Jerry Blavat Finds the Fountain of Youth

He’s 67 but still rockin’, with a new WXPN audience for his doo-wop oldies. Our writer spent an exhausting week together drinking wine, learning about Indians, meeting Connie Francis, watching him hang upside-down on an inversion board — and finally figured out what keeps the Geator with the Heator snappin’ away

Thursday

The Geator is a creature of routine. Every morning, he wakes up to music from 88.5 WXPN, his newest radio affiliate. His ’XPN show is called The Geator’s Rock & Roll, Rhythm & Blues Express and airs for an hour every Saturday. Lately the Geator can’t stop talking about it. He likes doing the show so much he does it for free. The ’XPN audience is the Geator’s youngest — the median ’XPN listener is a 45-year-old white person — and it’s revealing of his general strategy for continued creative potency in old age that his “youngest” show is also his rootsiest and most self-consciously historical. The show doesn’t assume that the listener has any prior knowledge of The Music. “It’s like you’re sitting next to somebody by the fire,” says Bruce Warren, ’XPN’s program director. “He’s got his collection of records.” And the records, you’re realizing, are kind of great, despite the fact that you, quite probably, grew up worshiping the Beatles and thinking doo-wop was crap. Even if you’re an indie-rock kid, Uncle Geator’s got a place for you by the fire. “Some of the same folks who are totally into The Hold Steady and Radiohead are e-mailing me about these, like, Etta James songs that the Geator plays,” says Warren. “It’s all connected, somehow.”

Young people are intrigued by the energies the Geator puts forth. …

So: The second he wakes up, to ’XPN, he’s keying into youthful energies. He walks straight to his “inversion slant board,” a black slab of plastic that can be rotated vertically, like a Ferris wheel. He straps himself to the slab and hangs upside-down for five minutes. “When you get old, the spine shrinks. This stretches the spine.” Then he does 50 push-ups and a 20-­minute ab workout. Then he walks to a nearby cafe and reads the New York Times while drinking coffee sweetened with honey and eating a bagel with nova lox. The Geator seems to connect to his family history mainly through food. The lox is a legacy of his Jewish father, Louie the Gimp, a small-time South Philly bookmaker who was in the bail-bond business with ward leader Benny Glickstein: “They got ya out in the morning, ya got rearrested at night, ha ha ha.” At night, after his show, the Geator seeks out food cooked by anyone from the ­Abruzzo region of Italy, where his mother was from. Then he comes back to his condo and unwinds in the place he calls “my oasis,” on the 14th floor of the Society Hill Towers.

“See, this is an L.A./Florida-type look,” the Geator says, giving me the tour. “You don’t think you’re in Philadelphia.” The color palette is overwhelmingly black. There’s a stunning wraparound view of the river. The ceilings are popcorn, stippled with glitter, giving the apartment a celestial vibe. You enter the bedroom through double doors of stained glass. Above the master bed, track lighting. Behind it, a wall of mirrors. And everywhere, in every room, are Indians.

At first, Jerry’s Indian fixation seems like a weird fetish, a superficial ­affectation — the equivalent of the college girl who suddenly gets heavy into veganism. The problem with this view is that Jerry really does know a hell of a lot about Indians. Ever since he was a kid, when he listened religiously to a radio show called Straight Arrow, about a Comanche warrior, he’s sought out books and movies about Native American culture. Each Indian in Jerry’s apartment is precisely positioned according to tribe, clothing and spiritual energy; one by one, as he points out the authentic Apache tom-tom, the brass replica of a Frederic Remington statue, the Lakota Sioux holding a buffalo skull, he gives me capsule histories of their tribes.

After the tour, Jerry invites me to sit down in his kitchen and split a bottle of wine and listen to some music. “Now, wait till you hear this mix,” he says. “I want you to hear what I did with this. … I make this for me. … ”

I see your lips … the summer kisses … the sunburned hands I used to hold. …

This is “Autumn Leaves,” sung by Matt Monro, Britain’s own Sinatra. Jerry’s sitting on the counter, wineglass in his right hand, air-conducting with his left when the orchestra dips, swoons … and now it’s no longer Monro singing, but Gordon MacRae. Same song. “It’s just flawless,” Jerry says. His eyes close halfway. Jerry subscribes to the romantic view of art — to make great art, you have to have suffered. A love song is a direct communication of universal pain. This is hard to square with Jerry’s own love life, which is fairly ornate but also remarkably carefree. He has been married for 48 years, separated for 32 of them, and is in a long-term relationship with a 54-year-old Jewish woman who practices holistic healing. I once asked him what he looked for in a woman. In older women, their style, their “sense of life.” In younger women, “I’m attracted to their beauty. I’m attracted to their body.” Jerry’s urologist, the ubiquitous Doctor Razor, reports that Jerry has “a really big dick.” Jerry doesn’t argue with this assertion (“It’s been rumored that I have … whatever”), or with the idea that if he were so inclined, he could easily handle, just physically, without Viagra, one of the numerous 25-year-old hotties who walk by his outdoor table on the nights that he and The Razor eat at Melograno (“but I wouldn’t”). Does Jerry fuck around? “Do I fuck around? He-he-he.” There’s a long, long pause. Ten seconds. Fifteen seconds. “Only by looking,” he says, finally. “You know, there’s more to love than making love. A fucking dog can make fucking love. …

 “This song is a killer. Listen to the words to this. … ”

Time is like a dream
And now for a time you are mine …

“It’s real,” Jerry says, “it’s real. Listen — ”

Loving you, I could not grow old …

Jerry says it: “I could not grow old.”

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