Chad Gadya

Adam Sandler's "The Goat Song" as an Allegory for Jewish History


The Story

Really, it began in fall 1997, mere weeks after Adam Sandler released his What's Your Name? album, featuring "The Goat Song" (a tale about the talking goat, first introduced on What the Hell Happened to Me?). As I would later tell New Voices, "Freshman year, we would listen to Sandler nonstop in my suite. This proceeded to the point where Sandler's memorable lines became integral parts of our daily dialect, but for the first 100 or so times we listened to 'The Goat Song,' we were content with the goat just being a goat. Soon, this too changed, and we began applying our energies to come up with dozens of interpretations for the goat; for instance, I remember a Freudian sexual one, where the goat (or 'gote') represented a zygote. We called ourselves the Society of Young Men Bringing Obscure Literary Ideas to Sandler's Music (SYMBOLISM). Then, one night at dinner, it came to me: the goat is the Jewish people. Everyone thought I was crazy."

Lacking a receptive audience in Straus Hall, I wrote up the analysis and posted it to the web, where everyone is equal. The letters started pouring in, and the page was added to The Uselessness of Wackos. The page was eventually found by the editor of New Voices, a national Jewish student publication, and they published it as the cover story in the November 1999 issue, with the headline "Is Adam Sandler the Most Important Living Jewish Commentator?: Revisiting 'The Goat Song'". This page reached the peak of its exposure in November 2000 when it garnered a mention buried deep in an article about Adam Sandler in the Village Voice. The letters continue to this day, and you can add your own.


The Text

Copyright 1997-1999 Benjamin W Dreyfus


Legal Stuff: This manuscript contains the quoted text of "The Goat Song", copyright 1997 Lone Ranger Music, Inc. / Adam Sandler (ASCAP) / Thompsonian Music (BMI). It is included here for research purposes only.

Disclaimer: The text analyzed in this manuscript contains explicit language. If you are offended by such language, please stop reading now.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this analysis of "The Goat Song" do not reflect this author's own views. They merely reflect his interpretation of the song.


Introduction (Original)

In general, the song is an allegory for medieval/early-modern European Jewish history, from a perspective of about 1946: post-Holocaust, pre-Israel. The general message is rather pessimistic- it says that there is no hope for the Jewish people to escape persecution. A Zionist undertone is detectable, suggesting that the Jewish state is an alternative to the "pickup truck".

Introduction by New Voices

Although most fans appreciate Adam Sandler for his boyish charm and sometimes vulgar wit, Sandler is better known amongst academics for his metaphorical renderings of the Jewish past. Sandler's "Goat Song," which seemingly provides little more than the cantankerous pleas of an ill-fated European goat, is, in fact, an allegory for medieval/early-modern European Jewish history, from a post-Holocaust perspective--circa 1946. The piece, decidedly pessimistic in tone, offers a dire outlook for the Jewish people, emphasizing the inevitability of persecution. Still, not all is bleak in Sandler's reading of Jewish history. A Zionist undertone is detectable in "The Goat Song," suggesting that the Jewish state may be a viable alternative to the metaphorical "pickup truck."

Line-by-line commentary

"I am a simple goat."
The goat represents the Jewish people. The metaphor of a goat as the Jewish people is not original to Sandler and can be found in traditional interpretations of the Passover song "Chad Gadya".

"I live on the back of the pickup truck."
The pickup truck represents the "place" where Jews lived in Europe during the medieval/early-modern period. It can be understood as a "physical place," e.g. a ghetto, or as the "social place" the Jews occupied in European societies which deemed them second-class citizens.

"The Old Man tied me here with a three-foot rope / Am I happy? He don't give a fuck."
The Old Man is a recurring and multifaceted metaphor in the song. He symbolizes the Jewish oppressor: Christianity, western civilization, anti-Semitism, etc. The "three-foot rope" represents the repression of Jews. In German, "three feet" is "drei fuss", making this a clear reference to the Dreyfus Affair, an archetypal example of anti-Semitism in the modern world.

"'Hey Goat! I'm gonna beat your head in with the hickory stick!' / Sometimes he uses his fists"
Sandler now enumerates several ways in which the Old Man abuses the goat. The "hickory stick" and the "fists" refer to physical persecution of the Jews: pogroms, torture, and so on.

"He's filled with anger, and filled with rage / And tells me I smell like piss"
In addition to the physical persecution, there was a great deal of "anger" and "rage" that led to verbal abuse and slander against the Jews.

"His drink, Jimmy Beam / His chaser, a beer / After that, various alcohols"
Not quite sure. Perhaps it could mean that the "Old Man" was drunk, i.e. his actions were not rational, but a result of mental incapacitation- like the mob mentality of pogroms, etc.

"That's when the beatings get so severe / Asleep I pray he falls"
The Jews have always prayed that the evil would "fall asleep" (so to speak) to the point of adding an extra blessing to the daily Amidah asking God to destroy their enemies.

"But don't feel sorry for me / Things weren't always this bad / Why, when I was a young talking goat / The Old Man was just like my dad."
Well, actually, Judaism was the father of Christianity (not the other way around) but poetic license is ok.

"I come from the hills of Europe / That's where I met the Old Man"
For a long time, Jewish life was centered in Europe, and this is where the Jews met the Old Man.

"He was lost in the woods, I gave him directions."
Medieval European civilization was "lost in the woods". Judaism was the basis of all of Western religion, which provided spiritual "directions".

"He gave me a tuna can / Then he stopped in his tracks / And he said 'Hey Goat! / Would you like to live with me? / I've got a house with a pick-up truck / In a place across the sea'"
The Old Man gives the goat food and sustenance, and invites the goat to live with him. This represents more "enlightened" time periods when Jews were relatively emancipated, e.g. Spain during the "Golden Age". Sandler will soon show that this status is ephemeral at best.

"I said 'Sure, why not, I've got no family / And you seem like a nice guy'"
The Jews were "a people apart, not reckoned among the nations" (Numbers 23:9). In the political landscape of Europe, the Jews had no state, no "family" that they could call their own. Therefore, if the Old Man was being a "nice guy" and offering them opportunities, their response was "sure, why not".

"So we went off to America, the land of apple pie"
I don't think this represents America itself (remember, it's still the medieval and early modern period), but rather, America is symbolic for a free, enlightened nation.

"On the boat, the Old Man told me / I would be a present for his wife / 'A talking goat!' he exclaimed, / 'She'd never seen this in her life!"
The Old Man was happy to embrace the Jews when everything was going well. At this point, he has a healthy relationship with his wife, who represents political, social, and economic stability in Europe.

"Well, I just couldn't believe it / After all these years I finally had a friend / He trimmed my beard / He scraped my hooves / I prayed it would never end."
The Jews were relieved to have found an ally after so many years in exile. "He trimmed my beard" implies a small degree of assimilation on the part of the Jews, since beards have been an identifying characteristic of Jews through parts of history. Likewise, the hooves are what make an animal kosher, and Sandler claims that by allying with the Old Man, the Jewish people are selling out and making themselves slightly less kosher. "I prayed it would never end" is a reference to the prayer for the well-being of the Diaspora government that appears in many siddurim.

"But when we got to the house / There was no wife / Only a short, short letter / It said 'I'm leaving you for your brother / Because he fucks me better'"
The Old Man's wife disappears: this represents a cataclysmic event, such as a war, an invasion, a famine, or a plague, that creates havoc in a previously stable area.

"His eyes filled with tears of sadness / His heart was filled with grief / To soothe himself he drank a pint of Old Granddad / And beat me like a side of beef."
The cataclysmic event has negative effects on the Old Man, and causes the "enlightened stage" to end. He returns to his "drunk" state and begins persecuting the Jews again.

"I screamed 'Take me back to the hills of Europe!' / He just shook his head and said 'Nope! / No one will ever leave me again / To make sure, put on this three-foot fucking rope"
The Jews wish to return to the status quo ante, so that they can live free of interference. The Old Man refuses, blaming the current crisis on the Jews, and attaches the Jews to the "pickup truck" (see above). The author sees this series of events as an ongoing cycle, repeating for centuries.

"Present day, I've been on the truck for 51 years"
The "present day" is the modern period. The medieval cycle described above has come to an end. Scott Spak of Dartmouth College offers the following interpretation:

The old school Hebrew calendar operates on a forty-nine year cycle, followed by the fiftieth year, the "Jubilee." I interpret the lyric, then, dig this:
After a full cycle of darkness and diaspora since the destruction of the temple, the founding of the State of Israel was the Jubilee year, the beginning of a new cycle. Well, after that initial bliss and novelty of the new cycle, the second generation of Israel and the second generation after immediate Holocaust survivors is now becoming the dominant force in the Jewish world; a new generation=a new "year," hence the 51st year.
Thus, the 51 years represent one full cycle and the beginning of a new cycle. Also, 51 years is a substantial chunk of the Biblical human lifetime of 70 years, suggesting that the Jewish people have been on the pickup truck for most of their national life. It should also be noted that 51 is the numerical value of the word kele, "prison": the pickup truck is a prison.

"My only friend is the AM radio"
The "AM radio" refers to a source of learning: namely, the Written and Oral Torah, which have been the only consistent "friend" to the Jews over the years.

"Sometimes the neighborhood children stop by / But it's always rocks and beer bottles that they throw / At first they're excited to see a talking goat / They gather around to hear what I have to say / But I guess sometimes my stories go on too long / So they leave and giggle I need a bidet"
The "neighborhood children" refer to Western non-Jewish intellectuals. The author takes a pejorative view of them by referring to them as "children". By placing them immediately after the reference to Torah, he implies that secular learning is inferior to Torah. These intellectuals are occasionally fascinated with the Jews and Jewish texts, but this always proves to be only temporary, and in the end the intellectuals are nothing but manifestations of the Old Man.

"But you know there was a night that I did get off the truck / When the Old Man was passed out drunk / Three neighborhood kids took me to a rock 'n' roll concert / The kind of music: old-school funk"
The Enlightenment. The Old Man (ignorant anti-Semitism) was dormant because of the intellectual currents in Europe (again, the "neighborhood kids"), and the Jews were able to get off the "truck". The concert is the "Concert of Europe" (a term for post-Napoleonic Europe). The reference to "old-school funk" represents the hope that this emancipation would be a return to the free status that the Jews enjoyed during the "old-school" period of sovereignty in the land of Israel.

"It was the first time I got off the truck / The music made me lose control / The lead singer asked if we were having fun / I said 'Fucking crank that rock 'n' roll!'"
For the first time, the Jews were off the "truck". They "lost control" and became full-fledged members of European society, now that this was possible.

"The women at the show were beautiful / As they danced sexily on the soft grass / One of them even petted my fur / Fuck me in the goat-ass!"
As the Jews became more assimilated, the non-Jewish women became attractive to Jewish men (and vice versa), and the Jews began to intermarry.

"Then some long-haired guys grabbed me by the horns / And threw me in the mosh pit / They passed me around and treated me nice."
The mosh pit is the most intense part of the concert. It represents Germany in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, where Jews reached a hitherto unattainable level in the secular society. Yet, the author feels that this is illusory, and notes this subtly by mentioning "horns" (a reference to the anti-Semitic meme that Jews have horns) to imply that anti- Semitism never truly went away.

"Till I nervously sprayed them with shit."
This is the most difficult line of the song to interpret. Taken at face value, it seems to imply that the collapse of Weimar Germany was the Jews' fault! I don't think this is what Sandler is trying to say. Another reading: Due to factors beyond the goat's control (these factors were actually caused by the long- haired guys), the mosh pit was sprayed with shit. But this shit came from the goat's realm, so that it appeared to the long-haired guys that the goat was responsible for spraying the shit. Interpretation: The collapse of Weimar Germany was due to economic factors (WWI, Treaty of Versailles, reparations, hyperinflation, blah blah blah). The Jews were blamed because of their connection to the financial sector.

"Then the music stopped / And everything was quiet"
The Concert of Europe was over, as Europe and the world prepared for war and destruction once again.

"And all the rock 'n' rollers started a fucking goat riot / KILL THE GOAT! / KILL THE GOAT! / KILL THE GOAT! / KILL THE GOAT!"
Hitler and the Nazi party motivated the German people into a frenzy, targeting the Jews and other groups as scapegoats.

"They chased me under the bleachers / They chased me onto the street / They chased me into an alley / And said I was dead fucking goat meat"
The Holocaust. The four lines represent its gradual nature: Jews were deprived of various rights ("chased under the bleachers"), sent to ghettos ("chased onto the street"), sent to concentration camps ("chased into an alley"), and finally, killed ("dead fucking goat meat").

"But then I saw a sight / That I never thought I'd see / The Old Man swinging his hickory stick / But he wasn't swinging at me / 'Fuck you, pot-smoking turkeys! / Don't you press your luck!' / The long hairs ran away screaming / As I scrambled onto the truck / When we got home, the Old Man said, / 'Goat, you broke the sacred law! / (No! Please! Sorry! Shit!) / I'll let it go this time, but if you leave again / I'll break your fucking jaw!' / (Super! Great! Okay!) / 'Thank you Old Man, for saving my life, / Thank you again and again / You could have let them barbecue me, / But you acted like a friend' / ' I'm not your friend, I don't even like you / I'm just not drunk,' he said / To prove his point, he drank a bottle of grain alcohol / And beat the fucking shit out of my head / Ow! Ow! Ow! You're hurting me, Old Man!"
There are several interpretations of this section: Perhaps the Old Man represents the Soviet Union. The USSR helped defeat the Nazis and liberate the concentration camps, and the Jews were thankful, but "I'm not your friend, I don't even like you" points out. the USSR proceeded to continue persecuting the Jews. Or, more directly pertinent to the 1945-48 period (see at the top), the Old Man could be the British too: they also defeated the Nazis, but then they were antagonistic to the Jews in their Palestine policy. The line "Goat, you broke the sacred law" is when the already bitter song begins to get truly pessimistic. It implies that there is some law of nature that prevents the Jews from ever permanently getting off the "pickup truck".

"That night I suffered a concussion / Deep inside my goat brain / I still cannot feel my tailbone / And I'll probably never walk straight again"
The Jewish psyche was deeply scarred by the Holocaust, and many said that the Jews would "never walk straight again".

"I guess you'd call me a scapegoat"
Here Sandler essentially removes his allegorical mask. The Jews have been a scapegoat all throughout history.

"A punching bag for the Old Man to mock / Just because his wife left him / For his brother's abnormally large cock"
The Old Man blamed the Jews for the problems in Europe (his wife's disappearance)

"He could have been my buddy / But instead he's a crazy old fuck"
Judaism and Christianity should have been allied, since they come from a common past. But instead, the Christian world has been a "crazy old fuck".

"And now I go to sleep in my eternal home / The back of the pickup truck / Goodnight, Old Man! / Goodnight, Goat!"
The Jews are eternally relegated to the "pickup truck"! According to the song, there is no hope for the Jews. Sandler has examined Jewish history from a deeply bitter and cynical perspective, and illustrated his view that no positive changes have ever been truly lasting, and the only constant is persecution.


Acknowledgements

Roger Barkan has contributed immensely to the scholarly study of "The Goat" and "The Goat Song". Without him, this research would not have been possible. The author also thanks Kevin Hassani, Julian Hwang, and Scott Spak for their contributions.