A strange sound briefly lit up the blogs as a clip of *Philip Roth bellowing over a dance beat made the rounds. The track (“Jewish Shouting Mix 3”) is the work of James Marcus, book critic, translator, and editor of the Columbia Journalism Review’s Page Views. Marcus captured the audio in a 2008 interview with Roth for the LA Times. Roth was explaining his disdain for the movie version of Portnoy’s Complaint, which he described as “a bunch of Jewish shouting.” To Marcus’ surprise, Roth then proceeded to demonstrate exactly what he meant, with an outburst Marcus calls a “historic bit of ululation.” Now set to a pulsing, faintly tribal techno beat, the outburst leaves us bewildered and bemused. Flavorpill caught with the man behind the meme for the skinny on Jewish vs gentile shouting and the rumored 15-minute club mix.
Flavorpill: How did the remix come about? Was there a bet involved?
James Marcus: During the interview, Roth was obliging enough to demonstrate the fine art of Jewish shouting. I found it very funny at the time, and even funnier when I listened to the MP3 file afterward. Once I isolated the shouting, it was just a hop, skip, and a jump to the dance mix: the idea was irresistible. There was no wager, no commercial motive — just the desire to tinker with an historic bit of ululation.
FP: Can you tell us more about the rumored 15-minute version? Are dancefloors ready for it?
JM: Ha ha. I was mostly joking about the 15-minute version. It could be a real nightmare — like extending a knock-knock joke for two hours. But if the demand is there, sure, I’ll do a club mix, with some nice lap-steel licks and maybe a sample of Isaac Bashevis Singer.
FP: Any plans for a follow-up?
JM: See above. I’ve done many interviews, but have discarded most of the tapes along the way. Still, I could dig through the archival shoebox and see what’s in there. As we all know, Gentile shouting is a very different cup of tea.
FP: Are you worried about the extra pressure as a journalist now that your interviewees will be expecting to be remixed?
JM: If any future interview subjects want a little remix, like a party favor at the end, I’d be happy to oblige. I’ve got the software and the instruments. Well, not a drum set — my girlfriend won’t allow that.
FP: Have you heard from Roth at all?
JM: I loved chatting with Roth, who I found surprisingly mild and soft-spoken (except when he was, you know, shouting). But we had no contact after the interview. I have no idea what he would make of the dance mix. Probably he would regard it as a digital frivolity, which sounds about right. In any case, I hope he wouldn’t be offended, since I meant it as an honest homage.
* This is the only photo of Roth we could find where his mouth was open, suggesting this was truly a random outburst.