Former White House speechwriter now sings a different tune in Boston – The Forward

(Boston Jewish Journal) – Ten years ago, Joe Resnek was a precocious 23-year-old with a badass past who had graduated from Harvard and worked his way into a job as a speechwriter for bigwigs of the Obama administration.

His goal — he loves goals — was to get into Harvard Law School. What he did. Along the way, he founded the law school’s mock trial team, becoming the top-ranked student attorney on the national circuit.

Next goal: to become a court-appointed lawyer. “It’s because I played Atticus Finch in my high school production of ‘To Kill A Mockingbird,'” he said in an interview, referring to the principled lawyer who championed racial justice. in Harper Lee’s 1960 novel.

He accomplished that too. For two and a half years, he represented drug offenders, impaired drivers, assault and battery suspects and others who could not afford a private attorney.

Resnek’s law school classmates, meanwhile, pursued forensic internships, on Wall Street, at elite law firms. So where is Resnek now?

Back in Chelsea, Massachusetts, where he grew up wearing dreadlocks, hanging out with his lifelong buddies and making music about life in the neighborhood. In June, he released his debut album, titled “1,” reflecting his roots in Chelsea, Massachusetts’ geographically smallest town at 2.46 square miles, where the per capita income hovers around $26,000.

Nearly 70% of Chelsea’s population is Latino, which bears little resemblance to the community of a century ago, when it was a working-class center of Jewish life. At the time, more than half of the population identified as Jewish and Chelsea was dubbed “little Jerusalem”. Resnek’s Chelsea line dates back to 1885, when his great-great-grandfather Josiah came from Belarus and eventually ran a butcher shop.

He sings about leaving and coming home, about a shared vision of community, about unlucky lives – in a kind of pop/rap genre that defies categorization.

He has also released a few music videos, including one for a song called “Ghetto” where he hops – singing – down Park Street.

Wellness case
Owner sued
Working the block is the only hope anyone has to make it big…

Next goal? “I’m just trying to promote my music and release more new music,” Resnek said, enjoying the night air on a bench in Mary O’Malley Park, named after a well-known Chelsea matriarch. It overlooks the Mystic River, in the shadow of the Tobin Bridge. He loved being a public defender, he says, but “music brought me here. I’m back.”

“It was quite a metamorphosis, or an evolution. Or both,” said her father, Joshua Resnek, publisher and editor of the Everett Leader Herald.

From “punk” to “speechwriter”

Resnek at the White House, where he worked as a speechwriter. Courtesy of Joe Resnek

I first met Resnek in 2012 when I interviewed him for a Boston Globe article about his unlikely rise from self-proclaimed “Chelsea punk” and low-level delinquent to speechwriter for bureaucrats, chiefs of staff and ambassadors. Appointed by Obama, Resnek spent a year and a half in the post, which he said gave him “a better understanding of how power works in America.”

It was far from the Tobin Bridge. “When you come from Chelsea, you’re lucky to get to Everett,” he said at the time.

While in Cambridge to study at Harvard, Chelsea remained in his blood.

He stayed close to his buddies, occasionally jogging from Harvard Square, crossing four cities – Cambridge, Somerville, Charlestown and Everett – to get home for Shabbat dinner.

His mother, Carol Resnek, traces his passion for music back to when she took him to a Sting concert when he was around 8 years old. ‘”

She bought him an electric guitar and an amp, and soon he was writing his own music. In fifth grade, he started a band called Impulse with a guitarist he had met in Hebrew school.

“We played there,” he said, pointing to the park’s cement platform. They performed at Punks Corner in Revere Beach and at school dances.

At Harvard, he put music aside to focus on his studies, but spent the summers in Chelsea, parked in his mother’s basement. “All he did was make beats, make beats, make beats,” she said. Towards the end of law school, he performed on the streets around Harvard Square and downtown. The day someone tipped her $50 was “one of the greatest moments of my life.”

The day he was called to the Massachusetts bar, he applied for his first job as a public defender. He found one in Greenfield, where he didn’t know anyone but “the system people were really nice,” he says. “I got along very well with the employees, guards and customers. It brought me camaraderie. »

He also provided him with equipment:

Getting out of jail about the best way to start the day
Watch the sun hit the sidewalk, I got nothing bad to say
But watching my people in jail got me thinking that I should be
A little less concerned about my reputation, a little more grateful I’m free

He was making music every minute he wasn’t making law. And sometimes while he was doing law, after the pandemic started and the shift from court appearances to Zoom. Once, he was waiting for his case to be called while editing a song on his computer. He thought he was mute but the whole courtroom heard him rapping.

The judge was not amused. But Resnek was delighted: the prosecutor asked where he could find this song on Spotify.

“Greenfield is where her hair grew, where the real transformation took place,” Joshua Resnek said. “He rented a house and created a sound studio full of speakers, microphones, guitar, drums, a piano. And that became his cause celebre. Greenfield was completely liberating for him.

“He has this passion,” said his friend Gabe Cederberg, a musician who met Resnek at Harvard and helped him with the production. “I know how much he struggles over every sentence.”

A singer playing guitar in green lighting
Resnek performing. Courtesy of Joe Resnek

Connect to your ancestors

Although the path he has chosen may seem like a break from his old life, Resnek doesn’t see it that way. “It’s ‘bottom up’, like my Jewish ancestors came to Chelsea to sell pots and pans. I feel deeply connected to my ancestors who got their start here as I receive mine,” he wrote in an email. “I believe that I carry on a tradition of ambition in my family. Whether it’s Jewish or not, I don’t know.

He plays wherever he can these days, including high-traffic tourist destinations and concert halls. On August 22, he will perform at the Midway Café in Jamaica Plain. His songs can be heard on multiple streaming platforms including Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon and YouTube.

“I use the street to practice and see what people react to,” he said. It occurred to him that a song is very much like a speech. “Moving a crowd is the principle,” he said. “Obama was a rock star – and not because he sang.”

A few days ago, he received his first $100 tip from a man who told him, “Use what you’ve been given to share your music with the world.”

“It’s a good sign,” Resnek said. “People are really moved by what I do.”

About Cody E. Vaughn

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