Budd Mishkin may be the only guy in Park
Slope who listens to singer-songwriter Bulat Okudzhava on his
morning runs through Prospect Park.
Then again, Mishkin is probably also the only guy this side of
the Ural who spends his days tracking box scores and his nights
moonlighting as a one-man cover band of a Russian folk great.
To most New Yorkers, Mishkin is the smooth-voiced sportscaster
for the cable news channel New York 1, who hosts the nightly
call-in program, "Sports on 1."
But this veteran sports reporter’s true passion comes from crooning
the songs of the late Okudzhava, who Mishkin describes as the
Jacques Brel of Russian music.
Until recently, Mishkin, 44, limited his Russian songstering
to the privacy of his own home, but the reporter-cum-minstrel
finally went public last March when he was invited to take center
stage at the Cornelia Street Cafe, in Manhattan’s West Village.
"I know what you’re thinking, ’Just another sports guy doing
Russian folk songs,’" Mishkin told the crowd, indicating
that the rarity, not to mention comedic potential, of an American
sports reporter taking time out to strum the sensitive tunes
of a dead Russian singer wasn’t missed on him.
Mishkin will be taking his show on the road again later this
month when he performs in a program titled, "Borscht in
the USA" at Makor, on the Upper West Side.
"I always had a desire to play this music publicly,"
Mishkin told GO Brooklyn during an interview in the Park Slope
apartment he shares with his singer-songwriter wife, Peri Smilow,
and their 4-month-old daughter, Allie.
Picking up his Martin guitar, Mishkin starts strumming a few
chords of James Taylor’s "Mud Slide Slim" before moving
over to "Myee Za Tsenoy Ne Postsyeem," or "For
the Price We Will Not Halt."
Even for those who don’t understand a lick of Russian, the simple
tunes convey a sense of longing.
Mishkin, who describes the songs as "simple, beautiful,
and poetic" says they are about struggle.
"If you read between the lines, he’s talking about the difficulties
of their lives, the emotions of their lives," Mishkin says,
describing the lyrics of the singer-songwriter who was one of
the first performers during Russia’s post-Stalin years to sing
about everyday life rather than just odes to the Communist Party.
After the Cornelia Street Cafe gig, Mishkin got a write-up in
the Daily News and soon started getting calls from Russian immigrants
in Bensonhurst and Brighton Beach asking him to perform.
He enjoys those events.
"They all know the songs and they all sing along,"
he says. "You don’t have to explain who Okudzhava is. It
would be like walking into an acoustic crowd here and having
to explain why Bob Dylan is important."
Asked if he finds hosting his nightly sports gig and performing
music similar, Mishkin’s wife interjects.
"He’s an incredible storyteller, it’s what makes him a great
entertainer," Smilow says.
Raised in upstate Monroe, N.Y., Mishkin has the music biz in
his blood. While his grandfather hailed from Russia and settled
in the Bronx, his father spent a decade in the once-thriving,
Jewish resort mecca of the Catskills where he opened a bungalow
colony named Mishkin Cottages.
While the cottages went belly-up, Mishkin inherited both an interest
in entertainment and a knowledge of his roots.
Traveling to the former Soviet Union as part of a six-week study
tour while a junior in high school, Mishkin met a Russian teenager
in Leningrad who shared his passion for the Beatles. The two
started playing guitar together and it was then that he was introduced
to the music of Okudzhava.
He returned to Russia in 1979, on a study abroad program while
a student at the University of Pennsylvania, and returned in
1992, when he went with a Reform Jewish group to lead Passover
seders at newly created synagogues.
Mishkin doesn’t necessarily expect the Makor audience to have
the entire Okudzhava canon at their fingertips (the venue tends
to attract a young, single, English-speaking Jewish crowd), but
he is diligently preparing and studying the songs on his subway
ride to work in the morning.
Asked if fellow sports reporters find his hobby a bit, well,
offbeat, Mishkin says a lot of people have things they do outside
their professional life.
He adds, "It’s not like I’m going out on tour."
Mishkin will perform his "Borscht
in The USA: Budd Mishkin Sings the Music of Bulat Okudzhava"
on Tuesday, Sept. 23, at 8 pm, in the Steinhardt Building at
Makor (35 W. 67th St. in Manhattan). Tickets are $12. For more
information, call (212) 601-1000.
"Sports on 1" airs Monday through Friday, at 11:30
pm, on Time Warner Cable’s channel 1.