By Matt Robinson/JNS.org
When fans picture Rick Moranis, the first things that probably come to mind are comedy and scenes from science fiction movies such as “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids,” “Ghostbusters,” “Little Shop of Horrors,” or “Spaceballs.” But Moranis’s latest project conjures up an image much closer to home.
Moranis recalls that the smell of his Jewish mother’s home “would get you from five blocks away.”
“The whole place smelled like Friday at 6 p.m., and that was 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days of the year,” Moranis says in an interview with JNS.org.
That smell is the inspiration behind Moranis’s new CD, “My Mother’s Brisket & Other Love Songs” (Warner Bros. Records/LoudMouth). Released June 18, the album is comprised of 13 comedic songs exploring the smorgasbord of Moranis’s Jewish heritage.
Moranis actually started his career not on the big screen, but spinning records at the Toronto-based CHUM-FM radio station, accompanying himself on the guitar during his earliest solo comedy routines. In 1982, Moranis and his fictional brother Dave Thomas from the movie “Strange Brew” and the comedy show “Second City Television” scored a Billboard Top 40 hit with “Take Off.” Nearly 25 years later, Moranis hit the charts again, but this time as a country singer on his album “The Agoraphobic Cowboy.”
This year, Moranis went back to the studio to record a set of songs that he was literally born to play. The result is “My Mother’s Brisket” (Warner Bros./LoudMouth), a baker’s dozen of songs that Moranis says even non-Jews can relate to. Moranis had an early inclination to include a glossary for his heavily Yiddish-infused collection of songs, but ultimately decided against the move.
“Other than Gary Schreiner,” Moranis tells JNS.org, mentioning his friend and producer, “almost all the musicians [on the album] were gentile.”
“They completely got everything [in the songs] because it was either self-explanatory, or I would set [the Yiddish lyrics] up with a few lines,” he says.
For example, Moranis says that once he explained that a zaide is a grandfather, the song “I’m Old Enough to be Your Zaide” had everyone in the studio laughing.
“And if you don’t know, you can get it from the song,” he says.
Among the other offerings on the album are “My Wednesday Balabusta,” “Belated Haftorah,” “The Seven Days of Shiva,” and “I Can’t Help It, I Just Like Christmas.”
Though Jew and non-Jews can both relate to most of Moranis’s compositions, perhaps the most universally relatable tune is the title track, “My Mother’s Brisket.” Asked what it is about brisket that makes Jewish children so loyal to the homes they grew up in, Moranis says he does not know for sure, but calls homemade food the “sensual part” of growing up in a Jewish home.
When it came time to choose a title track for the new album and to take a cover photo, Moranis went back to the home of his mother and his daughter’s bubbe.
“That is my mother on the cover,” Moranis explains. “My daughter took the picture!”
Moranis is not sure if his mother’s brisket had any “secret ingredient,” but does recall her roasting the meat “for hours,” then “letting it rest,” slicing it, then finally reheating it “with all the stuff on top of it, so it ended up being more moist than others we came across, that might have been cut right at the table.”
As happy as Moranis is to see his mother whenever he visits, he says that the rest of his family was always nearly as happy whenever she came to them bearing brisket.
“When my mother walked in a house with the brisket, they were all happy to see her, but some would be happier to see the brisket,” he says.
While his mother’s brisket may have been his true first love, Moranis says he has “always loved making music.” Though many fans think of him as a comedian and actor first, Moranis was actually one of the many kids who “grew up wanting to be The Beatles,” before he was “sidetracked into comedy.”
“Even when I was doing comedy, I wrote [music] all the time,” Moranis says.
On his album “The Agoraphobic Cowboy,” released in 2005, Moranis included a song called “Mean Old Man” which details the denizens of the Russian steam baths.
“It was about guys who came to school and described their father’s experiences in the steam bath, being whipped with eucalyptus leaves in the plaitza,” Moranis explains, mentioning the famed therapeutic torture that so many have enjoyed at the burly hands of Russian steam bath attendants. “They told about this particular Russian guy who had this great touch with the leaves.”
When “The Agoraphobic Cowboy” attracted wide acclaim, Moranis began looking into other elements of his upbringing for song ideas.
“I started writing more songs that had music I remembered from shul and the Zionist camp I went to as a kid, and the vernacular I grew up with that I was re-encountering in conversation with my family,” Moranis says.
Moranis has collaborated through the years with other famed comics, such as Steve Martin and Mel Brooks. His songwriting, however, is a more individualistic process.
“Writing jokes is a lot of fun to write with other people, but songwriting alone I like better,” he says.
Nevertheless, Moranis says he runs “everything by friends.”
“I don’t dare publish anything without trusted friends of mine who are writers hearing what it is and giving feedback,” he says.
Among the “editors” for “My Mother’s Brisket” were Moranis’s sister, a cousin, and of course, his mother.
“I sang some of [the songs] to my mother over the phone,” he says.
One of the songs that Moranis’s mother may not have heard in advance was “I’m Old Enough to be Your Zaide,” if only because she may not have approved of the premise.
“That was inspired by a little moment I had with a younger woman who I probably could have pursued having an introductory date with, and I asked her how old her father was, and the oldest guy she had dated, and they were both younger than me,” Moranis recalls.
“I though that, for the betterment of mankind, I would move on and wish her well,” Moranis says. “As I walked away, that song came to mind.”
While there is talk of a possible live tour, the album is currently the closest fans can get to being at Moranis’s mother’s table.
“At the end of the second day, the guys [at the recording studio] said we had to play this live,” Moranis says. “I thought they were kidding, but I find the idea intriguing.”
Moranis originally thought this album would be distributed privately, among friends and family. When he told his attorney that he would record it for just eight people, the attorney thought Jews all over North America would love the album. Now, deluxe sets of “My Mother’s Brisket” will even come with an inscribed yarmulke.
“I think people would give it to their cousins,” Moranis says of the album-yarmulke combination. “That is what I would do.”
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