Category — Pekar
My friend Rob, a social worker, was fixated on Canada. He watched “Hockey Night in Canada” on TV and studied the Canadian railroad timetables. He filled out immigration papers to Canada, waited several months for clearance, and moved to a small town in Ontario.
The next day he came back to Cleveland. He was a mama’s boy, I figured.
He didn’t like the social work job, he said, but he liked Canada.
Rob definitely didn’t like Cleveland — the blasting car horns, the boom boxes, the leaf blowers, and his parents pestering him. One day Rob’s father said, “You’re going to move too far away.” The next day his dad said, “You need to go out into the world and prove yourself.”
I subscribed to “Hockey Night in Canada” for Rob, so he would babysit my then-toddler son for free on Saturday nights.
Rob moved to Canada again. This time to Nova Scotia. Change your place, change your luck, as the Hebrews sages say.
It worked. I haven’t seen Rob in 18 years.
I miss him, even though he verbally abused me. He was misanthropic. He was jaded. No, I was jaded. We held jadedness contests. Rob said I was restaurateur on a perpetual hunt for dishes my bubbe never made.
He said, “You crave urban experience so badly you would eat flankn cooked directly off the seat of a cross-town bus.”
True enough. So would he.
Rob and I listened to comedy records, played music together, and made fun of Jews. Rob knew more Yiddish than I did back then. His favorite curse was Gey mit dayn kup in drerd. (Go to hell. Lit., go with your head in the ground.)
We attended High Holidays at Case Western University Hillel. I had to drive; Rob was anti-car, anti-noise. He was so sensitive — probably the most sensitive person I’ve met, and that includes Harvey Pekar, who was not exactly loosey goosey on the avenue.
I schlepped Rob to a hillbilly bar on the near West Side, so he could jam with the house band. He played guitar and sang a couple tunes. Rob was devoted to country music – authentic country. Rob’s favorite player was Hank Williams.
Rob made his sole East Side musical appearance at Heinen’s supermarket for a cancer-awareness fundraiser. He played “Good Old Mountain Dew” in the pop section and “Hava Nagila” by the oranges. He had a sense of place.
And he moved to Canada.
I wonder what he’s up to. He has family in Cleveland. He visits here, I imagine.
Rob doesn’t call. He doesn’t write. He doesn’t humour me.
“Rob” is a pseudonym.
At CoolCleveland.com today, “The Kid from Cleveland.” About a “kid” I ran into in Atlanta.
Extreme Canada is England. Here’s a video about England. (A Klezmer Guy rerun.)
March 13, 2013 No Comments
I provoked old people, especially my mother-in-law. She would say, “They’re wearing their hair high in the 1940s look,” and I would say, “Who’s they?” Or she would say, “I don’t have any shoes to wear tonight to the party,” and I would say, “You going barefoot?”
I shouldn’t have been such a smart aleck.
I hung around Harvey Pekar, who was inspirational, but very bitter. “I’m hateful,” he said. “I’d like to have a cool way to slip my George Ade article to Lark [Pekar’s second ex-wife, an academic]. She’s small-minded. Who wants to dig through Ade’s school grades? So what. I want to do something more creative.”
This was in 1981.
Now I’m twice as old as my son Ted. Exactly twice as old. He’s 31. Pekar was at Teddy’s bris. Pekar considered writing a comic about the mohel raising his hands like a prize fighter and saying, “Golden hands!”
Ted has been a newspaper reporter and taught English in Korea. He has a law degree. He was on Jeopardy. He has worked temporary crap jobs, too. He has done a lot, but he’s still only half my age!
Here’s what I’ve learned in the past 31 years:
1. Guard against bitterness
2. Make your job interesting
3. Do something beneficial for others
4. Zekhor (Remember)
5. Get married and have kids
6. “Don’t just view it, do it” (Shari Lewis)
7. Old people are dumb! (joke)
8. Don’t judge people by bumper stickers, neighborhoods, or their tastes in music.
I hope to list 10 items by the end of the decade. (Make it to the end of the decade, then worry about the list, dude.)
When my youngest child, Jack, moved to California last year, I held a mini-shiva; I walked through the music room in the basement and threw out old mic cables, cassette tapes and tons of drumsticks.
Jack took his drums and an electric bass out west. I called him when he was driving through Nebraska, and said, “Did you open the letter I wrote you?”
“Yeah,” he said, “my friends thought it was funny that on the envelope you wrote, ‘Don’t open till Nebraska.’ They thought it contained hallucinogenics.”
I’m anti-drugs! I was dispensing wisdom-in-a-can (in an envelope) to my youngest child. If he could combine my old guy’s experience with his 24-year-old’s enthusiasm and creativity, he would do fine. [Story about the letter is here.]
I filled up four contractors garbage bags in the basement.
I hauled the stuff to the tree lawn on garbage day. An hour later, three bags were gone, but the fourth remained. A junk man had picked up three bags. And I had put some paperwork in those bags, as well as Jack’s garbage.
Mac — the junk guy — pulled up the next week in a pickup truck. He said he liked my trash, particularly the ersatz medieval knight’s helmet from my son’s high school days.
I said, “What about the paperwork?”
He said he had pitched that. Good. I didn’t want my identity stolen that day. He handed me his card.
Age 24 is when you have the least amount of possessions. Now Jack has even less –- four bags less.
And Mac has some good stuff, like the helmet.
Yiddishe Cup is at the College of Wooster (Ohio) 9:30 p.m. Sat. (Nov. 17). More info here.
November 14, 2012 5 Comments
My 32nd wedding anniversary was no milestone.
But it was, sort of, because I got my wife, Alice, to go to synagogue — a major accomplishment. I used the come-on of a free bottle of wine.
My temple passes out Israeli wine to all the anniversary couples. For example, every married couple with an October anniversary gets a bottle of vino on the first shabbat in October. Alice and I took our places on the bima (altar), next to eight other couples, while the congregation sang and clapped along to “Simon Tov,” a song of congratulations. Thirty-two years of marriage was worth something — a bottle of wine. The “winning couple,” as the rabbi put it, was celebrating 55 years of marriage.
It was like a Reverend Moon ceremony. The congregants read aloud: “These couples have come to the synagogue to give thanks for the institution of marriage and for their mutual love and devotion.”
No preening bat mitzvah girls on the bima. No nervous bar mitzvah boys. Just married couples: old guys with gray ponytails, younger guys in bankers’ suits.
The Bible reading that week was from the Creation Story. The rabbi mentioned that ever since Adam and Eve fouled up, we are all going to die, which makes life interesting. Because if we lived forever, we wouldn’t do anything. For instance, “Why diet if you can put it off for 500 years?” the rabbi said. “Things get more interesting when there are time constraints.”
What did Adam and Eve do when they became empty-nesters? They had no peers. Who did they hang out with?
We went to the Oak Road duplex we had rented as newlyweds. The owner of the duplex wouldn’t let us in.
We went to our starter house, where our three kids were born. We got in. The bungalow looked better than when we had lived there. The kitchen had been gutted and remodeled.
We went home –- to our present house, where we bounce off the walls nightly, waiting for grandchildren to appear.
One in four divorces is by 50-and-overs. About half my friends are divorced and/or remarried. I look for reinforcements for long-term marriage wherever I can. I need an ally.
I found one. No, two: the synagogue and a bottle of wine.
This happened in 2010. Been back for more wine since.
I wrote a quasi-review (more of a rant) about Harvey Pekar’s latest — and probably last — comic book. The review is at today’s CoolCleveland.com.
October 17, 2012 8 Comments
The Jazz Temple was a music club in a former Packard showroom at Mayfield Road and Euclid Avenue. Coltrane played there. Dinah Washington too. Everybody 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, a Reform synagogue in University Circle, Cleveland.
Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver was the head rabbi at The Temple. Rabbi Silver was very prominent; he spoke at the United Nations, advocating for the establishment of the state of Israel. Rabbi Silver’s son, Danny, was the assistant rabbi. He played football at Harvard and blocked hard for his dad.
The Sunday school kids at The Temple were mostly from Shaker Heights. One kid got a ride in a limo to shul. The driver wore a chauffeur’s cap.
I couldn’t grasp how temple — the word — fit into a non-Jewish setting, like in “Jazz Temple.” Was Jazz a religion too? (Give me a break. I was 10.)
Years later, I met a couple ex-beatniks who had been old enough to go to the Jazz Temple in the early 1960s. They had heard Trane and Ella.
The 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, the religious-school kids would attend the last part of the service and hear the sermon. Rabbi Silver looked like God and talked like Him.
Rabbi Silver: Live at the Jazz Temple. Interesting.
John Coltrane: Live at The Temple. Another possibility.
A love supreme . . .
A love supreme . . .
In the arts, if you’re precious, you’re bad. Precious is the worst thing. Precious means you’re dainty and overly refined.
A friend (a former music critic) called all college a cappella music precious.
Harvey Pekar called Willio and Phillio — the Cleveland music-comedy duo — precious. (Willio and Phillio was around in the 1980s.) Willio and Phillio was precious — their stage name for sure. Willio (Will Ryan) went out to Los Angeles to work for Disney, and Phillio (Phil Baron) became a cantor in L.A. They were good, and probably still are.
Yiddishe Cup is precious occasionally. The musicians say “oy vey” too much on stage. I’ve tried to get my guys to stop. I can’t.
Peter Laughner, a Cleveland rocker, died from drug abuse and alcoholism at 24. He killed himself, basically. (This was in 1977.) He was not precious. He was dead — and funny — about art. He was in the Pere Ubu underground before Pere Ubu was famous.
Suicide doesn’t appeal to me for two reasons: 1) My wife would kill me if I tried it. 2) I want to attend my kids’ weddings and eventually meet my grandkids-to-be.
“Precious” is OK for grandkids. (“Grandkids” is precious.)
New construction — Side C — for Michiganders. . .
I drove to Rochester, Michigan, which is not as cool as Rochester, New York, but it does have a small-town charm.
I’ve seen Father Coughlin’s former church in Royal Oak, Michigan.
I’ve been to Detroit many times.
My wife, Alice, said, “Detroit has very long roads.”
She probably meant Woodward, Gratiot and Telegraph.
Detroit also has the Lodge. Elmore Leonard mentions the Lodge in his books, like, “The gambling casino, Mutt, you can’t fucking miss it, over by the Lodge freeway.”
A couple Cleveland freeways and bridges have names, like the Bob Hope Memorial Bridge, but nobody ever uses the names.
I stayed at a hotel near the Silverdome, which looked like a big pillow. (The stadium did.) A Detroiter told me the Silverdome sold for about $200,000. A stadium for the price of a California carport.
Who was John C. Lodge? Probably a labor leader. [No, the mayor of Detroit in the 1920s.]
Detroit is like Cleveland. Detroit has the Eastern Market; Cleveland has the West Side Market. Detroit has downtown casinos. Now Cleveland has a downtown casino.
Metro Detroit has a few more Jews than Cleveland. And probably more Arabs, Poles and Ukrainians. And more blacks.
People who wear Tiger caps are cool, as are Indians cap wearers.
What about Berkley, Michigan? Is that worth a visit?
Elmore Leonard eats at the Beverly Hills Café. I wonder if that’s part of the Beverly Hills Café chain, or an independent restaurant in Beverly Hills, Michigan.
I wonder if Elmore Leonard spends his winters in Detroit. I bet he doesn’t. He writes a lot about Florida.
I have some Elmore Leonard junk mail.
City Primeval: High Noon in Detroit. That’s worth reading.
Maple means 15 Mile. Big Beaver is 16 Mile.
What about Oakland University? Does the university have Bobby Seale barbecue sauce in the cafeteria?
I live only three and a half hours from Berkley, Beverly Hills and Oakland.
Yiddishe Cup pulls into Motown Sunday. See us at Cong. Beth Shalom, Oak Park, Mich.,
2 p.m., Sept. 9. Open to the public. Concert info here.
September 5, 2012 7 Comments
I see Hankus Netsky, the leader of the Klezmer Conservatory Band, every couple years.
He never remembers my name.
I don’t hold that against him. His best greeting is “How is your Mickey Katz project coming?” (Yiddishe Cup is at times a Mickey Katz cover band.)
I’m flattered. Hankus remembers something about me.
How many musicians does Netsky see in a week? A lot. He teaches at the New England Conservatory, leads a well-known klezmer band, does music projects at the Yiddish Book Center, and plays in a world music group.
I’m Netsky to some people. I don’t know these people but they know me. For example, Oberlin and Cleveland State students attend Yiddishe Cup gigs, looking for term-paper material, and I don’t remember who they are when they call me three months later.
I wonder who says to Netsky: “Sorry, I don’t remember your name.”
Nobody says that to Netsky. Obama doesn’t, Romney doesn’t, Perlman doesn’t. Sapoznik doesn’t.
Netsky, the Great One . . .
1. Hankus Netsky’s wife is Clara Netsky. Say that. (Don Friedman, Yiddishe Cup’s drummer, concocted this pun.)
2. Ring Lardner Jr. said a well-known person will not remember you unless you’ve been introduced at least five times. (This Lardner Jr. factoid courtesy of Mark Schilling.)
3. Hankus Netsky is a great guy. One of the nicest, smartest, most considerate guys on the klezmer scene. Seriously.
Qué pasa, Harvey Pekar? Vos machst du, Michael Wex? . . .
Harvey Pekar’s reputation took off on December 31, 1979, when he got a rave in the national press – The Village Voice — for the first time. But he wasn’t happy.
He told me in 1980, “Movies, interviews — it all falls through. Maybe I’m bowed — my back is short. I’ve got to become more famous. If you’re not a doctor in this town [Cleveland], you’re stuck. The comic-book thing has picked up some, but it doesn’t mean anything in this town. I’d love a groupie to screw, listen to records with, and leave me alone.”
Harvey’s woe-is-me schtick was no schtick; he was down and out. Even after he became famous — after the movie American Splendor — he kvetched a lot: he had money worries, he said; his family scene was precarious; his health was tenuous; and his toilet handle jiggled. Harvey was the guy with the perpetual toothache who thought happiness was not having a toothache. He never ran out of material.
After American Splendor, the movie, Harvey sat on his porch, and fans from all over the world stopped by. He met interesting people without going out.
I went with a foreign fan to Harvey’s porch. The fan and Harvey BS’d for an hour, mostly about Harvey’s upcoming projects.
Michael Wex was on Fresh Air, Terry Gross’s radio, one time. Pekar was on Terry Gross twice.
Wex was on the show for his book Born to Kvetch. When Wex’s second book, Just Say Nu, came out, he tried to get on again, but didn’t make the cut.
Wex wrote on his website: “I don’t want a niche, I want an empire!” Funny — and true. In the arts, the more fame the better until you need bodyguards.
I was standing in the prescription pick-up line at CVS with fellow AKs. The man behind me said, “Saul Ludwig, here. You played my daughter’s wedding. Not only that but we also saw you at Chautauqua.”
“I remember you,” I said. “Your daughter is Amy Shulman. I ran into her at a gig in Buffalo.”
Give me a break, Saul. Do you know how many weddings I play? Shuman, Shulman, abi gezunt. I can’t even go to CVS anymore.
Joke, Saul, joke.
I wrote this article, “Mickele: Mickey Katz Lives,” for the Cleveland Jewish News, 7/27/12. More than you want to know about Mickey Katz, probably.
Yiddshe Cup performs a tribute to Mickey Katz 7 p.m. Thurs., Aug. 9, at Cain Park, Alma Theater, Cleveland Hts.
Tix: www.cainpark.com, 216-371-3000, or 800-745-3000.
$20-22 advance. $23-25 day of show. Discount for seniors and students.
August 1, 2012 4 Comments
Italians have great names, grant them that. The best name from my old neighborhood was Bocky Boo DiPasquale. Bocky led a band, Bocky and the Visions, a local version of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Bocky Boo was a pre-Beatles greaser with a strong regional following; he got significant air play on Cleveland radio and on Detroit’s CKLW.
The Bock became a Cleveland legend. I, however, was too young to grasp Bocky’s vision. I didn’t listen to his music. I just knew his name and wondered, Can Bocky Boo be real?
I knew an Alfred Mastrobuono. Real.
I knew Carmen Yafanaro. Real.
Ralph Dodero. Real.
Bocky Boo’s real name was Robert DiPasquale.
Robby Stamps – another musician from my high school — knew The Bock and all other local bands, past or present. Stamps was a rocker, riding the first wave of psychedelia. (Robby’s sister incidentally was Penny Stamps.)
Stamps never showed up at high school reunions. He said the Italian greasers would harass him for being a radical. Stamps was a misher — a meddler — more than a radical. He was always around the action, like Zelig. Stamps was shot in the buttock at Kent State on May 4, 1970.
After graduating Kent, Stamps worked jobs as an adjunct faculty member in Hawaii, California and Florida. He majored in sociology and Spanish. Stamps was half Jewish — an oddity, at least in the 1960s. Back then you were generally all Jewish, or you weren’t. Robby’s father was Floyd. (Not a Jew.)
Stamps hung around with just about everybody in high school: racks (aka greasers, dagos), white-bread American kids (aka squids, collegiates) and Jews (aka Jews). Stamps was an emissary between the various groups; he had a pisk (big mouth), played music and was fearless — except at reunions.
Stamps wasn’t part of the “in” crowd or the “out” crowd. Stamps was his own man. He scribbled “pseudo-freak” on the photo of a hippie poseur in my yearbook.
In middle age, Stamps developed every kind of illness: Crohn’s, Lyme Disease and pneumonia, plus he had the May 4 bullet wound. He died in 2008 at 58.
If Stamps had come to the reunions, he probably would have shed light — some sociology — on the various cliques. Stamps’ perspective was bitter, sarcastic and funny. He would have said something like: “Those Jews at the bar, see those guys at the bar, they wore penny loafers in seventh grade without pennies in them, and yelled at me because I put pennies in mine. They threw pennies on the floor. If you picked up the pennies, you were a
“I threw pennies,” Stamps continued. “I worked both sides of the street.”
In 1988 Bocky Boo was shot and killed in a bar. The cops — some who had grown up with The Bock — tried hard to find Bocky’s killer. There was even a website, whokilledbocky, for a few years ago. (Now down. ) No Luck. The Bock and Stamps didn’t stick around.
Well, that’s one thing I can say about that boy, he gotta go.
–Paul Butterfield Blues Band, “Born in Chicago,” lyrics by Nick Gravenites
I wrote a review of Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland. Most posthumous work — by Hem, Hendrix, Heller, whomever — should stay buried. The Pekar review is here, at today’s CoolCleveland. Need more Pekar? See the archived “Klezmer Guy” posts about Harvey Pekar.
Check out Jack Stratton’s dog music vid . . .
May 2, 2012 10 Comments
Why do nursing-home administrators request 100-percent peppy music from performers? Some residents want to hear contemplative tunes.
Why do eyeglass-frame adjusters have so much power over us? Did they all get PhDs? From where? I.U.?
How come newspaper columnists don’t write about pet peeves anymore? That’s annoying.
My wife took the electric toothbrush to Columbus, Ohio, on a business trip. The electric toothbrush — and the seltzer machine and Bose radio — are permanent attachments to the dwelling, Alice.
Why does Zagara’s grocery in Cleveland Heights sell only 12-packs of shabbat candles and not the 72-candle jumbo box? Zagara’s Jewish Lites.
What about those phone solicitors from yours kids’ colleges who ask for money. What are you supposed to say? “Here’s another $50. No problem.”
Why do “highly sensitive” people insist on telling you what bothers them? That’s irritating.
When your computer crashes, why do you feel like your right hand fell off? Why can’t you feel like a mosquito bit your ankle.
Who is nostalgic for mimeo machines? Somebody should be.
Why do “sophisticated” Clevelanders brag about not reading the Plain Dealer? They say, “I’ve lived in Cleveland for 20 years and never subscribed to the PD. I read the New York Times. ” Go home.
People who grow vegetables always serve arugula. Why don’t they grow dates or figs?
Why do concertgoers at the Cleveland Orchestra applaud maniacally after every single piece? The listeners nap for 54 minutes (Mahler Symphony #1), then give the conductor three curtain calls. Applaud this!
If you want to talk about cars, first ask: “Do you want to talk about cars with me?” Same goes for sports, TV shows and politics.
Which is preferable: a) “He passed away.” or b) “He passed.” Answer: “He passed away.” Best answer: c) “He died.”
Who was the curmudgeon — Harvey Pekar or Andy Rooney? Coin toss.
Don’t complain about lousy cell phone service and long lines at the post office. That’s modern life. You wouldn’t get upset by a house sign that said the smith’s, would you?
November 23, 2011 5 Comments
The first three digits in your Social Security number mean something. For instance, 545-573 and 602-626 indicate you are a native Californian. 268-302, an Ohioan.
That’s history. Effective Saturday, newly issued Social Security numbers (SSNs) will have no geographical significance. The “Social Security Number Randomization” policy hits.
New Gavins, Emmas and Destinys will get random SSNs.
I read about the randomization policy in the Social Security Administration/IRS quarterly newsletter to employers.
I look at Social Security numbers a lot because I’m a landlord. One apartment applicant wrote his SSN as 900-. There are no 900-999s. I turned him down on the spot. Likewise, there are no 000s-. And I don’t rent to 666-; that’s the devil’s number, and the Social Security Administration (SSA) doesn’t stock it.
The SSA website says, “If your [SSN] concerns are firmly rooted in your religious beliefs or cultural traditions, Social Security will review your request.”
The new randomization policy will extend the number of available SSNs. There are 435 million unused numbers. Dead people’s numbers go to the grave with them.
What about a vanity SSN? Are the feds thinking of that?
They should. Parents might pay $100 for a snazzy SSN — say, a 999-. Something that would stand out on Baby Emma’s college application 17 years from now.
Just say no to randomization.
Baby Emma is not a random number. And Gavin is an Ohioan — a proud Buckeye. Destiny, she is a California girl (602-).
Due to a computer glitch, this post (“Just Say No to Randomization”) didn’t go up on Wednesday June 22. It went up today, Saturday June 25.
Here’s an op-ed I wrote for the Cleveland Plain Dealer last Sunday. “Harvey Pekar’s Hollywood Hustle.”
June 25, 2011 3 Comments
Comic book writer Harvey Pekar died from an “accidental” overdose of anti-depressants, the Cuyahoga (Cleveland) County coroner ruled.
Powell Caesar, the coroner’s spokesman, said Pekar died from “acute intoxication via ingesting fluoxetine [Prozac] and bupropion [Wellbutrin].”
Powell continued, “The death was accidental. Ingestion was accidental. This case is closed.”
The autopsy and toxicology analyses were completed last week.
Harvey died July 12 in his bedroom in Cleveland Heights.
I contacted the coroner’s office (and talked to Powell Caesar) because I hadn’t heard, or read, how Harvey died.
October 19, 2010 3 Comments
At the Harvey Pekar (urn) Benefit, a hipster with shoulder-length dreadlocks said, “I wrote a book about my sex life. Three-hundred forty pages.”
I asked, “You going to do another one?”
“No, I don’t think people are that interested.”
The Pekar benefit had characters, especially hippie dinosaur characters, myself included. (Another species of dinosaurs — old ethnics — gathered three blocks down at the Slovenian Workmen’s Home to hear Bobby Kravos’ polka band.) The Pekar benefit was at the Beachland Ballroom, formerly the Croatian Liberty Home, Collinwood.
Ex-Cleveland Heights Mayor Alan “Popo” Rapoport, age 61 — and 23 years out of politics — was back on the scene. He danced a hora to Yiddishe Cup. He was running for the new county council seat.
After the benefit, my wife, Alice, and I ate with Popo at a nearby cafe. He said he was in Collinwood, in part, to put up campaign yard signs at street intersections. He did the sign installations around midnight so he wouldn’t get a ticket for littering.
I asked Popo what he had been up to for the past two decades.
“Real estate law and probate,” he said. “Sometimes called graves and ground.”
Alice said, “You should write a blog, ‘Graves and Ground.’”
Popo said the Harvey Pekar toxicology report could take six weeks or so to come back from the coroner’s office.
At the Beachland Ballroom bar earlier, Harvey’s wife, Joyce Brabner, had told me, “Harvey had worse [prostate] cancer than I let on.”
When I offered Joyce my condolences, she said, “Some people get that confused and say ‘congratulations.’”
“That too,” I said.
I wanted to ask: “How can you suddenly croak of cancer in your sleep?” (Harvey had died quickly at home in his bedroom.) Instead I said, “Is there some Latin word for how he died?”
Joyce said no. Then she left the bar area. She knew many people in the Beachland, including a free-lance photographer on assignment from the New York Times.
The New York Times had run an article “The Upbeat Final Days and Busy Future of Harvey Pekar” several weeks earlier. In the piece, a Cleveland illustrator had said Harvey was chipper the day before he died. Joyce wanted her side of the story out. Harvey, upbeat? Not likely.
Would The Times actually run three stories on Pekar? (1.) Half-page obit. Done. (2.) Chipper Harvey story. Done. And now Joyce’s take? Joyce was the PR wizard. Could happen.
The angle: How could Pekar not have enough money to bury himself? The cheapest guy who ever lived! He lectured for decent fees; had a piece — albeit small — of a Hollywood movie; and collected Social Security and government pensions.
Joyce said the gobierno had cut off Harvey’s checks, pending determination of the cause of death. Harvey died at 70 and left no will.
Seventy is the new 60 for dying. Seventy is a raw deal. You’re supposed to reach 80 now, al minimo. My dad died at 69 in 1986; very few people back then considered that unusual.
Eighty-plus or bust. Alfred Lerner, the former billionaire chairman of MBNA and owner of the Cleveland Browns, died at 68 of brain cancer a few years ago. That was news on two fronts: (1.) The man died so young. (2.) The man’s mega-money couldn’t get him another decade.
The Beachland Ballroom owner talked about erecting a statue of Harvey at Lake View Cemetery.
Joyce said, “This town can’t raise enough money for a statue of Superman, let alone one for Harvey.”
Paging Harvey Pekar. Your burial urn tsuris cries out for a new episode of American Splendor.
1. There was talk of putting up a Superman statue in Glenville, the Cleveland neighborhood where two high school boys created Superman in the 1930s.
2. The sentence “Your burial urn tsuris cries out for a new
episode . . .” is stolen, in large part, from writer/critic Mark Schilling.
2 of 2 posts for 8/11/10
August 11, 2010 No Comments
Maggies were linoleum salesmen/hustlers in Cleveland.
Harvey Pekar wrote a comic strip about them several decades ago. I didn’t hear the word maggies again until last week, when my cousin Danny Seiger, 78, expounded at shabbes dinner on the maggies of Kinsman Road. At first I had no idea what Danny was talking about. Neither did my wife. She said, “Magistrates?” And I said, “Magi?” (I hadn’t remembered the Pekar comic strip.)
“Magi!” Danny laughed. “Magi? That would be Yoshke’s boys!” [Jesus' boys.]
“The maggies carried thick samples of linoleum that looked like Venetian marble,” Danny said. “They sold nine-by-twelve sheets for fifteen dollars. Nobody had fifteen dollars back then, so the maggies took five bucks on installment, and came back with a roll of tissue-paper. They could carry it upstairs real easy. It weighed three pounds. The maggies laid the tissue-paper linoleum on your kitchen floor, collected the five bucks, and never came back.”
Danny grew up in his parents’ deli, Seiger’s Restaurant on Kinsman Road, and knew something about conmen, kibitzers, bookies, contractors and maggies. It was like an Eskimo knowing about snow. [Kibitzers are meddlesome observers.]
The maggies sold more than linoleum, Danny said. They sold ties at barbershops, socks at saloons. Each maggie had a territory and a product line. “One maggie stood by the streetcar stop and ran up to women with nice lemons,” Danny said. “The maggie held up a few lemons and said, ‘Two for a nickel, three for a dime.’ The woman gave him the dime and hopped on the streetcar.”
Relevant: Yiddishe Cup plays the Harvey Pekar (urn) Benefit this Saturday night at the Beachland Ballroom, Cleveland. If enough funds are raised, Harvey’s urn goes next to Eliot Ness’ grave at Lake View Cemetery.
I Googled “Maggies” after my cousin Danny left. Maggies, an Irish music group, popped up. Then I tried “Maggies + Pekar.” I was thinking about Pekar because of the Beachland gig, and something about “Maggies + Pekar” jogged my memory . . .
Michigan State University Libraries,
Comic Art Collection.
“The Maggies: Oral History”/story by Harvey Pekar;
art by R. Crumb. 2 p. in American Splendor, no. 7 (1982).
I phoned Danny Seiger and read the Pekar story to him. I wanted to know if Turk’s deli — where the maggies hung out in Harvey’s comic — was the same place as Seiger’s deli. Danny said, “Turk’s was at One-hundred Seventeenth. We were at One-hundred Eighteenth.”
I said, “There were two delis right next to each other? How many delis were there in Cleveland?”
“There were seven on Kinsman, and twenty-eight in Cleveland in the 1930s,” Danny said.
“What about Zulu Goldberg and his brothers — the guys in the comic who sold linoleum in bulk to the maggies?” I asked. “Was Zulu a real person?”
“That’s Goldbergs from Ohio Savings,” Danny said. “They did business.”
Maggies, the word, comes from Magnoleum, a linoleum brand, Danny said. Pekar’s comic-strip character — an unnamed old man — said maggies got their name from calling female customers Maggie.
Harold Ticktin, 83, a former Kinsman cowboy and street-corner historian, might be able to settle this.
Answer the phone, Harold!
. . . Harold says, “I have no idea what maggies are. Never heard of it. Now there was this Italian, Tom Black, who sold sweaters at One-hundred Forty-second and Kinsman. You tried the sweaters on in the bathroom at the gas station. The sweaters looked real good in front but went up your back like a window shade.”
Yiddishe Cup plays 8-9 p.m. this Sat. (Aug. 7) at the Harvey Pekar (urn) Benefit at the Beachland Ballroom, Cleveland.
August 4, 2010 2 Comments
Harvey Pekar wasn’t that funny in real life. He was a campeón del mundo bitch-moaner. He would drey you with pedantic lectures on, say, an avant-garde jazz musician or a neglected writer such as George Gissing. Harvey threw in gobs of “you know’s,” connectors that allowed him to talk for a half-hour nonstop and still retain membership in the Youse Guys Club. The lectures were always about Harvey, with the occasional aside about the neglected artist, who was also Harvey.
When Harvey edited his work for his comic books, he distilled a year’s worth of harangues and keen journalistic observation into a few thousand words. The comic book — the insights, the dead-on dialogue and the self-deprecating humor — was the opposite of his rambles.
Ray Dobbins (a.k.a. Jim Flannigan), the author of Don the Burp and Other Stories, was an ex-Clevelander in New York, who lived in the East Village near a Village Voice critic. Dobbins showed Harvey’s early comic books to critic Robert Christgau and his wife, Carola Dibbell, and she wrote up Harvey for the Voice, Dec. 31, 1979.
Through the ensuing acclaim and fame, Harvey was, still, the Kinsman Road boy who unfortunately attended Shaker Heights High. That move — from proste Kinsman to fancy-schmancy Shaker of the 1950s – contributed mightily to Harvey’s me-against-the-world attitude. Read about it. It’s in his comic books.
At my first son’s bris in 1981, Harvey gravitated toward the mohel, an Orthodox rabbi.
Harvey told me he was going to write about the bris. Something about the mohel raising his arms and saying, “Golden hands!”
Pekar saw things others missed. And he got it down on paper.
["Drey" is turn/pester. "Proste" is common/boorish.]
[More on Harvey at "Where is My Harvey Pekar Bobblehead?", a Klezmer Guy post from 2/3/10.]
2 of 2 posts for 7/14/10
See “Driving Mr. Klezmer” 7 p.m. Thurs., July 29, at Cain Park, Alma Theater, Cleveland Heights. $20 in advance. $23 at the door. Call 216-371-3000 or visit www.cainpark.com.
“Driving Mr. Klezmer” is a clutch-popping trip through the states of klezmer, pop, Tin Pan Alley and spoken word. The ride: a Ford Tsuris.
The show is a nudnik/beatnik mash-up of music and comedy. Bert Stratton is on clarinet and spoken word (i.e., this blog). Alan Douglass, the chauffeur, is on vocals and keyboards.
July 14, 2010 4 Comments
My dentist thinks he is Larry David. When he looks at my X-rays, he shouts, “You bastard, you don’t have any cavities!”
My friend Mike, a retired businessman, thinks he is Larry David. Mike has lived in Cleveland 35 years, but still considers himself a New Yorker. “I don’t want to lose my standards,” he says when we eat out. Mike is tough on bread — for starters. Then it’s on to water: “What? No Pellegrino?”
I’m Larry David.
A lot of middle-aged Jewish men think they’re Larry David.
I used to listen to comedy records at Harvey Pekar’s apartment. Harvey had all of Bob and Ray, Lenny Bruce, and even Arnold Stang, the actor who did the Chunky commercials. I could only listen to jazz for so long at Harvey’s.
Yiddishe Cup has gigged with a couple comedians. The comics do bits on dieting and airport travel. Frum (religiously observant) comedians even do riffs on kosher food. Like “We had a power outage at our house and lost $100 worth of kosher meat — two chickens and a pound of hamburger.”
I could do that. Every Jewish guy thinks he can do that.
Seder is the training ground for Jewish comedians. I had a relative who thought he was Phil Silvers. Ruined everything at Seder. I like a serious Seder. Curb the jokes about matzo and constipation.
My last close relative left Cleveland in 2001. Now my Seders are with friends.
My relatives went to warmer places or died.
I hope some of my sun-worshipping, Sunbelt relatives come back. And if they want a sip of fresh water, that’ll cost five dollars. That’s the Great Lakes’ big hope: the rest of the country runs out of water.
I’m in about two traffic jams a year in Cleveland. I would prefer five. I don’t relish the horrible traffic of Chicago or Washington, but just a few more tie-ups in Cleveland would be nice.
In the 1970s Clevelanders first began imagining the whole town could go under. T-shirts were silk-screened: “Cleveland: You’ve Got to be Tough.”
A musician in Milwaukee wrote a song called “Thank God This Isn’t Cleveland.” [Thanks to former Milwaukeean Andrew Muchin for that info.]
Some Clevelanders never got over the trauma of the 1970s. I know Clevelanders who vacation in Cape Cod; they’re instructed by the national media to vacation very far from the Midwest. They wait an hour for ice cream on Cape Cod. I biked around Nantucket in 1979 and it was crowded then.
Some of the best scenery in America is the bike path from Gambier to Coshocton, Ohio. Rolling farm country, horses, sheep, cows, pigs and Amish buggies.
But some Midwesterners need to see the ocean. They drive all day to the Carolina shore. For what? Lake Erie has beaches, waves, fat people and miniature golf. Check out Geneva on-the-Lake.
Seder with friends . . . It’s not the same as with Aunt Bernice, Cousin Howard, and the rest of the gang at the old Seder table.
I live three miles from where I was born. I’m always running into things that don’t exist anymore.
Is it unusual for a college-educated Jewish baby boomer to live so close to where he was born?
[To my three goys: Pesach, in the post title, is Hebrew for Passover.]
See the “Driving Mr. Klezmer” show tonight (Wed. March 24) at the Malt Shop (Maltz Museum), Beachwood, Ohio. 7 p.m. Features the mail-fraud team of Stratton & Douglass.
Jack Stratton, drums, and Bert Stratton, clarinet, are featured in the movie “First Voice Ohio” at the Cleveland International Film Festival Fri. March 26, 2:15 p.m.
See Yiddishe Cup Sat. March 27, 9 p.m., at COW, the College of Wooster (Ohio).
March 24, 2010 5 Comments
Concertgoers sometimes ask if I know Harvey Pekar, the American Splendor comic book writer. Particularly at out of town gigs.
I know him.
Harvey and I had a mutual-aid relationship for years. This “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” trope was Harvey’s modus operandi. He wrote some nice things about my band, and I helped him out — not the least of which was fixing him up between his second and third wives. This was right before Joyce, his present wife.
Harvey’s casual girlfriend was driving him crazy. “She’s like a Third World country making impossible demands on an industrial nation,” Harvey said. “She eats all my food, borrows my money, doesn’t lock her doors, or even get a car title. One thing about Lark [Harvey's second wife], she was competent.”
I told Harvey I had a fix-up for him with a rabid left-winger. He said, “Tell her I passed out leaflets for Henry Wallace when I was a kid!”
And he added, “Tell her I’m not a schleppy file clerk. I’ve got some things on the line. Oui wants some of my comics, and a guy in L.A. wants to make a movie maybe.” The L.A. director was Jonathan Demme. That movie didn’t happen.
For an anti-social guy, Harvey sure didn’t like being alone. He said his second wife’s exit had totally blindsided him. “There was no real sign of the doom coming on,” he said. “But maybe it was my fault — her leaving. I’m high-strung and emotional. I didn’t see it. Yeah, she yelled a bit, but compared to my first wife — who was constantly hysterical — it was nothing. I don’t run around. I’m an old-fashioned guy.”
Harvey hit it off with a nurse, a friend of my wife. One point for the Strattons.
Harvey grew up on cantoral music. During the klez revival boom (1990s), he heard recordings of the legendary klez clarinetist Naftule Brandwein. That made an impression on Harvey, but didn’t completely knock him out. For Harvey, truly innovative music lay between Ayler and Zorn — far-out, improvisational mastur . . . mastership. Brandwein wasn’t a jazz guy.
Harvey sold me a couple Jewish “sides” (LPs), and I told him what I knew about klezmer. He also did some reading and listening, and pretty soon was fairly knowledgeable about klez. He wrote about my band in the Boston Herald. That piece was about klezmer in general; my band was mentioned in passing, as in Yiddishe Cup is “socially motivated.”
That meant Yiddishe Cup played a lot of parties. I still use the quote in my band’s PR because of the “Boston.” Boston used to be the Jerusalem of klezmer. Now the Jerusalem moves around. It’s in Cleveland today.
Before Harvey became famous — before the movie American Splendor came out — I went to his house with all my Pekar comic books. He signed issue #1, which I put in a glassine bag.
I still have a lot of his comics, unopened. I used to take handfuls of Harvey’s comics on trips out of town, to show off Cleveland.
Where is my Harvey Pekar bobblehead doll?
Check out our new video clip “Going Tin,” live from The Ark, Ann Arbor, Mich. It’s the Klezmer Guy blog in 2-D. Rated alluring.
See Yiddishe Cup:
Sat. Feb. 27, 7:30 p.m. Purim, Park Synagogue, Cleveland Hts. Family-oriented.
Sun. Feb 28, 7 p.m. Nighttown, Cleveland Hts. Downbeat named Nighttown one of the top 100 jazz clubs in the world.
February 3, 2010 4 Comments
You rarely find “Hava Nagila” on klezmer CDs.
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.
June 17, 2009 5 Comments
The band rarely plays for famous people. There is nobody famous around here unless you count Harvey Pekar, the comic book guy. Take that back . . . LeBron James.
Once we played for the president of Tulane University. At another bar mitzvah, Flory Jagoda, the queen of Sephardic music, was there. At another simcha (celebration), we ran into Max Herman, a trumpeter who used to play with Mickey Katz in Los Angeles.
Nobody has heard of these people. That’s the Rust Belt. We’re OK with it. What’s our option? Move to Florida?
We like it here.
At private parties, we’re asked if we travel. Will we come to Minneapolis? Yes, pay us 7 grand and we’re there. These folks never come through; they’re just caught up in the excitement of the party. Well, one time we missed a for-real gig. That was from the frozen chicken king of California. A Mr. Zacky. He saw us at a wedding in Akron and asked us to play his wedding in L.A. Too bad we were already booked.
LARGE NUMBERS . . . How to beat the Dow Jones. Gamble.
May 21, 2009 No Comments