Accountant finds outlet in punk rock
By day, Steve Lieberman concerns himself with the routine business of paying the Village of Freeport's municipal bills. By night, he rocks.
Lieberman, the village comptroller, moonlights as the Gangsta Rabbi, a punk-rocking musician whose songs often come with a deeply religious Jewish subtext.
An accountant by trade, Lieberman, 52, also is the world's only Orthodox Jewish heavy metal musician with a record deal, according to the head of the studio that released his last album.
Lieberman plays small local music clubs on occasion but spends most of his free time in a recording studio he constructed in a spare bedroom of his Freeport home. He plays bass guitar and sings lyrics he seemingly is always writing. He has recorded, by his count, 38 albums on cassette and another 19 on compact disc.
"He has the persistence of a 21-year-old who thinks they're going to conquer the world," said Jacob Harris, the chief operating officer of Manhattan-based JDub Records, which released the 2010 Gangsta Rabbi album "DiKtatoR 17" and plans to put out his forthcoming album, "The Rabbi is Dead," this summer. "You don't get a lot of that."
The Gangsta Rabbi's music is not for every taste, a conclusion Lieberman himself readily admits. Recent tracks include "Jewish Boy in the Mosh Pit," "Obama-rama Yeah" and a song bemoaning the Metropolitan Transportation Authority payroll tax. His songs have a loud, clanging sound that Harris described as reminiscent of early 1980s bootleg albums from the Dead Kennedys and the Sex Pistols.
Harris, in describing his client, called Lieberman "a one-man machine that has replicated this purposefully sloppy sound that is still pop sensitive and boppy and timely."
Lieberman is neither a gangsta nor a rabbi. He went to Mepham High School in Bellmore and Five Towns College, has been married four times, is a career municipal accountant and subscribes to a fundamentalist strain of Judaism, Bad'lan, for which he claims to be the sole adherent. His last haircut came in 2001.
"I have one personality where I do my day-to-day accounting stuff," Lieberman said. "Then I get on stage and I have to convert to some real mean cursing, loudmouth stuff. Then when I come offstage I have to get out of that thing because you don't want to live your life like that."
For all his effort, Lieberman estimated he's made about $3,000 over two decades of creating music. His inability to break through early informed his later albums.
"I have a lot of issues, I've been around in life a long time," he said. "The mad things you write more than the happy things. Right now it's like, after being in the industry so many years, I feel I should have been much bigger than I am, so I'm angry about that."
But not so angry that he can't share the radio with his wife, Linda.
"She likes show tunes, so she doesn't particularly like what I do," Lieberman said. "If she has her station set, it's on Barbra Streisand. You have to respect that because it's really good, but it's not for me."