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.



You rarely find “Hava Nagila” on klezmer CDs.

Too hackneyed?

No, there’s no such thing as too hackneyed in klez.

“Hava Nagila” is too Israeli.  Klezmer is mostly Yiddish-based music from Eastern Europe.

At Klezkamp in 1987, the conference director pleaded with several old-timers not to play “Hava Nagila.”  But they insisted.  And they added “Mayim,” an Israeli dance, to salt the director’s matzo.  Yiddish is supposed to trump Hebrew at KlezKamp.

Yiddishe Cup plays more Israeli music than klezmer at parties.

Yiddishe Cup’s new record, Klezmer Guy, has a couple Israeli tunes.  The album is mostly live, which gives it an easy-breezy style.  Some of the band’s spoken intros are on the record.  I told the producer to get rid of the quips, but he objected.  Those intros are funny once.  Then what?

About half the tunes are creative and/or original.  That’s a decent quotient.  And the other half — the rip-offs — are only quasi-rip-offs.  We try to make the tunes new.  For example, we took a Romanian Gypsy tune, “Tsiganeshti,” and turned it into a klez/beat-box number.  [Watch “Tsiganeshti” video here.]

I own a lot of Klezmer Guy CDs. I paid for them.  (Harvey Pekar used to order 10,000 copies of each American Splendor comic book run.  Paid for them himself the first few years.  The man was running a warehouse.)

On Klezmer Guy, the song “Hallelujah”  might be the signature tune of the CD. It’s a tune a lot of people know.  Barbara Shlensky, the late cojones-busting party planner, insisted we play “Hallelujah” whenever she swung open the party room doors to the guests. [Watch “Hallelujah” video here.]

Barbara didn’t like us. That was her job — dislike the band.  Make sure the musicians stayed in line.

What Barbara didn’t get: Klez musicians are from the same social class as the guests.  Klez musicians will see the party guests the next day at the school play or swimming pool.  Klez musicians will not get drunk and act like Keith Richards.  Klez musicians will eat a bowl of cereal after each gig and go directly to bed.

Hear an interview, 6/16/09, with Klezmer Guy on Israel National Radio.  Heads-up: The interview is almost as long as this blog.

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter


1 Harvey { 06.17.09 at 9:21 am }

OK, since you asked, here’s my take on Bert. Without your band as release, your landlord biz would push you completely over the edge. You’d be the crazy alter kocker on the porch with the unlit half-cigar and shotgun, daring a tenant to paint lime green, or daring a kid to take a single step on the treelawn grass. Wait, you asked, right?

Also, may I have a t-shirt?

2 bert { 06.17.09 at 10:33 am }

Harvey, you definitely deserve a T-shirt. You have written enough “comment” verbiage to reach the T-shirt reward level. Keep it up. The next level is a free trip to the schvitz.

3 bill jones { 06.17.09 at 11:00 am }

Hava Nagila is a problem pigeon holing. Christian nationals from the Middle East have played it for decades, if not more, at their social gatherings–see Armenians and Lebanese. I’ve got recordings from every possible band around the world. My favorite is from a south Macedonian gypsy orchestra, as they call themselves. So my point is it is not “Israeli” any more, though its roots clearly are Israeli. In the US, for the most part, I think it is Jewish. And that is why simchas require it from whatever musical group is playing. Regrettably goyim only know that tune, so they play it endlessly at simchas. This leads to either outright distaste for the song, or it becomes comfort music. A simcha is no simcha without playing Hava Nagila. At least you don’t have to play Jerusalem of Gold for waltzing ; it could be worse, in other words.

4 Zach { 06.17.09 at 3:26 pm }

@bill jones – One of my fondest memories is hearing a bunch of drunk Albanians/Bulgarians playing Hava Nagila at EEFC’s Balkan Camp. It was the only time I actually enjoyed hearing that song.

@Bert – As a 21 year old klezmer musician it breaks my heart a little that only the AK’s recognize the klezmer/yiddish stuff (and not as much as I’d like) while the 45 and youngers only know Hebrew/Israeli stuff.

5 Shawn { 06.24.09 at 12:06 pm }

As Bert knows, there is no song I hate more than “Hava Nagila”, it IS hackneyed. Why else would they play in in Major League ballparks? It’s like asking an Italian band to play the “Tarantella”, or a defining all Australian music based on “Waltzing Matilda”. I try to refuse every request for it that I get at any gig, often telling the requesters that I don’t know the words, oftentimes they look at me in shock, others get the joke and give-up. Bert has forced me to sing it onstage a few times much to my chagrin (and in front of my Kinsman too for that matter!).

BTW, my vote for number 2 most pervasive/insipid might be Nurit Hirsch’s “Oseh Shalom”. A beautiful tune to be certain -BUT it needs to be retired and only dragged out on special occasions. Ask most people how old the song is and they’ll tell you it’s “Mi Sinai” or “From Sinai” in other words a part of our culture for as long as we’ve existed, however, it actually dates to the First Israeli Chassidic Song Festival in 1969.

Alright, I’m off of my soapbox…

Leave a Comment