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.


 
 

Category — Coming of Age

TAXI DRIVER

The taxicab supervisor, smoking a stogie, asked me, “Where’s Charity Hospital?”

“I don’t know,” I said.

“Where’s the Federal Building?”

“Ninth Street.”

“The Pick-Carter Hotel?”

“I don’t know.”

“The Hollenden House?”

“Downtown — St. Clair.”

“People want to know where their hotel is,” he said. He hired me. He worked for Universal Cab, a division of Yellow Cab. I drove welfare recipients with vouchers to hospitals, and workers to Republic Steel Works #4. I didn’t drive rich people; I thought I was going to drive rich people but it was mostly poor people. I picked up one rich guy, downtown. He said, “Severance Hall.”

I asked, “Are you Claudio Abbado?”

“How do you know!” he said. I told him I’d seen his photo in the Plain Dealer that morning. Afterward, I told a friend John I had driven “a conductor from Italy.”

“So why did he come here?” my friend said. John’s favorite expression was “Cleveland is the armpit of the nation.” (This was in 1970.)

My taxi-driving job went downhill after Abbado. A cabbie told me to carry a bat. He said, “A bat isn’t a concealed weapon. It’s legal.” One time I thought I was being followed by robbers. I got boxed in around St. Luke’s Hospital and escaped by going in reverse. Maybe I was imagining it. I was skittish. To understand, you have to have been around in 1970.

My cab stalled at Fairmount Circle. The engine smoked. I left the cab and hitchhiked back to the Noble Road garage. The supervisor said, “You mean you left your cab, son?”

“I knew I could get back here.”

“You mean you left your cab unattended?”

“Yes.”

Dead end.

taxi driver 2

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February 26, 2020   3 Comments

YOU ARE A COMPLETE FAILURE

What happened to Sylvia Rimm? She used to be on public radio, dispensing childrearing advice. Rimm told my wife and me to subsume our individual personalities and create a united front to raise our kids. We didn’t. My wife, Alice, quoted Sylvia Rimm endlessly. Alice also quoted Eleanor Weisberger, Spock, Braselton and every other childrearing guru.

Alice wanted our kids to acquire a “sense of mastery” — of everything. Like going to Disney World was garbage, according to Alice, because our kids wouldn’t learn anything there. Actually, the kids learned a lot there. Teddy single-handedly planned the whole Disney World itinerary.

Our kids had so many lessons. I mean, ping pong lessons, tumbling lessons, Hebrew lessons, accordion lessons . . . Capoeira. What’s that?

My wife now gives lessons in everything.

Our youngest kid, Jack, learned to juggle by age 10. Our daughter, Lucy, became a Division 3 college athlete in diving. We didn’t allow much TV, except Mr. Rogers and once in a while The Simpsons. When our kids grew up, they immediately got TVs and watched every show made in the past 40 years.

I liked Bettelheim’s A Good Enough Parent. I liked the title. I swore at my kids. Was that so horrible? Probably hit my kids. Blocking it. One of my teenage kids took my car to an SAT test, and I needed the car for a gig because my music gear was in the trunk. I went to the SAT site and swore at the kid. An adult said to me, “Hey, ease up.” My outburst cost my child at least 30 points.

I snitched on some delinquent neighborhood kids who were very loud and rowdy. I called the police. The cop said, “Hey buddy, you’ve got a pretty short fuse.”

Are you perfect? Are you “slightly imperfect,” like my underwear? Are you good enough? Or are you a complete failure?

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February 12, 2020   1 Comment

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-under 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

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

POOL, PING PONG
AND MARCHING BAND

My father’s father, Louis Soltzberg, was run over by a May Co. truck in 1924 and had a metal plate put in his head. After that he began hanging out at the pool hall a lot. My great aunt once told me, “If they had given out prize money for playing pool like they do now, he would have been a millionaire.”

My dad steered his kids toward ping pong, away from pool.  Ping pong was in our basement. To shoot pool, you had to go to Severance Center. There was a big sign at Severance: “No Hats.” That was because black customers liked to wear stingy brim hats while shooting, and the owners didn’t want too many blacks.

My dad entered a ping pong tournament at Danny Vegh’s club and got clobbered by a Hungarian. After that, Toby played only in our basement.

My father was good with racquets, and at sports in general. His brothers were good, too. His brother Milt was a fast-pitch softball player, and brother Sol played football at Western Reserve. My dad, Toby, took me to annual indoor track meets sponsored by the Knights of Columbus. I kept trying to find Ohio State and Michigan on the jerseys, but it was all Seton Hall, Holy Cross and Villanova. Were those colleges?

We lived three houses from the public tennis courts. My dad hit tennis balls with me after work. He would say, “Racquet back. Hit it now. Racquet back. Hit it now.” He was the color man without much color. I didn’t like his constant patter. To rile him, I’d mutter, “You stink.” You meant me. That drove my dad nuts. And I would say, “I quit!”

I liked music, too, and particularly the intersection of music and sports. Ohio State’s marching band had no woodwind section. It was all brass, and my parents wouldn’t buy me a trumpet. I had my Uncle Al’s hand-me-down clarinet. I stopped begging for a trumpet around ninth grade. I got used to the clarinet. In twelfth grade I dropped marching band altogether. I wasn’t marching anymore (to quote Phil Ochs, another South Euclid boy).

The marching band director at Cleveland Heights High – a nearby school — kept his “marching” band stationary in the end zone. That would have suited me, but I was at Charles F. Brush High, and we marched. I didn’t like learning the marching patterns.

My dad never saw me march, or play with my klezmer band, for that matter. He died before I got it going. I still play tennis. Ping pong, every three years. Pool, every six years.


Tomorrow night (7 p.m, Thurs., Aug. 15)
Funk A Deli / Yidd Cup
Free outdoor concert
Walter Stinson Community Park
2313 Fenwick Road
University Heights, Ohio
Be there!

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August 14, 2019   3 Comments

YOU ARE THERE: 1973 PART 2

Cleveland was a hell for me last month. But not a bad hell. My mother lined up dates for me. The dates were with daughters of my mother’s friends. I took girls to bars and ordered 7&7s. That was my booze repertoire: 7&7.

I got feedback about the dates through back channels — info my mother gleaned at bridge games. Some girls liked me, some didn’t. One girl thought I was “a little weird.”

She was weird! She had no business dragging me through a military courtroom  — her dad’s den with World War II medals on the wall. “What are your plans? What do you do?” I wasn’t dating him.

What’s an apricot sour? That’s what I want to know. The daughter ordered that at the bar.

Right now I’m in Bodega Bay, California, sitting on the dock. A friend from college works at the marine lab here. I’m eating squid. Or maybe it’s a big snail. Wastin’ time?

2019 update: I stayed about a month in California and left for Latin America. I hitched and rode buses from Tijuana to Colombia. I stayed in Colombia a couple months, teaching English. In early 1974 I returned to Cleveland. My autobio: I Stayed in Cleveland.

Dunk A Feli / Funk A Deli / Yiddishe Cup plays an outdoor concert 7 pm Thurs., Aug 15, in University Heights, Ohio.  Walter Stinson Community Park, 2313 Fenwick Road. Used to be a school site — Northwood. You can bring beer and wine to the show. And hopefully there will be free ice cream bars, too. We’ll play klezmer and soul music and a combination of the two.

 

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July 31, 2019   1 Comment

YOU ARE THERE: 1973 PART 1

Beachwood, Ohio  1973

I live with my parents at the Mark IV, a high-rise apartment by the freeway. I’m living with my parents at age 23. I want to go to the North Pole. Chekhov said, “People do not go to the North Pole and fall off icebergs. They go to offices, quarrel with their wives and eat cabbage soup.”

My dad got mad at me because I didn’t want to save five dollars on traveler’s checks by shopping at various banks. “You aren’t a millionaire yet,” he said, scratching himself. He was wearing just underpants.

Tonight at a party — a parents’ party — Zoltan Rich, a Hungarian know-it-all, said, “The students protest for entirely selfish reasons. You know what the chief word is we’re missing — the key to the whole discussion? It’s obligation. Parents have abrogated their responsibility.”

It’s time to go. A guy from Case Western Reserve said he could give me a ride out west tomorrow. I won’t come back here for at least six months. My mother has a bridge game here tomorrow. If I’m within 100 feet of that game, I die.

I’ll try the Rand McNally approach to self-discovery . . .

loayl to axe 1

It’s 3 a.m. in Utah and I’m sleeping under a picnic bench. I hear deer. Or bears? I hear semis shifting. What’s up? I don’t even like “freak” America. Deep down I’m straighter than David Eisenhower. I might wind up back in Cleveland. Or maybe I’ll settle out in California.

 

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July 24, 2019   5 Comments

ALLEN GINSBERG TOLD ME
THE WORLD WAS ENDING

When Allen Ginsberg visited my college poetry class in 1969, he said we only had five years left. He said, “I’m afraid to read the papers.” And he said Burroughs claimed we had less than five years.

schilling and bert 1970

Mark Schilling (L) and Bert Stratton. 1970, hitchhiking from Cleveland to A2. Sign reads “Ann Arbor.”

How was I supposed to get through pre-med if the world was ending? The Ann Arbor Bank sign read 15 degrees. The sign at the First United Methodist Church was “Are you going through life with a kindergartner’s conception of God?” Probably. Ginsberg had a beard.

The first Earth Day was in April 1970. People suddenly were talking about duck-down and goose-down sleeping bags instead of the Vietnam war. I bought a bag for $35. The feathers kept coming out the seams. It was sewn-through, so where the thread was, there was no down. The seams were supposed to keep the down from rolling down to one end. It didn’t work too well. I couldn’t even turn in it. It was called a mummy bag. I felt dead. But the world didn’t end.

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May 29, 2019   4 Comments

COLLEGE ADMISSION

I knew a college counselor who if he put in a good word for you, you were in. Harvard, Yale, Harvey Mudd, Deep Springs. That’s what we parents all thought, but the counselor didn’t produce every single time. He said go to a college that was a “good fit.” He, himself, went to Harvard, always a good fit for a college counselor.

Here’s my approach — and  a tip for high schoolers. Describe a setback you have faced. “My parents don’t like klezmer music. They are so wrong. I’ve been playing klezmer my whole life. It has made me think for myself and be my own person.”

I attended a college-rejection shiva in 1968. A high school friend was rejected by every college he applied to. He got in nowhere! And he was in the top 10 in our class. (We’re pretty sure, in hindsight, the guidance counselor blackballed him.) We sat in a corner booth at Corky & Lenny’s and drank chocolate phosphates. My friend eventually got in to Ohio State on a late application. OSU had rolling, open admissions. In Columbus, my friend lived in a high-rise dorm with 16 guys per suite. It was not exactly the house system at Harvard.

Tower Club OSU 1937 Toby Stratton

My dad with his dormmates at Ohio Stadium, about 1935. The men lived in the stadium. All in one room, on cots.


Yidd Cup / FAD (Funk a Deli) is at Park Syn, Pepper Pipes, Ohio, tonight (March 20) at 7:15 pm. Free. Happy Purim!

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March 20, 2019   2 Comments

THE TENNIS COURT SHOVELER

When Rich Greenberg and I were in high school, tennis was a tree of life to them that lay hold fast of it. Rich shoveled the snow off the courts at Cain Park in Cleveland Heights. Nuts. He played so well he wound up on the UC-Santa Barbara team. I waited six months every winter for spring tennis. I wasn’t going to shovel courts.Think about it: no snow blowers in the 1960s, and the courts had to be perfectly dry.

Contemplating tennis — and not playing — was like practicing music without an instrument. It was doable, but not much fun. I owned Bill Tilden’s book on singles and Gardnar Mulloy’s doubles book. There was no tennis on TV. We didn’t have access to indoor courts.

Tim Gallwey’s The Inner Game of Tennis (1974) recommends watching the spin on the ball. Focus on the rotation of the ball’s seams. The author of The Inner Game of Music said something similar. Focus. I can’t remember on what. (Not as good a book as Inner Tennis.)

When I play a concert, I sometimes focus on an imaginary green cot as a mental image. The cot is an emergency-shelter Red Cross cot. Keeps me calm.

green cot

When I was a sub on a gig, the bandleader shouted at me: “Listen!” Meaning “Listen to the music!” Maybe I was distracted by the hors d’oeuvre.

In my twenties — after college — I thought tennis was dumb. Two adults hitting a ball over a net. That was not solving any problem. I hung out with Rich at his tennis pro job in Rocky River, Ohio. Rich said he couldn’t teach the middle-aged women — the 35 year olds — anything new. He said, “I wish tennis hadn’t boomed. It would force me to do something else.” He spent time arranging inter-clubs between “our girls” and Lorain. He eventually moved to Seattle and did something else. Insurance, for one thing. And he plays harmonica in a blues band.

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January 30, 2019   4 Comments

CALIFORNIA

Around the time my younger son left for California — about seven years ago — I ran into a 24-year-old San Francisco girl at a shiva in Cleveland and told her to meet up with my son in Cali and show him around. I said, “Find him a job, a house, and marry him. I hope I’m not laying too big a trip on you.”

I was. She avoided me the rest of the shiva.

My daughter (who moved to Chicago about 10 years ago) once told me: “The kids who go out to California never come back.” My son in Cali said he feels guilty about leaving Cleveland, but not that guilty. He is 47-percent homeboy. I — by comparison — am 99.9-percent homeboy. I went to California four times in my twenties and ate a lot of KFC chicken on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley and saw many loose screws on Sproul Plaza, such as a woman who wore a vinyl yellow-and-black Carnaby Street cap all the time. I hitchhiked up to Bolinas and Santa Rosa, and ate a large snail at a marine biology lab in Bodega Bay. My dad told me to move to California. Maybe that’s why I didn’t.

Time Traveler

Time Traveler

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November 28, 2018   3 Comments

THE REVOLUTION

I told my dad I couldn’t do pre-med because of The Revolution. How could I do eight years, minimum, of science during a revolution? My dad, surprisingly, did not think I was nuts. This was 1969, and he believed a revolution was coming too.

In Ann Arbor, the Jesse James Gang splintered from the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). The gedolim of the gang – Diana Oughton, Bill Ayers and Jim Mellen — wore hiking boots, wire rims, and were Hollywood handsome. They were several years older than me. The Jesse James Gang met in a U. building and encouraged us to take it to the streets.

Some protestors threw rocks through store windows and carried NLF flags. An acquaintance, John Gettel, threw a rock through the Ann Arbor Bank. A couple years later I saw him on a street corner in Cleveland, passing out leaflets for Lyndon LeRouche. John had moved to Cleveland to mingle with the working class. I honked, said hi, and drove off. I was on my way to my job managing apartments.

Dux Wirtanen, a Finnish-American student from the UP, got his jaw broken in a fight outside Hill Auditorium. I don’t remember why. Afterward, he drank through a straw for weeks.

I went to Cobo Hall to protest George Wallace. The funny thing was George Wallace was a good speaker. In 1968 the Michigan Daily endorsed Humphrey. Some of my friends thought the Daily should endorse Eldridge Cleaver (Peace and Freedom Party).

george c wallace

George Wallace

The Revolution petered out in late 1970, after Kent State. Youth-craziness and youth fashion shifted toward ecology — back to the land, communes, and brown rice.

I blame my flame-out in organic chemistry on The Revolution.

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May 30, 2018   4 Comments

HALIBUT WAS CHEAP THEN

For Clevelanders only, don’t forget to click the City Journal link at the end of this post.

When my mother died, we stored her furniture in the basement of one of my apartment buildings on the West Side. The furniture sat there for five years until my older son, Teddy, took the stuff and went off to law school. The furniture was mildewed but usable.

When I visited Teddy at law school and saw my mom’s furniture again, I had full-color flashbacks. Seeing that yellow kitchen table in play again was mildly disturbing. I had eaten at that table for my first 18 years, and now it was in student-housing in Toledo. It was Formica. It was worth something.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In high school I was laconic at that table. I didn’t talk. My dad didn’t talk much either. My whole family didn’t talk much. We didn’t watch TV at dinner, either. We ate a lot of fish. Halibut was cheap then.

Here’s one I wrote for City Journal about snow. Just came out. “Gettin’ My Snow Belt On.”

super woman

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March 21, 2018   2 Comments

PURE JAZZ AND
MY COLLEGE ROOMMATE

Pure jazz was my thing. Blues, too. My roommate, John, was an inner-city kid who didn’t know a clarinet from an oboe, or anything about music. I visited John at his Chicago house decades later (1995); he lived in his childhood neighborhood, Wrigleyville. His teenage kid was jamming to Jamey Aebersold jazz play-along records.

John had started U. of Michigan as a pre-med, like me and everybody else, but he came out a railroad brakeman. Sophomore year he chalked “Take Drugs” and “Only Fools Stay in School” on the sidewalk in front of our co-op house, and he dropped out.

In 1995 he said he was sweating his monthly urine test with the railroad. His house, which he had bought in 1975 for $30,000, was worth more than a half million. “I’m a capitalist now,” he said. “And I have two renters.” But he still subscribed to The Militant, the Socialist Workers newspaper. His son played “Watermelon Man” on tenor sax. This was familiar to me, except for The Militant part. My parents had subscribed to Newsweek.

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January 17, 2018   2 Comments

MY SHOW BIZ LUNCH
IN CLEVELAND

I had a show biz lunch at Corky & Lenny’s. This was in 1980, when C&L’s was still at Cedar Center. The lunch was Hollywood-style, not Hollywood kosher. Bert Dragin, the owner of a local furniture store chain, was looking for a movie script. Dragin said to me, “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 wondered if I would write a screenplay about a fire at a gay nightclub in Atlanta. Not my thing, I told him.

Dragin 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. That’s as close as I got to Hollywood.

erotic salad movie

This post is a rerun.

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December 27, 2017   1 Comment

SHARP SALAMI

There’s no money in the arts. My old clarinet teacher told me that.  He used to eat salami sandwiches while I took lessons. That stunk. Mr. Golub. He bought a building across from his music store; named the building after his daughter, The Joyce Manor; and sold it years later. He said he regretted he didn’t move with his brother to D.C. and make an even bigger killing there in a real boom town.

Golub’s Music Center. He had a neon saxophone on the sign. That, alone, drew the customers.  Inside, there were bongos and guitars.

Mr. Golub couldn’t play by ear. That mystified him. Mystifies me — playing by ear. But I can do it —  somewhat.

I’m the klezmer guy. I go to shivas and tell the mourners that, and, yeah, they recognize me. They say, “Oh, you’re the klezmer guy.”

Everybody needs to be some kind of “guy” (or “gal”). I became the klezmer guy because I put together the longest-lasting Jewish band between Chicago and D.C.  Yiddishe Cup.

No mega money in this but it keeps me from going nuts.

A version of this post first appeared 5/12/09. Klezmer Guy post numero-uno.


Yiddishe Cup is at Akron First Night 10-11:30 p.m. Sat. (Dec 31.)

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December 28, 2016   2 Comments

MOST EVERYBODY WAS
INTO STEPPENWOLF

Most everybody was into Steppenwolf. My freshman roommate liked the MC5 too. I convinced him to move out. I got a roommate who was into Jefferson Airplane. That was better, but not much. (By the way, fans said “Jefferson Airplane” or “The Airplane,” but never “The Jefferson Airplane.”)

Pure jazz — that was my thing. The blues, too, was OK. My last freshman roommate, Dave (not his real name), was an inner-city Chicago kid into nothing musically. Dave didn’t know a clarinet from an oboe. We got along fine. (I went through three roommates. Was it me?)

I visited Dave at his Chicago house decades later (1995); he lived in his childhood neighborhood, Wrigleyville. His teenage kid was jamming to jazz play-along records. Dave was a brakeman. He had begun the U. of Michigan as a pre-med, like everybody else, but had come out a railroad brakeman, like Neal Cassady. Sophomore year he had chalked “Take Drugs” and “Only Fools Stay in School” on the sidewalk outside the co-op house. Dave did drop out.

Dave, rolling a cigarette on his Chicago front stoop, said he was sweating his monthly urine test. His house, which he had bought in 1975 for $30,000, was worth more than a half mill. “I’m a capitalist,” he said. “I have two renters.” And he still subscribed to the Socialist Workers newspaper. His kid played “Watermelon Man” on tenor sax. Every high schooler starts on that, thanks to Jamey Aebersold’s jazz play-along series.

This scene was familiar, except for The Militant newspaper. (I had played along to Aebersold, too; my parents had subscribed to Newsweek.)

Bert Stratton jamming in South Euclid, Ohio, around 1970. (My mom caught the sailfish.)

Bert Stratton jamming in South Euclid, Ohio, around 1970. (My mom caught the sailfish.)

A version of this appeared post here 4/28/2010

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December 21, 2016   13 Comments

FROM THE HISTORY CHANNEL . . .
PRESIDENTIAL POLITICS

When a relative of mine ran for school board and lost, my father said, “Don’t run again.  You don’t want to get a loser’s reputation.” My relative didn’t run again. I, too, play by my dad’s rules. I might run for president in 2020. Not saying yet.

First, a little background: I was a Kennedy man. I had a button as a big as a dinner plate.

Bert Stratton w/ Kennedy buttons, Ohio Stadium, 1960

I started my own country (on paper) in sixth grade and elected presidents and representatives. My country was a solace, because in the real world I couldn’t run for president because a) I wasn’t 35 and b) I was Jewish.

My mother said I could run and win. She duped me! Mom, my man, Abe Ribicoff of Connecticut, couldn’t even run. Newsweek said the country wasn’t ready for the Ribman, even for veep.

Now presumably a Jew could win. But let me be clear: I won’t start out at school-board level or even vice president. Trump taught me to go big or go home. My Little League teammate Joel Hyatt (Cleveland Heights High ’68) ran for U.S. Senate and got clobbered, maybe because he hadn’t paid his dues; he hadn’t run for lesser offices.

Lee Fisher wins state senate seat, 1982

Lee Fisher (Shaker Heights High ’69) paid dues. I saw him at a civic club meeting in Collinwood in 1982: six neighbors, Lee and me. (I was a Sun Newspaper reporter.)  Fisher eventually climbed to lieutenant governor. Then he got clobbered for the U.S. Senate.  He paid  dues, though. Give him that.  [What’s he up to now? . . . Interim dean of Cleveland State law school.]

I’m willing to pay no dues. Again, the Trump influence.

My American history teacher at Brush High said Stratton is a good political name. (My teacher’s name was Americo Betori. He should have run for mayor of Cleveland, about 1950, against Celebreeze. Battle of the vowels.)

Remember that name. No, not Americo Betori. Stratton! (Mr. Betori died three years ago. I could identify 98 capitals and states on a blank map — my strong suit. My weak suit: being personable. Mr. Betori wrote on my final report card, “Cheer up, Bert, and give the world a chance!”  Good advice. I try to follow it. I might give the world a chance to vote for Stratton in 2020.  No experience necessary.

A version of this appeared here 10/31/12.

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November 9, 2016   4 Comments

A LOVE SUPREME

The Jazz Temple was a former Packard showroom at Mayfield Road and Euclid Avenue. Coltrane and Dinah Washington  played there. The Jazz Temple was in business from 1960 to 1963. I passed the Jazz Temple weekly on my way to Sunday school at The Temple, the gold-domed Reform temple in University Circle.

Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver was the head rabbi at The Temple. He once spoke at the United Nations, advocating for the founding of the State of Israel. Rabbi Silver’s son, Dan, was the assistant rabbi. Dan  played football at Harvard and occasionally wrote for the Cleveland Edition.

At Sunday school, kids were mostly from Shaker Heights. One kid got a ride in a limo to temple. The driver wore a chauffeur’s cap. The limo wasn’t a Rolls; it was a Buick station wagon.

I couldn’t grasp how temple — the word — fit into the Jazz Temple. Was Jazz a religion too? Many years later, I met former beatniks who had actually gone to shows at the Jazz Temple.

abba-hillel-silverThe Jazz Temple was blown up in 1963. Somebody didn’t like the club or the owner, Winston Willis, a controversial black businessman. At The Temple religious school, we students attended services every Sunday morning to hear Rabbi Silver. (Services were on Sunday, not Saturday, in the 1950s at Silver’s.) Rabbi Silver looked like God. Nowadays, at The Temple East in Beachwood, there is a Abba Hillel Silver memorial study. The rabbi’s desk is laid out like he just stepped out for lunch. He died in 1963, just six days after Kennedy got murdered.

A slightly different version of this appeared 9/5/12. If you need baseball stuff, see my story at City Journal.

 

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November 2, 2016   5 Comments