Columns 2003

Accordion and Mr. Whitekeys bring back childhood memories

When my brother and I were growing up, my mother worked very hard to instill some culture in us. She didn’t want us to be street kids.  One of the ways she sought to achieve this goal was through music lessons.  I took piano lessons, and for reason known only to her and her god, she made my brother take accordion lessons.

Truth to be told, I was jealous of him. I just had a boring old brown piano to play on. But mom bought him a gold and white accordion that had glitter and buttons and straps and all kinds of fun things.  And only one hand had to learn how to play keys. The other got to just push buttons.  It was so unfair.  He got to have all the fun.

My brother apparently didn’t see it quite that way and after a year of mighty battles over going for lessons, my mother threw in the towel and told him he didn’t have to go anymore.  Of course, mom being mom, she wasn’t defeated in her aim to make us couth that easily. She promptly signed him up for ballroom dance lessons.  Since he needed a partner, I got signed up too.  I still can’t figure out why I had to be punished with him.  I mean, not only did he beat me out of the accordion but now I had to go to piano and dance lessons. Life was simply not fair.

Once he quit his lessons, I took over the accordion and taught myself how to play two buttons on the left hand and most of the keys on the right.  I amused myself highly with this activity till I became a teenager and realized that Lawrence Welk was the only other person I’d ever seen using an accordion. After that, the accordion was relegated to the back recesses of the closet at the end of the hallway where all hobbies in our house went to die.

I never thought much about accordions since then except for periodically throwing it in my brother’s face as proof that mom liked him more.  And then I went to the Fly By Night Club and watched what Mr. Whitekeys can do with an accordion. And I knew that I had been right all along. Accordions are really cool.

So this summer when my brother came to visit, I brought him to the Fly By Nigh Club so he could see what he missed by not continuing his lessons.  He was duly impressed – both with Alice Welling’s imitation of a salmon spawning and Mr. Whitekey’s exquisite rendering of the song “Anytime somebody does something dumb, an Alaskan does something dumber” on his gold and white accordion.

My friend Kate and I go to the Fly By Night Club every time the show changes as our one wild night out every three to four months whether we need it or not.  I like to pretend that I am going because the show offers up the best political satire this side of The Daily Show.  Or because Alice’s take on Bill Clinton saying “I’m sorry” gets me hysterical every time I see it.  Or because I am fascinated by a show that can build a whole song around a statue of Elvis on Mars and have it work.

But I really go because of the accordion. And now, because Mr. Whitekey’s is nothing if not an astute businessman (or just really easy about suggestions from the audience), I get to listen to the accordion music while eating a sugar free desert. I made this suggestion to him after sitting through one too many shows where a desert tray came through that shot my blood sugar over 1000 by just looking at it.

My brother and I are both diabetics and looking around the club I had to figure we weren’t the only ones who were.  Let’s face it. Our tourist population looks like the cast from Cocoon.  So I suggested that a sugar free desert would be just the thing to burn off the fat from a spam filled dinner.  And now there’s one on the menu, a delightful chocolate mousse with whipped cream topping that is sinfully delicious without sending me into a coma.

So if you like your accordion music with a little humor and some great deserts, head over to the Fly By Night Club. And for all you little boys and girls out there whose mothers are urging you to take accordion lessons, do it. Then you too can end up playing your heart out in a sleazy bar in Spenard while two people dressed like salmon try to swim upstage.