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 New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post.


 
 

I’VE BEEN DRINKING

My dad admired bankers. In my dad’s pantheon of great Cleveland families, the number one clan was the Bilskys, who started out making bagels, then went into medicine (#1 son), bowling alleys (#2 son, Mayflower Lanes, Cedar Center), and ultimately started a bank (#3 son, Metropolitan Savings). My grandmother used to say “The Bilskys make big bagels out of little bagels.”

Scott Bilsky — who is a young man — called my klezmer band to book us for a temple event. He said 12 Bilskys would be at the event. Dr. Harold Bilsky (#1 son)? Nope. He died in 2007. Harold had grown up with my dad on Kinsman. Leo (#2 son) wouldn’t be there either. He had died in 1998. I asked Scott. “What about the banker [#3 son]?”

“That’s my grandfather Marvin, He’ll be there.” Marvin was 90.  (This was in 2011.) At the temple gig, I cornered Marvin during the band’s break to schmooze. He told me, “Everything I ever did began with a B — baker, banker and builder.” I already knew that. “And brewer,” he said. That, I didn’t know.

Bilsky, a brewski?

Marvin said, “My father bought Cleveland-Sandusky Brewing in 1955. There were very few Jews involved in the brewing business. In the 1960s, Israel came to us for brewing tips and equipment.” Bilsky bottled Gold Bond beer and Olde Timers Ale. Marvin said there had only been five Cleveland breweries in the 1950s: Bilsky, Carlings from Canada (“very nice people”); Standard Brewing, Erin Brew (Irish); Leisy’s (German); and Pilsener’s P.O.C. (Czech). “We all used to meet on Mondays. I didn’t have any trouble with anybody,” Marvin said.

I didn’t know about breweries and still don’t. My father rarely drank; it would have interfered with his worrying. (A Jewish joke.) I knew something about Carlings from Cleveland Indians’ broadcasts; that was about it. I drink a Miller Lite once in a while now. I’m mostly a seltzer guy. Bilsky’s brewery was a blip in the Bilsky family history. Move on to the main subject, coconut bars . . .

The preeminent Bilsky business was Bilsky’s Bakery, which started on Kinsman Road and moved to Cedar Center in 1948. Who invented the Cleveland coconut bar? I should have asked Marvin Bilsky. I didn’t. I called Marvin the next day and said, “Marvin, this is Bert Stratton from Yiddishe Cup, the klezmer band. We played for your family.”

“Thanks for the concert last night. You did as well as you could,” he said. “No, seriously, we enjoyed it. And to answer your question, I’ve always said my father invented the coconut bar, but — and I have to tell you this — I went to Sydney, Australia, and I went down into the subway there. They have a small subway system. They had coconut bars down there. They didn’t call them coconut bars. Where did they get them? Maybe from England. Australia used to be part of England.” [Australians call coconut bars lamingtons.]

“Marvin, I have a friend, Seth, his grandfather was a Kritzer of Kritzer Bakery on Kinsman. Seth says his grandfather invented the coconut bar.”

“It was my father!” Marvin said, groaning. “Who knows.”

I dialed my cousin George, whose father had owned Heights Baking on Coventry. George said his father didn’t  invent the coconut bar, but hey, maybe. Scott Raab, a former Clevelander, wrote in Esquire (July 2002): “Ask for coconut bars in any Jewish bakery from New Jersey to Los Angeles and you’ll get some version of this: ‘So, you’re from Cleveland …We don’t have ’em.’”

Nowadays Seth buys his coconut bars at Davis Bakery. I get mine at Zagara’s grocery store. I once asked the Zagara’s clerk where the grocery store got their bars, but the clerk didn’t know. I even looked at the shipping box, which was unmarked.

I invented the coconut bar.

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January 15, 2020   1 Comment

CAN YOU TOP MY MUSICAL LINEAGE?

I look for my musical roots wherever I can. My grandmother played piano at a Baptist church in Yazoo City, Mississippi. Not bad. Not good, either: 1) it was a white church and 2) she was reading sheet music. My Mississippi bubbe, Ida Kassoff Zalk, had a brother, Earl Kassoff, in Cleveland. Earl was a drummer, xylophonist and house painter. He led bands in Cleveland under the name Earl Castle.

Because I’m a musician, people sometimes ask me, “Did your parents play? Is your family musical?” Not particularly. That’s why I looked so hard for lineage. I couldn’t find much info on Earl. I talked to a couple relatives. Earl didn’t leave behind sheet music or tune books. He died in 1969. At a gig, an elderly musician/guest and I schmoozed, and I asked him if he remembered Earl Kassoff. The schmoozer was Harold Finger, age 77. He, himself, had played clarinet and sax professionally during the 1930s and 1940s.

I went to Harold’s apartment in Lyndhurst and interviewed him in 1992. He said there had been “four or five bands that got the Jewish work back then.” I asked him what bands. He didn’t remember any names. “What were the most popular Jewish tunes?” I asked. He said, “The Kammen book. That was the big thing.” The Kammen book was the Kammen International Dance Folio, published in 1924, and it is still around. The book is for musicians who don’t know many Jewish songs and have been asked by clients, “Can’t you play something besides ‘Hava Nagila’?”

Uncle Earl’s band did mostly “dance work” — American music, Harold said. Earl had worked the downtown theaters, as well as the Golden Pheasant — a Chinese restaurant where Artie Shaw started out. Harold said he, himself, didn’t stick to the melody all the time. He did some “faking” (improvising). Now he played clarinet in a community orchestra. “I don’t do much jobbing anymore,” he said. Jobbing was gigging.

Harold died three years after the interview. Harold’s wife was on the interview tape, teasing Harold about how he loved his saxophone and clarinet more than her. Harold said, “I quit playing music for you!”

Recap: I come from a piano-playing grandma in Mississippi and a house-painting xylophonist great uncle in South Euclid, Ohio.


Here’s something I wrote for City Journal: Latke Blues.

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January 8, 2020   2 Comments

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO PUTT PUTT?

My son Teddy had his birthday party at Putt-Putt on Northfield Road in 1990. I think that’s the last time I played Putt-Putt — official Putt-Putt. There are only 23 Putt-Putt courses in the United States.

There was a Chinese miniature golf course on Libby Road at Broadway Avenue. It had a Buddha that went up and down. My high school friends and I couldn’t get enough of that course.

Arnold Palmer Miniature Golf  . . .  Just had to say that.

I would like to live long enough to play Putt-Putt with my grandchildren. First, I need grandchildren. I want to stay healthy enough to bend down and pick up the ball. That’s the hardest part of miniature golf.

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January 1, 2020   3 Comments

11 HEALTH TIPS FOR CHANUKAH

1. Eat your latkes and shut up.

2. Start every day by singing “The Star-Spangled Banner.”  The song begins with a major triad, 5-3-1, which will straighten your spine.

3. Prick yourself, and if your blood isn’t bright red, eat potato chips — any brand — for the salt.

4. Eat sardines, lightly smoked, in oil. Make sure the can says “Chanukah oil.”

5. You need a gum graft. Get it now.

6. Don’t knock Miller Lite. It does the job.

7. Visit a pawn shop and buy an amp.

8. [For Catholics only. Remember, sainthood is hard to prove, so document everything. Video on.]

9. Eat dark chocolate. It’ll help your stomach absorb the flavonoids. And make sure your gelt is Belgian.

10. Gamble more. Try craps. Craps is more fun than dreidl.

11. Try Arby’s Horsy Sauce on salads, fish, latkes and fries. It’s better for you than tomato sauce.

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December 25, 2019   4 Comments

TWO BERTS AT CORKY & LENNY’S

I had lunch at Corky & Lenny’s with Bert Dragin, the owner of a local furniture store chain. He was looking for a movie script. This was in 1980. He said, “I’ve got money. Everybody will talk to me in L.A. Right now I have something in the Best of the New York Erotic Film Festival.” He asked if I would consider writing a screenplay about a fire at a gay nightclub in Atlanta. Not my thing, I told him.

Bert Dragin eventually sold his business and moved to Hollywood. He produced Suburbia (1983) and directed Summer Camp Nightmare (1987) and Twice Dead (1988). Dragin said, “You heard of Erotic Salad? It’s got a soft-X rating.” I said no.

This was my Hollywood lunch. The meeting was Hollywood-style (like kosher-style) because it was not actually in Hollywood, but Dragin did run a tab at C&Ls. That was pure Hollywood.

—-

Footnotes: The lunch was at C&L’s Cedar Center, not the “new” C&L’s. “Run a tab” means Dragin didn’t have to pull out his credit card or cash every time he ate at the restaurant.

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December 18, 2019   2 Comments

QUARTER STEALERS

Some thieves specialize in quarters. They pry open coin boxes on washing machines and dryers in laundry rooms.  Quarter stealers did this a couple times at my apartment buildings. One time the building manager ran into them, took their picture, and asked them who they were. They said they were Sarah and Michael.

The building manager handed the photo to the police. Sarah and Michael were then videoed pouring quarters into a coin sorting machine at the nearby grocery store. Sarah and Michael hit 21 buildings on Cleveland’s West Side, the cops told me.

I received a letter from the county prosecutor about Paul and Erin — Sarah and Michael’s real names. The thieves were charged with burglary, possessing criminal tools, aggravated theft, theft, tampering with coin machines and vandalism. Paul and Erin wound up in prison. My damages were $884.50. For the record, that’s 3,538 quarters. I never saw any of it.

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December 11, 2019   2 Comments

NEAR MISSES

Here are some gigs Yiddishe Cup, back in the day, almost played:

The Shrine to American Music, Vermillion, North Dakota
New York Mills (Minn.) Regional Cultural Center
Southern Cross International Music Festival, Brisbane, Australia
Austin (Tex.) JCC Israel Independence Day celebration
Klezmer Festival, Fuerth, Germany
Jewish Music Festival, Jackson Hole, Wyoming

All of them were close calls. Maybe we came in second. Second is a bear. For example, 30 clarinetists audition for the Kansas City Symphony and 29 clarinetists add “finalist” to their resumes.

Yidd Cup played Texas three times, Florida four times, and Missouri nine times. We’ve played abroad twice: New York City and Windsor, Ontario. The NYC gig was at the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts, and the Canada gig was the Windsor JCC.

Chanukah in Jackson Hole, WY. That was the subject line of an email I got. A Chabad rabbi in Wyoming asked Yiddishe Cup about doing a three-day Chanukah bash at three ski hotels. I immediately called the rabbi, gave him a price, and he seemed OK with it. I told the Yiddishe Cup musicians the Wyoming gig was 49 percent likely.

Yidd Cup’s singer said, “Forty-nine percent? That means you think it’s not going to happen.” (49% is where optimism meets realism.)

We didn’t get the gig. We didn’t get any of the gigs, but it was fun thinking about them. That Australia gig, in particular, was a cool gig.

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December 4, 2019   5 Comments

MY PLOT

Harvey Pekar is buried in the most expensive section of Lake View Cemetery — in $6895-a-plot turf. He’s near the Wade Lagoon, not far from Eliot Ness and Alan Freed. It’s crowded around that lagoon. It’s ongepatshket.

There are less-crowded  — and cheaper — sections of the cemetery. Lake View has 111,000 dead people. There is room for 5,500 more. My wife, Alice, and I rode around in a golf cart looking for a plot. Alice found a tombstone with a clarinet on it. No, it was an oboe, I told her. John Mack was buried there. He had been the principal oboist in the Cleveland Orchestra. His son once jumped on my front porch for no apparent reason. I didn’t know the kid, so I called Oboe to complain. Oboe was listed as “John Oboe Mack” in the Cleveland Heights phone book. Mr. Mack made sure to mention right off he played in the Orchestra. When you say “Orchestra” around here, it’s like “Harvard.”

I don’t need a clarinet on my headstone. I checked out Park Synagogue’s cemetery — about $2,100 a plop. And very crowded, plus right across from a BP station. My cousin said she had unused plots at Hillcrest Cemetery, where my parents are buried. Hillcrest is a grassy field with a couple trees. They mow that place. No vertical headstones. I once put a tennis ball on my dad’s marker. The ball got eaten up by a machine. My cousin’s plots are from  1977, when her parents bought the slots. But her parents are buried in Kansas City. I don’t think they’re moving back. The plots were bought for $270 total. Now they’re worth $1500 each.

The plots are now mine. Transferred. My cousin gave me the OK. I paid Temple Emanu El (Cleveland), the cemetery overseer. Hey, I’m getting 1970s plots! I’m going into the ground with Greatest Generation folk — yidn who died in the 1980s. I’ll get some sleep. And if not, I’ll dig the swinging sounds of Benny Goodman.

I had a piece in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal“I Should Never have Gotten Involved with the MOB.”

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November 26, 2019   4 Comments

MY HOUSE SHOOK

I told the plumber to check out a rusted-out waste stack in my basement. He cut the pipe in half and said, “Oops, it’s a support post.” My freaking house shook! This plumber was stupid, but I was, too, for telling him it was a waste stack when it was, in fact, a support post. The plumber said he’d take away the old support-post pipe, which he cut into two 30-pound cast-iron sections. Easier to move. But he left the stuff.

So I took the pipes to the tree lawn. No takers. Then I brought them back and called the city. I babysat the pipes for three week. The city guy said, “Put them out a day early this time, and they’ll be gone. Scrappers will take them.” I put the pipes out again.

Scrappers didn’t take them. I arranged with the city to take the pipes with a special pick-up. That happened. One less peeve.

And by the way, I got a new support post, so my house doesn’t shake now.

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November 20, 2019   1 Comment

CRAZY NUMBERS

Wendy from Dominion Retail said there were crazy numbers out there, regarding NYMEX natural-gas prices. Wendy’s competitors were offering the crazy numbers, she said, and she wouldn’t match them. Phil from Hess stopped by and said he could get me a gas contract at 3.99 Mcf, which Wendy claimed was “crazy,” as in she couldn’t match Phil’s low price. Phil said he could also get me a toy Hess truck, as in a matchbox toy. Phil — a goy — started in on Jewish things, about Israel and Hebrew. I said, “How did you know I’m Jewish?”

He said, “The basket of yarmulkes in the corner gives me an idea.”  (He was in my dining room.) Phil learned a new Hebrew word every day, he said. He had recently learned chuppah and ner tamid, and was on remant. I didn’t know remant. Still don’t. He said he could read Hebrew. I brought out a Bible, and he read the first line of Genesis. I didn’t press further.

Wendy decided to match Phil’s crazy number, but then backed off. So Phil locked me in at 3.99 Mcf, and he gave me the toy truck, plus honey for Rosh Hashanah. Previously I had been at 9.84 Mcf for natural gas. Now that was a crazy number (too high). I had been locked in at that high rate for the previous five years, 2009-14.

I only go out a year or two now. Or else I float. I’m at 3.39 now. Thank you, fracking.

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November 13, 2019   2 Comments

REVERSE GATSBY

I’m Jay Gatz, but in reverse. You see, I moved from New York to the Midwest, specifically to Cleveland, and I changed my name. I used to be Justin Jacobson. Now I’m Bill Jones. Of course, I go by “William J. Jones,” too, whenever that seems appropriate.

I grew up in Manhattan at the San Remo, right next door to where Lennon was shot. My parents owned an art gallery. In fact, they owned two art galleries — one in Switzerland and one in New York. I ran the Zurich gallery for a while and met all the big names. But I got sick of New York and the entire gallery scene. Why? It was too effete. I wanted to hang out with “real people” — real estate guys, for example. I went to Ohio University. After college, I rented a one bedroom in Cleveland for $850. Tricked out, too. Marble countertops, dishwasher. I’ve been in Cleveland a couple years.

I hope to buy up the town — Cleveland. I can probably buy it for what my parents’ NYC apartment is worth. I’ve only made two errors in Cleveland: 1) I guessed wrong that a milk chute is for seltzer delivery, and 2) I didn’t know what tree lawn meant.

Cleveland is a cool town. Like Hoboken. Urban, but not too urban.

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November 6, 2019   3 Comments

I REMEMBER

I remember Fail-Safe by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler. Who wrote the Fail part?

I remember Ted Williams could read the label on the ball.

When I was 10, I sent away to the Air Force Academy for a catalog and got one, along with an application.

I remember Larry and Norm Sherry of the Dodgers.

I remember Summit, the board game.

I remember Burger Chef.

I remember crepe dreidels hanging in the dining room.

I remember the Boy Scouts’ Life badge.

I remember my dad “hitting them out” to me in the park.

I remember playing “Exodus” on clarinet at the sixth-grade assembly. I also remember “Margie.”

I remember 1950-D nickels.

I remember “Hands Off Cuba” graffiti by the Rapid.

I remember slow-dancing to “Moon River” with a Christian Scientist.

I remember the Roxy.

I remember the JCC pop machine, and how it was frequently broken. The milk machine always worked. I drank a lot of chocolate milk. Maybe the useless pop machine was a parents’ conspiracy.

I remember Walter Lippmann in Newsweek.

I remember T.A. Davis tennis rackets.

I remember Rich Greenberg played Bobby McKinley — Chuck’s younger brother — in a national 16-and-unders tennis tournament. Rich lost, but still, he played a McKinley.

I remember Harvey Greenberg got a 799 Math and 785 Verbal. (And this was before re-centering.)

I remember Chap’s GTO.

I remember Bruno Bornino’s “Big Beat” music column in the Cleveland Press. He also wrote “Pit Stop” about cars.

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October 30, 2019   6 Comments

UNREST AT THE NURSING HOME

When I arrived at my nursing-home gig, I noticed a 15-piece big band setting up next to me. I said to the nursing-home coordinator, “I don’t appreciate a 15-piece band playing fifteen feet from me.” (The band was TOPS — Tough Old Pros.) These guys were stealing my turf!

The big boss — a programming director — came up to me and said, “I hear you have a problem.”

“I don’t appreciate a 15-piece band playing fifteen feet from me,” I said. [The TOPS band was about 100 feet away.]

She said, “I hear you getting into it with my co-worker.”

“I didn’t swear at her. I didn’t say anything disrespectful. I did have an edge to my voice — like I do now. What did she say I said?”

“She said you said you don’t appreciate playing fifteen feet from a 15-piece band.”

“That’s right! What’s wrong with saying that? Are you doubling down on this?”

“We have six buildings on this campus and many musical acts and there can be conflicts.”

“A 15-piece band!” This was an ego thing for me, in case you haven’t guessed. “Maybe I’ll leave,” I said.

I didn’t. I like playing for senior citizens. I’m one myself.

 

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October 23, 2019   2 Comments

FIND THIS GUY

I lost my wallet and got it back quickly. I left the wallet on a bike path. Beachwood cops called.

I tried to give the finder a reward. I got his number from the cops. But the finder wouldn’t answer his phone. The police said he was a 47-year-old man from Woodmere, Ohio. He supposedly had told the cops, “If I lost my wallet, this is what I’d want.”

Nothing was taken from the wallet. The man deserved something. Matthew Lewis, 47, of Woodmere. I couldn’t find him. Granted, I didn’t spend hours on my search, but still, I put in time.

Yidd Cup Funk A Deli is at Fairmount Temple, Beachwood, Monday night for Simchat Torah, and Tuesday night at Park Syn, Pepper Pike.

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October 16, 2019   2 Comments

OPRIMA EL DOS

I decided to oprima el dos. I called the Spanish-speaking operator at Spectrum (Time-Warner) to discuss my internet bill, which jumped from $50 to $65/month.

The operator wouldn’t shut up, in English or Spanish. Spanish is a beautiful language, she said, and her grandkids won’t speak it. She said she was from Laredo, Texas, and now lives in San Antonio. She said she could make more money as a bilingual translator in the Carolinas, but she preferred Texas.

She didn’t lower my bill. (I had an introductory offer that had expired.) What good is Spanish.

I’ll oprima el dos again. All Spanish operators speak English, too. That’s a safety net. Buenos dias.

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October 2, 2019   1 Comment

CHECK OUT MY LIFESTYLE

I spit wherever I want.

I go to the city dump for toilet seats and milk cartons. I’m a collagist.

I have sexy legs.

I own a big house and need another one. I’m seeing a realtor Friday.

I can’t read in the car. That’s a weakness.

I want to be Mr. Rogers, but not from Pittsburgh.

Rock-and-roll trivia is my forte. Also, baseball history. Pie Traynor!

I hate air conditioning. I wear a Speedo around the house in the summer.

My favorite movie is The Awning Fabricator. It’s Serbian.

Exercise sucks.

My girlfriend is sumptuous and intense, and a fugitive from my wife.

I often eat alone. My fav meal: Don’t have one.

My fav song: “Meshugeneh Mambo.”

Wednesday mornings I’m at Stone Oven, Eton Collection, Woodmere, Ohio. Stop in.

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September 25, 2019   4 Comments

STAR TURN

I backed up a star. A minor star. A minor, minor star: David “Dudu” Fisher. You’ve probably never heard of him, but he’s big in the Jewish music world, and he came to Cleveland and needed a backup band.

The usual Cleveland jazz dudes were called in to back up Dudu. These Cleveland guys play for touring Broadway shows at Playhouse Square and have music-school degrees. These musicians have bio notes that read “shared the stage with blah blah and blah blah.”

I’ve shared the stage, too. Yiddishe Cup played at a Dayton, Ohio, folk festival gig right before Jon Hendricks. War, too,  (Detroit) and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band (Akron). I haven’t actually played with anybody. Correction: a tune with Vulfpeck in Ann Arbor.

The reed player in the David “Dudu” Fisher backup band wasn’t comfortable with the clarinet charts. He was a jazz-sax guy and the klez clarinet parts were a bit too intricate. So I got a call. I practiced a lot and did OK. There was jazz, klez and classical. I can read music! The pro jazz dudes said I did a good job. That meant something to me.

*”Dudu” is a Hebrew/Israeli diminutive for David.

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September 18, 2019   2 Comments

LEGIT

The caller wanted to put a restaurant in a 750-square-feet vacant storefront. Seven-hundred fifty feet is not much bigger than a shoebox. The caller said he could fit a couple tables in there. He said he owned two 500-square-feet restaurants in Brooklyn.

“Where in Brooklyn?” I asked.

“Fort Greene and Williamsburg,” he said. “You know New York?”

“I’ve heard of Williamsburg.”

“You know New York?”

“I know about Williamsburg. That’s where the hipsters live.”

“That’s right.”

“That’s what I want if you open here — hipsters,” I said. “I don’t want you open all night and selling cigarettes, lottery tickets and beer to derelicts.”

“Man, we want the hipsters.”

“What’s your name?”

“Ezzat. And my partner is my brother, Rizi.”

“That’s a lot of Z’s. You should call your restaurant Z’s.”

“Yeah.”

“What’s your last name?”

“Assad.”

“What’s your brother’s last name?”

“He’s Hamda.”

“What kind of restaurant?”

“El Toro Taqueria.”

Legit.

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September 11, 2019   No Comments

MEN’S FASHION — A HISTORY

I was a bit stylish in seventh and eight grades. I shopped at Mister Jr.’s and Skall’s Men’s Wear at Cedar Center. After eighth grade, I gave up on making it in fashion. I couldn’t cut it — shopping, fashion and popularity contests.

One of my dad’s friends sold Farah pants. I liked Farah but Farah wasn’t cool. Nice feel but not cool. Lee –- the brand — was popular. Farah was the continental look — the greaser thing, like iridescent sharkskin. Italians clung to the continental look for years. Jews moved on to the “collegiate” look — Lee’s colored jeans.

Ben Skall, an old man, ran Skall’s Men’s Wear. He became a state senator. I gave up white socks to enter Skall’s. I bought black socks with gray rings around the top (Adler brand). Sam McDowell and Hawk Harrelson shopped at Skall’s.

I was in the in-between crowd. I noticed right off in seventh grade half the class was yiddlach, and these kids seemed “fast” and could dress, and they would mock you out if you dressed wrong. The dagos, my side of the tracks, dressed like Dean Martin or the Fonz (who came later). I wore a spread-shirt collar. Verboten amongst Jews and dagos. It had to be button down. So I went to Skall’s.

I wore a fisherman’s knit sweater my mom made. Homemade was verboten, too, I learned. But a girl complimented me on the sweater, so I kept wearing tit. “Nice sweater,” she said. History!

I had a shirt jac and light blue denim pants. The shirt jac didn’t tuck in, by design.

Shoes? Pedwin cordovan penny loafers.

Sweaters, again: Alpaca was the continental look. Very Italian and very itchy. The collegiate look was a comfy cashmere-feel V-neck like a color called Summer Wheat.

Underwear? Yes, and white.

 

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September 4, 2019   3 Comments

SCREW WOODSTOCK

I didn’t go to Woodstock. Never even thought about going. Wasn’t into Woodstock, period. I disdained anything popular. That was me. (My future wife, Alice, went to Woodstock for a fraction of a day. She saw Richie Havens and left because Woodstock was too crowded. By the way, Richie Havens was OK with me because he wasn’t super popular.)

I saw most of the Ann Arbor Blues Festival, which was two weeks before Woodstock. I should have seen the whole blues festival but my sister got married in Cleveland the same weekend. The chutzpah. I had to bounce back and forth from the wedding to the festival. I was the blues festival’s PR chairman, so I placed ads in major daily newspapers, Coda (a Canadian jazz mag), underground newspapers and Rolling Stone. I got in touch with the Voice of America, which taped the event. (The tapes haven’t resurfaced. Some other tapes have. There is a  just-released live double album.)  I worked with an ad agency in downtown Cleveland — a guy there did ads for the key company my dad worked at.

ann arbor blues festival poster 1969

First A2 Blues Festival, 1969.

The blues festival drew 20,000, and we spent about $60,000 from the University of Michigan and Canterbury House — an Episcopalian coffeehouse. That was a lot of money. ($419,000 in today’s terms.) I got a free trip out of it, to New York to talk to WNET. They weren’t interested in filming the festival because they had just done the Memphis Blues Festival.

Woodstock got a lot of ink because of the big crowd and the movie (1970).

Another national music festival in August 1969  was the Atlantic City Pop Festival. That drew about 100,000. Atlantic City Pop — you don’t hear much about that anymore. You don’t hear much about the Ann Arbor Blues Festival either.

The blues festival committee was U-M “blues freaks.” Most were Jews. University Activities Center — a student programming organization — ran an ad in the Daily that said hey-you-want-to-put-on-a-blues-festival? The student who placed that ad was Cary Gordon. He had a thing for Clifton Chenier. Gotta bring in Chenier! We did. And we brought in everybody else, too: Fred McDowell, Son House, Big Mama Thornton, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, B.B. King, and more. These old black musicians had a certain presence. They knew more about music and life than we did. Screw Woodstock.

*Speaking of old, B.B. King was 43. Son House was 67. Sleepy John Estes was the oldest at 70.

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August 28, 2019   6 Comments