Songs And Stories

What I got from her

I have written a lot about my mother in this column, because she grew up in Cleveland Heights. I’ve told about the time, when she was a teenager, living with her mother and baby brother during the Great Depression in an apartment two stories above Uberstine Drugs on Coventry Road (now the site of Hunan Coventry), when the building caught on fire and their only remaining pre-Depression valuables—a Steinway grand piano and her late father’s Stradivarius violin—burned up, and my mother ran back into the burning building to retrieve the box with all of their money in it.

My mother and father both attended Roosevelt Junior High and Heights High. But they actually met at Euclid Avenue Temple. They were both members of the temple’s junior choir. My father wrote some music that he thought the choir might sing. The director asked if someone in the group could write lyrics for it and my mother volunteered, because, she told me a few years ago, she thought my father was cute. Interesting that two of their sons—me and my brother Noah—became professional singer-songwriters.

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Volume 12, Issue 4, Posted 1:03 PM, 04.01.2019

Remembering Norman Tischler

Norman Tischler lived in Cleveland Heights for decades. He moved to the area in 1969, three or four years out of college, when he was a VISTA volunteer, assigned to the Karamu House in Cleveland, where he taught kids music and also taught them about music.

He was an extraordinary musician, who played with just about every other musician in the region, and with some nationally known ones. No, really—just about every one in this region. It sounds implausible, but he was always everywhere, it seemed, and never without his instruments. And he knew everyone. Some percentage of them—about 500 people, and, it appeared, about half of them musicians—showed up for his memorial service last month at The Temple-Tifereth Israel in Beachwood.

Norm died on Jan. 21, at the age of 72, soon after a sudden diagnosis of cancer. During his final week, his hospital room constantly overflowed with musicians and other friends, and, much of the time, with music.

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Volume 12, Issue 3, Posted 10:08 AM, 02.19.2019

An evolving city

Before the advent of streetcars—in this area that was in the 1910s—people had to live close to where they worked. And anything else you might want to do had to be within walking distance, too. That’s why there are so many churches everywhere around here. And there were more bars than churches, but the churches lasted because they’re a lot bigger, better constructed, more expensive to replace, and harder to convert into coffee shops and clothing stores (though at least one old Cleveland Heights church has been converted to condominiums).

The area that is now Cleveland Heights was mostly farms and quarries in the early 1800s, with only about 2,000 residents. By the time the streetcars came in, about 100 years later, there were 5,000 people living here. But streetcars enabled people from Cleveland to get up the big hills, on what are now Cedar and Mayfield roads, and population started increasing. Especially when developers promoted the western end of the area to wealthy Clevelanders as the place to build their big mansions.

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Volume 12, Issue 2, Posted 5:02 PM, 02.01.2019

The old neighborhood

My mother was born in Pittsburgh. Her mother died when my mother was 11 months old. Her father married a woman from Cleveland when my mother was 2 or 3. But when my mother was 10, and right before her stepmother gave birth to my mother’s brother, my mother’s father died. Within a couple of years, her stepmother brought my mother and her baby brother to live in Cleveland Heights. My mother’s older sister stayed in Pittsburgh to finish high school.

That was during the Great Depression. They lived in an apartment on Coventry Road, where most of the buildings are the same ones that stand there today. My mother attended Roosevelt Junior High. When the interior of their apartment building (above what is now the Hunan Coventry Restaurant) was destroyed by fire, they moved in with relatives nearby.

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Volume 12, Issue 1, Posted 1:00 PM, 01.03.2019

Remember when Coventry wasn't cool?

Some guy, in a Facebook group about growing up in Cleveland Heights, posted the comment “Remember when Coventry used to be cool?”

That drew dozens of responses, almost all of them saying that Coventry still is cool.

The guy who posted that was referring to Coventry in the early 2000s—a time, he’d be surprised to learn, when people were also saying “remember when Coventry used to be cool,” referring to the 1990s. The fact is people have been saying this since about 1971 (referring to 1968). Really. It’s a thing. People who hang around Coventry for a few years eventually see changes happening and decide that the whole place is ruined—from whenever their first experience was in the area.

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Volume 11, Issue 12, Posted 10:34 AM, 12.03.2018

Again, what has changed?

There it is again. It won’t go away—that tired old “I’ve heard Cleveland Heights has really changed” thing that people say, people who no longer live here. I’ve written about this before, but it keeps coming back.

Just recently, someone in a Cleveland Heights-related Facebook group posted a photo of kids sledding down the hill at Cain Park in the 1970s. One of the first comments was “Those were the good old days.” I figured the commenter must have moved out of state and has assumed that kids no longer go sledding there. So I said to him, “It’s also the present. It’s exactly the same today.”

He responded, “I’ve heard that it changed.” I said, “Not at all. I’ve lived in Cleveland Heights for my whole life. I used to go sledding at Cain Park when I was a kid. Then I took my kids there when they were little. And now my son takes his kids there. And I also go to many concerts there during the summer.”

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Volume 11, Issue 11, Posted 7:33 PM, 10.31.2018

The World Series and other connections

October 1953 was the first time I heard the term “World Series.” I was 4 years old, and I heard it at my grandfather’s house a few days after my grandmother died.

My father, who had grown up in Cleveland Heights, joined the Navy shortly after the United States entered World War II. He was stationed in San Francisco. My parents got married during the war. After the war, my parents stayed in San Francisco. My father got a good job selling records in a big department store, which was the only place you could buy records then. The record department was next to the furniture department, because that was the only place you could buy record players, which, in those days, were pieces of furniture.

My parents were happy out there. Then, in 1948, my father’s brother, David, died. My father came back to Cleveland for the funeral, while my mother stayed in California with my older brother, who was still a toddler. During my father’s visit to Cleveland, my grandfather convinced him to move the family back here. He told him there was a good job for him, and that they were building a nice house for them. He told my father a lot of great things that would happen. He was, as my family sometimes said, exaggerating—or, as I call it, lying.

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Volume 11, Issue 10, Posted 12:19 PM, 10.01.2018

It's a night on the town

Last September, I attended the first public meeting for the Top of the Hill Project, the development of the plot of land where Cedar Road and Euclid Heights Boulevard come to a point, at the apex of Cedar Glen Parkway, which we all call Cedar Hill. The meeting took place at the Community Center. About 150 people attended and expressed about 237 ideas and opinions. One thing that everyone seemed to be in agreement on, however, was that Nighttown should be left alone. No one wanted to see it go.

But why? What’s the big deal? It’s just a restaurant, and Cleveland Heights is home to tons of restaurants. Well, it’s also a nightclub. But, again, there are a lot of places here that offer live entertainment.

But . . . it’s also the biggest restaurant in Cleveland Heights, and probably on the whole East Side of Cleveland, which must mean it’s good, if it has needed to expand so much—seven times, so far—to accommodate so many people.

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Volume 11, Issue 9, Posted 2:02 PM, 09.01.2018

The summer of '68

In the summer of 1968, 50 years ago, a great milestone came to pass in my life, and even though I was homeless, among other issues, I still recognized it as a powerful and meaningful moment. I was actually homeless for most of a couple of years. That started here in Cleveland Heights, and then went to Boston and then to New York City.

It was an offshoot of mental health issues, which were exacerbated by drug problems, both of which started when I was in my teens. But one night, in the summer of 1967, when I was 18 and had recently quit high school, I knocked on the door of a fellow folk musician, who lived in an apartment above the Heights Art Theater (which later became the Centrum) at Coventry Road and Euclid Heights Boulevard.

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Volume 11, Issue 7, Posted 5:38 PM, 06.28.2018

Old friends

It was June 1961. I had just been released from Coventry School, for the summer and forever. I would be starting Roosevelt Junior High in the fall. Roosevelt stood on the land where Boulevard Elementary School is located now. Boulevard was there then, too, but in a different building. Roosevelt drew students who had gone to Coventry, Boulevard and Taylor schools.

On the first day of summer vacation that year, after sixth grade, I headed to Cumberland Park, correctly figuring it was populated mostly by Boulevard school kids, hoping to meet some who would also be going to Roosevelt in the fall.

Cumberland Park was very much the same then as it is now. One difference was that where the playground is now, and was then, there were many organized activities for kids of all ages, directed by a couple of college guys.

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Volume 11, Issue 6, Posted 10:03 AM, 06.04.2018

Standing my ground

I learned the Pledge of Allegiance early in elementary school. I learned it, but I never felt comfortable saying it, even as a little kid. I probably couldn’t have articulated this back then, but it seemed like something that shouldn’t have to be forced. That’s the way I felt about prayers in religious services, too: Either they should be natural and sincere, or you shouldn’t say them, because, I mean, what’s the point?

But during an assembly near the beginning of second grade at Coventry School, when we were supposed to be reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, an older kid standing next to me said, “All you have to do is say ‘watermelon, watermelon,’ and no one will know the difference.” So that’s what I did, for years, for the Pledge and for prayers.

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Volume 11, Issue 5, Posted 9:13 AM, 05.01.2018

The Second Sunday Brunch

Someone recently asked my wife and me how we met, and my wife and I both answered, in unison, “Over food.”

It’s true. It was at a Sunday brunch at the home of mutual friends in the spring of 1978. If that sounds like it was a long time ago, that’s because it was. Forty years. I did that math in my head—with the aid of four fingers. The 8 on the end helped.

A couple whom we both knew had bought a house in Cleveland Heights. They were the first of our friends to buy a house. They had a house-warming potluck brunch, to which they invited family and friends. As the day wore on, their family members left, but a group of friends stayed, and continued eating all the food that everyone had brought.

At some point, toward the end of the day, someone suggested doing this again, and everyone agreed. The next Sunday that everyone would be available was one month away, the second Sunday of the following month. So, we met again for a potluck brunch.

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Volume 11, Issue 4, Posted 11:22 AM, 03.31.2018

Some things that matter

I’m the administrator of a Facebook group called Growing Up in Cleveland Heights. I didn’t start the group. I joined the group. And my friend Jim and I used to complain, to each other, about things that people were posting. Then Jim started complaining to the founder and administrator of the group. After a while she asked him if he would take over as administrator. He did. Then he asked me to be co-administrator with him. I did. After several years, Jim died, unexpectedly. So now I’m the sole administrator. But I’ll be handing that off in the near future.

One thing that has been fascinating—and frustrating—is that the same topics keep coming up, over and over. Before people join, we ask them to look through past posts, to avoid bringing up topics that have been discussed a lot already. They don’t. Someone joins and immediately posts, “Does anyone remember Cumberland pool?”

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Volume 11, Issue 3, Posted 1:23 PM, 03.02.2018

A taste of Coventry

I was a real “Coventry” kid: I was born and grew up on a street nearby, and my mother started taking me shopping on Coventry from the time I was born (well, maybe a few weeks later . . . ). I walked up and down that street to and from Coventry Elementary School every day for seven years. Then I hung out on Coventry during my early teens, before the place was cool. And then, when it became a hippie haven, I was just the right age for that, so there I was.

Then I worked on the committee for those giant Coventry Street Fairs of the late ‘70s (I booked all the musical artists for a few years). I lived in seven or eight apartments on or around the corner from Coventry. And I worked at Rocco’s Market.

Rocco’s was situated in the courtyard of the former CoventryYard building, for a couple of years, starting in 1976, when it opened. CoventryYard, the building that now houses the Grog Shop and Inn on Coventry, was home to Tommy’s, the Light of Yoga Society restaurant, the original Mad Greek restaurant and the original Arabica coffee store—a tiny space from which Carl Jones only sold roasted coffee beans, before he moved the business to a much larger space upstairs and turned it into a sit-down coffee shop. There were also boutiques and art galleries in the building, before the 1978 fire that forced most of the businesses to either close or reopen elsewhere.

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Volume 11, Issue 2, Posted 10:56 AM, 02.01.2018

If music be the food of love . . .

I ate a stranger’s dinner—on purpose—when he wasn’t looking. It was around 1975 and I was playing music at earth by april, the vegetarian restaurant at the corner of Cedar and Lee, a space into which the Cedar Lee Theatre eventually expanded. They spelled earth by april in all-lower-case letters because the name came from an E.E. Cummings poem, and that’s what he did.
I played and sang my songs at that place, by myself, many weekend evenings in the ’70s, when I was in between rock bands. I sat on a high stool against the long wall of the main dining room, about three-fourths of the way back.
This one freezing-cold January night, there were few diners and by about 10 p.m. there was only one customer there. He sat in the front of the room, the Lee Road end of it, as far away from me as possible. He ordered his dinner and waited for it, ignoring me (he wasn’t the only one who did that back then).

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Volume 11, Issue 1, Posted 10:05 AM, 01.03.2018

Guns, records and charities

I got a gun. It was holiday present. It was plastic. And it was pink. And it shot rubber bands. I was 7 years old. The gun came with a target and I had fun shooting at it. Neither the gun nor the act of shooting it reminded me of the dozens of cowboy TV shows and films that had taken over the airwaves and the movie theaters at that time, the mid-1950s.

Many people who grew up back then are fond of saying, “Well, our generation played with toy guns and we didn’t grow up to be murderers.” Except for a couple of things they seem to have missed: Number one, yes we did, a lot of us; and number two, unlike today, until we were much older, there weren’t real guns everywhere and easily accessible to us.

But this isn’t about guns. It’s about Christmas and Hanukkah presents.

In this column one year ago, which was not about presents, I mentioned my favorite present ever, from Hanukkah 1957—a stack of about 35 records, the big hit singles of that time.

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Volume 10, Issue 12, Posted 11:25 AM, 12.04.2017

The Heights: training ground, for better or worse

November 1965. I had just started 11th grade at Heights High, though I wasn’t involved or engaged in school very much. I just showed up in the morning and left in the afternoon. In the morning I smoked a cigarette right up to the school’s property line; in the afternoon, I lit up a cigarette the second I hit Lee Road. In the morning I hitched a ride to school from Mayfield and Superior roads. After school, I walked down Washington Boulevard to Coventry Road and stopped at one of the three bakeries there to get a sweet roll to eat on the rest of the way to my house on Belmar, just off of Mayfield. I skipped school a lot, and often cut classes on days I did show up.

So, in other words, I spent that formative time learning bad habits—and I haven’t mentioned several others.

One particular early-November weekend that year, my friend, whom I’ll call Stuart, and I started out Friday evening at his mother’s apartment on Hampshire Road, writing a song—a fairly weak pretend-Beatles song—sitting on two beds in his room, each with a guitar, facing each other and hammering out the music and lyrics.

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Volume 10, Issue 11, Posted 9:46 AM, 11.02.2017

Two teachers

School always started in September when I was a kid—usually the Wednesday following Labor Day. But it was October, every year, when I established whom I was going to be that year. I was a different person just about every school year, from the sixth grade onward.

I was a guitar-playing misfit, then a greaser, a preppie, a Mod, a hippie, a (faux-)intellectual druggie. Each one brought with it a new set of friends, and clothes. And hairstyle. Through it all, some things remained constant: I was always a joker (usually for some sort of pre-emptive self-defense purposes), a musician and music lover, and a writer.

I went to Heights schools—Coventry, Roosevelt and Heights High—from kindergarten to almost the end of 12th grade, and in all that time, I had exactly two teachers who encouraged me. I guess I can’t blame the rest of them, though, because I always made it clear that I didn’t want to be there and didn’t care about anything that was happening there. Of course, on the other hand, that’s the kind of kid a teacher should try a little harder with, rather than just giving up, by October, and ignoring for the rest of the year.

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Volume 10, Issue 10, Posted 4:27 PM, 10.01.2017

Old friends, every 10 years

There’s something strange about being in a room with 200 people and knowing exactly how old every one of them is. That’s how it is at a class reunion. Some of the people look 10 years younger than that age; some look 10 years older than you’d expect; most look approximately how you think they should at this age. And you? You look exactly the way you did in high school. Exactly. No—middle school.

Being at a class reunion is not like going back in time; it’s like stepping into the future. Because you haven’t changed at all, when you see everyone else, it’s sort of like you’re thinking, “Oh—that’s how they’re going to look when they grow up.”

I attended two of the three parts of my 50th-year Heights High class reunion in August.

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Volume 10, Issue 9, Posted 12:17 PM, 08.22.2017

Every 10 years . . .

I don’t know if this is unusual or not these days, but when my class graduated from Heights High, there were at least 15 kids who had been there since we were in kindergarten. And that was just from my kindergarten class at Coventry School. The Cleveland Heights-University Heights system had 11 elementary schools at that time, so there may have been somewhere around 165 “lifers” in the senior class. And there were others, too, who moved into the system in first, second and third grade and then stayed for the whole ride.

So I don’t know if that would be out of the ordinary today. But what I do believe is unusual is that my parents both went through the Heights school system, and my kids did as well. Three generations is a lot, these days. And if plans don’t change, the fourth generation will attend Heights schools, too.

I’m thinking about this because my 50th high school reunion takes place this month.

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Volume 10, Issue 8, Posted 5:54 PM, 08.01.2017

The Summer of Love

It seems that 50 years ago should feel like a long time, but it doesn’t. Not to me. I guess if you’re 30, it would. But I’m not. I mean, I feel like I’m 30, but I’m twice that. At least. Actually, I still feel like I’m 18. Which I was 50 years ago.

If you are a longtime Cleveland Heights resident and are older than I am, and you remember when the hippies descended upon Cleveland Heights—specifically Coventry Road, between Mayfield Road and Euclid Heights Boulevard—and you recall being annoyed by them . . . well, I was one of those kids. And I knew you were annoyed. And I didn’t care. None of us did.

We moved into all the apartments and rental houses on Coventry, Euclid Heights, Hampshire and Lancashire.

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Volume 10, Issue 7, Posted 5:08 PM, 06.30.2017

'It was 50 years ago today . . . '

Two things happened on Friday, June 2, 1967, that made me really happy: The Beatles released their album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in America, and I quit high school.

I had been planning to quit school on the first day I was legally allowed to—May 21, my 18th birthday—but there were still a few Heights Choir events, like our spring concert, our album recording, and our annual dinner and awards night. And since the choir was the one and only reason I ever went to high school, I stayed enrolled to finish all of the choir activities.

I had been trying to quit school since the ninth grade. I often tried to reason with my parents, especially my father, that since I knew I was going to have a career in music, it would make more sense for me to get started on it, instead of wasting time in school. Looking back, more than 50 years later, I know I was actually correct about that.

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Volume 10, Issue 6, Posted 10:27 AM, 05.30.2017

'You know what's happening'

This is my photo of a storefront, a hair salon, on Mayfield Road. Recently, a guy I know posted a picture of the same place on Facebook, saying, “What is happening to my beloved city? Cleveland Heights.”

He received about 75 responses. People made comments like these: “Soon to be a slum.” “Not the Cleveland Heights that I remember!!!” “Next come the tumbleweaves.” “From what I hear, crime is becoming rampant.” “Wow . . . looks like it should be in a ghetto somewhere !!! What an eyesore !!!” “On a steady downturn and it's been happening for at least 40 years.” “It's not the Cleveland Hts we all grew up with.” “Now entering East Cleveland Heights. Get used to it.” “Looks like Noble Road.” “You know what's happening.”

There it is: “You know what’s happening.”

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Volume 10, Issue 5, Posted 9:42 AM, 05.02.2017

Don't stop believing

The April of when my daughter was 5, in 1992, we walked into our neighborhood supermarket, the Cedar-Fairmount Russo’s—or maybe it was Giant Eagle already, but I don’t think it was Dave’s yet—and her eyes immediately locked onto a giant stuffed Easter bunny that was sitting on a table near the entrance. She asked me why it was there. I explained that the store was holding a kids coloring contest for which the prize was that very toy, and that if she wanted to enter the contest, we’d pick up the form—a coloring-book-type line drawing of an Easter bunny—on our way out.

A couple of days later, we went back to the store and submitted her entry. I shopped at that store every two or three days back then, usually with my daughter. Starting the day we returned her entry, every time we arrived at the store and saw more and more of the contestants’ pictures on the walls, she became increasingly anxious and started telling me, every time, how much she hoped she’d win and how sad she would feel if she didn’t.

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Volume 10, Issue 4, Posted 5:45 PM, 03.30.2017

March-ing order

March in Cleveland can bring some of the worst winter weather of the year. But March also offers some major harbingers of spring.

Like the Cleveland International Film Festival. The festival itself has nothing to do with spring—I mean, it’s not like they screen 150 movies about nice weather—but it takes place at what is supposed to be the end of winter, and sometimes is the end of winter, but sometimes isn’t. A few years ago, the biggest snowstorm of the year took place on a Saturday in the middle of the film festival.

I decided to chance it—I had tickets to three CIFF films that day—so I drove down to Tower City from the top of Cedar Hill. I kept to the major roads all the way there, but none had been plowed. Luckily, I was able to follow a big truck and drove in its tracks. I didn’t see any other cars along the way, and I figured I was going to be the only one there. I thought they might give me a prize—maybe a pass for the rest of the festival—for being so loyal.

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Volume 10, Issue 3, Posted 6:35 PM, 02.28.2017

Maybe you heard me

In February 1980 I was working at WBBG-1260 AM. Nicknamed “Super Gold,” it was the AM sister to the rock station WWWM-FM, better known as M105. WBBG played oldies and employed popular Cleveland radio personalities from earlier eras, like Lou “King” Kirby and the legendary Bill Randle.

During the year prior to my working there, I had been an occasional comedy guest on two shows at the station—Willio & Phillio’s morning show on WBBG, and M105’s morning show, “Benson’s Bozo Breakfast Club,” hosted by Joe Benson (now a popular radio personality in Los Angeles).

Willio and Phillio left town toward the end of 1979, and at the beginning of 1980 I was hired to handle WBBG’s promotions and public relations. But my job immediately expanded.

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Volume 10, Issue 2, Posted 6:10 PM, 01.30.2017

The good January

January has always seemed like a kind of lonely month. All of the holiday stuff is over. It gets a lot quieter. People, in this climate, stay inside as much as possible. We don’t run into as many friends and acquaintances in stores or at parties (because there are no parties) as we did in December. It’s terribly cold outside (and sometimes inside), and it’s dark and bleak. College and professional football is over and baseball is still three months down the road. TV networks run miniseries at this time of year—from "Roots" to "Downton Abbey"—because people are stuck inside and bored. And reading is not a group activity.

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Volume 10, Issue 1, Posted 10:29 AM, 01.03.2017

Escaping December

I’m writing this in the middle of November. The weather here in Cleveland Heights has been warm and sunny. Most of the trees’ leaves are still green, as are all of the lawns around here. The predictions I’ve seen for December’s weather say the average temperature will be in the relatively warm 40s.

I work at an actual job three mornings a week. Almost everyone I work with there is a liberal, with one conservative. A few days ago, he came in marveling about how warm and nice the weather was for November, and how he couldn’t figure it out. He said several times, “I don’t understand what’s going on.” Finally, a few people said, "Global warming." He laughed and mockingly repeated, "Global warming."

I can’t say for sure if that's what is causing this weather, but I also don't want to simply dismiss the idea and laugh at it. I remember that when I was growing up, Decembers were always cold and snowy. And I've always hated cold and snowy.

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Volume 9, Issue 12, Posted 12:00 PM, 11.30.2016

Euclid Heights Boulevard freeze-out

I grew up near Coventry Road, on Belmar. In the 1950s, my family would often walk up to one of the delis on Coventry for dinner—especially Benky’s, which later became Irv’s. Irv’s is a story unto itself, but not for right now. At Benky’s, and then Irv’s, I usually ordered a chopped liver sandwich. I know, I know. But I grew up on that and I liked it.

In November 1967, when I was 18, I stopped eating chopped liver, because I became what I still am today, which I describe as a “non-practicing vegetarian.” Because I was (and am) a hippie. I lived in a series of crash pads with other young hippies, in the Coventry area. Though all of us hippies knew each other (whether we actually knew each other or not), and we all helped each other in any way we could, no other people treated us kindly, and the area was not hospitable to us.

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Volume 9, Issue 11, Posted 7:50 PM, 11.01.2016

The little, old man in 1954

When I was a kid, there was a little, old man who lived on my street, Belmar. When I say “little, old, man,” I mean all those words: He was a man, he was old, and he was little. And when I say “little,” I mean he stood about 4 feet tall. He wasn’t a Little Person; he was just a little person. Let’s call him Mr. Fink. By the time I was 5 years old, I was as tall as Mr. Fink. In October of the year I was 5, the Cleveland Indians were playing in the World Series. Well, for two days in October. There were no playoffs back then. There were only 16 MLB teams, eight in each league. The Indians had set the record that year for the most wins in a regular season—111, in a shorter season than the current ones—and then they got swept in the Series, 4-0, by the New York Giants, led by Willie Mays.

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Volume 9, Issue 10, Posted 2:40 PM, 09.30.2016

Finding Mawby's

The school year has begun, but the Cedar Lee area is devoid of high school students. They’re in their temporary quarters at the former Wiley Middle School, due to the massive renovation of the original Heights High building. From the 1920s till last year, this area has always been packed with high school kids before and after school. My parents went to Heights, as did my brothers and I, and then my kids. So my family has frequented the Cedar Lee district since the mid-1930s.

The other big difference is the dining scene at this intersection. Over there, where Royal Castle used to be is a non-place called Fresh & Meaty Burgers. The sign went up months ago, but nothing seems to have happened, and it looks like that restaurant is not going to materialize there.

I used to hang out there with friends and we would each order six of Royal Castle’s tiny hamburgers and a birch beer in, as they said, a frosty mug. There were no tables and chairs in that small space, just a counter with stools.

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Volume 9, Issue 9, Posted 2:46 PM, 09.01.2016

Major league folk music at Nighttown in August

Legendary folksinger and activist Peter Yarrow, of Peter, Paul and Mary, will open for my group Long Road at Nighttown this month.

Well, he’s not actually opening for us; but he’s playing before us. Okay—one night before us. In other words, he’s playing at Nighttown on Wednesday, Aug. 10; then we’re playing at Nighttown on Thursday, Aug. 11. So it’s sort of like a mini folk festival. At a well-known jazz club.

Peter Yarrow formed the trio Peter, Paul and Mary (PPM), along with Noel Paul Stookey and Mary Travers, in the early 1960s. The group found immediate success, with its first album selling more than 2 million copies. PPM helped put the not-well-known singer-songwriter Bob Dylan on the musical map when it scored a million-selling hit single of his song “Blowing in the Wind.” The group earned another big hit single, early in its career, with the Pete Seeger song “If I Had a Hammer.”

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Volume 9, Issue 8, Posted 6:09 PM, 07.29.2016

Invincible. Or maybe not ...

A friend of mine died recently. Jim was a few years older than I. When we met, in the late-1960s, he was a significant player in the local folk music scene here. At that time, I was starting out in the professional folk-singing world and he served as an unofficial mentor to me.

I soon left Cleveland for New York, where I recorded and toured and did all of the things that go with that business. A few years later, I returned to Cleveland to re-group, so to speak, and figure out how to proceed. While I was trying to determine what kind of musical project to start next, in that early-‘70s July, Jim offered me a gig backing him up in a club that was filled every night with Mafia-related figures and Mafia wanna-be figures.

This upstairs restaurant/downstairs bar was a nice spot in a wealthy section of town. It was the kind of place where every man who came in wore a jacket and tie—and carried at least one weapon, which he had used before and would, no doubt, again.

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Volume 9, Issue 7, Posted 5:51 PM, 07.01.2016

There goes the neighborhood—again

A few tattoo parlors have popped up in Cleveland Heights in the past year or so. And I’ve been hearing more and more people complaining about them. People around my age. But I’m not one of them, for a few reasons.

The first one is that it doesn’t matter to me, because, you know—who cares? Why should I, or you, care? If someone—someone who is not you—gets a tattoo, it doesn’t hurt you or do you any harm.

Second, getting tattoos is a big fad right now; people of all ages are getting them. And, I need to add, people of all races are getting them—because I know that’s a concern of many old white people. I’ve heard and overheard conversations about that. But white people are getting tattoos, too, in at least equal numbers—so don’t worry that your neighborhood will change in ways that you would rather it didn’t.

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Volume 9, Issue 6, Posted 5:52 PM, 05.31.2016

Corner the market

I thought of a good business to open: a dollar store. I think it would be good because I was driving around one day and I noticed a corner that didn’t have one.

Remember when almost every corner had a drugstore—I guess it was in the 1980s. A Gray Drugs on one corner of an intersection, a Revco on another, a Medic on yet another. The concept was to build your store right near the other ones and just hope you’d be the eventual winner. And that was building them from the ground up, not taking over an existing space. It was a big gamble, especially when you multiplied it by, say, 100 stores around the region.

Before that, all those corners held gas stations. You know the intersection of Coventry and Mayfield, where there are two gas stations? Once there were three, the third standing on the south-west corner, where the convenience store is located now. That one was heavily damaged in the early ’70s by a car bomb intended for a friend of legendary Cleveland mobster Danny Greene. The guy had become an enemy of Greene’s, and evidence indicated that Greene himself detonated the bomb from a block away. The intended victim was not killed, but the garage was destroyed and then replaced by a new building housing stores. (A couple of years later, Greene was killed by a car bomb in Lyndhurst after a dentist appointment. That’s why I never go to a dentist. You just never know.)

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Volume 9, Issue 5, Posted 12:08 PM, 04.30.2016

Make more mistakes

I attended Heights High in the late 1960s, and I know that at least some of this is my fault, but I didn’t take very many classes there that proved useful to me. Other than Choir, which was a class period and counted as a class, and which, as I often say, saved my life, I did take a business law course that helped me soon after I left school and started signing contracts in the music business; and a music theory class.

The music class was taught by the school’s band and orchestra director, Mr. Mackey, a man who had been born around the turn of the 20th century. He was a large, strict, mostly humorless, no-nonsense guy with a slight accent of some kind. I had taken music theory courses when I was younger and I knew the basics. This class covered the basics and then went beyond, at which point it became pretty interesting.

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Volume 9, Issue 4, Posted 1:51 PM, 03.28.2016

The kosher Chinese Philadelphia coloring book Seder

I recently found a coloring book among lots of papers in old file folders I was sorting through, trying hard to get rid of stuff I no longer needed. And, no, it wasn’t one of those fancy adult coloring books that are all the rage now. It was one that I bought for 25 cents, one March, about 16 years ago. My kids were in their early teens 16 years ago, so it wasn’t theirs. It was mine.

When I was a teen, March was always one of the hardest months for me to actually make it to high school classes. Every month was bad—I really hated school—but March was probably the worst. But even on many of the days I skipped school, I often snuck into Heights High for 4th-period choir (which you could do back then, but can’t now). Especially in March, because that was the month we usually had spring break (or, as we used to call it, “Easter vacation”); and that was when the Heights Choir went on tour for a week, to different cities, to perform and see the sights.

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Volume 9, Issue 3, Posted 7:59 PM, 03.01.2016

Merry Chris Mis

Cleveland Heights has long been known for its diversity. That’s why—well, one of the reasons—I was surprised to read a letter to the editor in the Plain Dealer a few years ago by a person from Cleveland Heights, who complained that people who aren’t overjoyed by someone saying “Merry Christmas” to them just aren’t . . . I don’t know—Christian, I guess.

So I wrote a letter to the editor myself. I don’t write many letters to the editor. My letter was, well . . . it was the only one I’ve ever written. It said:

“The Dec. 16 letter from Chris Mis ("Merry Christmas! Now did that hurt?") succinctly summarizes the attitude of many well-intentioned people who just don't get it. It says, ‘No one is being damaged or deprived by being wished Merry Christmas.’ Well, maybe not in the writer's unintentionally biased opinion.

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Volume 8, Issue 12, Posted 3:02 PM, 12.01.2015

Chez Bozo

November 1976—exactly 40 years ago—I wasn’t doing anything I was supposed to be doing. I was supposed to be writing music, playing my music (somewhere), writing comedy, performing comedy . . . those kinds of things. I just wasn’t. I was stuck.

I used to get together with other artist friends—musicians, actors, dancers, visual artists—and we’d all commiserate about that same situation. We would usually meet in bars. In the middle of the afternoon. We all hated doing that, but there wasn’t anywhere else to meet. This was before the big coffee movement. Or, at least, before it hit Cleveland. I was living in a small third-floor apartment in some unfriendly guy’s house. Everyone else had other reasons why we couldn’t gather at their places.

But one afternoon, a few of us were sitting around a table in Chester’s, a bar on Coventry, and someone wished aloud that there would be a place other than a bar where we could all meet.

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Volume 8, Issue 11, Posted 3:52 PM, 10.30.2015

Kids from other neighborhoods

One of the first Halloween costumes I can remember wearing was that of the Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz. I was in the second grade at Coventry Elementary School. Every year, on Halloween, students were allowed to wear costumes after lunch, for the rest of the afternoon. My Scarecrow costume was pretty close to the one Ray Bolger wore in the Wizard of Oz movie. But I insisted on dressing as the Scarecrow before Dorothy took him off his pole, when he had a broomstick, or something, through his sleeves to make his arms stick straight out at his sides. So my mother used a broomstick, minus the broom, for my costume.

But, of course, then I had to walk back to Coventry School, from Belmar and Mayfield roads, with my arms sticking straight out at my sides—and of no use to me—and then sit in class, with my arms sticking straight out at my sides. I began to lose the feeling in both of my arms, and my back and neck started hurting.

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Volume 8, Issue 10, Posted 8:47 AM, 10.01.2015

My years as Superman's pal

It’s not a story problem. But it’s a story—about math—and a problem.

I went to elementary school—Coventry—during the 1950s, the Cold War era. We practiced the “duck-and-cover” technique of sitting on the floor with our backs to a wall, bringing our knees up, and putting our heads on our knees with our arms wrapped around our heads. Doing that would protect us from the atomic bomb they assured us would be coming.

My third-grade teacher, a simple and not very insightful person, who was born in the late-1800s (and who also, by some cruel twist of fate, became my fourth-grade teacher), told us how, when the Russians did start to drop bombs on Cleveland, we would be taken away in buses with glass tops (so we could watch for the planes) to some forest, somewhere, without our parents.

I spent most of my time in her class doing two things: either staring out the window, fantasizing about Superman coming to save us all from “the Russians” and me from my school and teacher (and, in the process, making me his pal, instead of Jimmy Olsen); or making up jokes. As I got older, the Superman fantasies were replaced by writing songs and creating choral arrangements. Actually following the classes and their lessons never quite kicked in.

It was also during third grade when some man came in and, with the teacher, pulled each kid aside for a few minutes to pigeonhole us.

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Volume 8, Issue 9, Posted 2:15 PM, 08.31.2015

The porches of August

I was sitting on my deck, at the back of my house, communicating on Facebook, when something I read reminded me of the front porches of old, and how, when I remember the one on the house where I grew up, it makes me think of August.

Why August? I’m not sure. Possibly because, after spending about 10 weeks out there, I became aware of the subtle hints of the impending change of seasons, rather than—during the rest of the year, when I stayed inside much more—the big, obvious ones. Being out there every day, I'd notice signs, like the slight thinning of the leaves on our big trees that in June and July had blocked much of the sun from our west-facing upstairs porch. Or maybe it was because I knew, every year from the age of 5 through 18, that the new school year was only weeks, and then days, away, and how I dreaded going back to school every one of those years.

Our house, on Belmar, near Mayfield Road, was not a big one, but the porch stretched across the entire width of the structure, making the porch relatively large.

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Volume 8, Issue 8, Posted 11:02 AM, 07.31.2015

McElfresh and McGaughey—saving lives with music

I’m always saying that the Heights Choir saved my life. It’s true. I was headed in the wrong direction. Probably a few wrong directions. And even though I’d been singing and performing music professionally since I was around 13 years old, I did not get into the choir in my first year of high school—which, in those years, was the 10th grade—because of my grades.

I brought my grades up a little, just enough, and auditioned for the choir at the end of 10th grade and was allowed in for the next school year. Not only was it going to be my first year in the choir, but it would also be that of our new director, Claire McElfresh, who had served for several years as the director of the Men’s Chorus and Girl’s Glee Club.

The choir began its year two weeks before the school year started, meeting twice a day for a couple of hours each time. The very first minute of the first of those sessions set me on a course I’m still following, nearly 50 years later.

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Volume 8, Issue 6, Posted 11:01 AM, 05.29.2015

Why people don't come to my shows

I think I understand why people who have never heard me play music don’t want to come to hear me play music.

I mentioned in last month’s column that I had lots of musical training while growing up in Cleveland Heights, at music schools, music stores and in Heights public schools—Coventry Elementary, Roosevelt Junior High and Heights High. I didn’t mention that I quit high school, toward the end of my 12th-grade year in 1967, to pursue a career in music.

I moved to New York City and got into a rock band right away. That band eventually—a few years later and after many personnel changes—evolved into Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.

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Volume 8, Issue 5, Posted 6:35 PM, 04.30.2015

Heights High has 'really changed'—right?

In a few weeks, I’ll be standing on the stage of the Heights High auditorium. I appeared on that stage about 40 times while I was attending the school, in the late 1960s, usually performing music. This time I won’t be performing; I’ll be giving monetary awards to two graduating seniors who have excelled in music and the visual arts.

I have done this almost every year for the past decade, awarding the Friends of Cain Park Scholarship for Excellence in the Performing and Visual Arts to students who have not only excelled in their respective artistic areas, but have also decided to continue their studies of those fields in college, and are planning to use their skills and talents in their careers, often as a way to help others.

I’ve been a member of the Friends of Cain Park’s board since the group’s inception in 1991. I’ve served as the board’s president for the past 20 years, having been elected to the position at the only meeting I’ve ever missed. (So let that be a lesson to you about why it’s good to always attend your organization’s meetings.)

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Volume 8, Issue 4, Posted 10:38 AM, 03.31.2015

'Home to the Arts'

Cleveland Heights calls itself “Home to the Arts.” All the reading I’ve done about the city shows that this has always been true for at least a century, possibly because of its proximity to Severance Hall, the home of the Cleveland Orchestra; the Cleveland Institute of Music and the Music School Settlement; the Cleveland Institute of Art and the Cleveland Museum of Art; the Cleveland Play House; and others of the city’s great arts institutions that began in the early 1900s—and the fact that many of those organizations’ participants lived in Cleveland Heights.

From the time I started kindergarten at Coventry Elementary School and all the way through Heights High, there were always children of Orchestra members, of CIA and CIM instructors, and of others in my classes. And most of my own training took place right here as well.

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Volume 8, Issue 3, Posted 11:40 AM, 02.27.2015

'Wear Your Love Like Heaven'

“Wear Your Love Like Heaven.” The single by British singer-songwriter Donovan reached number 23 on the Billboard pop chart in November 1967. What did it mean, you ask? Well, while the words were typically obscure for that artist and, especially, for that era, “wear your love like heaven” meant, essentially, “be nice” and “don’t be afraid to show it.”

My father, in his later years, used to say, “People just aren’t very nice anymore.” He died in 1989. Imagine how he’d feel about that now.

A couple of weeks before my father died, I met and talked to Donovan. I had arranged to meet him after a concert he gave in Cleveland, to interview him for a magazine article. Though he has never really stopped performing and writing songs (never for very long, anyway), his biggest successes came in the mid- to late ‘60s and early ‘70s.

When Donovan played that concert in Cleveland in the late ‘80s, it had been a long time since he’d performed here.

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Volume 8, Issue 2, Posted 10:15 AM, 02.02.2015

Full Circles

This 1969 Moby Grape song has been playing in my head a lot lately. It starts with the words “Changes, circles spinning. Can’t tell the ending from the beginning.” Many other popular songs carry the same message—like Joni Mitchell’s “Circle Game” and “Circle of Life” from “The Lion King”—because while the experience is one that’s common to most of us, it’s also still sort of a phenomenon: the realization that a lot of our important occasions repeat in different (or, sometimes, the same) ways; that some significant life-cycle events eventually come “full-circle.”

During all the years I worked full-time as a rock musician, I had to work various day jobs to be able to afford my so-called “full-time” music career. Those jobs always involved food—cooking in restaurants and for catering companies, in a hospital kitchen, and other culinary institutions. My favorite of those jobs was at Rocco’s Market in Coventry Village in the middle and late 1970s. Rocco’s was a gourmet deli and produce shop in the structure that had housed the garage for the former apartment building that became CoventryYard (the space now inhabited by the Grog Shop and the Inn on Coventry).

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Volume 8, Issue 1, Posted 11:38 AM, 01.05.2015

A bit of history, alive and singing

You’ve never heard of one of the most important people in history. Probably. A tiny percentage of the people who read this article will recognize the name Jackie Washington (though some of those might be thinking of one of the two other semi-famous Jackie Washingtons). The Jackie Washington I’m talking about is performing at Nighttown on Nov. 11, which I find amazing, because he's historic, and because it is such a rare appearance.

Here’s why, in a ridiculously simplified overview, I think Jackie Washington is historically significant: The late-'50s and early-to-mid-'60s folk music scene encompassed the Folk Revival and the original singer-songwriter movements. Following the Kingston Trio’s million-selling single “Tom Dooley,” on Capital Records, which took everyone by surprise in 1958, all of the other labels signed a few folk artists, hoping to cash in on what they determined was a folk music fad.

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Volume 7, Issue 11, Posted 6:43 PM, 10.30.2014

Elvis and the Russians vs. the New Math

Two things happened to me in school in October 1957 that altered the course of my life. They were different, unrelated things, until they came together several years later.

First, I should say that every teacher I had, all the way through Coventry Elementary School, had been born around the turn of that century, 1900, and most, probably, in the 1890s. You know Western movies and cowboy TV shows? That was the 1890s. Just for a reference point; and just for some background.

Here’s more background: 1957 was the peak of the first wave of rock music, with hit records by rock pioneers including Elvis Presley, the Everly Brothers, Little Richard, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, Eddie Cochran, Fats Domino, Ricky Nelson, the Coasters and others.

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Volume 7, Issue 10, Posted 11:53 AM, 09.30.2014

What I did and didn't learn at Heights High

I told my father that when I grew up, I wanted to get a job thinking. He said, “Good luck.” But, really, that’s what my jobs as a writer and a musician are—thinking. The writing and performing parts come last, after a lot of thinking.

That conversation with my father took place 50 years ago this month, in September 1964. It was a sunny Sunday following my first week of high school, at Heights High, and I started out with some vague notion of trying a little harder that year to stop being such a terrible student.

I sat down in my room to read a chapter in my history textbook, about which I was then supposed to write a paper. I read the chapter and then started on the paper, by which I mean I started thinking about it. But my eyes fell on a magazine I’d recently purchased called Hootenanny, about folk music and musicians.

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Volume 7, Issue 9, Posted 10:23 AM, 08.29.2014

20 songs about death adds up to one fun afternoon

Last summer, my folk group, Long Road, played a small number of concerts, on occasions that included the National Senior Games and the grand opening of Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging. It appeared that a pattern was forming, and I couldn’t help but wonder where we would go from there and where we would play this summer.  I got my answer: Lake View Cemetery.

It seems like a natural next step—not that I feel ready to take that next step in real life. But show biz is another thing.

Among the beautiful and historic cemetery’s many wonderful features, it offers a summer concert series, now in its second year. The free concerts will be held on certain Sunday afternoons from 4 to 6 p.m. near the James A. Garfield Monument.

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Volume 7, Issue 7, Posted 6:38 PM, 07.01.2014

Pop music legend to play Cleveland Heights

When I was in 10th grade at Heights High in 1964, I took a trip to New York City. While I was there, I went to the famous Café au Go Go to hear this band I’d heard about, the Blues Project. I thought it was going to be an acoustic group because the one member I’d heard before—Danny Kalb—had appeared a year or so earlier on a compilation album, also called "The Blues Project," which featured several young, white acoustic blues artists.

When the band appeared on stage, I was shocked—and disappointed—to see that it was a rock band. But when they started playing, right from the very first note, I was completely mesmerized and enthralled.

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Volume 7, Issue 6, Posted 3:25 PM, 06.02.2014