So I have become a regular at a lot of these DJ Kishka shows at The Happy Dog. Mostly because it is a great time hanging out at a great bar. I mean come on DJ Kishka was recently voted the Best Club DJ by the readers in the Cleveland Scene Magazine poll. However part of the Polock in me really likes that music. It reminds me of my heritage, and takes me back to growing up in Cleveland in the 70′s. Ahhhh the memories. Cleveland is not only home to The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame but don’t forget we are also home to the National Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame. After all South Euclid was the true home of America’s Polka King, Frankie Yankovic. Hell, Frankie is even buried at Calvary Cemetery if you want to leave a Kishka on his grave.
If you ever went to a wedding in the 70′s or 80′s the Polka was not only a couple songs here and there but it dominated wedding halls across this great city. Songs like Just Because and Somewhere My Love allowed the Bride and Groom to waltz and slow dance cheek to cheek along side mothers and fathers and even their grandparents. While the upbeat numbers like In Heaven There Is No Beer and Roll Out The Barrel became singalongs at the local tavern others danced the night away to songs like Drew Carey favorite Too Fat Polka and Hoop De Doo. This was a different time in Cleveland. It was a time when the Polish and Slovenian Halls would pack them in to dance the night away for dinner and dancing. Sundays were days for family and you would normally find us at Grandma’s in Parma and from 1-2pm you bet your ass the TV was tuned to Channel 5. Because every Sunday for 27 years Paul Wilcox until 1983 brought live polka bands and dancing right into your living room.
The death of Polka Varieties was the beginning of the end for a lot of quality local programming. A thing called cable TV was starting to make its rounds and things called infomercials were turning out to be more profitable than local shows. No more tweaking the rabbit ears on top of the set to get channel 43 all you had to do was flip a switch on the cable box. For years folks like Linn Sheldon would tell me I was the nicest person in the world, just me as his straw hat wearing character Barnaby. Marty Sullivan would throw on his cape and transform himself into Superhost. He would start off with Laurel and Hardy and Three Stooges shorts throwing in corny skits through the show and ease us into whatever terrible film WUAB paid $5 for. Even radio morning jock John Lanigan was host of the Prize Movie during the week getting in on the action. Son of Ghoul and The Ghoul parodied the original Ghoulardi, Ernie Anderson carrying on the torch still to this day. Guests like Jungle Bob Tuma still makes his rounds of the circuit with his amazing animals. It was local family programming at it’s best peppered with ethnic humor, inside jokes made for Clevelanders, and pure family fun.
A name you probably never heard of before today unless you are a Cleveland TV über-geek, Jay Lawrence, was the final touch on every single skit of Big Chuck and Lil’ John…HaaaaHaaaaaaaaaaa! Each and every year you can still see Charles “Big Chuck” Schodowski and “Lil’ John” Rinaldi at Ghoulardifest. Yep, they are very much still around and while some of you have no idea what I was talking about the paragraph above you know Chuck and John. This was another local pair that got dicked around by the local stations in favor of infomercials and syndicated (ie cheaper) programs. I watched them as a kid where the format was a cheesy monster movie, some corny skits, and a huge dose of Cleveland humor. They moved all over in time slots from late night to afternoon, back to late night. The station changed the movie format on them which went from scary monster movies to whatever the corporate tight asses could get for a nickle. Eventually Chuck and John fizzled out to just doing Three Stooges and some skits to a show called Just the Skits.
Local TV, fuck you. You managed over time to kill everything original and local and truly Cleveland about Cleveland television. I hate that we live in such a corporate money hungry society that we can’t have our own identity for just 2 hours a week. There are tons of people that miss this sort of thing and that my friends is why I love going to see DJ Kishka. That is why I think The Happy Dog is the best damn bar in Cleveland. They don’t try to deny our past of white socks and black shoes. You can embrace pierogies because Bill Clinton went to Parma Pierogies like 2 decades ago but you can’t embrace Polka Music? Is it really that bad? Is it really that embarrassing to have a good time and goof on yourself a little bit? Yes I go see a DJ play polka records. I am not ashamed to admit it either because you know why? Because this is Cleveland and we never did, and never will give a fuck what you think. So come out and see Kishka Friday night. As a matter of fact wear white socks and black shoes because that shit is sexy. He will be spinning polkas from 6-9pm and playing Chuck and John skits. If you can’t get behind that you are still in the Cleveland closet. We’re never going to be Los Angeles we’re never going to be New York City. We are Cleveland and we need to wear that shit like a badge of honor.