Was reading an article online…in defense of accordions. A writer in San Francisco touched upon the obvious….like how hard it was to take Myron Floren of the Lawrence Welk show seriously in his tangerine colored leisure suit. And the words cheesy, corny, schlock, the sound of polka…associated with this instrument. The writer also described a performance he had been privileged to observe, in a quirky art space in Ocean Beach. A variety show performed by sex workers (strippers, prostitutes, phone operators). A chunky phone girl played Fat Bottom Girls with enthusiasm and energy and skill (on the accordion). He said he was the only straight male in that packed, sweaty audience. Having read his essay, I am approaching the two Easter songs I’m learning on my 12 bass, one secular and one sacred. I’ve been practicing Peter Cottontail and I Love to Tell the Story.
My mother liked to go dancing at the Aragon (or Trianon—never can remember which) Ballroom in Chicago. The “orchestra”, as she called it, was led by Lawrence Welk. The name didn’t mean a thing. She and her Minneapolis cousins commented that the musicians played out of tune.
We always watched the Lawrence Welk show when I was a kid. It was almost mandatory. Nobody cared too much for it but we watched anyway. I liked the early black and white episodes which are weldom rerun. Those were spontaneous, fun, and at times, artistic. With the introduction of color, the camera work got stiff and stilted. And the men started wearing those matching puke colored sports jackets with white trousers.
Our family ahd connections to the Irish tenor and a guitar player. Lawrence had a familiar demeanor, that of a local farmers’ club emcee. Stiff, proper, and with his accent, quite folksy. I didn’t realize he had an accent. Although my family was Scandinavian not German, talking sort of funny was normal.
I used to watch the dancing and assign neighbors’ names to the audience members. I’d say, “There’s Ann dancing with Mr. So-and-So”. That was great fun and so were the Geritol and Sominex commercials.
The Lawrence Welk show was a gem. Corny, hokey, wholesome, it united an entire generation or two or three. But to tell the truth, I don’t miss it.
My parents didn’t care too much for country music, to which they ascribed the term “hillbilly”. And they most certainly didn’t like rock. Not that they were snobs or anything. They listened to the popular music of their era, which was Big Band. And once in a blue moon they would turn on the polka show, called Heel and Toe Time. I guess they watched Lawrence Welk now and then but they could take it or leave it. My dad said he liked the violin music of Fritz Kreisler and my mother said she went to the symphony in Chicago. And they both liked marching bands. But we were very poor, and we never went to concerts and the only records we owned were political satires. I guess I had a small record player and kid songs on bright colored vinyl. Piano lessons for me were a complete waste. I didn’t know what music was supposed to sound like. I was told by my mother that people either like serious music such as symphony or opera, or junk popular music, and hardly anyone likes both. I was the only kid in school who didn’t know the latest Elvis songs. And I so very badly wanted to watch a country program where some of the participants sat on hay bales. But I knew I would have been ridiculed if I expressed interest and besides, the tv was switched off immediately when that show came on. My parents had both played clarinets in a community band, and had gone to dances and stuff like that. In fact, my mother had played in a dance band. I was always told to learn how to dance but nobody ever showed me how.