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Did you hear the one about the accordion

By Mark Warde

So I’m swiggin’ on a sweet tea in the office last week when the dialogue in the newsroom goes to polka. Where else in America does that dynamic take place besides Ennis? Polka?

My mind immediately shifted into a mode that pulls random thoughts, word pictures, movie lines, one liners and crazy songs out of thin air. A normal Ennis resident would’ve said, “You know, for my money, how can you not like (the song) Youth and Pleasure Polka by (the band) Czech and Then Some?”

But not me. I don’t do normal, normally.

I spouted out a line about the Who’s “Momma’s Got a Squeeze Box.” Yes, an accordion. People, other than polka and Hank Williams, Jr. singing “Jambalaya on the Bayou,” how common is the musical chest expander?

The answer to my question led to this week’s column.

Next to Hillary and the Donald, is anything more polarizing than the accordion? Okay, besides gender bathrooms.

People either love or hate both the instrument and its player. What’s up with that? You don’t get that response if you play the lead guitar or drums. Heck, if you paint your face, stick out your tongue and thump the bass guitar for Kiss, you’re practically worshiped.

But the accordion is either loved or heckled. One simply can’t be in the middle about what some call the “air-powered room divider.”

So, in respect to the 40,000 people in town this weekend, many of whom have a hankerin’ for the “Squawk-box,” let’s take a gander at the way folks view this special instrument.

One thing obvious about the accordion is its legion of names.

In France it is the folk box. In Norway and Spain it’s called Dragspel, while the Basque region of Spain prefers Trakixia. The Scots might say, “Play the bagpipe with pleats, laddie?”

Abbeville Air Compressor describes it in parts of Louisiana, which was home to Lead Belly (Huddie Ledbetter), who called his – the Windjammer. More common is the button accordion, the squeezer weezer, or ay-cord-eens. Some list it as the Zuharmonie or the concertina.

Others are apt to use vernacular like the Airy Beast, stereo iron-lung or the zebra-crossing, which refers its black and white colors. With its vertical keys, its moniker also includes the Stomach Steinway, Belly Baldwin and the pinch piano.

Who knew there were such affectionate terms for the portable wood instrument? And did you hear about the name of a gospel album dedicated to it? “Accordion to God’s Will.”

But not everyone is so enamored. I heard a guy who sees it differently. He said the instrument with single-note buttons is “an unduly noisy device for imprinting presumably decorative vertical pleats in the manipulator’s abdomen.” Try saying that fast.

The love-hate relationship includes an old, not-so-kind saying; “Welcome to heaven – here’s your harp, welcome to hell – here’s your accordion.” Or this one; “A gentleman is someone who can play the accordion – and doesn’t!”

Of course, humor is something most people enjoy, even when it is sometimes at your expense. Like:

Q: How many accordion players does it take to change a light bulb? A: Well it depends whether you are pushing or pulling.

Q: How is playing an accordion like throwing a javelin blindfolded? A: You don’t have to be very good to get people’s attention.

Q: What’s the difference between an accordion and a cat? A: Only the cost. They both make the same sounds when you squeeze them.

In America its popularity began to wane when the Lawrence Welk Show ended after nearly three decades on television in 1982. Born in a German-speaking town in North Dakota, Welk took naturally to the accordion, which was invented in Germany in 1822.

Today, as the instrument nears its 200th birthday, it is still played in Europe, North America and South American countries. Its peppy, uplifting nature makes it perfect for folk music, dance-pop and polka. It is utilized in Cajun, jazz music and Creole and in scores of songs by Grammy Award winning parodist, “Weird Al” Yankovic.

Whether you know it colloquially as the squeezebox, melodeon, or even the groan-box, the accordion lives on.

And in Ennis, as long as it breathes in and out and in and out, it will be played all night, ’cause the music’s all right.

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Posted by on May 28 2016. Filed under Editorials. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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