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Sunday, June 17, 2012

Apple, 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.

Word.

42 comments:

Linda O'Connell said...

You make me want to shout, put my hands up and shout! I want to polka now.

mybabyjohn/Delores said...

Wish I'd been there to see that in person.

Sioux said...

I've always said I love every kind of music except perhaps polka music. Perhaps I need to rethink that?

The tuba player keeping up with Zeppelin? I had to chuckle.

Too bad there are no videos of those gigs.

Joanne said...

The way back machine survives. We have button box boys and the swampy bottom band. Sadly, they're all grandfathers now, and somehow Ipods don't sound the same.

vanilla said...

Never had the privilege of hearing the Melody Artists, but you clearly had a good time. Somehow I am starting to believe that you always have a good time!

That Eddie Berger could blow a mean horn.

R. Jacob said...

I have been to many a Polish wedding and yes it is all true, down to the sand on the floor to keep the feet from sticking. The set ups, seven-sevens, high balls, red lipstick on the glass, loosened ties, high heel pumps under the table and the hokey pokey grand finale!

Simply Suthern said...

I'm thinking we need a talky Blog. I wanna hear it.

joeh said...

More...I want more!


Cranky old man

ellen abbott said...

I love a good polka. It is such fun. For my husband and two of his friend's 40th birthday, which all fell within two weeks of each other, us wives gave a party in December (cause that's when the birthdays were) with a DJ and dancing outside and as it happened it was bitterly cold that night (we often had mild weather in December). Everyone except for me and my brother-in-law were huddled inside the small room with heat and refreshments while they DJ froze his butt off spinning tunes to no one. We danced all night and kept warm. The DJ played a polka out of fun or boredom, but it was a blast.

esbboston said...

Stems.

TexWisGirl said...

my father played button accordion and sometimes with a band. i grew up on polkas and waltzes and schottishes. what great times and a totally different culture...

Shea Goff said...

If you want to start that back up I'll be your roadie.

Indigo Roth said...

Fo' shizzle, my dizzle.

Did I get that right?

Eva Gallant said...

You paint a lovely picture with your words. I can see it all now!

Joyful Things said...

well that certainly was a waltz down memory lane! Our local "band" was quite small - accordion, banjo, violin and piano and while they lacked in membership and talent they excelled in enthusiasm. Thank you, what a lovely post and I look forward one day to hearing you play that accordion.

NotesFromAbroad said...

Oh so very cool .... I vaguely remember learning to do the Polka. Probably not one of my best memories.
But to play an accordion ? Frabulous !!!
I will be there with Shea Goff, I wanna be your Roadie !!

Susan said...

What a fun read. As a chick of the 60's, growing up in a small Southern town, most of the things you mention sound like something out of an old movie. I have still never seen an accordion up close, and the only time I remember hearing one was on Lawrence Welk's show. Those polka sisters sounded like real good time gals. We took ballroom dance as kids, but would sneak in Beatles records and put them on during class. Not the same,I know, but I'm trying to be one of the crowd...Once again, fun post.

Dr Max Tunguska said...

"Shine on you crazy diamond" played on an accordion would be interesting at least.

mapstew said...

Pearl, that was super!

Our rock 'n' roll set starts with 'Blue Suede Shoes, into 'Hound Dog', 'See You Later Alligator', 'At The Hop', 'Rock Around The Clock', 'Mean Woman Blues'& 'Teddy Bear' (with each tune getting at least two solo's) and if they're still upright I give the band a 'Just follow me' nod and we make the rest up as we go along!

My Grand-Uncle Kane was an accordian player and my first (and best) music teacher! :¬)

xxx

Gigi said...

I seem to recall learning to schottische a long, long time ago; could I do it today? I doubt it. I always did want to learn to polka though. Which would be a mean feat considering I've got about as much rhythm as a stick and am clumsy to boot.

sage said...

I still remember the Farside comic of the final judgment. Those going to heaven were given harps, those destined for hell accordions... And what year was the polka club average age 60? As I get closer to that age than I'd like to remember, I recall watching the Lawrence Welk show at my grandparents 40-plus years ago and think the average age has to be more than five years older than me.

Ian Lidster said...

The accordion takes multi-tasking into much too an extreme realm for me to contemplate, but I do admire those that can handle the things with elan. And I love zydeco.

Ms Sparrow said...

Oh yeah, I remember the accordian lessons and listening to Eddie Skeets and his Swiss Boys on KWOA radio on Saturday mornings. We went into town once to the radio studio and watched them play. They were tossing popcorn at each other through the air and catching it with their mouths--but that was in the 40's and too soon to Rock!

Twisted Scottish Bastard said...

At first I though you were pulling our chains.

P.O.L.K. of A. ??? HAHAHA.

But no, it's genuine.

Hold me I'm scared.

Thought you might like this
Korean accordion
or here:
Koreans in Norway

Mel said...

Pearl, your talents and stories are limitless. You sure can capture a moment with your words. And play the accordion!!

I'm thinking you're going to be really valuable when the apocalypse hits!

I really enjoyed the music links. Who knew?

HermanTurnip said...

That sounds like an awesome time! Next time around, let us know so I can grab my hip flask and zoot suit. Haven't worn that thing since I last saw The Cherry Poppin' Daddies...

chlost said...

Oh, how this made me smile! When we got married, we had NO money. So, we got ourselves married in a Big Lutheran Church and had a church lady reception in the church basement.
THEN we took everyone to the local Ballroom, and joined in the Saturday night crowd. Sand on the floor, disco ball on the ceiling, flouncy skirts, fancy vests with bolo ties. We had to learn how to polka and two-step from friends before the wedding, changing partners as we bounced around their unfinished basement to the polkas playing on the eight-track tape player.
Nothing like the fancy catered receptions the young kids have today, but wow, we had fun! And we are still going strong nearly 33 years later....must have been the accordion.

savannah said...

i could hear it, sugar! don't ask, but i will say, at one point the MITM & i lived in ohio...xxoxoxo

jenny_o said...

This started out extremely well in my mind, for I read it as "I was raised by accordians". One of the perks of growing old has been my diminishing vision. I read some very funny things at the grocery store too.

Anyway. Even after I backed up and started over, it turned out to be a humdinger. Those dances sound like so much fun. Love the old guys' comment about the stems on the ladies! Rockin' polka music - who'd a thunk it?

Pat said...

Concert parties during the war would have been nothing without the accordions and concertinas.

Roly Clu said...

Great post and vivid picture. I was there through your writing :)

carnivalfavorites said...

Awesome post at all. And i got some good information from this site. really i was looking forward to read about it. Thanks for this allocation. :lol:
popcorn machine

River said...

What a fabulous trip down memory lane! My dad had a big old accordion with buttons down one side and a keyboard down the other and he would play for us on weekends, late into the night if it was summer. I'd completely forgotten about Polkas. I don't believe I ever learned to Polka, but maybe it isn't too late....

ThreeOldKeys said...

wow. you are good. now i'll have fleeting thoughts all day ...

of WATZ radio in northern lower Michigan and all those Polka Hours I rolled my teenaged eyes at ...

of my brother's accordion with its pearly keys and its case with the fuzzy red lining ...

of John Candy's polka band in Home Alone, riding in the back of a truck ...

being required to polka -- with boys! -- in gym class

of the Gong Show theme song and Chuck Barris' dance moves (surely he was stoned) ....

you, Polka Party Pearl, in addition to being a barrel of fun, are a Writer. this piece covered all the senses; i still the popcorn.

ThreeOldKeys said...

smell. i still smell the popcorn.

Tom G. said...

The first dance at my wedding was a Polka. No joke.

The scene you paint is so wonderful I want to step right into it. I'm sure if I search the crowd I could find my old great aunts, and uncles, and all their crazy friends. The baby boomers think they invented parting. Hah! They're novices compared to the wild shenanigans that old grand parents generation used to have on an average Saturday night.

Also, my life will now be incomplete until I learn how to "shout mildly obscene encouragement in Polish for the ladies to lift their legs higher"

Lynn said...

That sounds fun to me!

Austan said...

Somehow, it all makes sense now.

Pat Tillett said...

You are so darn creative and funny!
Where I live accordions are also popular. That's because they use them in Mariachi bands...

Diane said...

I loved this. You make it all so real. I see pictures in my head . . . okay, that happens a lot, but you get the idea. Our family went around doing dances. Our music was canned and we only had one person on the stage, but the kids and I danced (and taught) everything from 'The Virginia Reel' through the 'heel-toe' and the 'Hokey Pokey' to George Strait, Garth Brooks and finally to Led Zepplin and ACDC. What fun! What memories!

Susan in the Boonies said...

Awesome post! You transported me there!

One of my most favorite memories was dancing outside under the stars at a city festival in Lausanne Switzerland, to the strains of a Bavarian-type polka.

Magical night!

Laurel's Quill said...

wasn't life simple then...how did it get so complicated these days???