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 — Pekar


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

“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.

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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).

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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.

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February 3, 2010   4 Comments


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.

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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.

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May 21, 2009   No Comments