Real Music & Real Estate . . .

Yiddishe Cup’s bandleader, Bert Stratton, is Klezmer Guy.

He knows about the band biz and – check this out – the real estate biz, too.

You may not care about the real estate biz. Hey, you may not care about the band biz. (See you.)

This is a blog with a gamy twist. It features tenants with snakes and skunks, and musicians with smoked fish in their pockets.

Stratton has written op-eds for the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Washington Post.



At big bar mitzvah parties, the teens are sometimes in a room with a DJ, while the klezmer band plays in an adjacent room for the AKs. I’m OK with that. I don’t whine about sharing the bill. Frankly, it’s rare to see a klez band in any room at a bar mitzvah. It’s mostly a DJ scene.

Hadassah – the women’s organization — sponsored Simchapalooza, a bar mitzvah fair, where bar mitzvah moms shopped for DJs, balloon twisters, video guys and caterers. I had a booth. Nobody stopped by. Maybe I reeked of herring. The Bar Mitzvah King, DJ Terry Macklin, drew a crowd. He had three exhibition tables strung end to end. He offered full-service: invitations, catering, DJ services and photo booths.

Rock the House — mere youngsters — eventually encroached on Terry’s DJ turf. Rock the House wasn’t black like Macklin, but they worked on it. And they were a lot younger than Macklin.

There was a lower-rung DJ, Joey Gentile, who advertised “Mitzvah Services” in the Cleveland Jewish News. I sent his ad to Moment magazine, which held an ongoing contest highlighting funny real-life ads, like “Easter Challah $3.99 Special.” My submission read “Gentile Mitzvah Services.” Didn’t get in.

A man from the Bar Mitzvah Guide, published in New York, called and asked me to buy an ad. He was doing an Ohio version. The Bar Mitzvah Guide carried ads for everything from bottle dancers to personalized chocolate bars. The man called me way too often. The final time, I said, “I’ll place an ad but I bet you won’t take it.”

“Try me,” he said.

“I want the text to read ‘Yiddishe Cup. If the other ads in here aren’t your bag, we are.’”

He took the ad.

And we didn’t get any gigs.

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March 28, 2023   3 Comments


Mickey grew up on the street over from me. He had seven siblings. His dad was a Sealtest milkman. Mickey scored touchdowns. Who can forget his touchdown run against Wiley Junior High? And there was one against Memorial Junior High, too, I seem to recall.

We didn’t hang out that much in high school. So be it. Mostly grade school and junior high.

After Bowling Green U., Mickey moved to Texas and then to Washington state, and I only saw him at funerals and reunions in Cleveland.

A few months ago, he texted me: “I’m back in Ohio.”

What did that mean exactly?

Lake County. He moved there. Mickey moved back to northeast Ohio to retire. Nobody moves to Ohio to retire! He said he moved back here to be closer to his siblings. Ohio has always felt like home, he said. We met for lunch and talked about old times. He asked if I had ever lived outside of Cleveland, and I told him about my three weeks in New York City and three months in Latin America. Pathetic, I know. We talked about Cub Scouts and which neighbors had died.

Mickey’s move to Ohio is a nice change of pace. (Some of my recently retired friends are moving out of Cleveland.)

I had an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal last week about accosting random people and talking Spanish with them. “For a Language Lesson, Oprima el Dos.”


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March 22, 2023   No Comments


Downtown Detroit has many detour signs. When you think you’re heading back to Ohio, you’re not. You’re on your way to Detroit Metro airport. Don’t play for peanuts in Detroit. You’ll feel like a fool when you’re lost on a Michigan freeway at 2 a.m.

In the Yiddishe Cup van, each musician has an assigned role. The drummer is in charge of windshield fluid. Our dance leader supplies the bottled water. Our keyboard player loads the van; he knows the secret order of packing the gear.

Van life smells. Think about it: six guys in a metal box, topped with cherry scent courtesy of the van-rental company. The icing: Krispy Kremes. Our driver eats that stuff like he’s on death row.

By the way, this blog post is a flashback. Haven’t been on a van trip in a while.

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March 14, 2023   1 Comment


I met Earl (of Earl Bananas and His Band With Appeal) in Kansas City. Earl’s band had been a minor sensation in St. Louis decades previously. Now Earl was a hotel developer with interests in trumpet, tennis, gardening and Orthodox Judaism. We talked about all that. We were at a Shabbat dinner.

Earl said it was difficult to achieve kavanah (a prayerful mindset) in synagogue. It was a easier in music or even tennis, he said. He could really zone out at music and tennis. My wife, Alice, a gym teacher, said zoning out is also known as “flow.”

“Flow” and kavanah are overrated. Face it, you can lose track of time at a casino or on Facebook.

Try to keep track of time. That’s the challenge. At a bar mitzvah party, Yiddishe Cup strolled, going table to table, taking requests. We heard a crash – a table collapsing. We kept on playing. Then a second table collapsed. A third table went down . . . there were salads on the floor; 10-person round tables buckling; ice water, silverware and bread rolls all over. People were jumping away from the tables. People were soaked. We kept playing. I said, “We’re on the Titanic, boys. Just keep playing.” Extreme concentration.

(The tables hadn’t been properly locked underneath.)

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March 8, 2023   1 Comment



1. What was the name of Yiddishe Cup before it was Yiddishe Cup?

A. Wild Horses 

B. It has always been Yiddishe Cup 

C. Kosher Spears

D. Funk A Deli


2. Who invented klezmer? 

A. The Jews 

B. The Klezmorim (Berkeley, Calif.)

C. Henry Sapoznik


3. What was Toby Stratton’s legal first name? 

A. Toby 

B. Wayne 

C. Theodore


4.  What did Toby want buried in his coffin? 

A. Chlortrimeton allergy pills 

B.  a .22 rifle 

C. The Wall Street Journal

D. None of above


5. How do musicians in Yiddishe Cup address their bandleader? 

A. Ding-a-ling 

B. Pissant 

C. Sir


6.  Yiddishe Cup has played

A. Brooklyn, New York

B. Brooklyn, Ohio 

C. Louisville, Kentucky


7. A landlord’s biggest problem is

A. water leaks 

B. bugs 

C. tenants in “the industry” (food-service business)


8. Clarinetists are 

A. cool 

B. not cool


9. Toby’s favorite sport was

A. tennis 

B. counting Jews in restaurants 

C. softball


10. A musician’s main interest is

A. music 

B. the food situation

C. the OT situation. (Is there overtime?)


11. (Tiebreaker) What was Toby’s blood type? 

A. O  

B. AB  

C. A

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February 28, 2023   2 Comments


I was staying at a Yucatecan restaurant called Zazil Ha. I didn’t know what “Zazil Ha” meant. (It’s the name of a 16th-century Mayan princess.) I was staying there a while, not just for dinner. I lived above the restaurant for six weeks, eating beans, beans, and more beans. I was 18. I didn’t really like beans. I didn’t like Mexican food, period. I went to KFC on occasion and lived off oatmeal and Pan Bimbo. Mexico City, 1968, the summer after I graduated high school.

I missed the shootings at the national university and the Olympics. But I caught Pan Bimbo, which is white bread. I lived with three college boys from Wisconsin and Minnesota who called me “a stop,” which meant I supposedly stopped them from getting laid.

I took a course, History of Mexico, at the Universidad Ibero-Americana. I got a couple credit hours at Michigan for that.

I still like KFC. I haven’t had any lately, but when I’m in hospice care I want some KFC. (And I like Mexican food now.)

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February 15, 2023   4 Comments


I went down a rabbi hole.

Here’s the hole:

1. I’m reading a New York Times article about Shaker Heights schools, about how some blacks at Shaker want out, moving to academically highly rated Solon. The NYT writer is Debra Kamin. [The story: “Could Black Flight Change a Model of Integration?” January 15, 2023.] I check out Debra’s bio because her last name sounds familiar. Yes, she is the daughter of Ben Kamin, who was head rabbi at The Temple Tifereth Israel, Cleveland, in the late 1990s. Rabbi Kamin was a heavyset ebullient man. He told the religious-school kids “wake up and smell the Torah!” He also wrote op-eds for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, often about growing up in Israel. And he said he wanted to be the commissioner of baseball. In 2000 Kamin got fired. Nobody said why. Simply fired. And he moved to San Diego, where he led a congregation.

2. In 2015 Kamin writes in the San Diego Jewish World how he got blindsided by The Temple in 2000 and was shit-canned via letter, read aloud by the the local Jewish funeral-parlor director. Rabbi Kamin boasts in the San Diego article:

The rabbi’s study of The Temple in Cleveland was a national seat of power and prestige. Everyone in town knew me, many sought me out. Sports franchise owners had confided to me in this office. The African-American mayor had sat across from me, asking for Jewish support and money as he sought reelection. I had spoken by telephone more than once from this office with the Commissioner of Baseball. The Governor of Ohio had called me to offer congratulations on the day I ascended to the position I was now about to lose.”

3. 2017. Kamin’s older daughter, Sari, writes in Medium that she was sexually harassed by James Toback, a well-known film director. Sari was trying to be an actor in New York City. Sari’s story gets some national attention. [Medium headline: “I am one of the countless women film maker James Toback has harassed.”]

4. Kamin jumps in with an essay in the San Diego Union Tribune, 2017, saying it’s bad what his daughter is going through, and bad for him too:

“What does a father feel when he reads and hears his daughter’s harrowing story in various media and watches her, through his tearful eyes, stand up on national television on behalf of her own dignity and that of so many incalculable victims of this plague-perversion?

“The first thing he does not feel is any celebratory sense that his daughter is suddenly the subject of national interest and scrutiny. Pain should not derive fame; it needs to be released in the private corners of one’s subconscious, it needs to be mended with and by the mindful. It unequivocally needs to be reported — I’m proud of my child. But her pain needs more so to be redeemed. She needs to fulfill herself more than she is obligated to service CNN, NBC, and the New York Times.”

5. In 2019 Kamin is expelled from the Central Conference of American Rabbis (the Reform Jewish conclave) for violation of “sexual boundaries.” [Cleveland Jewish News: “CCAR expels former Cleveland Rabbi Benjamin A. Kamin.”]

6. Kamin’s obit, 2021, dead at 68 from heart complications. Daughter Debra says her dad was “a charming and complicated person.” [Cleveland Jewish News: “Former TTTI Rabbi Kamin recalled for humor and speaking ability.”]

7. Debra again, in Conde Nast Traveler, 2021, reiterates her dad was complicated. [“Getting to Know My Late Father Through his Travel Journals”]:

“My father, Ben Kamin, was a brilliant enigma. He was a rabbi and an author, an occasional journalist, and a late-life social justice warrior whose narcissism choked his full potential. He was stymied, both as parent and professional, by a desperate need for adulation that sent him tilting at windmills when confronted with even a whiff of criticism. Safe in the shell of his ego, my father was gregarious, and generous. He was my confidante and steadfast cheerleader. But if that shell took a blow, he retaliated with searing cruelty. Like skin on the body, my memories of him are mottled with these scars.

“Though my dad lifted up thousands—he led congregations, and wrote a dozen books and countless sermons—he let me and my family down. When I was 16, he was fired from his rabbinical pulpit, a public, gossip-fodder ejection that he would spend decades refusing accountability for. This was the first crack that divided my relationship with him into poles of before and after.

“To escape his shame, he pushed away those who reminded him of it, first divorcing my mother, then alienating my sister and I. As an adult, my relationship with my father was one of low expectations and high boundaries. With those guardrails in place, we found a way to stay connected. After a childhood of closeness, I could only allow him in my life by keeping him at an arm’s length.”


I ran a draft of the above by my wife, who wasn’t interested. That’s for the best probably. I was just reading an article in the New York Times about Shaker schools and fell in a rabbi hole.

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February 7, 2023   2 Comments


Plantar fasciitis. Your heel feels like there’s a spike in it. I fear plantar fasciitis. My wife has had it. My friend Danny has had it. Nobody knows how you get it or how you cure it. Just walk around with a spike in your hell – uh, heel.

I did a lot of walking during the day, and then played a gig that night at Stone Gardens assisted living facility, and during “Tsena, Tsena,” I did some groovy hora dance steps, and I walked out of the gig with plantar fasciitis. I immediately knew I had it. I can’t spell it but I felt it. I popped a couple ibu and used Volteran and did some stretches. Went to bed. I read that plantar fasciitis is worse in the morning.

Got up. No pain. So I started worrying about something else, like why was my computer acting like a fool. Then the plantar fasciitis came back when I played tennis a couple days later. My opponent, Jimmy, told me about his cure for plantar fascistic. Jimmy said I should do some stairway stretches. My wife suggested a foot roller. I’m working on the cure. I don’t want plantar whatever.

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February 1, 2023   6 Comments


The architect didn’t show up, so I had some time to kill. I talked with Ram Lal, who was thinking of opening an Indian restaurant in the storefront. I said, “You have a pretty short name for an Indian.” I was making conversation. Give me a break. I said all sorts of dumb things. I said, “I’m Jewish. You ever met a Jew? Jewish, as in Hindu, Christian, Muslim.”

“Oh,” he said. “Jews are difficult.”

Yeah? Not me.

Ram said his uncle Chuck, a motel owner, was considering lending Ram money to start the restaurant. I said, “What’s Chuck’s legal name? I’ll need his name if he goes on the lease.””

“Chuck Patel,” Ram said.

“His legal name isn’t Chuck!” I said.

Ram pulled up a photo of Chuck’s driver’s license. Chuck’s legal name was Chnadrakantb Dhanji.

“How do you get Chuck Patel from that?” I said.

Ram never did tell me. Uncle Chuck died, and Ram rented the store. The restaurant is Vintage India on Detroit Avenue in Lakewood, Ohio. Ram is a terrific guy and his food is superb. My cousin George, who spent two years in India, says Vintage India is the best Indian restaurant in Cleveland. Tip: Don’t ask for higher than “2” [out of 10] on the hot scale unless you want to catch on fire.

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January 25, 2023   4 Comments


Tim Stanton, the owner of Stanton’s Flower Shoppe, didn’t need retail any more. His walk-in trade wasn’t walking in. He was moving to a warehouse, to work the internet and crank out $400-$500 funeral home packages. I saw Tim one last time. I was with my son, and Tim was with his son. I said, “It’s been a good run.”

Tim agreed. He had entered the flower shop at 22, in 1976, and walked out 33 years later. Tim often paid his rent late but usually included a flower bouquet whenever he did. He knew my dad. Not too many tenants went that far back. Tim said, “Your dad gave me a start. I always appreciated that.” I was glad my son got to hear that.

In the 1970s, I used to take lunch breaks in back of the flower shop in the alley. Probably the coolest place — temperature-wise — on the West Side. Always shady and usually with a lake breeze. I was pointing up bricks in the building basement. That was a make-work project, suggested by my dad. I wanted to be a blue-collar guy, and my father had said, “Go ahead, be a blue-collar guy and see how much fun it is.”

A plumber, watching me pointing bricks, said, “These walls are going to be standing long after you and I are both dead. Why are you doing this?”

Because my father said so. I didn’t say anything.

Tim Stanton, in his heyday, employed his mother, sister, brother and several others. I re-rented the flower store to a 26-year-old woman who started a gelato shop. I hoped she would walk out 33 years later. She lasted nine years. Not bad. Now the place is a coffee shop.

The first time I met the gelato woman, I told her, “You don’t want to be on your death bed thinking you didn’t give it a chance. People regret not having done things much more than they regret things they did.” That was my standard spiel, lifted almost verbatim from Stumbling on Happiness by psychologist Daniel Gilbert. “If you don’t give it a try, you’ll never know,” I said.

Gilbert also wrote: “Because we do not realize that our psychological immune systems can rationalize an excess of courage more easily than an excess of cowardice, we hedge our bets when we should blunder forward.”

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January 18, 2023   1 Comment


My sophomore year at college I took Organic Chemistry (got a D), Physics (A), Intro to Poetry (A), and Psychology (Pass). I was in the process of transitioning from pre-med to no-med. The poetry-class teacher was Ted Berrigan, visiting Ann Arbor from the East Village. Ted was a big man with a beard who giggled like a little girl. He liked everything I wrote. He said young poets didn’t need criticism, they needed encouragement.

I visited him later on in New York. He was a player in the contemporary art/poetry scene in NYC. That’s how I once wound up in Allen Ginsberg’s apartment. (Ginsberg wasn’t there.) Berrigan lived on the edge, financially. He traipsed around to hip bookstores in NYC and collected money for his poetry books that had sold. And he also made real money on the burgeoning college poetry-reading circuit. He sometimes made $1000, adjusted for inflation, for a reading. [Got this  money info from a new book of Berrigan’s collected prose, Get the Money.] Writer/professor Donald Hall brought Berrigan to Michigan for the visiting-prof job.

Berrigan called poetry “work ” — as in “show me your work, Bert.” His poet friend Anne Waldman did a reading at the UGLI (undergrad library), and I handed her my work — a couple poems — and she published one in the St. Mark’s Poetry Project mag, The World. This was around 1972. I have to look that up. I think the poem was “Yellow Pages.” It’s a found poem, lifted from the page headings of the Yellow Pages. For example: “appraiser attorneys / automobile barbecue / bicycles burial / chaplains cigar / clubs cranes / day dentists / drapery engineer / . . . topsoil transmission / truck vacuum / washing water / womens zippers.” Definitely the best poem I ever wrote.

. . . Just back from my attic, home of dead poems. The World poem was not about the Yellow Pages. It was about Herbie Hancock, kind of. “Yellow Pages” — the poem — was published in a different East Village mag, Telephone. The mag was called Telephone. The poem was “Yellow Pages.” You following? If so, you get an A.

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January 10, 2023   4 Comments


I design vinyl records, mostly klezmer albums. I do everything, even the liner notes. Here are examples of bad liner notes — not by me. Just to show you what bad is:

A. “One [sic] the other side of the hall, a zedeh and bobe will spin in skeletal outlines the remembered steps of a tantz (dance) that their parents taught them . . .”

B. “This is what happens when Rumshinsky’s Theatre Bulgar is feed [sic] through Quincy Jones talking about Count Basie.”

C. “The drummer has appeared in duo and trip [sic] settings.”

Work with me. And when you do, adhere to the following guidelines:

1. Don’t name your tunes. I’ll name them. The first three tunes will be “Kick My Klezmer,” “Hymietown Races Here We Come” and “Romanian Shock #1.”

2. Don’t title your album. I will. The title will be either Intravenous Klezmer or 13 Jewish Hummingbirds, depending on my mood.

3. Use a pseudonym for one of the musicians in your band. This will make your recording more mysterious. Choose between M. Rogue Gemini, Danny Kay and Wayne “Der Nister” Carter.

4. To bulk up the bio note, you need to visit your sister — or somebody — in Brooklyn. We’ll make you a genuine New Yorker.

5. For the cover, we always use red. No silver, black or gray. We aren’t a car dealer.

Some of our clients have been somewhat satisfied with our results.


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January 3, 2023   No Comments


There are quite a few black Yiddishe Cup T-shirts out there. I made about 500 of them. I have a photo of Mount St. Helens, Wash., man in a Yiddishe Cup T-shirt. Maybe I played his wedding. I have a photo of a Missoula, Mont., man wearing a Yiddishe Cup T-shirt.

Newlyweds and bar mitzvah moms got the tees for free. Sometimes the bat mitzvah celebrant — the kid, herself — got the tee if I thought the girl was woman enough to handle the peer harassment.

I saw a hipster on Coventry Road, Cleveland Heights, in a Yiddishe Cup T-shirt. I asked him where he got the tee. He said at a thrift store for $1.

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December 28, 2022   3 Comments


My wife, Alice, went on a road trip with Yiddishe Cup to Buffalo, New York. That was her first one. She had always refused road trips. Alice made two beginner’s mistakes. She talked too much. Talking wears you out. Also, she did not catnap.

We played the gig in Buffalo. The whole undertaking was 13 hours (7 hours driving there and back, and two hours of set up and tear down. Oh, and we played music. Alice did the dance-leading. Alice aged a year that day, she said. She said she had been “hit by a truck.”

Pace yourself, Alice. Take catnaps. Drink a lot of fluids.  Eat an apple.

Same subject, sort of:

I used to blame Taco Bell for post-gig illnesses. T-Bell was poisoning me. T-Bell was slipping me spoiled tacos.

My migraines were always on Tuesdays after out-of-town gig weekends. I’d return the rental van on Monday morning and dispute fender dings; then go to my real estate job to talk about burst water pipes and late rents.  When I’d come home on Monday evenings, my sleep cycle would be all off.

I haven’t done a run-out (one-day road trip, no overnight) in a few years. I don’t miss it.

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December 21, 2022   6 Comments


“Meaningful work” was a popular phrase when I graduated college in 1973. I first heard it from Lawrence Kasdan, the Big Chill director. (I didn’t know Kasdan. I read an interview with him.) I tried being a bricklayer. A “brickie.” I got a joiner, mortar and mason’s trowel. I knew another Jewish bricklayer, who talked up the profession. My father said, “You want to work with your hands?”

Just a thought, Dad. A passing thought.  I learned a bit about roofs, radiators and hot water tanks. Whenever my father had tools in his hand — which was rare — he was often loud and profane. I know a couple Jewish car mechanics and Jewish fix-it guys. It’s all about how you were raised. My dad gave me arithmetic workbooks in elementary school. For fun I plotted graphs. In high school I got fast on the abacus.

If you want a number, see me. Here are a couple: the rent on apt. 7 at 1407 Marlowe Avenue was $60 in 1965. In 2009 the rent was $470.  In 2022 it’s $670. [Rent is going up slightly faster than inflation in Cleveland (Lakewood). Sixty dollars in 1965 equals $568 in today’s dollars.]

I had an essay in City Journal last week. “Adventures in Tenant Vetting.” It’s amusing.

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December 14, 2022   1 Comment


My friend Jeff didn’t like Cleveland. He didn’t like tumult: the horns honking, boom boxes, loudmouths, leaf blowers, his parents pestering him. He just couldn’t take it.

I subscribed to Hockey Night in Canada on cable TV for Jeff, so he would babysit my kids for free. Every Saturday night. He liked Canada — really liked Canada. He filled out immigration papers, waited months for clearance, got a job, and moved to a small town in Ontario. He came home the next day. He said he didn’t like the job in Canada, but he liked the Canucks. “They don’t give you the finger,” he said.

Then he moved to Canada again.  This time to Nova Scotia. That worked. Change your place, change your luck.

I haven’t seen Jeff in 28 years. I miss his acerbic slant on life. For a social worker, he was a total misanthrope and blisteringly funny. “Life is With People” was not Jeff’s M.O. He liked to eat Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks alone. He criticized me for going to restaurants too often. He claimed I was on a fruitless existential search for exotic experiences – for foods my bubbe and mother never made. He claimed I would “eat flanken cooked directly off the seat cover of a crosstown bus.”

We listened to Bob and Ray records, played music, and made fun of other Jews. Jeff knew some Yiddish — more than me. His favorite expression was Gey mit dayn kup in drerd. (Go to hell. lit: go with your head in the ground).

I had to drive Jeff everywhere. Lazy guy, and he had a car. I would schlep him to the Near West Side to hillbilly bars so he could jam with bands. He would play “Two More Bottles of Wine “and “Jambalaya.” That was real; it wasn’t Jewish. His favorite records were Nashville Skyline and anything by Hank Williams. Jeff sang only once on the East Side, at a cancer fundraiser at Heinen’s supermarket. He played “Good Old Mountain Dew” by the soda pops and “Oh Canada” by Canada Dry.

Here’s an essay I had in the Cleveland Plain Dealer last week (Nov. 30). There’s a paywall at the Plain Dealer. Here’s the whole article . . .


by Bert Stratton

CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio — I occasionally run into young people who lament they didn’t live through the hippie era. They will even listen to my hitchhiking stories. Nobody else will. I tell these young people that the big question in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s was, “Who’s your favorite band?”

The more obscure the band, the better.

Some astute choices were The Stooges, the Flying Burrito Brothers, and Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen. More mainstream, but still acceptable, was Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention. Too mainstream: Bob Dylan, Jefferson Airplane and Joni Mitchell.

My favorite musician was Fred Neil, a Greenwich Village singer/songwriter. He wrote “Everybody’s Talkin’,” the theme song from the movie “Midnight Cowboy.” Harry Nilsson sang the movie track and made it popular.

Fred Neil was never popular. Good — for me. I sold my Fred Neil records a few years ago. Pete Gulyas, the owner of Blues Arrow Records in Collinwood, said my Neil recordings were worth more than all my Beatles and Dylan records combined. When Pete looked through my records, we found a receipt — $1.50 from Mole’s record store. Where was Mole’s? (It was on Coventry Road in Cleveland Heights.)

Comic-book writer Harvey Pekar used to rifle through my albums. Talk about a record snob – Pekar. The only album he ever wanted was my “Charlie Parker Memorial Album,” Vogue Records, England, 1956. I didn’t sell it to Harvey. I figured if Pekar wanted the record that badly, it must be worth something.

Pete the Record Guy looked through my albums three times, and I bid adieu to “Aretha Live at the Fillmore West,” Herbie Mann’s “Memphis Underground,” and The Paul Butterfield Blues Band” ….

Who’s your favorite band now — in 2022? Are you even allowed to have a favorite band? Yes, you are, and you are encouraged to.

Every year in early December, the music-streaming service Spotify spews out data to its 456 million users, itemizing each listener’s most-played tunes of the past year. This annual reckoning is called Spotify Wrapped. Many fans share their Spotify Wrapped profile online; it’s the equivalent of showing off one’s record collection, circa 1970. Your Spotify Wrapped is your cultural ID badge.

I expect my Spotify Wrapped 2022 will feature Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen and some newer acts, like Vulfpeck and the Fearless Flyers. (My son Jack is in Vulfpeck. He schools me on post-1975 music.) Songs older than 18 months represent 70% of the U.S. streaming music market, according to MRC Data, a music-analytics firm.

I rinse my dinner dishes to Joni Mitchell and often add Paul Butterfield for pot-scrubbing. Klezmer music is good for putting away leftovers. I’m not only Spotify Wrapped, I’m Saran wrapped.

I hitchhiked from Los Angeles to Chicago in 36 hours in 1973. That was a land-speed record for hitching, I think. The big hit on the radio then was, “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree.” I learned to drive a stick shift, jerkily. The car owner was a Marine from Camp Pendleton, California, on his way to visit his girlfriend in Chicago. At nearly every rest stop, the Marine threatened to trade me in for a more seasoned stick-shift driver. But we made it to Chicago. Tony Orlando and Dawn are not on my Spotify Wrapped.

Who’s on yours?

Bert Stratton lives in Cleveland Heights and is the leader of the band Yiddishe Cup. He writes the blog “Klezmer Guy: Real Music and Real Estate.”

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December 7, 2022   11 Comments


Several musicians in my band freaked out when a critic described Yiddishe Cup’s Klezmerized recording as “schizophrenic.” The reviewer said a ton of nice stuff about the recording and then noted we were schizophrenic because we attempted so many different styles.

“Schizophrenic” — the word — was all the band members could think about. Grow up. You need the skin of a rhino to be a performer. Everybody is a critic, and if you aren’t a critic, here are some tips to make you one:

The best way to knee-cap a jazz group: “They don’t swing.”

A blues band: “No soul.”

A klezmer band: “Dorks in vests.”

I have an essay in the Cleveland Plain Dealer today, “Who’s your favorite band?”

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November 30, 2022   1 Comment


I saw a bike inside Discount Drug Mart. It wasn’t for sale. It was blocking an aisle. A fully loaded bike – camping gear, front bag. I was trying to get blueberries but couldn’t easily navigate around the bike. A girl came up and said the bike was hers. I asked if Drug Mart let bikes in. She said yes. She was biking from Maine to California, she said.

She was Audra, 20, from Maine. She goes to Mount Holyoke and is studying film and environmental-something. She was biking out the southern route, Route 66.

She hadn’t heard of the song “Route 66.” I sent her a link to the Nat “King” Cole version. Also, I told her I had contributed to Adventure Cycling in Missoula, Mont., like forever. Like since it was Bikecentennial, 1976. I like maps — bike maps in particular.

Audra did the trip solo. (This all happened in August.) She said she’d send me a film of her trip. Cool. I haven’t gotten it yet, young lady!

All this went down next to the blueberries at Discount Drug Mart in Lakewood, Ohio.

I had an essay, “Rushing to the Gate is a Young Man’s Game,” in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, about airport travel. (No paywall.)

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November 23, 2022   4 Comments


I was sick of playing “Bay Mir Bistu Sheyn” and “Tumbalalaika” at the senior facility. Instead, I read neo-beatnik blog pieces. This was a death wish. A woman in the front row walked out. I suggested she stick around, but she wouldn’t. My keyboard player, Alan Douglass, told me to change the program. He said, “The Who went to their greatest hits whenever they faltered.”

Too late. Even my mother — long dead — would have disliked this show. My wife, Alice, was there; she  panned it, too.

I screwed up. I needed to get rid of the Ferlinghetti/Kerouac prosody shtick. Alice and I rehashed the gig at a Chinese restaurant afterward. I told her, “I feel like I just played Sowinski Playground.” (Sowinski is a Cleveland city park where rapes occurred regularly in the 1960s.)

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November 16, 2022   1 Comment


When I was growing up, “Jewish music” was like saying “Jewish cars.” It didn’t mean anything.

On second thought, “Jewish cars” did mean something. It meant “The Boat” — an Olds 98 owned by the father of a high school friend, Mark. The Boat had electric windows and was oceanic. Mark was richer than the rest of us, I think. His house had a doorbell that lit up.

“Jewish music” . . . I learned about that at the house of another high school friend, Shelly Gordon. His parents knew a lot about Israeli and Yiddish music. Shelly’s parents were Labor Zionists (Poale Zion). They seemed to know every classic Israeli tune and how to dance and sing it. The family attended a Yiddish camp, Farband, in Michigan. (Clarification, in high school I didn’t hang out much at Shelly’s house. When I was in my 30s, I went to his house a lot to learn about Jewish music.)

Shelly’s parents didn’t “know from sports.” That was strange because Shelly wound up a star athlete. He played tennis for Ohio State and eventually became a tennis pro in Israel. He never took a private tennis lesson but he gave a lot of  private lessons.

Shelly didn’t care about Jewish music. He cared about the Cleveland Browns, Ohio State Buckeyes and Cleveland Indians. In Israel he logged on at about 3 a.m. to catch Cleveland sports scores. He had a yarmulke that read “Cleveland Cavaliers.”

Shelly’s dad, Sanford, knew all the Israeli tunes and never played sports. In fact Mr. Gordon was so oblivious to sports he didn’t even sign Shelly up for Little League. Mr. Gordon was not an immigrant or DP either; he was a NASA scientist and full-blown Zionist. Baseball meant nothing to Israelis, so it meant nothing to Mr. Gordon. Shelly went to a Zionist camp, Habonim, in Michigan.

Shelly has been a tennis pro in Jerusalem for decades. He still doesn’t know much Jewish music. (Come on, he must!)

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November 9, 2022   1 Comment