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. So maybe he’s really Klezmer Landlord.
 

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 is an occasional contributor to the New York Times, the Times of Israel, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and City Journal. He won two Hopwood Awards.


 
 

YOUR MANAGER TRIED TO KILL ME

Mr. Shuck said the tenant above him was running a big fan on the floor and keeping him up all night.  It was November.  Why would anybody have a fan on?

I thought, “Shuck is out of work and has too much time on his hands.  Forget about it.”

Shuck called: “I was pressing my arms over my ears so hard to block the noise, it took the muscle off the bone by my upper arm.”

“Have you tried earplugs?” I said.

“I had tubes in my ears as a child.  I’m not sticking anything foreign in my ears.”

“I’ll look into this.”

“I’ve lost hundreds of hours of sleep over this. Look into this!”

I called the tenant upstairs.  She did have a fan — a box fan on the floor. She said she would place it higher off the floor.  I said, “You need physical space between the fan and the floor.” Matter settled.

Not settled. Shuck called again. “They’re literally stomping in the apartment above me.  I’m having palpitations right fucking now!  I’m calling the police.  Your manager won’t do anything.  I’m having a heart attack.  If I die, it’s on your head.”  (A Browns party was going on upstairs.)

Shuck lived.  He called and said his bathtub was backed up, and he mentioned the manager had threatened to kill him.

I said, “I’ll get the plumber on the bathtub right away. I’ll call the plumber.”

“The plumber is in my apartment right now!” Shuck said.  “He woke me up.  I have contusions on my legs and have had to sponge bathe for four weeks because the tub didn’t work.”

“Four weeks?” I said.

“Also, your manager stole money from me.”

“How much?”

“Five dollars.”

Five dollars?  Why so little?  “Your tub was down four weeks?” I said.

“Your manager tried to kill me.”

I know.  OK.  “When?”

“Three years ago. She tried to force me to drink a beer.  I’m a recovering alcoholic.”

“We’ll have the bathtub fixed right away.”

“Somebody is tampering with my mailbox.  That’s a federal offense.”

There was a noisy fan above Shuck.

“Shuck” is a pseudonym.

November 19, 2014   3 Comments

SELTZER GIRL /
MISSISSIPPI ALBERT

Seltzer is a major player in my house.  My wife, Alice, bought stock in seltzer, SodaStream, and I drink a fair amount of La Croix and occasionally Klarbrunn from Costco. I stick to lime and lemon. I should try peach. I was at a party — on a gig — where the host had all the La Croix flavors, but I wasn’t thirsty so I didn’t open up the various cans and sip.

Jack Stratton, 2011, with  SodaStream

Jack Stratton, 2011,
with SodaStream

There used to be seltzer delivery guys. I never saw one. My friend Shelly had home delivery.  My parents didn’t. My mother was big with Diet Rite Cola, though. My son Teddy favored Hank’s Root Beer.  Alice used to be a diehard Diet Coke proponent.  My son Jack loves SodaStream.  My daughter, Lucy, doesn’t drink much.  That’s the story of carbonation in my family.

Alice gives SodaStreams as gifts. She hopes her purchases will increase the stock’s value.

I know people who can distinguish club soda from seltzer water, and can expound on the level of fizz in SodaStream versus canned seltzers.  My wife is one of those persons.  She is Seltzer Girl.

seltzer girl

Check out “Mississippi Albert” in Belt Magazine. It’s about my “roots” in Mississippi.  When I taught blues harmonica, I told the students my mother was from Yazoo City, Mississippi.  I wasn’t lying!  Here is the story.   I traveled to Mississippi. This photo, below, is from Cleveland Heights, 1977:

blues harp brochure 1977 hts adult ed

One more photo . . . from Mississipppi, about 1926. My mother, Julia Zalk Stratton, age 6, on R; her older sister, Bernice Zalk Golden, in back; and baby sister Celeste Zalk Kent (who is now 87) in the high chair; and a cousin on far L:

mississippi about 1925  julia on far R

November 12, 2014   8 Comments

26 HOURS IN CLEVELAND

My friend Charlie came from Detroit to visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Charlie collects Grande Ballroom (Detroit) rock-concert posters and wanted to check out the Rock Hall’s collection.

Charlie gave me a day’s notice.  Turns out, we didn’t see the Rock Hall. We walked to Fairmount Circle to Dave’s Cosmic Subs. Dave himself was there. Dave doesn’t own the Fairmount Circle sub shop and never did. (It’s a franchise of his.)  School kids were excited daves substhat Dave was there. Dave is a former rock and roller of some sort.  I’m not crazy about him because I once rode my bike to Dave’s Chagrin Falls store and ordered a sub, chips, and a cup for water, and he told me he had no cups; I had to buy a bottle of water. That stuck with me. Then the same thing happened last month at Fairmount Circle, and I ranted, “What about Taco Bell? McDonald’s?  You can get a cup anywhere.  It’s bad for business!”

Charlie and I met with Ralph Solonitz, Klezmer Guy’s illustrator, at Fairmount Circle Dave’s. Then Irwin Weinberger of Yiddishe Cup strolled by on his way to the dentist.  Super power-lunching. We talked retirement.  Charlie told me to “float,” which meant take it easy.  That would be hard.

Irwin (L) and Ralph

Irwin Weinberger (L) and Ralph Solonitz

Charlie and I rode the Rapid and checked out downtown buildings. We also saw the play The Merry Wives of Windsor and biked.  The next day at Corky & Lenny’s, we talked stock investments.  Charlie is big on rock music, but not that big, apparently.  We would need 36 hours in Cleveland to see the Rock Hall.

November 5, 2014   4 Comments

LATE FEE OR NO LATE FEE?

I charge a $20 late fee if I don’t get the rent by the seventh day of the month. Some tenants regularly pay the $20 late fee, because $20 is nothing compared to, say, a credit-card late fee.

I had a tenant who promised to pay on the 11th. He changed to the 15th. Then the 20th.  Today — October 29 — I have just one late tenant.  She said she’s not paying because she had a stroke and is broke.  She sounded pretty good on the phone for a stroke.  I asked my wife, a former RN, about that: “Can you talk right if you just had a stroke?”

My wife, Alice, said, “It depends what part of the brain it affected.”

late fees  late feetOne guy had his foot cut off due to diabetes. That’s a decent excuse.

I generally don’t allow late payers to slide into the next month. “Mom is sick . . . My grandmother died . . . I switched banks and they messed up my account.”

Why didn’t you call me?  Why am I calling you?

Maybe I should charge more than $20. Some landlords charge by the day, like $10/day.  But life is too short for that kind of intense bookkeeping.

I have a tenant who has been late every month for 30 years.  I hope I outlive him to get his final month’s rent.

Sometimes I lean too hard on the tenants and get no late fee — no rent.

Yiddishe Cup is a soul band, Jewish and otherwise.  Check out our version of Aretha’s “Respect.”  We play a wide range of American pop music.  Please don’t boot us out of your wedding after the hora.  Hey, we’re better than those other wedding bands!  We’re slicker than schmaltz laced with WD-40.  Our newest singer is Tamar Gray.  She works the crowd.  Fun . . .

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EyjzxJW3y78

October 29, 2014   3 Comments

CENTURY VILLAGE, FLA.

Yiddishe Cup played four Century Village retirement communities in Florida.  Each Century Village had a theater the size of a basketball arena. Other acts on the boards were Debby Boone, Dr. Ruth, Jack Jones, “Jim Bailey as Judy Garland,” Joel Grey, and Larry Storch, “the lovable Corporal Agarn from F-Troop.”  (This was in 2002.)

One cummerbund-popping emcee told us he had opened for the Righteous Brothers, and had done Las Vegas, the cruise ships, and been married nine times. He said, “Only Mickey Rooney has me beat.” His latest wife wouldn’t let him travel, so he sold Cadillacs during the day and emceed Century Village shows at night.  He told us two “inside” Century Village jokes:

What’s 25-feet long and smells like urine?

The conga line at Century Village.

century village conga line

What’s an 80-year-old man smell like?

Depends.

The band wasn’t allowed to mingle with the audience after performances. That was a rule.  Another Century Village rule was do not walk off stage for an encore because the audience will leave and you won’t get an encore. Also, don’t take an intermission because the lines at the restroom will be so long the intermission will never end. Also, do not sell CDs.  Why not?

We broke some rules.

We never got asked back — and the crowd liked our comedy stuff!  I think they did.  I remember talking to a New York couple after the gig (violation of rule #1).  They liked us.

I would like to return to Florida, but it won’t happen unless I buy a condo at Century Village.

October 22, 2014   8 Comments

ADDRESS YOUR MESS

My mother, Julia, never saved anything. When she moved to assisted living, the only thing she kept was her dining room set and some clay pots my dad had made.

My dad was an amateur potter in his retirement. He didn’t use a wheel; he pinched the clay with his thumbs.  His work wasn’t too good; I threw most of his stuff in the garbage. My mother watched and said, “How could you!”

“Mom,” I said, “I’m saving some of  it– some representative pieces!”

Address Your Mess.

Address Your Mess is a woman in Cleveland who, for a fee, de-clutters your house. My mother didn’t need her.

Maybe I need AYM.  I have report cards from elementary school in my attic.  My mother said I could be president someday, so I’m holding on to the report cards.

Is my mess more important than your mess?

I gave the Address Your Mess phone number to a high school friend whose parents moved out of their bungalow after 50-plus years. They had stuff.
address your mess

I read about an elderly woman in southeast Ohio who had 36 boxes of cereal, GAR medals and a wooden fife from the battle of Chickamauga.

I have UN stamps too, besides the report cards.

Here’s a vid, “Square Mile,” about real estate and board games:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qYnabJr7esc

Yiddishe Cup is at Fairmount Temple, Beachwood, Ohio, tonight (Wed.) and Park Synagogue, Cleveland Hts., tomorrow night. 

 

October 15, 2014   6 Comments

KLEZMER GOY

I’m a German klezmer musician. Hold your questions. Here are the answers:

I live in Berlin. My aunt once told me — she was drunk — “Why do you play that crap? You’re German!”

I play every year Kristallnacht commemorations, where there is always at least one Jew who comes up to me and says, “Are you Jewish?”  I say no, and he’s says, “You have to be!”  Sometimes I tell the person my grandfather was Romanian,  just to move on.

I also play jazz and funk (Vulfpeck).  I have played even for Orthodox Jews in the States, but they don’t thrill too much to my jazz music.

klezgoyI play reeds — saxophone and clarinet.  I don’t try to be Jewish.  I never wanted to be Jewish or not Jewish. Somebody said, “You’re not really a Jew unless at one point in your life you didn’t want to be a Jew.”   I don’t know about such things.

In the Middle West, in Ohio, an old Jew called me a “poseur.”  I had to look that  up.  He was a klezmer musician.  Maybe he was a poseur.  The middle of the United States is very red, I think.  Only he could play klezmer, I think he means. If people think I’m a bad person for playing music from somewhere else, then they know damn little about music.

I’m a klezmer musician.  Forget about the German part for a second.

————–

Check out Magdalena Waligorska‘s nonfiction book Klezmer’s Afterlife, about the klezmer scene in Berlin and Cracow. Forty-three percent of this post is lifted from the book.

File this under KlezFiction and Fake Profiles.

October 8, 2014   2 Comments

GOLDEN AGES

I like to proclaim “golden ages” as they happen. My record is 2-1.

Win: The klez revival. In 1998 I told my band: “This is the golden age of Yiddishe Cup. We’re getting gigs in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.” We flew to the U.P. via Minneapolis, then on to Calumet, Michigan, a mining town with an opera house.  Every town in America hired a klezmer band in the 1990s for its multicultural performing arts series.

Lose: I didn’t see the real estate crash of 2008-09.  A couple young guys wanted to buy my Riverview building in Lakewood, Ohio, in 2004, and I asked too much.  I wish they had bought it. I should have come down in price.

golden age  julia at fed eventWin The peak of Cleveland Jewry was 2000. The Jewish Federation would bring in entertainers like David “Dudu” Fisher and Mike Burstyn for galas. Burstyn and Fisher both charged at least $15,000.  I took my mother to see Burstyn.  She was in a wheelchair with Parkinson’s.  I wheeled her to the front of the room, where the machers were. Some of the “healthy old” looked kind of scared of my mom.  The Jewish Federation employees wore earpieces like FBI agents and worked crowd control; others Federation workers ran the wide-screen video and cued up speeches; and other workers told guests where to line up for dessert — the most important event. Fisher and Burstyn haven’t been back since.

We’re in the golden age of the Klezmer Guy blog now.  What other golden ages?  I don’t know.  You tell me. The golden age of golden-agers?  I’m playing a lot of nursing homes lately, specializing in 80th, 90th and 100th birthday parties, and the residents and nursing homes are looking very spiffy.  I hope those facilities — and the residents — look that good when I’m there.

October 1, 2014   8 Comments

TEMPLE JEWS

(This is a rerun, just for Rosh Hashanah. A previous version appeared here 9/23/09. No, I’m not running out of stuff. Side B, below, is new.)

Some Jews don’t like choirs in temple. Some can’t stand guitars.  Some can’t stand temple.

I have a friend who is down on “temple Jews” — people who actively participate in synagogue life.  They’re too conventional for her, which is saying a lot, because she’s very conventional (college decals on the car, Heinen’s fried chicken in the frig).

I’m a temple Jew, at least on occasion.  My family belonged to Silver’s Temple, named for Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver.  The temple’s official name was The Temple.

“Which temple do you belong to?”

“The.”

Rabbi Abba Hillel SIlver

“The Temple” morphed into The Temple-Tifereth Israel  after the rabbi and his son (also a rabbi) died.  My family didn’t really fit in there in the 1960s, because many of the members were a lot richer, many from Shaker Heights.  One Shaker kid arrived in a station wagon driven by a chauffeur with a shiny-visor cap.

My younger son went through religious high school at The Temple.  The place had mellowed by then. Nobody cared anymore if you were Deutsche Yehudim – one of Cleveland’s original German Jewish settlers.  When my parents left Silver’s, they went to Temple Emanu El, a middle-class temple in the ‘burbs.  My mom taught macramé there and volunteered in the sisterhood gift shop.  She collected “donor points” for volunteering — points that reduced her admission costs to the annual temple dance.

Yiddishe Cup has played some of these temple dances.  Not so many lately because few people want to dance at temples. They’d rather stay home and watch people dance on TV.

My parents joined the heymish synagogue after I was confirmed, so I didn’t much care what they did. (Heymish – the word — should be banned, by the way. Too heymish.)

On the High Holidays, I went with my parents to the heymish temple, or else with my friends to Hillel at Case Western Reserve. After Rosh Hashanah services, we’d eat at Tommy’s restaurant.  Years ago an older woman told me, “I joined Fairmount Temple because I like the music there.”  She had other reasons too: Brith Emeth didn’t have enough money to carpet, she said, and she liked Fairmount Temple’s classic Reform music.  That stuck with me: joining a temple for the music.

I belong to Park Synagogue because, among other things, I like the music and the rabbi, who likes my band.  Yiddishe Cup is scheduled to play Park Synagogue’s holiday celebrations until about 5800. I once played a holiday gig at another shul, where the rabbi left early to attend a rock concert. He said he was seeing a famous band.  I wasn’t impressed.  The rabbi was walking out on Yiddishe Cup!

It’s impossible to be a rabbi.

Park Synagogue uses a choir once in a while.  Some Jews think a choir is super-goyish.  Not true.  In Europe there were synagogue choirs as far back as the 1500s.

Some temples have rock bands. (I have subbed in several rockin’ shabbat bands.) Rock on. Some congregants really enjoy that groove.

I can see picking a shul for the music.  Why not.  I enjoy hearing the Israeli cantor my shul imports for the Rosh Hashanah overflow.  Either way I’m OK —  main sanctuary (with the regular cantor) or overflow auditorium.  SRO in both places.  Who’s got extra tickets?

Happy New Year.

 B'nai Big Tent

Congregation B’nai Big Tent


SIDE B

Gear shift . . .

MEET THE FRACKERS

When I was up in North Dakota, I filled my tank for under $3/gallon. I actually thought about moving there, but I don’t want to live in a trailer, and there is a serious lack of lox.

But I do love cheap gas. I own a pickup and two cars.

I love natural gas too. It’s all organic — all Cs and Os.

I want “in” on the Utica shale play here in Ohio. Drillers from Oklahoma and Texas are here. Why should they have all the fun?

frackers go vestPrimer for me: OSU means Oklahoma State, not Ohio State; OU is the University of Oklahoma, not Ohio University. I need to learn this.  Today I’m buying some Western wear and tomorrow I’m heading down to Marietta, Ohio, which is a lot closer than Williston, North Dakota.

Meet the frackers. I’m trying to!

File this under fake profiles.

September 24, 2014   8 Comments

SPECIAL ORDER

(This is an update of a post that appeared at CoolCleveland on 7/30/13.)

wheatberry

Heinen’s crunchy wheatberry salad had too many onions. I told the deli-counter lady that.  I said, “If I get 10 people to say it’s too oniony, will you bring back the old non-oniony salad?”

She said yes.

But I didn’t get 10 people.  I got zero.

I emailed the owner of Heinen’s.  He phoned me back.  Not bad for a guy who owns more than 17 stores. He agreed the new oniony flavor isn’t very tasty but he said it’s more healthful.   He said he would special order the old-style, packaged in Canada, just for me.

My new drill: call Louise, the deli clerk, every week to remind her to “put it [the old salad] on the truck.”  My old salad was from Summer Fresh Salads, Woodbridge, Ontario.  It was a mix of wheatberries, sunflower seeds, red peppers, raisins and parsley, tossed in a honey ginger vinaigrette.

But Louise — my deli connection — got transferred.  She went to a different Heinen’s.  Now I had to deal with an uninterested clerk. The death knell was when the new clerk said, “Wheatberry is not in our book anymore.”  She couldn’t even order it.

I contacted Tom Heinen, the owner, again.  He said Heinen’s had wheatberry salad, but “wheatberry” now meant the horrible oniony stuff, not the old recipe.

I gave up. Or I think I gave up. I could drive a refrigerated truck up to Summer Fresh Foods, Woodbridge, Ontario.  Alice, my wife, made a knock-off, but her wheatberries were too chewy.  I froze a pound of the original, good stuff.  It was the gold standard.  It must be duplicated, food chemists!  Some mad scientist — my wife, a registered nurse — will eventually make an exact knock-off. Needs to be done.

Two years passed, and no successful knock-offs from the lab.

I walked into Zagara’s supermarket in Cleveland Heights two weeks ago — not for the first time, I go to Zag’s regularly — and saw wheatberry crunch salad in the prepared foods section. The deli clerk gave me a taste. Whoa, it was the original recipe; the old wheatberry salad had risen from the dead. I bought 1.60 pounds, went home, and got geographic tongue from eating the stuff.  I ate too quickly, like a madman. The sides of my tongue swelled. My body had rejected the wheatberry.

I tried a smaller portion the next day and didn’t get geographic tongue. I talked to Sharon, the Zargara’s deli clerk, who said she would re-order the salad. “It’s a good summer salad,” she said.

“I’ll eat it in January,” I said.

The question is how.  Very slowly.

Have you had geographic tongue?  I’ve gotten it from eating too much baba ganoush, too.  Geographic tongue is bad but I do like the name.  I’m OK now with wheatberry in small doses, and hopefully Zagara’s will carry the salad through fall and winter.  If not, they’ll hear from me.  No, I’m not nuts.  I’m wheatberry.

September 17, 2014   4 Comments

MY MIDWESTERN VALUES

I wrote an essay, “The Rust Belt Rides Again,” about traditional Midwestern values — how Midwesterners have good manners, don’t raise their voices, and don’t care about college credentials.  I also threw in LeBron’s return and the Republican National Convention coming to Cleveland in 2016.

liner notesThe Plain Dealer ran the story, as did a lot of other papers.  It even appeared in Malta.  Apparently a lot of people can relate to being an underdog and/or provincial.

Back story: the article was a complete con.  Yes, I’m a Midwesterner, but I could become a fast-talking New Yorker in about ten minutes. I could get the New York accent too if I tried. In the Plain Dealer article I mentioned The Drive, The Fumble and The Shot.  I played up my “Bert Stratton/Ohio boy” persona.  There’s another Ohio Jewish writer who plays my game: Bob Greene. He grew up in suburban Columbus  — Bexley, the Shaker Heights of Columbus.  He’s small town like I’m small town.

rust belt chic

I live and die with the Browns and Indians (on paper), and miss the steel mills, and I work with my hands. Clarinet counts!

Maybe I should act more like a real Midwesterner.  I might live longer.

Can I help you?

This is a fake profile.  Sorry about that.  I didn’t write about Midwestern values for the Plain Dealer or anybody else.

September 10, 2014   9 Comments

PLAYING ROME

It is odd to busk — play the streets — when you’re middle aged. (Or  old.)  I played Rome last month. I played the Jewish quarter — the ghetto.  My musician son, Jack, skedaddled.  He would have nothing to do with me.  I didn’t know any Italian Jewish music, but who does?   I played “Erev Shel Shoshanim,” some klezmer and standards like “All of Me” and “That’s Amore.”

My most appreciative fans were a group of college-age boys. They plied me with coins.

Afterward I said to them, “Here’s your money back. You were my best fans.”

bert on the streets of rome.  aug 2014.  lucy in foreground.

Lucy (Stratton) Kaegi with gelato.  “Larry David” with clarinet, background.  August 2014

They insisted I keep the money. One kid said, “Do you watch Curb Your Enthusiasm? It’s our favorite show.” Another kid said I looked like Larry David.

“I’ve seen Curb,” I said.

“What about Seinfeld?”

“Also, good.”

“You guys Jewish?” I said.  I wasn’t sure; their English accents threw me off.

They said yes.

“Where you guys from?”

“Australia.”

“I’ve never been to Australia,” I said.

“Come to Sydney. It’s beautiful!”

“I’d like to.”  If I can clear at least $10 on the streets, I’m there.


Footnote:the photo is not from the Jewish quarter.  But it’s Rome.  I roamed.

Here’s a second busking story, from the archives: “Busking in Israel and Elsewhere,” Times of Israel,  7/12/12.

adding machineA new essay from City Journal: “Bubbles, Booms, and Cash Flow.”  Not about busking.

September 3, 2014   5 Comments

T-SHIRT EXCHANGE

Whenever I get a new T-shirt, I throw out an old one.  That’s my T-shirt inventory control method — a system I stole from my friend Carl.

My 26-year-old son, Jack, takes my old T-shirts, which make excellent hipster wear. My old tees typically memorialize 10K runs from decades ago, with logos for University Heights, Domino’s, Fuddruckers, Leader Mortgage, “Freedom Run for Soviet Jewry,” Tower City Run and the Cleveland Press (which went out of business in 1982).  Basically, the tees are walking billboards.  Jack likes thin T-shirts. The shirts are thin, son — even threadbare. I hope the T-shirts outlast me.  Always nice to be remembered.

I have very few clothing items from my dad. Like one shirt. No, I gave that to Jack too!   You can see it in this video.

I don’t think I have any of my dad’s clothes. Fine.  No point in being necrophiliac. (My dad died 28 year ago.)

My dad didn’t wear T-shirts. He wore guinea tees (wife-beaters), not the round-collar T-shirts.  At social gatherings he favored the 1950s spread-collar shirts, like the one in the Vulfpeck vid.

I interviewed my dad on videotape in 1985 — 10 months before he died — and he wore a polo shirt.  I showed the video recently to Jack, who didn’t want to watch it, but I made him. Jack became spellbound. Not that the video was so good, but some of my mannerisms are like my dad’s, Jack noticed, and that was worth the imposed viewing.

I only have a few super-thin tees left.  Jack has basically cleaned me out. Here’s a vid of Jack in my 1987 “Freedom Run for Soviet Jewry” shirt.

For the record, I bought my first non-college logo T-shirt in 1968. It was for the Mexico Olympics.  Before 1968, you could only get college shirts.  Look it up.  Does anybody have a pre-1968 non-college T-shirt?  If so, go to Sotheby’s.  Does anybody have any really thin 1980s T-shirts?  If so, go to Jack.

Footnote:  A Vulfpeck video came out yesterday, and my shirt isn’t in it! What’s with the new striped shirt, Jack? What’s with that? And the vid goes viral.

August 27, 2014   9 Comments

KLEZMER WRITERS GUILD

You’re interested in klezmer music, but tell me honestly, do I exhaust you with too much klezmer reporting?

I’m the only klezmer journalist in the world, so yes I’m prolific. No wait, there are a couple more writers . . . Rogovoy in Massachusetts, Kun of California, Robinson in New York, Davidow in Boston.  And some academics too.

We meet up virtually, and collaboratively, right here. At least I think we do.

My life is filled with klezmer.  Do other people have klezmer dreams? Do people have bluegrass dreams? Why would they?  What about Chagall — didn’t he have klezmer dreams?

Existence is a wall to climb over.

I’m over it.

klez wall klezmer writer

I have no big statement on klezmer. I started playing it because I didn’t know what else to do.  Buddy Holly, I like him; B.B. King, excellent. I couldn’t be those guys. I tried.

In college I wrote about jazz.  There is jazz writing. There are jazz journals. What about klezmer journals?  I started one: Klezmer Guy. It’s online. Check it out.

I like quirky music with glitches — in short the wrong note in the right place.  I like the staccato of Yiddish and the clarinet.  My speech is a cluster of blobs and blurts. Some of it makes sense.

August 20, 2014   4 Comments

SEVERAL SCREWUPS

Fatima had a B.A. and a steady job, and was single — for about three days, until her boyfriend moved in with her. The boyfriend wouldn’t fill out a rental application. He drifted around the basement electric meters with a screwdriver.

The building manager told him to stay out of the meter area.

He said, “How do you know I’m not a registered electrician?”

The building manager said, “Because I didn’t call one.”

I got a call from an anonymous man: “Watch out. Fatima is no good. She owes me $40, and her boyfriend carries a gun.”

I told Fatima I’d give her all her money back if she left within two days. If she didn’t move out, I would evict her for “unauthorized roommate.”

screw upI gave her $900 back, and she moved. Add another $100 to that — my extra cost  because I owed a tenant in the building $100 for recommending Fatima. I couldn’t not pay the guy for his referral; I had approved Fatima, and then she had screwed up, bringing in her boyfriend with the screwdriver

There were several screwups.


“Fatima” is a pseudonym.

Check out Jack Stratton’s latest Kickstarter. He’s hoping to raise $25.  Click here for info.  And watch this slightly incoherent vid:

August 13, 2014   No Comments

COLUMNISTS

I saw Wilma Salisbury, the former Cleveland Plain Dealer dance and music critic, at a concert. She used to be feared  — used to be.  When she stopped writing for the Plain Dealer, she became just Wilma Salisbury.

I saw Eleanor Mallet. She was a columnist a couple decades ago. Now she’s simply Eleanor Mallet.

Winsor French — the late Cleveland Press columnist — arrived at work in a Rolls. This was in the 1930s. He was independently wealthy. He went all over the world during the Depression, reporting on glamorous parties, for working stiffs in Cleveland. He also wrote a lot about Cleveland nightlife.

Have you read any book-length compilations by newspaper columnists? I read one good one: Eric Broder’s funny The Great Indoors. What if you read 45 Dick Feagler columns in a row? Would you die?  (Dick Feagler is an excellent writer but 45 columns in a row about the good old days, that’s rough.)

Here are a few other former Cleveland columnists: Don Robertson, Alfred Lubrano, Jim Parker, Jim Neff, Mary Strassmyer, Tom Green . . . I’m just getting started. (No Googling either.)

I was a columnist once.  I wrote about candy, sheepshead and the library for Sun Newspapers.  I picked easy, uncontroversial subjects.  I was too ambivalent.

Sun Press 7/29/82

Sun Press 7/29/82

Terry Pluto, a Plain Dealer sportswriter, moonlights as a religion columnist. I sometimes clip his columns for inspiration. Pluto phones clergy and asks (my guess), “Can you tell us how to live — and preferably in three or fewer sentences.”

It’s tough to crank out columns weekly.  Pluto quoted a rabbi who cited Pirke Avot (a section of Talmud): “The one who is wealthy is satisfied with what he has.”

Do I covet Pluto’s job?

Nope.

I had an essay in Belt Mag last week about delis. (Boni: Some interesting comments at the end of the article.)  Click on “Deli Men”

corky lenny

YCKB logo from web page croppedClevelanders, Yiddishe Cup plays tomorrow (Thurs. Aug. 7) at 7 p.m. at John Carroll University.  We’re on the lawn in front of the Grasselli Library.  Park at the college lot across from Pizzazz restaurant and walk toward the campus.  Bring a chair or blanket.

The concert is free.  If raining, the show is indoors at the Dolan Science Center.

August 6, 2014   4 Comments

DON’T PLAY ANY KLEZMER MUSIC!

The mayor’s assistant told us not to play any klezmer music — “nothing ethnic,” she said.  Just American.

No klezmer?  Why did the mayor hire Yiddishe Cup for the city’s summer concert series?

Our contract rider stipulated a fruit platter, bottled water and diet colas. A good gig, food-wise. But what were we going to play?

I said, “You don’t want to alienate anybody with ethnic music?”

“Exactly,” she said. “That’s the mayor’s thought.”

“How much non-ethnic music do you want?”

“All or mostly.”

“Can you give me a percentage?”

“Ninety percent American music,” she said.

Yiddishe Cup played “Dock of the Bay,” some Motown, Beatles, “Hang on Sloopy” and “Old Time Rock And Roll.” A Chinese woman liked “My Girl” so much we played it twice.

no yid stuff

I told the crowd Yiddishe Cup started out as a deli on Kinsman Road, then moved to Cedar Center, and ultimately wound up on the far East Side. I  kept up that quirky patter throughout because “My Girl,” the second time through, wasn’t doing it for me.  A city councilman asked where Yiddishe Cup had been at Cedar Center. I didn’t answer because I didn’t know. I should have said, “Between Abbey’s and Solomon’s.”  Or maybe “We were in back of Harvey’s Backroom.”

We snuck in “Miserlou” — a Greek tune.  We did a Macedonian tune.  We did an Israeli tune (!)  And for some reason, “Hawaii Five-0.”

SIDE B

1 IN 25

When I went to the solidarity-with-Israel rally in Cleveland last week, I figured I would know 1-in-10 people. I knew 1-in-30, at most.

There were 2,800 people. That was a letdown — not the 2,800, but I didn’t know more of them. I knew many of the cantors, rabbis and Federation speakers but I didn’t know many of the rank-and-file yehudim.

I know one person in this photo and recoognize a couple faces. Israel rally, Cleveland, 7/22/14

I knew one person in this photo.
  (Cleveland, 7/22/14)

Shouldn’t I — after 25 years with Yiddishe Cup — be more plugged in than 1-in-30?

There were Christian groups from far off places (Aurora, Westlake), so maybe I’m more like 1-in-25 (with lantsmen).

Give me 1-in-25.


Yiddishe Cup plays 7 p.m. Thurs., Aug. 7, at John Carroll University as part of the City of University Heights (Ohio) Summer Concert Series.

Alice Stratton and Daniel Ducoff at 2012 Univ. Hts. summer concert.  (Photo by Jim Olexa).

Alice Stratton and Daniel Ducoff at the 2012 Univ. Hts. summer concert. (Photo by Jim Olexa)

The concert is on the lawn in front of the Grasselli Library on the quad. Park in the college lot across from Pizzazz restaurant and bring a blanket or chair. If raining, the concert is in the Dolan Science Center. Free. (We always deliver a top-notch kosher-for-Pesach klezmer  show for University Heights.)

Guest vocalist Shawn Fink will sing “Joe and Paul’s,” a 1940s comedy classic, and the band will do its original “Warrensville and Cedar Road,” about TJ Maxx, Bob Evans and Target.

July 30, 2014   8 Comments

LOVE AND RENT

I lived in a Cleveland Heights duplex  — a side-by-side.  Joe, the landlord, lived in the other half.  He wore a sleeveless T-shirt, smoked cigars and nagged his wife.

A note taped to the thermostat — on my side of the house — read: “Whoever is turning the thermostat up and not turning it down, is throwing money out the window!”  I lived with a social worker, a Case Western Reserve nursing student from a strawberry farm in Lake County, and a telemarketer. I met these guys off a bulletin board at Case.

I practiced guitar in the basement, trying to be Bob Dylan.

When the social worker moved out, a woman came by to look for a room to rent.  I met her at the house’s front door and said, “We’re looking for somebody clean, quiet, and . . .”

“Cute?” she said. She was wearing taped glasses. Nevertheless, she was not bad looking.

The strawberry farmer said to me, “You think she’s Jewish?”  (He was always looking out for me.)

“She’s a nurse from West 45th Street,” I said.  “Not likely.”

The woman rented the room. Then the landlord’s wife, Gertie, kicked her out.  Gertie said, “Girls spell trouble. I’d rather deal with men.  You should take that as a compliment, fellas.  Why would a girl who makes a good living want to live here anyway?”

Joe, the landlord, chimed in, “We have to be indiscreet about this.  What if you all start bringing in girls?  It’ll look like a whorehouse.  You’ve always been gentlemen till now.”

I went down the basement to practice.  I was making $9/hour teaching blues harmonica at the adult-ed program. Not bad for 1977.

The nurse moved out, to her own place, a nearby double, and I called her and we went out. We hit it off.  I told my parents, “She’s from West 45th Street.”

My father said, “Are her parents devout Catholics?”

“She’s Jewish.”  (She was. I wasn’t pulling my dad’s leg, for a change.)

My mother said, “I’m getting a new dress now.  Get married. You can get divorced later. You promised you’d get married when you’re 27 and you’re 27.  A Jewish girl in nursing?”

“Because she wants to marry a doctor,” my father said. “Anything wrong with her?  She’s a 26-year-old unmarried Jewish girl.”

“Girls are more independent nowadays,” my mother said.

The girl and I got married the next year. 

The girl: Alice Shustick, 1977

The girl, Alice Shustick, 1977


Footnote: Alice lived on West 45th Street because it was somewhat near Tri-C West nursing school, and the rent was cheap.

July 23, 2014   6 Comments

THE YIDDISHE CUP EXPERIENCE
IS HORRIBLE

Tacky tourist attractions are popping up near the stellar Challah Fame. The latest shtick dreck is the Yiddishe Cup Experience, in the old Beef Corral at Cedar Center, South Euclid, Ohio.

shtick Dreck tour yiddishe cup experience

Sombuddy pleaz open ah vindah!

Don’t go.  Repeat, don’t go. Here’s what you’ll “miss”:

1. The first Jewish traffic light (a semaphore actually), from Kinsman Road, 1925. The semaphore has matzo, knish, and seltzer symbols instead of red, yellow and green.  The semaphore was taken down in 1926 because the Italians couldn’t tell matzo from knishes.

2. Theodore Bikel and Mickey Katz hand puppets. Who made these?  [Josh Dolgin of Canada.]

3. The “Jewish Underground Railroad Experience.”  A sandbox. Supposed to be the Sinai.

5. A “Chagall” mural by Anonymous, scraped off the wall from Mira’s Cafe, Mandel JCC, Beachwood, Ohio.

6. A video clip from Harley Son of David, a movie about Jewish motorcyclists.  Music by Yiddishe Cup.

7. Klezmer-themed postage stamps from Lichtenstein and Malaysia. Musicians on the stamps include Marcel Salomon, Adrianne Greenbaum and Moshe Berlin.

8. A matchbook from Solomon’s restaurant, Cedar Center, 1966.

9. Itchy the Squirrel, an animatron who sings “Oyfn Pripetchik.”  (Poor fidelity, but surprisingly good Yiddish.)

10. Shtetl Avenue — a recreation of 1920s East 105th Street, complete with midwives, klezmer bands, appetizing shops and candy stores.   Staffed by teen volunteers from Agnon School.

challah fameThe place is horrible. Don’t go.  Go to The Challah Fame.

(Yiddishe Cup, the band, is not affiliated with the Yiddishe Cup Experience.  Again: Yiddishe Cup, the band, is not affiliated with the Yiddishe Cup Experience)

July 16, 2014   5 Comments

BAD COMPANY

I’m not good around movies. I frequently go negative right afterward. I can’t stand being in a dark room for two hours watching mostly junk. What percentage of movies are good? Not that many. I get dragged along to movies because I’m a social animal.

I went to Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon. I had read an interview with the “legend” in the Forward; I liked the word “Supermensch” in the title; and a friend said the movie was good.  Lastly, and most importantly, my wife wanted to go.

Shep Gordon is a booking agent/manager, who managed Alice Cooper, among others. Shep did a lot of drugs and messed around with a lot of women. He was loyal to his clients — for sure the ones interviewed in the movie. Gordon comes off as a very loyal sybarite.  In Hollywood that apparently qualifies as a “supermensch.”

Why not more about Shep’s mother, who liked the family dog more than Shep? What about Shep’s brother? He isn’t in the movie. Shep had a few marriages; I lost count.  Gordon hung out with just famous people. (Not entirely true; there were three or four non-famous people in the movie.)  He liked round tables, as compared to square tables, for his dinner parties. Round tables are more conducive to  good conversation. That was interesting.

thumbs down to movies

I walked out when Gordon had a heart attack.  Maybe it wasn’t a heart attack. He was in a hospital bed with tubes in him.  I didn’t hang around for the diagnosis. Heartless.  Me or him?

In the Cedar-Lee Theatre lobby afterward, I was called a curmudgeon and cynic.  I went on Rotten Tomatoes the next day: one-in-four reviews said the movie was crap. So I was redeemed.  Right?  One in four.  I was redeemed.

I wonder what Searching for Sugar Man got on Rotten Tomatoes. I didn’t like that movie either. [Ouch. Almost all positive reviews.]  I thought Sugar Man was too much about the music business and not enough about the guy . . . “We were big in South Africa but not Detroit” stuff. I had a friend who was fairly big in Japan in the 1960s, but not in America. So was Joan Jett. I remember this stuff but don’t want to.

I need a 98-percent-or-better on Rotten Tomatoes to go to the movies. Ninety-eight is my sweet spot.  Sugar Man was 95; Supermensch, 75.

I’m going to check out Anvil! The Story of Anvil on Rotten Tomatoes . . .

98.  Yes.  Anvil! was inspirational; a bunch of Canadian guys with lousy day jobs got their old band back together and toured.  Check it out. And don’t kvetch to me if you don’t like it.

Ann Wightman, salutatorian, Brush HIgh '68

Ann Wightman, salutatorian,
Brush High ’68

I wrote this one for Cleveland.com last week: Class Reunions Shouldn’t Have to Be Every 10 Years.

July 9, 2014   4 Comments