By Myra Chanin
At the age of 40-something, Daniel Cainer was a British citizen of the world who had just finalized an amicable divorce from his non-Jewish wife after two children and 20 years of marriage. His sexual orientation? He was a heterosexual serial monogamist waiting to meet his next partner. His occupation? Composing weekly short topical songs with sprightly original tunes and clever lyrics for the BBC. His spiritual affiliation? Non-existent, even though he’d grown up in a religiously observant household.
Daniel resolved his multifaceted self-search through a perversely 21st Century Jewish act. He consigned his psyche to the only Non-Jewish therapist in North London, who convinced him to immerse himself in his Jewish roots. When Daniel delved into family verbal histories he learned that his family members, four generations earlier, had braved land and sea to journey to the UK from Russia and Poland, and, despite not speaking a word of English, had established new and productive lives for themselves and their offspring in Leeds, Manchester and Yorkshire.
Daniel came out of the not-all-that-Kosher closet with four sets of observant ancestors, grandparents who’d relocated in Israel and a surprisingly strong, formerly repressed, burgeoning recognition of himself as an unconventional Jewish man. He discovered relatives who were flawed in a fashion that he found worth writing and singing about. His Jew-reka moments gradually evolved into Jewish Chronicles aka Gefilte Fish and Chips, a Jewish version of Olde English Ballads — cleverer but less deadly, which Daniel performed in the US last year to great acclaim. Some of the songs were about family love and others told tales of lust and double-dealing but with a hilarious twist. The handsome rabbi with a fondness for drugs and hookers. The finagling tailor who established a flourishing retail empire after stealing his artistic partner’s brilliant idea. An interfaith sexual liaison in a suburban Laundromat. Cainer’s rich tapestry of family legend and musical wit makes you both laugh and cry in the same heartbeat.
Hardly an amateur songwriter or newcomer humorist, Daniel’s composed music for documentaries and dramas for all major UK networks, has produced and played with top artists at major studios including Abbey Road. And he won plaudits as “a master songwriter,” was even declared a “genius” at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for his songs.
So what’s he done lately? Only written an entirely new song cycle, called 21St Century Jew, which again won awards at the 2015 Edinburgh Fringe Festival and which he’s now performing in New York.
He’s the same charming, witty self. The melodies are extremely traditional. The lyrics are moving and precise which makes them touching and amusing at the same time. “My Little Girl” describes the feelings of the mother who sent her daughter (who was given a home by Daniel’s family) off on a Kinder transport from Austria to London and never saw her again. “Grandpa and Me” is a circular tale which begins with Daniel being taken to a cricket match by his grandfather and his intention to carry on this tradition at the same venue with his own grandson.
His encores are particularly wonderful. “Here with Me Tonight,” is a tender song about his connection with his grandparents, and “Bad Rabbi,” has a rollicking tune and unforgettable lyrics.
You don’t have to be Jewish to love Daniel Cainer and/or his songs. Christian Folksinger/songwriter Christine Lavin invited Cainer to participate in a songwriting hootenanny at Don’t Tell Mama last week and a mixed audience stood up and cheered.
There is just one more performances of 21st Century Jew scheduled right now for New York: Sunday, October 18th, both at 3 pm at Club Huron at the Soho Playhouse at 15 Vandam Street.
If you miss it, check out the CD of Jewish Chronicles currently on sale at www.danielcainer.com where you’ll also learn where to listen to his other songs.