bern, among others.
David Draiman, lead vocalist for the Chicago-based ultra-hard rock band Disturbed, is the grandchild of Holocaust survivors. Draiman rebelled against his strict Jewish Orthodox upbringing, but the band's 2001 concerts included graphic film clips of concentration camp victims as part of a montage illustrating "people being murdered for being different."
The performances opened with uniformed men escorting Draiman on stage and putting him in a "shower" that began to spew "gas." He explained on the Web site Unearthed.com that "what we're talking about here isn't a Jewish thing. It's a people thing. ... It's the ultimate example of how the world deals with people who do not fit in."
Hit-spinner Billy Joel's grandparents and father, Howard, barely got out of Germany in 1939 before the Nazis implemented their plan to exterminate the Jews of Europe. The blows of losing their business and Nuremberg home, being forced to flee, and spending three years as refugees in Cuba may have caused the Joels to keep their Jewish roots under wraps when the family arrived in the United States in 1942.
In one of life's great ironies, Howard Joel was drafted in 1943 and was among the troops who liberated Dachau, the infamous concentration camp in southern Germany. "I had relatives that were in concentration camps – although not Dachau – and some of them were put to death. But at Dachau ... it was terrible. We were too late to help," Howard Joel said in a 1994 Billboard interview.
It's no coincidence that so many of Billy Joel's songs champion the underdog. He has paid tribute to unemployed steelworkers in Allentown, to disparaged Vietnam veterans in Goodnight Saigon, and to Long Island fisherman struggling to make a living in The Downeaster Alexa, illuminating their dignity and resolve. His 1985 hit Keeping the Faith sums up this subtext in a song title.
Lyricist Keith Reid, the non-performing member of the British classical-rock band Procol Harum, bears emotional scars that he traces to the Holocaust.
"The tone of my work is very dark, and I think it's probably from my background in some subconscious way," Reid says. Best known for co-writing the international hit A Whiter Shade of Pale, Reid is the grandson of Holocaust victims.
His father, a Viennese lawyer, was among the thousands of Jews arrested in Vienna during Kristallnacht in 1938. He was sent to Dachau, then released several months later after promising to leave the country; he fled to England with a younger brother. The paternal grandparents Keith never knew vanished. Their fate was never determined.
Reid's mother, born in England of Polish parents, maintained a Jewish home and made sure Keith and his older brother, Michael, had bar mitzvahs. Reid, however, had heard enough Holocaust stories and suffered enough anti-Semitism in primary school.
"The last thing you wanted to do as a kid was stick out, but I just stuck out," Reid says.
Judaism, he adds, "only has negative associations for me. It only meant unhappiness and suffering. It goes back to my dad and what happened to him and the events of those times."
The Secret Jewish History of Procol Harum [sic] ... Seth Rogovoy in
here, April 2017
Fifty years ago this spring, a then unknown British rock group called Procol Harum released its very first single, A Whiter Shade of Pale. The distinctive recording went to No 1 in the United Kingdom and hit the top 10 in the United States, casting the mold somewhat for “progressive rock” on its way to becoming one of the enduring classics of the 1960s and of the entire rock era — the most-played song ever in public in the UK; a staple of classic-rock radio, and one of only a few dozen singles to sell over 10 million copies worldwide.
The song’s most innovative feature is its unique pairing of musical source material from Baroque composer Johann Sebastian Bach and from soul singer Percy Sledge’s hit, When a Man Loves a Woman. The music was originally credited to bandleader Gary Brooker, although decades later, keyboardist Matthew Fisher would be added officially as a co-composer for his signature organ solo. The trippy lyrics — “We skipped the light fandango … Her face, at first just ghostly, turned a whiter shade of pale” — were the product of the band’s co-founder and poet-in-residence, Keith Reid, one of only a handful of nonperforming members of rock bands.
Both Reid and Brooker were born in heavily Jewish East London, Brooker in Hackney and Reid in Mile End Road. Like many residents of the heavily bombed-out area, Brooker’s family moved out to the suburbs. But Reid’s family stayed put — perhaps as immigrants they were most comfortable living among their own people.
Reid’s father, Irwin Reid, a Viennese lawyer fluent in a half-dozen languages, was one of over six thousand Jews arrested in Vienna during Kristallnacht on 9 and 10 November 1938. Like most Viennese Jews, he was transported to Dachau. He was, however, released several months later after promising to leave the country; with his younger brother, he promptly immigrated to England, leaving behind his parents, whom he would never see or hear from again and whose fate remains a mystery.
Keith Reid’s mother was born in England, to Polish-Jewish parents. While she raised Keith and his older brother, Michael, in an observant home, Keith rebelled against the traditional rite of passage, once telling an interviewer that having had his fill of Holocaust stories and having suffered anti-Semitism in primary school, a bar mitzvah was out of the question. “The last thing you wanted to do as a kid was to stick out, but I just stuck out,” Reid told Stars of David author Scott Bernarde. Judaism, he added, “only has negative associations for me. It goes back to my dad and what happened to him and the events of those times.”
Like many early English rock ‘n’ roll groups, Brooker’s previous band, the Paramounts, mostly recorded versions of American hits. They scored a moderate British success in 1964 with their version of Poison Ivy, written by the American-Jewish songwriting team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who were responsible for numerous Elvis Presley hit records. By 1967 the Paramounts had split up, and Brooker and Reid teamed up as a songwriting duo. A Whiter Shade of Pale was one of their very first efforts; other than keyboardist Fisher, the recording didn’t include any other members [sic] of what would become Procol Harum. Even guitarist Robin Trower, who went on to garner independent fame, had yet to join the group.
In its original incarnation, the band stayed together for ten years, never duplicating the success of its initial hit. A few songs came close, including Conquistador, which, even if you think you don’t know it, you would recognize if you heard it (or at least I did). Still, the group released a half-dozen [sic] albums, which is on a par with the output of such likeminded groups as Yes, Genesis and the Moody Blues.
Reid penned all the group’s lyrics. While his idol was the American Jewish songwriter and Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan, his lyrics relied more on a superficial surrealism, perhaps inspired by his love of French avant-garde films and the art of Rene Magritte and Salvador Dali. Many assumed his lyrics were inspired by or about drugs, but as the band’s in-house intellectual, Reid scoffed at the notion, insisting they were derived from “books, not drugs.”
While songs like A Christmas Camel and Bringing Home the Bacon were presumably not inspired by anything in Reid’s upbringing, As Strong as Samson, released in the wake of the Yom Kippur War, clearly addressed conflict in the Middle East as well as geopolitics in general, while basing itself on a biblical metaphor:
Ain’t no use in preachers preaching
When they don’t know what they’re teaching
The weakest man be strong as Samson
When you’re being held to ransom
Black men and white men, and Arabs and Jews
Causing congestion and filling the queues
Fighting for freedom the truth and the word
Fighting the war for the end of the world….
“The tone of my work is very dark, and I think it’s probably from my background in some subconscious way,” Reid told Bernarde.
The name of the group, incidentally, has been the subject of some debate. It’s widely agreed upon that a friend had a cat named Procol Harum and the name stuck. The cat’s name, however, is believed to be a corruption of the phrase procul harun, procul, being Latin for “beyond” or “afar,” and Harun, being an Arabic name derived from the Hebrew Aharon.[the full story is here of course]
Procol Harum reconstituted itself in 1991, but Reid no longer works with the group. This month, the band releases Novum, its first studio album in fourteen years, and then hits the road for the requisite fiftieth-anniversary tour, at which fans will continue to puzzle over the fate of the “sixteen vestal virgins / Who were leaving for the coast,” immortalized in Reid’s lyrics to A Whiter Shade of Pale.” Those virgins, of course, were Roman, although Reid seems to have added ten to the original six. [unless it's six 'teen' vestal virgins, of course ... Ed]
Keith Reid's page at BtP