My Inner Polkamaniac
VIDEO: "Weird Al" Yankovic appearing live at MTV's New Years Eve 1987 Party.
I can't explain it, but I was in the mood for listening to polka music this morning. Yeah, that happy, snappy music. Oh, to be in Cleveland, now that spring is here!
When I was married, we loved to polka. Our Byzantine Rite parish consisted mostly of families from Eastern Europe, often by way of Pittsburgh, Scranton, and other major cities and little coal towns in the Rust Belt. They'd have dances at the parish hall, where we were introduced to a thriving subculture -- the bands, the CDs and tee-shirts for sale, the beer and kielbasa flowing freely. Right around that time, in the early- and mid-1980s, was when punk rock bands discovered polka music, as well as the accordion that made it run. An instrument that was once the most popular in America until Elvis showed up, enjoyed a new popularity. (Even I've got one in the closet somewhere, waiting for me to learn it. All in good time ...)
VIDEO: Live footage of Brave Combo performing "The Denton Polka" at Dan's Silverleaf in Denton, TX. Produced by Joshua Butler & directed by Christopher Largen.
One of the most enduring bands of the "punk polka" phenomenon is Brave Combo (www.brave.com/bo), a band out of the north Texas college town of Denton. Having experienced some turnover in over thirty years of existence, the inspiration of guitarist/keyboardist/accordionist/mad genius Carl Finch holds as its greatest mainstream claim of fame, the Grammy Award for "Best Polka Album" of both 1999 ("Polkasonic") and 2004 ("Let's Kiss"), edging out such polka giants as Jimmy Sturr and his Orchestra, who has won the title for most of the last gazillion years.
Over the years, I've heard of a curious phenomenon in the Great Lakes region known as a "Polka Mass." Apparently there are parishes where the service music and hymns are set to polka melodies. I suppose I might be curious about something like this. Then again, it is more likely that I'd show up at a parish where this is done and start laughing my @$$ off hysterically. I'm not taking any chances.
That's because polka is a genre that does not invite ambivalence; you either love it or you don't. Me? I know where I love it, and where (and when) I don't.