News Got You Down? C’mon! Let’s Polka!
To the 200 or so people roaming the nation’s capital with accordions strapped across their chests June 15 and 16, the much-maligned squeezebox is so “retro” it’s become hip.
There are up-and-coming preteen and teen-age musicians playing rock and jazz accordion, not to mention the blond who appeared in a Playboy photo spread wearing nothing but her accordion.
The American Accordionists’ Association is in the midst of an image makeover.
“Today’s parents wanted nothing to do with the accordion because their parents were playing them in the ’50s.
“Now you have a generation that, if older people didn’t tell them about it, they wouldn’t know the accordion existed.
“So it’s new again and very cool,” said Faithe Deffner, president of the association.
In fact, Deffner, who has been playing the accordion for 30 years, and the other so-called “old-timers”‘ get a tad defensive if someone dares ask whether the accordion is just for octogenarians of German descent playing polkas in beer halls.
They note with pride that their convention, which wrapped up June 16, featured a seminar on “The Accordion in Cyberspace.”
They quickly point out that “with-it” musicians including k.d. lang, Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, Peter Holsapple of Hootie & The Blowfish, Sheryl Crow, Charlie Gillingham of Counting Crows and Richie Sambora of Bon Jovi, among others, play the accordion.
And then there’s Phoebe Legere and her backup band, the Hot Hairy Hunks. Her nothing-on-but-an-accordion pictures aside, Legere’s brand of alternative pop, rock, jazz, Cajun and French music has drawn a whole new audience to the squeezebox in New York City’s trendy nightclubs.
Not that 13-year-old Cory Pesaturo started playing the accordion because of its newfound sex appeal. He utters a shy, “I don’t know,” when asked whether girls prefer accordion players to say, drummers.
Cory, who plays pop, rock and jazz, will say, however, that his friends admire his style.
“They think it’s kind of cool to play something completely different, you know, because it’s not something that anyone would expect,” said Cory of Cumberland, R.I.
And while 11-year-old Georgiana Leonard of Dearborn, Mich., likes Britney Spears and the Back Street Boys, she’s turned a lot of her friends onto her favorite musician, Frankie Yankovic, the Polka King from Cleveland who died two years ago.
“Some of my friends think it’s cool. Some think it’s dorky,” she says, crinkling her nose, “but I like it. It’s fun to play.”
Still, 80-year-old Merv Conn, who bills himself as the last of the strolling accordionists, can’t help but feel wistful for the old days, when accordions weren’t on the World Wide Web and Lawrence Welk was hip.
“In 1945, you could pay 75 cents on the boardwalk in Atlantic City and you could see Bennie Goodman, and me, and a whole bunch of other players. I still love to play, but there isn’t so much of a demand for strolling accordionists now.”