"I know the first thing you’re going to say," Budd Mishkin tells his live audiences. "He’s just another TV sports guy who sings Russian folks songs."
The line gets a laugh, but it’s no joke. Mishkin, 44, is a sports and features anchor for the NY 1 cable channel whose career highlight was probably covering the Rangers Stanley Cup win in 1994. He’s also an avid interpreter of the works of the Russian bard Bulat Okudzhava, who died in 1997.
"He was the first guy in the post-Stalin era, during the mid- and late-1950s, to perform music and write music about real life in Soviet society," Mishkin told The Jewish Week in a telephone interview. Okudzhava’s songs had a wide appeal among students and intellectuals,
if not party ideologues. "Under Stalin, it was all glory to the Communist Party."
On Monday, Mishkin performs "Borscht in the USA," an evening of Okudzhava favorites like "Mu za tzenoy nye postoyim" (We will pay any price) and "Soyuz druzeiy," (a union of friends): and perhaps a Russian-language version of the Beatles’ "Girl." (Makor, 35 W. 67th St., Manhattan 212 601-1000, $12.)
Raised in Monroe, in upstate New York, Mishkin first visited the USSR as a high school student in 1976. A fellow musician he met while playing guitar in a Leningrad park introduced him to Okudzhava’s work that year. He returned in 1979 to study at Moscow’s Pushkin Institute and again in 1992 under the auspices of the World Union of Progressive Judaism. Guitar in tow, he participated in a two-and-a-half week seminar with Jewish leaders from across the former Soviet Union and traveled to the Ural Mountains to lead Passover seders and give public concerts. His last trip, to Moscow, St. Petersburg and Minsk, was in 1995. "Unfortunately, I haven’t been back since," Mishkin said.
He keeps his Slavic chops fresh by listening to Okudzhava tapes while driving and jogging and by performing. For the past two Junes, he’s played at City Hall to honor new citizens from the FSU. In March 2002, he held Cornelia Street Cafe’s first Russian Folk Music Night, and last winter he played the Russian Samovar restaurant on West 57th Street. He’s now planning for what he jokingly calls "the second annual concert" there.
A new father, Mishkin lives in Brooklyn with his daughter and his wife, singer-songwriter Peri Smilow. His weekly interview show, "One on One with Budd Mishkin," premieres on NY 1 on Sept. 29 during the 8 p.m. hour.