Remember how 2020 started with record-breaking wildfires and the threat of nuclear war? You probably don’t, because then a global pandemic claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, changing the way we live forever. Three hurricanes formed at the same time, racism reared its ugly head, it was an election year… oh, and there were murder hornets. It all started to feel like overkill — like the writers of 2020 didn’t know when to say when.
Enter Bait Bag’s latest single, “Safe Word.” While most of us could only express our frustrations about this year through wordless primal screams, the female-rock trio actually found the words to tell this year that enough is enough. And they’re Jewish words, to boot! This might be the first good thing to come out of 2020, just under the wire: a lady punk song with the chorus “Die die die die, die die die, dayenu, it would have been enough!” That’s right, this song takes the classic Passover song “Dayenu” and spins it on its head the way only a year like 2020 can.
Featuring Courtney Naliboff on bass and vocals, Fiona Robins on guitar and vocals, and Claire Donnelly on drums, the band was formed in 2018. According to Courtney, the name Bait Bag has several layers. It’s a riff on “the idea of a pretty young woman as ‘bait’ — jailbait, or bait like in a horror movie for the monster — and the description of older women as ‘old bags.’” It’s also an homage to the fishing community in Maine where the band is based. Their self-described vibe is “planted firmly in rock and roll with a nod to punk and a knowing wink at the riot grrrl movement.” They’ve opened for Deerhoof, and their influences include Sleater-Kinney (especially Jewish icon Carrie Brownstein, of course), Blondie, and Le Tigre.
Courtney, the band’s bassist and only Jewish member (and, until recently, the only year-round Jewish resident of North Haven, Maine, the tiny island where the band lives), got the idea for the song “while doing some woods work at the house (#cottagecore) early in the pandemic. The ‘19, 20, it would have been enough you know it would have been plenty’ part popped into my head. Nineteen like COVID-19, and 20 like 2020. From there, dayenu seemed pretty obvious!”
Courtney’s husband, Bill, is the band’s recording engineer, and they pulled off the challenging feat of recording during a pandemic in order to bring this song to life. Bill set Bait Bag up to record outside in their yard. Per Courtney, “we used our little greenhouse as a vocal isolation booth, and ran hundreds of feet of audio cable out the bathroom window. We finalized the vocal tracks by using the theater at the island’s community center so we could spread out.” The final product was absolutely worth it.
“Safe Word” contains so many lyrical gems that it’s difficult to pick just one, but I really appreciate the accuracy of the line, “We’ve been asking how the world could be so mean / Can’t stop posting that dumpster fire meme / Every year since 2016.” Many things really have sucked for the past half-decade, but I’m glad Bait Bag thought to rhyme those things with one another.
When asked what the most cathartic section of the song is to sing, Courtney says, “All of the shouty, gang-vocals parts of the song are really satisfying. But I also really like the long DIEEEEE while Fiona covers the ‘dai dai dai dayenu’ part.”
If hitbotdedut (the Jewish meditation practice) is too subdued for you, feel free to try a good session with “Safe Word” this New Year’s Eve. From Bait Bag’s press release about the song: “Kick 2020 out the door with a burst of energy…For all those exhausted from the last four years, for anyone else saying ‘dayenu’ every time a new crisis erupts, this is the song to blast at midnight with a glass of champagne and all your friends on Zoom. Safe Word dares to imagine a brighter future rising from the ashes of the dumpster fire.” Amen.