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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Apples Peaches Pumpkin Pie! or, Are You Adequately Prepared to Rock?

Oddly enough, I was raised surrounded by accordions, and so harbor a tender spot in my heart for the wheezing little bestids.

You push it, you pull it, you play it like a piano: truly, the accordion has it all.

I played, in my teenage years, in an “Old Tyme” band: polkas, waltzes, schottisches, foxtrots, mazurkas, and, of course, our “rock” medley, which was reserved for the end of the night, just before “Autumn Leaves”.

You’re not ready to hear about the rock medley just yet. Trust me.

I loved Aloysios Derke and the Melody Artists. Whether there were three musicians or 18, whether we drove one hour or six to get to the ballroom, whether we played on a float in a parade pulled by Clydesdales and following a flock of goats or in a ballroom holding hundreds of people, we made $40 apiece.

Forty bucks.

The leader, Al, was in his mid-60s. Al had forgotten more songs than most people will ever hear. We had the sheet music for well over 500 songs, anything from a trio to a full-blown swing band. Al hired well; and aside from me and a talented friend, the rest of the band were college students, and, true fact! Eddie Berger.

Eddie had a drug problem, I believe. It was hard to tell, and frankly, who cared? His solos were sublime.

Have you been to a ballroom? An enormous dance floor, sprinkled with sand, the big lovely stage, center-front. Concessions were in the back corner: set-ups only. Men with hip flasks and women with bottles in their purses sidled up to the bar to buy ice, glasses of 7-Up and Coca-Cola. Somewhere in the building a popcorn machine has been fired up, and somewhere else the ladies of the P.O.L.K. of A are zipping up their flashy, patent-leather boots.

Ah. The Polka Lovers Klub of America. Average age: 60, easily. Check them out, though. The women, in their fashion boots and ruffled skirts – in my precious 17-year-old mind, they had faces that looked as if they’d been carved out of apples and left to dry, but their legs? Whoa, Nellie! “Check out the stems on that one,” I’d hear one 70-year-old point out to another.

The crowd was old, the band was young, and Al didn’t believe in breaks. What’s that? You need a band for four hours? Four hours it is then. What? No, the trumpet players don’t need a break! Their lower lips are supposed to look like raw hamburger. Her? Oh, she’ll be fine, she’s young – we need more Coca-Cola up here, that’s all.

Eventually, after an evening of “The Liechtensteiner Polka ” and “The Beer Barrel Polka”, the P.O.L.K. of A. got sufficiently riled up to let loose their inner rockers.

Enter the Rock Medley.

Krikava, the sax player, would lean into me. “I say we launch into Zeppelin’s “Black Dog” and see if the tuba player can keep up.” I would giggle because, one, the tuba player was a red-hot musician and, two, well, there’s a handsome college guy leaning into me.

We would talk, of course, about the rock medley that would be sure to drive the dancers to new heights of bouncy-spinny-ness: a little Zeppelin, a little King Crimson, a little Pink Floyd and drivin’ ‘er home with the Rolling Stones.

In reality, our rock medley started with Woodchoppers Ball (the theme from the Gong Show). The crowd would jump up, shouting, and the dance floor would fill, hips and legs a’swingin’. Woodchoppers Ball went to (You Ain’t Nothin’ But a) Hound Dog, whereupon the drummer/part-time singer, Craig, would shout mildly obscene encouragement in Polish for the ladies to lift their legs higher.

We took as many solos as we could get away with during the Rock Medley. Al would wave irritably at the drummer to wrap it up once he tired of us; but until then, it was anyone’s game.

Krikava stood.

“I’m gonna do it! I’m gonna do it!” Krikava would shout at me. Inevitably the opening notes of his solos were stolen directly from Led Zeppelin or Jimi Hendrix; and the band would grin knowingly around their mouthpieces.

Such clever children we were.

Hound Dog eventually morphed into Rock Around the Clock and back to Woodchoppers Ball again, and the crowd would drift back to their tables for a quick Seven-and-Seven and a cigarette before the last song, the last dance. The snow could be knee-deep in the parking lot - some of those cars may not even start - but inside we were flush with happiness, with drink and song and graceful men and women who smiled at each other from under the glow of chandeliers that were old even then.

I miss those days, and you know why?

Because there ain’t no stoppin’ a polka band’s rockin’ cuz a polka band’s rockin’ don’t stop.



Linda in New Mexico said...

Same song, different words....German Club, Colorado Springs....omg.

Pat said...

I could see and hear the scenes, and almost smell the cigarettes and beer from your word pix. It sounds like it was a blast.

Speaking of accordians, isn't Weird Al Yankovic from your part of the country? When my sons were jr. high age they listened to lots of his tapes and I found him to be quite hilarious...Like a Surgeon, Cutting for the Very First Time.

Anonymous said...

You are stinking AWESOME!!!!!

(I'd like to point out that is the correct usage of that word...)


Sam Liu said...

You are amazing, Pearl! This is such a fascinating story, those days of being in a band must have been brilliant, I'm sure you've got loads of other interesting stories to tell too...of course suffused with your original humour :D

Lynn said...


IndigoWrath said...

Pearl, you rock, Baby! I absolutely loved this. Indigo

Cedar View Paint Horses said...

Former trumpeter for Alvin Styczynski here. I know this story all too well....

Anonymous said...

You rocked the house, yo.

Cal's Canadian Cave of Coolness said...

What a great story. THAT 17 year old girl I would have chased after in high school because she had something cool about her that the other girls didn't. Besides, my Baba told me stories about those girls in Polka bands that would curl my toes. I just had to see for myself if it really was true that they had been 'there and back'.

I can see you look wistfully back like I do when I tell my stories.

I wonder if you have ever seen the mockumentary 'The Last Polka'. It was made by John Candy and Eugene Levy about their polka band leading brothers Yosh and Stan Scmengie. It's wicked funny and would be right up your ally.

Did you guys play "Cabbage Rolls and Coffee?" It my favorite polka song and YES I realize how cool I am to actually have a favorite polka song.

Krëg said...

My accordion has some sticky keys that won't pop back out after I depress them. How do I fix that?

Argent said...

Such atmosphere! I was only even in one band and we were sucky! I wish I could have bene in a band like yours.

powdergirl said...

Pearl, you are a STAR ! All of a sudden I want to wear a poofy skirt and get all spinny-twirly, and quite drunk(but thats not new).

Well,maybe not the skirt, I'm tall, I look like an umbrella when I twirl in poofy skirts.

Sounds like good times, darlin', and so engagingly told : )

This made my day .

Joanna Jenkins said...

An accordion!?!?! You can actually play an accordion. That's awesome Pearl. And $40 was a lot of money! I bow to your greatness.

Cheeseboy said...

Ah yes, the Song Remains the Same...

Terrific post.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Just... wow.

Tempo said...

Yeah, we live our youth thinking there will be plenty more days/nights like this one..but the clock ticks on and we never seem to go back. Youre a woman of surprises Pearl... please continue!

Simply Suthern said...

Oh My Gawwwwwd, Pearl's gotta Squeeze Box. Willie Never sleeps at night.

Anonymous said...

很用心的部落格 祝你人氣百分百 期待您的新文章.................................................................

Rene/ Not The Rockefellers said...

You rock! and I've never doubted that for a minute :)

poosemommy said...

Pearl! That's awesome! My grandmother was born in this country but her parents both came over on the boat. From the Ukraine. Needless to say, I learned polka music very young. I still have some of her albums...