Sid Yiddish is a Chicago performance artist who is running for president as a write-in candidate. He describes himself as a “Lincoln Republican” though his politics are more in line with the Democrats, but you are welcome to write him in on whatever ballot you choose; he’s not picky. He is the only candidate promising to invade Denmark.
Why Denmark? “Because it’s there and because I can,” he said. He has performed in Denmark but did his first show with Danish musicians over Skype for the Chicago Calling Festival in 2009. He travels the U.S. frequently. This Friday, Jan. 22 (2016) will find him in Kansas City, Missouri at the Poetry & Absinthe Open Mic at the Uptown Arts Bar.
Sid Yiddish usually dresses like a kind of mischievous cantor, as if The Rocky Horror Picture show took place in a Catskills summer camp or if Fiddler on the Roof was an avant-garde punk rock opera instead of a Broadway musical. With a prayer shawl and Kittel – a traditional garment worn by orthodox Jewish men and a face mask, he both pays homage to and satirizes Jewish heritage with his appearance. When he appeared on America’s Got Talent, Howie Mandel called him a “Hasidic Lone Ranger.”
A Sid Yiddish performance is always an eclectic ensemble of songs, poems, comedy and compelling noise. Each performance will usually involve some form of Tuvan throat singing, which sounds like it is painful to do and can rattle the uninitiated. He often performs with a band, the Candy Store Henchmen. With connections in various cities, his auxiliary of Candy Store Henchman can be summoned to perform on short notice and very little rehearsal.
[Full disclosure: I have known Sid Yiddish for several years and have performed in the New York City version of his Candy Store Henchmen. I met him through Mykel Board, who had the wisdom to write about Sid much sooner.]
His presidential campaign is his latest effort in reaching out to the world. His platform includes heavy support of the arts. “I believe schools should cut sports from schools and give all their money to the arts.” He would also buy everyone a new pair of shoes and hand out bubble gum with good comics in them, not the shabby comics that have become the standard today.
He has extended his reach through some small acting roles. He appears briefly in a Ludacris video and recently had a bit part in the Showtime show Shameless, which stars William H. Macy. There’s an online petition to make Sid a recurring character on the series.
While he revels in his outsider status, he makes an effort to make each show as interesting and participatory as possible, inviting audience members to join his band and play instruments if they choose, even if that instrumentation consists of banging on a table top or tapping a beer glass.
He’s devised a series of hand signals that instructs the band on what to play. One gesture means to stop, another gesture means a free-for-all, other gestures mean other things. If you play the wrong thing, he doesn’t ask you to change, he just may be a bit more emphatic with his gestures. No two Sid Yiddish shows will ever be the same and he likes it that way.
Sid Yiddish describes himself as a late bloomer and suffers from depression. His past is littered with sad memories of where clinical depression can lead. He hopes his work can reach people and help encourage those who also suffer from the disorder. To him, being a performance artist is a redeeming experience that puts him on a good path and colors his worldview. “It feels like I take LSD without taking LSD,” he notes.
His music and acting takes up a lot of his time and he is interested in going to another audition for America’s Got Talent. “I’m a renaissance man, a Jack and Jill of all trades. No one can put me in a category; you can’t pin me down. But sometimes I’ve felt that I’m spreading myself too thin.”
The world has given up a good bit of the civility and thoughtfulness that was more commonplace when Sid Yiddish was growing up, and he offers himself as a one-man protest against that. Instead of waving his fist at the world, his hand gestures conducts a motley crew making avant-garde punk rock symphony. He can take your rejection; he’s faced it all before and just keeps coming back, serving as a reminder that the act of creation and expression is sometimes all that matters and all you have left.
Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have their presidential campaigns based in New York City. If both get their respective party nominations, we will have an all-New York presidential campaign. New York loves a big media circus, but America can do better.
Hillary Clinton moved to New York so she could someday run for president. She wasn’t the first person to do so. It was fitting that she held the seat Robert F. Kennedy once held, she was following his example. New York is now her political home. New Yorkers don’t resent her for this. Ours is the city of opportunity and even our current and most recent former mayor are originally from Boston. If she hadn’t quit her seat to run for president, New York voters would have returned her to the Senate even if she was found in bed with a dead girl or live boy.
Now Hillary Clinton is running for president again and her campaign headquarters is in fashionable Brooklyn. Democratic voters are desperate for someone else. She has unexpectedly fierce opposition from Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who originally hails from the Brooklyn that was. There are so many strikes against Sanders by the dictates of conventional wisdom that his rise as a viable candidate is somewhat astounding. There are a few other candidates in the running for the Democratic nomination: former Virginia Senator Jim Webb and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley.
Donald Trump has been a New York City fixture since he was born. His father, Fredrick Trump, was actually a self-made man who started his construction business at age 15 and built things that weren’t tacky pieces of crap. Some of his earlier buildings have historic recognition in Queens. Donald Trump gets credit for investing and revitalizing parts of Manhattan and Atlantic City, but his business acumen is highly suspect and he’s been a famous bloviating loudmouth for decades. Like Democratic voters who are drawn to Bernie Sanders, Trump supporters are desperate for anyone who is not an empty suit corporate mouthpiece. Trump has taken populist positions that run counter to what corporate donors want to hear. If he’s not willing to spend a lot of his own money on his campaign, he will likely not win since his campaign will run out of money without the support of large wealthy donors.
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump share some important things in common: both coasted to their notoriety through family connections, both will take whatever position will earn them the most votes, and both would rather enjoy the trappings of power without having to talk to real people.
Clinton at least comes across as knowing what the job actually entails and having the capacity to do it, but she would be the same kind of vacillating, self-interested establishment politician the public despises; it’s no mystery that many Democratic voters are sick of her and rightly so. Donald Trump may not realize that being President would seriously restrict his accustomed lifestyle, and what works in closing real estate deals in Atlantic City isn’t going to work when negotiating nuclear arms deals. The cabinet is not a game show.
Trump has at least pushed the Republican Party to the right on immigration. His plan for mass deportations is poorly thought out but at least he’s saying a resounding “no” to what was considered standard conventional wisdom.
New York City would benefit from the media circus a Trump-Clinton matchup would bring, but we already are a 24-hour media circus. And New York and the country can do a lot better than a Clinton or Trump residency. A Trump nomination, or another Clinton or Bush nomination, will demonstrate that our republic has slipped past the point of no return down the slope of oblivion.