Monday, October 31, 2011

Waiting For Lefty (2011)

The People's Theatre is not aligned with any political party. That is the euphemistic way of saying that it is not Communistic, and its organizers wish you to be clear about that. - William F. McDermott, The Plain Dealer, 1935
When I moved to Cleveland Heights we had three theaters. Name me another American suburb that can boast having three theaters. Well, anyway, time passed and by 2005 we had none. Ensemble lost their lease at the Civic, Dobama had been evicted from Coventry, and like all things Jewish, the JCC had moved from Cleveland Heights to Beachwood.

The new Mandel Jewish Community Center has many exciting new features, but theater? Eh, not so much. Dobama managed miraculously to maintain an identity in the wild before returning to the Heights at their fine new home in the CH-UH Library complex. And Ensemble has carved a new home out of the former Coventry Elementary School, and a really great space it is.

Two out of three? Not bad.

This afternoon I caught the closing performance of Ensemble's production of Waiting For Lefty, the first show in this new theater space. Life has not been kind to my wife's extended family the past several weeks, and in spite of wanting to catch numerous productions this fall, several closed this weekend without an opportunity for us to see them. At least I could catch this 70-minute program in my own backyard.

Seated in the front row, I invited Mike Partington to take the chair next to mine. It had been years since we had had the chance to talk, and this week I saw him both at Harvey's Tribute and in this place. Mike's got some years on me, our pre-show conversation had a lot to do with theater space, how he first reacted to the new Bolton Theatre at the Play House -- same as almost everyone else, really, stunned that they had dumped a thrust stage at East 77th Street to add yet another proscenium.

Ensemble Theatre has a thrust, with seating sections on three sides. It feels more like the old Dobama on Coventry than the new Dobama does. The platform stage is so close to the audience, and actors make entrances and exits through the house as well as through the wings. I love that.

I was very pleased to see such a large audience on a Sunday afternoon. Sunday matinees are notoriously depressing in Cleveland, with maybe ten to twenty people in the house. It was quite a full house!

So. First time seeing Waiting For Lefty in its entirety. How does it hold up? Interesting! While employing period costumes and some kind of non-specific tough-guy New Yawk accents, the Ensemble production utilized their large video screen to bridge scene changes with footage and music from the future (HUAC testimony, Occupy Wall Street demonstrations) to empasize the continuing resonance of the work.

Remember: The Living Newspaper performances of the 1930s did use film projections and live music to bridge scene changes, and as commentary!

However, having just directed a staged reading of It Can’t Happen Here, I have been disabused of the notion that writing from the 1930s is dated, or must feel dated. Sinclair Lewis words, spoken by a contemporary cast, was suprisingly fresh, meaningful, humorous and resonance with our modern audience last Monday night. People were taken with the story, and moved by its conclusion.

A friend who caught the show reflected how much more slangy Lefty is, which explains why it is seems dated. Also, there’s no real story to be swept up in, it is a collection of vignettes on a common theme. It’s like Saturday Night Live without punchlines.

But that’s not the real problem with its presentation as a contemporary work. It’s one long debate, more like Greek drama than soap opera. For example, the tale of a young suitor, on a perfect summer’s evening, breaking up with his devoted gal because he can never be the man that she deserves in this economy, where the bosses and the company men keep the worker under his boot, where a guy can’t earn a crust while Uncle Sam stands idly by, doing as little as possible because the truth is The Man still mans the controls of government and always will, so the little guy is left to gasp meekly for dignity - let alone a dollar, and its high time we pulled together and rose up to demand what is coming to us, an eight hour day, a pension and a heart handshake, but until that day comes I will never be the kind of joe who can care for a girl the way she deserves to be treated, and not like some two-bit floozy, always promising, never committing, I mean what kind of life is that for a young American lady? The Masters of Power don’t care about these things, the velvet-gloved capitalist executive sees the workers as an endless supply of hands and muscle to hoist the gears that make the things that fill their endless, bulging pockets …

Hey, baby, where you going?

After the performance, the audience was invited into another part of Coventry Elementary (wait, do we have a name for this new community facility concept?) for a special event celebrating the opening of Lake Erie Ink.

What's that, you say? So glad you asked! It's a drop-on center for area youth with an emphasis on creative writing! HOW AWESOME IS THAT??? It's like an 826 Valencia for Cleveland Heights. I mean, it is an 826 Valencia for Cleveland Heights.

And wow-man-wow, there were a lot of people there! Cleveland Heights Poet Laureate Cavana Faithwalker represented, and world-renown hipster-shaman-beatnik-poet Ray McNiece was on hand to lead children in poetry exercises. There were a number of writing activities for young and old, I wrote a haiku on a paper pumpkin:


Hey! You! Douchebag in the hat!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Vampyres (1997)

Seventeen years ago the world ended. And another began. The summer of 1994 stretched on until deep into November. I was playing games I would never play again, making foolish decisions which would define the rest of my life. I have few friends that pre-date that time.

One day in January, 1995 I came home from my shift at the pizza restaurant to find half of the house was empty. There was no longer a piano, a dresser, a bed. It was time to rebuild.

The music was dark, the house was cold. I boarded a train to New York on most frigid weekend of the year, to visit my new girlfriend. I had a PowerBook. I had destroyed my theater company, I had destroyed my marriage. I was full of hope, and I feared there would be no future. I started to write a play.

By late 1996, life was rich and decadent. Long nights of drink and smoke, producing crazy theater on Coventry, live music shows, late hours at new friends’ apartments. I got the green light fo The Vampyres in Dobama’s Night Kitchen. We had tapped professional musicians to write rock songs for the show. The production was the greatest attempt to incorporate a DNK show into the mainstage, our set melded perfectly with theirs, transforming the humble, mid-century home of Beast on the Moon into the dark and stylish coffee shop called The Night Kitchen.

Critics hate this play. The protagonist is a former actor who cowardly abandons his career in the arts to pursue on in medicine, but he can’t help but comment on everything, judging the girl he hasn’t seen since high school for wanting to be an artist (even though he still wants to bang her,) transparently hits on the teenage barista, and displays naked jealousy of the two musicians that frequent the place who may, or may not, be real vampires.

Maurice Adams, Brian Pedaci

In the end, this pathetic wanna-be gets literally and figuratively fucked up the ass.

Christine Howey called it a "misbegotten effort."

The Free Times called it, "more hollow than haunting."

Tony Brown said it was "juvenile" and "infantile blathering."

The original production in 1997 was too long by half. Cleveland Public Theatre produced an edited version in 2005, and I was very happy to have the chance to present it with the most of the flab cut from it, but it was still such a nasty piece of work and I was no longer in that place. I find it difficult to reconcile my disconnect with this work that I spent so much energy living in. It’s obvious who wrote it. But I cannot believe there was ever so much anger and hurt in me.

In spite of critical derision, or perhaps because of it, it was a very successful run. One of the best attended Night Kitchen shows I produced. Houses were full, there were small tables on the stage for audience members to sit at to give the impression that The Night Kitchen (the coffee house) actually had customers in it. Elizabeth (as Claire the barista) was onstage during preshow serving coffee and pocketed the tips.

Cool Cleveland called The Vampyres, "Sinister, sexy, perverse and hilarious."

Anastasia Pantsios said it had “an intensity that makes the waters in which it wades feel very deep and dangerous indeed.

Dobama Artistic Director Joyce Casey didn't actually want me to produce the piece. She was concerned that it glorified cutting and drug-use. When I moved on from Night Kitchen, DNK Artistic Director Dan Kilbane produced Mark Ravenhill's Shopping and Fucking.

Cutting bad. Screwdriver-sodomy good. Got it.

Happy Halloween

Saturday, October 29, 2011

American Freedom Train

In the early 1970s a commodities broker and train enthusiast, Ross Rowland Jr., was concerned that the Bicentennial was approaching with little or no fanfare. The Vietnam War and the Watergate crisis had the nation in the grip of a malaise, and no one was feeling particularly patriotic -- or if they were, they were kind of aggressive about it.

To that end he worked to find corporate sponsors to fund a steam locomotive carrying 10 cars of artifacts central to America's history and identity. The red-white-and-blue engine dubbed American Freedom Train went from city to city, a traveling museum for families to enjoy in the run-up to the Bicentennial year. Rowland was inspired by a similar event in the late 1940s, also called the Freedom Train.

These displays included George Washington's own copy of the Constitution featuring his handwritten notes, clerical robes belonging to and worn by Dr. Martin Luther King, Judy Garland's Wizard of Oz costume, Joe Frazier's boxing shorts, and a moon rock. There were stops in each of the lower 48 states.

A pennant just like this one hung on my bedroom wall.

Seven million people boarded America's Freedom Train, and I was one of them when it was stationed just west of Cleveland Stadium from May 14-20, 1975. This is a hazy memory for me, as I wasn't yet seven, but I was aware it was a very special event. The attraction concluded on December 31, 1976 in Miami, Florida.

American Freedom Train from pixy on Vimeo

"President Ford strongly urged parents and teachers 'to make sure that your children and students take advantage of this wonderful opportunity.'"

All aboard, America!


Friday, October 28, 2011


"OUTLAW is a new concept in video entertainment. OUTLAW invites the player for the first time to physically match his skill against a video gunfighter in one of America's most traditional contests … the fast-draw shootout." - promotional advertisement
Atari introduced PONG in 1972, the first massively successful arcade video game. There were several imitators, and by Christmas 1975 they had created a home version, sold exclusively through Sears.

Outlaw was rolled out in 1976, and holds a place in history as the original First Person Shooter (FPS) game. It was a "quick draw" gun battle, featuring a mock Colt .45, holstered into the machine, and you could only draw it at appropriate times to fire at the desperado who charged out into the middle of Main Street to challenge you.
"Realistic animation, audio footsteps and gunfire add up to irresistible realism." - promotional advertisement


The console featured a plastic screen overlay, which gives the illusion of more sophisticated graphics. The cabinet Outlaw is not to be confused with the Atari 2600 version, which is much more like Taito arcade game Gun Fight (1975) which features players positioned at the right and left of the screen.

Gun Fight

My family had a Coleco Telstar. It was the most exciting game I have ever seen on my TV set.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Harvey Pekar Tribute (Yes on 6)

From Harvey Pekar's Cleveland
Art by Joseph Remnant
Zip Comics, (Publication Date: March 2012)
Used with permission.

The Harvey Pekar Tribute was held at the Cleveland Heights Main Library on Tuesday night. There was a great turnout, and many had the opportunity to share stories about the impact Harvey had on their life. Steve Presser was the master of ceremonies, but really, so was Joyce Brabner, as she offered her own insight into several of the reminiscences. Al Branstein told that awesome American Splendor piece about the sea mammal strapped to the roof of this guy's car, poems were read, there was laughter and tears, Toby was there, Ernie Krivda played Blues for Pekar.

Read about the Harvey Pekar Memorial Statue and how to contribute.

Joyce asked me to read from the as-yet-unpublished Harvey Pekar's Cleveland, which should be required reading everywhere. You may soon be able to acquire an illustrated history of Cleveland, dating back to the real Indians to the present, as well as Harvey's place in it all. I was struck by and delighted to read that he chose to include full-throated support for the CH-UH school system in this work.

These are my reasons for supporting this CH-UH School Levy, Issue 6:
I am a twenty-year resident of Cleveland Heights. This is the city my children will call their hometown. My daughter is eight, my son is six. They attend Noble Elementary, I am a member of the Noble PTA. My children are very happy at their school, and they are very proud of their school. And so am I.

For ten years I have worked with the education department at Great Lakes Theater, and through the residency program I have had the opportunity to visit private and public schools across Northern Ohio. Through this experience and my time as a member of our PTA I have learned that keeping our American schools strong requires constant attention, care and communication. That is true whether your school is a parochial school, a Montessori school or one of our public institutions, the public schools which make education available to every child, that give every child a chance.

The CH-UH School Board have shown that attention, and have put forth tremendous effort to craft a reorganization plan to improve our schools, schools that are already strong to begin with. This is a very exciting time for our schools, and it comes at a critical moment. And we need support from the community to make it successful.

Voting Yes on Issue 6 will improve your CH-UH schools. Improving the schools will add value to your neighborhood. It will increase the value of your home. Do I know these things to be true? Yes. Yes, I do. Because I have faith; faith in our school board, faith in the parents and teachers and administrators of Cleveland Heights schools, faith in my community. And my children have faith in all of us to do the right thing.

From a Cleveland Heights parent: Please vote Yes on Issue 6.
ELECTION DAY 2011 UPDATE: We won, and by a lot. So relieved, such a good feeling. Thank you, Heights, for stepping up for our children and our community.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Alhambra Theatre

The Alhambra was at 10403 Euclid at the corner East 105th Street. Built in just after the turn of the 20th century as a vaudeville house, legend has it the young Bob Hope was taken there by his parents when he was a boy. The young lad also hustled pool next door. In 1907 a church organ was installed, and they billed the place as "The House With the Organ." This was when the One-Oh-Five was called by some "Cleveland's Second Downtown."

As motion pictures took hold, the Alhambra became a movie palace. The place seated 1,100 in the mezzanine, with another 400 in the balcony.

The Hough and Glenville riots cemented the end of white Clevelanders relationship with the 105th Street district and it fell into steep economic decline. One black real estate developer, Winston E. Willis purchased a number of properties, opening small businesses to raise the level of opportunity in the neighborhood. However, the city took possession of property throughout the area by eminent domain to provide to the ever-expanding Cleveland Clinic.



Cleveland Memory Project

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Randall Park Mall

Benjamin bear looks for his girl Missy in Randall Park Mall.
"Cleveland Is A Warm, Fuzzy Place" (1977)
"There's going to be a transfer of power ... from the central city to the southeast part of Cleveland ... I believe that after today the forces that want to keep downtown Cleveland intact had better get on their horse and start riding real fast."
- Randall Park Mall Developer Ed DeBartolo, 1973
Two million square feet of shopping ecstasy, the Randall Park Mall opened to the public on August 11, 1976. At the time it was the largest indoor shopping mall in the world. The city of North Randall had a population of 1,500. Randall Mall Park employed 5,000.

Randall Park didn't have one, but FIVE department stores; Higbee's, The May Company, Sears, JC Penney, and the Joseph Horne Company. The place was so big, some stores had two locations, one on each floor! There were over 200 hundred stores in all. And it was stylish -- marble columns, real tile floors, beautiful ceilings and futuristic ramps and crossovers.

The joy was short-lived however. With two years, the Beachwood Mall opened, siphoning away well-heeled customers, and the place began losing any of its original luster before the end of the 1970s. The place was just so vast, and little thought had gone into long-term maintenance. Attending the movie theater (and using its bathrooms) required trips up and down many staircases, and the theater (and its bathrooms) were filthy and dysfunctional. By the mid-1980s the mall was considered downright dangerous, and suburban residents began to refer to it as Vandal Dark Mall ... "dark" because, you know, the lights were out in all the closed storefronts.

Randall Park Mall closed in 2009.

UPDATE: Found this PD op-ed piece celebrating the opening of Randall Park Mall from August 1976.

Outside Cleveland, Snapshots of Poverty’s Surge in the Suburbs New York Times, 10/25/2011
The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

Monday, October 24, 2011

History Repeating

This week, 22 theaters (see listing below) in the United States and Great Britain will present It Can't Happen Here in celebration of the 75th Anniversary of its debut on October 27, 1936 in 21 theaters across America as part of the Federal Theatre Project.

I am very glad to say that Cleveland, one of the original cities to present this work, will be represented.

TONIGHT! FREE AND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC! Seriously, no reservations will be accepted, please come to Cleveland Public Theater tonight at 7 PM for all the fun. We will begin with a brief, ten-minute play I wrote about backstage jitters prior to the opening night at the Carter Theater at East 9th and Prospect (fiction) and critical and popular reaction to the production (non-fiction.)

Also featured will be Cleveland historian John Vacha, to share images from the original production and special insight into the Federal Theater Project.

Then the main event, a staged reading of the drama as written by Sinclair Lewis and John C. Moffitt for the 1936 productions. If you have ever seen or read the dramatic version of It Can't Happen Here, you most likely have not read this one. He rewrote the entire thing for a professional (non-Federal Theater) production two years later, and that is the one available through Dramatists Play Service.

I am extremely pleased with the company for tonight's reading, some of my favorite performers in Cleveland, from many different Cleveland area theaters.

Even more important, I am more impressed with the script, now that I have heard it read aloud by professionals. I think this play would have seemed hopeless dated fifteen years ago, but now I am no longer sure. There are certain passages that fill me with a great deal of unease. 1936 was a turning point in the Great Depression, FDR was up for reelection and there were those who feared he had gone too far -- and the unequaled landslide victory he received a week after the premiere of this play I am sure made some feel even more concerned about one man having too much power.

Tomorrow Vacha and I will appear on WCPN's Around Noon, which will feature the performance of a scene which includes this passage; young Julian Falck has joined Presidential candidate, Senator Buzz Windrip's band of Corpos, who act as Windrip's own corps of Brownshirts:
I've worked exactly four months during the past year --and that' s better than most of my classmates. Youth today isn't asking for a cinch or looking for glory! Youth is yelling for a job! And the Corpos will find one for me! They'll tell me what to do, and they'll feed me! They'll shake off this bungling "Democracy" and order things so that we'll get a living. When that happens -- I'll get a sweet, wholesome girl, and stop playing Romeo to a vacant balcony. We're not bandits! We're realists. We're through sitting around being Parlor Pinks. We're working together -- behind Buzz Windrip, the Man on Horseback.
Tea Party or Occupy Wall Street? A little bit of both. Not sure I can tell.

Be there.


Sponsoring Theatres:
Dell'Arte International, San Francisco Mime Troupe
Consideration provided by:
Dramatists Play Service, New York


MONDAY, OCTOBER 17th - 7:00 pm

The Living Theater in collaboration with the Accidental Repertory Theater
... The Living Theatre, 21 Clinton St., NYC

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 23rd - 7:00 pm

presented by Burning Clown Productions in concert with the Workshop Theater Company
Ellington Room, Manhattan Plaza, 400 W 43rd St., 2nd Floor, NYC

MONDAY, OCTOBER 24th - times vary (see each listing):

San Francisco Mime Troupe - 7:00 pm
855 Treat Ave., San Francisco CA

Cleveland Public Theatre - 7:00 pm
6415 Detroit Ave., Cleveland OH

Bruka Theatre - 7:00 pm
99 N. Virgina St., Reno NV

Mitchell Theatre, Vilas Hall - 7:00 pm
University of Wisconsin - Madison, WI

Museum of History & Industry - 7:00 pm
presented by Global Works
2700 24th Ave. East, Seattle WA

Syracuse University Drama Department - 7:00 pm
Archibald Theatre, 820 E. Genesee St., Syracuse NY

Spotlight "Still Got It" Players - 7:00 pm
Village Theatre at Cherry Hill
5400 Cherry Hill Rd., Canton, MI

Atlantic Stage, 79th Avenue Theatre - 7:30 pm
900 79th Ave N, Myrtle Beach SC

Great Basin College - 7:30 pm
1500 College Parkway, Elko NV

Dell'Arte International - 8:00 pm
Carlo Theatre, 131 H Street, Bluelake CA

Random Radio People broadcast - 8:00 pm
KMUD radio 91.1 FM

The Blank Theatre's Living Room Series - 8:00 pm
2nd Stage Theatre, 6500 Santa Moncia Blvd., Hollywood CA

The Desert Rose Playhouse - time TBD
6921 Montgomery Blvd. NE, Albuquerque NM

Le Petomane Theatre Ensemble - time TBD
Iroquois Ampitheater, 1080 Ampitheater Rd., Louisville KY

The Rogue Theatre - time TBD
300 E. University Blvd., Tucson AZ

The Ghost Road Company & Trade City Productions --7:30 PM
The Village Green Clubhouse
5300 Rodeo Road, Baldwin Hills, CA 90016\ghostroadcompany

Fuse Theatre Ensemble--7:30 PM
Arena Stage, Theater
Portland, OR

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 25th - 6:30 pm

Locust Productions, Kirkwood Theatre
400 Walnut St., Des Moines IA

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 26th - 8:00 pm

The Antaeus Company, DeafWest Theater
5114 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood CA

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 27th - 1-6 pm (GMT)
ARTEL (American-Russian Theatre Ensemble Laboratory), Leeds
Alec Clegg Studio, Leeds, UK

Sunday, October 23, 2011


In 1968 the call sign for WHK-FM was changed to WMMS (reflecting then ownership of the MetroMedia corporation) and fiddled around with several different formats - "Progressive" Rock, adult contemporary - until 1973 when John Gorman took over as music director. Gorman would shepherd the station for the 13 years, establishing a popular rock music identity that, to this Gen-X citizen, remains the longest-lived and only truly distinctive personality a pop music station in Cleveland has ever had.

What other radio station gets a heads-up in Almost Famous? That's right.

WMMS takes credit for breaking Bruce Springsteen, as well as a largely disproportionate number of other Columbia Record label stars of the 1970s and 80s. Wait, did I say that?

Genesis played a two-night gig at the Music Hall on April 14 & 15, 1976 promoting A Trick of the Tail, their first studio album without original frontman Peter Gabriel. The second performance was broadcast on WMMS.

Click to enlarge.

Former Plain Dealer columnist Karen Sandstrom is now a burgeoning illustrator, and keeps a very handsome blog chronicling her work and her progress. Yesterday she shared a sketch for a potential book, a drawing of the legendary creature Squonk. A North American mythical creature, when captured the Squonk will weep so terribly that it entirely dissolves into tears.

Squonk (as Sandstrom notes) is the subject and title of the first track on A Trick of the Tail. Considering the concern many fans had that reedy-voiced drummer Phil Collins would never be able to step out of Gabriel's shadow, Squonk sounds almost intentionally brash, deep and rich.

There remains controversy as to whether or not the final refrain is a very personal jab at their recently departed lead singer:
All in all you are a very dying race
Placing trust upon a cruel world.
You never had the things you thought you should have had
And you'll not get them now,
And all the while in perfect time
Your tears are falling on the ground.
Unfortunately, this 1976 performance of Squonk was, for some reason, not recorded by WMMS for broadcast.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Howard the Duck (comic strip)

On June 6, 1977 Marvel began publishing a daily comic strip of their hit title Howard the Duck. For almost a year, in addition to the monthly book and additional responsibilities (the legendary KISS comic book, anyone?) Steve Gerber scribed this daily attack on the sensibility of the conservative Plain Dealer reader with his demented commentary on daily American life.

Thank God he had Gene Colan and Val Mayerik to work with, or there would not have been a chance in hell of cramming HTD's signature attention to absurd and gritty detail into those tiny little panels.

Letter to the Editor of the Toronto Star, August 1977:
"The idea of anyone getting one ounce of enjoyment out of (this strip) is more than I can bear ... there is no reason for you to continue printing this strip." - Simon Ives, President, Howard the Duck Hate Club
I am not unfamiliar with hate mail to the editor.

Less than a year later, as Gerber's relationship with Marvel was unraveling, due to his extensive workload, (see HTD ish #16) he was pulled from the book and also the strip. From that point on the execrable Marv Wolfman was given writing responsibilities for both, and illustration for the strip was handled by Alan Kupperberg, whose work is simply horrid.

I have a hazy memory of this guy, a TV character on Channel 8 (I believe) who did the intro to Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman or something, which ran after the 11 o'clock news. He would read that day's Howard the Duck comic strip out of the Plain Dealer like some kind of Mayor Laguardia. If anyone can clear flesh that out for me I would appreciate it.

The comic strip was discontinued in October, 1978 after a sixteen-month run.


Friday, October 21, 2011


As a nine year-old growing up in suburban Cleveland, Ohio, it was stuff like that bred in me a rich vein of arch fuckery:

Saturday Night Live
Season 3: Episode 9
January 21, 1978


Salesman.....Bill Murray

Salesman: [ seated at lunch counter ] As a salesman, I do a lot of traveling. And when it comes to lunch, I grab what I can, usually on the run. And when I want mineral water, I keep it simple, and I keep it domestic. [ places bottle on counter ] I drink Swill. The water that's dredged from Lake Erie.

[ voice over video of Swill being dredged from Lake Erie ]

Nothing's added to Swill. It comes straight from the Lake to you. Maybe you thought only European countries had mineral water, but let me tell you: we bottle some pretty special water right here in America.

[ cut back to Salesman at lunch counter ]

Yeah. America. Water with a character all its own. Swill's refreshing; it's low in calories; and Swill helps wash down a hearty meal like this that tends to just lay in your stomach. [ pours runny ketchup on his hamburger ]

[ Music Over: "Anticipation" by Carly Simon ]

[ Plays as Swill slowly pours into Salesman's glass, complete with sludge, dirt and a flip-top from a soda can ]

Salesman: I like mine with a twist. [ squeezes a lime wedge into his glass of Swill ]

Announcer: Swill. Everything you've always wanted in a mineral water. And more.

SNL Transcripts

(Kids: Ask your folks what the hell a flip-top is.)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Bearden's (2011)

"What pretty people you work with." - The Wife

Last May I was depressed to report that iconic Cleveland area burger joint Bearden's had fallen on hard times, and closed due to a poor economy and the apparently endless reconstruction of Lake Road running past its door. Rumors of some kind of arrangement to keep the doors open did not prevent it from closing last December, apparently for good ... because really, what business ever truly rises from the dead?

Bearden's does! It reopened last week -- and it's FABULOUS! I was looking forward to bringing my young protégées from the Great Lakes Theater residency program there during a break in classes at Kensington Intermediate, wanting to share a little Cleveland history. I was unaware of the extremely attractive redesign the place has received!

New owner Jim Griffiths could have kept the former decor and old fans would have returned, but he raised the game by changing the model of service, and completely replacing all fixtures and tables. It has a very retro 40s/50s look, the place is brightly lit, a fantasy in formica and aquamarine cush. Instead of the oft-complained about waitresses (sorry, ladies) you order at the counter, and they bring your meal to you at table.

Is there a train? Yes, there's a train - a NEW train! Presumbly one that won't break down every hour or so.

And the food? It's the same! Which means ... it's okay! It's a burger and a pile of onion rings and a milkshake, what did you expect? It's Bearden's!

Bearden's (1954)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The City Club

Ray Osrin, The Plain Dealer
April 17, 1976

James Earl "Jimmy" Carter, Jr. (born October 1, 1924) spoke Before the City Club of Cleveland on April 9, 1976. The former Governor of Georgia found it necessary to cancel an earlier scheduled appearance in December, and this later date brought him to Cleveland not as a little-known contender against the likes of George Wallace, Sargent Shriver and Jerry Brown, but as the apparent front-runner for the Democratic nomination for President.

The City Club of Cleveland was founded in 1912 to be a venue for the free and open expression of topical and often controversial subject matter, often in the form of debate, followed by questions from the audience. Over the years this weekly forum has been broadcast on radio and television, and until 1976 they produced the annual Anvil Revue, a satirical take on Cleveland society and politics.

The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History
Cleveland Memory Project

Monday, October 17, 2011

Channel 5 Eyewitness News

Catch 5.

UPDATE: After reading this post, brother Denny reminded me that we got our first color TV in 1976, and this promo was so exciting to watch! Today, as a lifelong audio-video engineer, he marvels at the time it must have taken to create this spot.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


You wanted the best? You got the best.

KISS played the Richfield Coliseum on September 3, 1976, with opening act Artful Dodger. They were promoting the album Destroyer, which is a pretty kick-ass album. Detroit Rock City and Shout It Out Loud have become KISS standards, however they failed as hit singles, and despite a strong initial sales run (it went Gold almost immediately) the record was originally rejected by fans and dissed by the critics.

Then came the single Beth, which was originally the B-Side to Detroit Rock City. It peaked at #7, the first top ten single the band ever had. The song may never have made it to the record if Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons had their way. Written by drummer Peter Criss and a colleague from his former band Chelsea, is performed entirely by Criss and a piano, and a small orchestra.

Beth is the Yesterday of KISS, a track entirely unlike anything previously performed by the band, a schmaltzy pop ballad. Seriously, please, don't use the word "rock." It doesn't even have a soaring guitar bridge like any kind of so-called "rock" ballad requires. The single went Gold in January, 1977.

Beth did not appear in the line-up for the Coliseum gig.

Big O Zine

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

Hey, Porter.

Even on the banks of the largest fresh water lakes in the world, Cleveland has an inferiority problem. Erie is the smallest of the five major Great Lakes, and the shallowest. But great it was, even if it was in serious ecological peril in the mid-70s.

Cleveland remained an important port in those days. My grandfather was in the merchant marines before he had children and settled for a desk job at Cleveland Trust. And even after sailing the world, he always insisted Lake Erie was the roughest, most dangerous sea of them all.

My education of the map of the Great Lakes began with Holling Clancy Holling's 1941 classic Paddle-To-The-Sea, the story of a First Nations boy, living north of Lake Superior in Nipigon Country, who carves a small wooden canoe with "Indian" and sets it on a journey to, hopefully, makes its way though all of the lakes and out to the Atlantic Ocean. In fact, it is not the story of the boy at all, but of his wooden "paddle person" who he names Paddle-to-the-Sea.

My father read me this book, and through it developed unshakeable, relevant visual associations, like the fact that Superior is shaped like a wolf's head, or that Huron looks like a trapper with his pack. Erie, is shaped like a lump of coal ... which is stupid because anything could be shaped like a lump of coal, but it did impress upon me the importance of coal in the economy of our region.

Another powerful image of the Great Lakes from my youth is that modern sea-dirge, Gordon Lightfoot's The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, released in August 1976 on the LP Summertime Dream.
The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down of the big lake they called Gitche Gumee.
The opening chords are still chilling to me. Providing the ancient name for Lake Superior gives the tale an historic, epic tone.
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead when the skies of November turn gloomy.
Now I'm thinking of pirates. It resonates like an old sailing tale, but with familiar place names like "Wisconsin" and of course, "Cleveland."

And thank you, Mr. Lightfoot, for making the word Cleveland sing so clear and crisp during an era when it was more often used on The Tonight Show as a punchline.

The storm whips up, and man is helpless against the elements. It could have been anyone. It could have been my grandfather. 29 sailors perished about the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald on the night of November 10, 1975 and, inspired by a Newsweek article on the tragedy, Lightfoot had written the song before the end of the year. It reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100.

The "Mighty Fitz" had been launched in 1958 and was at that time the largest freighter on the Great Lakes. Its main cargo was taconite -- iron ore, "26,000 tons or more" -- though it was fully-loaded from Duluth and headed for Detroit, not Cleveland, when the witch of November came stealing. "Big Fitz's" final communication came minutes before it sank, at 7:10 PM when Captain Ernest M. McSorley reported, "We are holding our own."

Steven Dietz wrote a play about the wreck called Ten November but if it's been performed in the Cleveland area, I have no clue. Someone should get on that.

Friday, October 14, 2011

7up "United We Stand" Cans

Anyone who has seen Dazed and Confused knows the Bicentennial was hardly 24-hour patriot extravaganzas and colonial soap-making workshops, although there was a lot of that. No, it was still the mid-70s, President Gerald Ford was the only un-elected President in American history* we were in economic doldrums and were still reeling from the end of the Vietnam War.

How best then to regain a sense of pride and uplifting nationalism? Bicentennial branding!

7*UP released a limited edition of cans, each featuring one of the fifty states on one side, and on the other side a cryptic, seemly random series of 7UPs in red or blue on white background.

Collect them all - one featured a key for how to stack the cans - and you were treated to an optical illusion of a certain American icon! Collecting and stacking empty beer cans was a national hobby at the time, why not stack cans and celebrate our freedoms at the same time?

My brother Henrik collected all fifty. He didn't buy them all, he asked the guys at Village Pizza (two doors down from Bay Lanes) to hang onto empties anyone left around the place, and he would collect and wash them. I still have all 50 stored in my attic. I have no idea how rusted these steel cans may be, I have no looked for them in quite a while. I did find a complete collection on eBay going for $425.

I want YOU.

*For those too young to remember, Michigan House Representative Ford was appointed Vice President when Spiro Agnew resigned in disgrace, and became President when Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

American Splendor

Sitting on the stoop in front of Tommy's Restaurant,
now the location of Mac's Backs Paperbacks.

Harvey Lawrence Pekar (October 8, 1939 – July 12, 2010) was born in Cleveland, to Polish immigrant parents. He graduated from Shaker Heights High in 1957 and after a stint in the U.S. Navy settled in Cleveland Heights eventually gaining regular employment as a file clerk at the V.A. Hospital. His legend, however, is as a writer, of jazz criticism and as the creator of his autobiographic comic book American Splendor.

In 1962 Pekar met Robert Crumb, who at that time was an illustrator for American Greetings. They had a mutual admiration for all things jazz, and Crumb introduced Harvey to "underground" comics. Pekar had abandoned superhero comic books as a teenager, but Crumb opened his mind to all of the different stories could be told through the medium. When he decided to reach out and attempt his own work, Pekar first contacted Crumb to be an illustrator.

He self-published American Splendor #1 in 1976. And the cover is correct, Crumb only did a two-pager.

For those familiar with his later work, which concentrates almost exclusively on his day-to-day life with wife Joyce Brabner and their daughter Danielle, the premiere issue is a little dizzying. Longer pieces like How I Spent My Summer Vacation: 1972 and Love Story (Summer 1946) tell the story of Harvey surrogates "Marv" and "Herbie" and their entirely unedited sexual exploits. One image might even be punishable as child pornography. Only one story (not including the cover) where Harvey explains how he roped Crumb into assisting him on this adventure depicts Harvey by name as himself.

Depictions of blacks and women (lots of naked tits) would also raise a few eyebrows ... but not if you were already familiar with the work of Crumb and his contemporaries. It was par for the course in the mid-70s. Looking at his later work, I would almost guess that Harvey felt he was supposed to "go there" to be part of the underground comics scene, but I would hesitate to give any closer analysis than that, other to say it's a bold first issue, and it must have taken a heap of courage for someone like Pekar to take some much of his personal thoughts and shove them out there as if to say, "This is what I think, this is who I am, take it or leave it."

And that, after all, is what everyone who loves him loves about him.

The most poignant story is Remembering Be-Ins which takes place in the not-too-distant future. Two teenagers approach the balding, 70 year-old "Mr. Shapiro" and ask him what life was like way back in the far-out 1960s.

That's right. It says, Summer, 2010. Crazy.

American Splendor

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


This evening the Cleveland Play House Playwrights' Unit met for our annual pizza party kick-off, where we all hunker down with our calendars and decide when best to meet. And eat pizza. And in my case, drink.

The relocation to the Allen Theatre has given us the opportunity to rethink to goals, or at least the methods, of the Unit. We meet (more or less) every other week to share pages and critique each others' work. Emphasis this year, however, has been placed on readings of completed works. To that end, Laura gently pressed us to fill the calendar for the remainder of 2011 with weekly Monday night readings.

And so I jumped. I will finish my latest piece by the beginning of December. Why not? I work best with deadlines. Besides, I have found my work on the 1950s to be flagging, and have just been waiting for the year to end to concentrate on the 70s.

Well, fuck that noise. Time to get into the big ugly. Welcome to America's Bicentennial.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Royal Ann's Preserve

There's an art installation going on at CPT now through the end of the month called Royal Ann's Preserve. Last night I was moderating a discussion after a staged reading in the Levin, and I was encouraged to step in.

Walking into this space (a storefront in the CPT complex) was like moving through someone's brain, gauzy red synapses defining the "rooms." It's heavy with memories. And ghosts.

The West Clinton Historic Haunts Walking Tour was meeting up the street, Donna told me it is more "historic" than "haunted" with re-enactors stepping out of old houses and describing what life was like in Merry Ol' Cleveland. For the season of death I would recommend Royal Ann's. It is spooky. It is haunted. It is sad. No one will jump out and say "boo." But you may have difficulty sleeping for what has moved into your head.