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Catching Up With Dean Friedman

I went into this article not knowing anything about him, but it turns out, he’s a real hardcore Yid.
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May 25, 2023

I was driving with my family in our white Jeep Wrangler through the desert of Las Vegas, listening to my favorite Spotify mix: Billy Joel, Bob Dylan and Electric Light Orchestra. 

And then, I heard a quirky rock-pop song that sounded like it was straight out of the 70’s. It told the story of a teenage boy who falls in love with a dynamic girl named Ariel, and in the chorus, he croons an elongated “Ariel,” reaching a high note as a saxophone blares behind him. He also sings, “She was a Jewish girl, I fell in love with her” and talks about how they hung out “deep in the bosom of suburbia.” 

I asked my wife Kylie, “Who sings this?”

Looking at the screen, she said, “Dean Friedman.”

“Who?”

“Dean Friedman?” she said, sounding unsure of herself.

“Yes, I heard you the first time. But who is Dean Friedman?”

“I don’t know.” 

“He’s really good! How did we not know about Dean Friedman?”

That was the beginning of my Dean Friedman obsession. His songs are fun, whimsical and feature excellent storytelling.

Often, over the years, I’d be in the car with Kylie, listening to Dean Friedman, and I’d turn to her and say, “What do you think Dean Friedman’s life is like? Does Dean Friedman tour? What do you think Dean Friedman is doing right now?” 

To which Kylie would always respond, “I don’t know. I know nothing about this Dean Friedman. If you’re so curious about Dean Friedman, why don’t you look him up?”

Turns out, you can friend Dean Friedman on Facebook! I was shocked when he accepted my friend request. I thought it must be a Dean Friedman impersonator. In my world, Dean Friedman is a massive celebrity.

I was so delighted when he got back to me. We scheduled a Zoom and caught up when he was in the middle of his UK tour – he’s big over there. What was perhaps most surprising to me about the interview was that Dean has a very Jewish story. I went into this article not knowing anything about him, but it turns out, he’s a real hardcore Yid.

“I always valued my Jewish heritage and culture,” Dean said. “Inexplicably, for reasons I don’t understand, my mom sent me to a yeshiva in Patterson, New Jersey for fifth and sixth grade, and then the Talmudical Academy of Baltimore for ninth and 10th grade. I was a fish out of water, since my family wasn’t Shomer Shabbat and we didn’t keep kosher.”

He continued, “Compared to the really frum kids, I was a rebel.” 

This led to some problems.

“I got kicked out of yeshiva on several occasions,” he said. 

Once, Dean, who was influenced by Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon, got caught playing his guitar in the bathroom during the omer, when it was prohibited to play or listen to music. Another time, he broke into the gymnasium in the middle of the night to play the piano. He also hilariously got caught with some treyf contraband. 

“It was already Shabbat, and I couldn’t turn my light out or else the rabbis would know I did it, so I wrapped a towel around the lamp to cover it so I could go to sleep,” he said. “Thinking that I didn’t want it to catch fire, I soaked the towel in water. Of course, it dried out immediately, caught fire and set the whole room on fire.”

But Dean didn’t get expelled for setting his room ablaze.

“I got kicked out because when they threw the flaming mattress out the window, that’s when they discovered my charred copies of Playboy magazine that I’d been hiding underneath it,” he said.

Despite not being so observant, Dean is clearly proud of his Judaism. He’s featured on “The Complete Jewish Songbook for Children, Vol. III,” singing the original songs “In My Sukkah” and “Tu Bishvat,” and “A Million Matzoh Balls,” a song which was featured in the very Jewish film “Lemon.”  

“I grew up with a lot of respect for the culture and the friends I made and the beautiful aspects of religion, but with a healthy skepticism,” he said. 

Dean’s songs can be lighthearted or have a deeper meaning. He captures a range of feeling and emotion in his music. 

“American Lullaby,” his most recent album, is about the modern problems in the U.S., set to a melodic, soft piano.

“I was dealing with difficult topics [in this song], but I didn’t want to scare everybody off the bat,” he said. “I used the idea of the lullaby, because in every culture, lullabies share something curious in common: as parents are lulling their babies to sleep or singing a sweet melody in gentle soothing tones, the lyrics to most lullabies are terrifying. A lullaby is a parent’s longing to instill critical information into the next generation without scaring the sh– out of them.”

I love all of Dean’s music – the man is incredibly prolific. Just check out his catalog on Spotify.

But going back to “Ariel,” that first song I heard in the Jeep that day, I had to know: Who was this girl? 

“I married her, but her name is actually Alison,” Dean said. 

“And?” I asked.

“Well, Ariel was a composite of all these teenage girls I had a crush on growing up,” he said. “A couple years after the song came out, I met Alison in a park. We were both walking our dogs and she was like that Ariel I envisioned.” They have two children, one of whom is a writer in Hollywood.

One interesting fact about “Ariel” Dean shared is that when it came out, his record label was afraid people in Middle America wouldn’t like the song because it mentioned a “Jewish girl.” 

One interesting fact about “Ariel” Dean shared is that when it came out, his record label was afraid people in Middle America wouldn’t like the song because it mentioned a “Jewish girl.” The label made him take it out for those markets.

“Then the Jewish Defense League came after me and threatened to boycott me because they cut the Jewish girl line,” he said. 

Ironically enough, those markets in Middle America got ahold of the original version of “Ariel” and preferred to play that one. They didn’t care about the line at all. It was another funny anecdote from Dean’s interesting life. 

Today, Dean is finishing his UK tour, writing new songs all the time and comes to L.A. to perform every winter. 

So, where does he find the inspiration? “I’ll always draw from the real world around me,” he said. “I started writing songs when I was nine, and I’ve never stopped.”

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