Saturday, June 28, 2008

Back to basics

It's a sick joke, the likes of which I can't say I expected to find in Palmer-Hughes Accordion Course, Book 1. When I first got this volume and paged through it, I of course noticed "Vegetables on Parade," in part because it's got a great illustration, in part because it reminded me of the psychedelic Beach Boys song "Vegetables," a current favorite. But I only glanced at the music, then flipped on.

But tonight I picked up the squeezebox and played through Book 1, and I was surprised, when I came to "Vegetables on Parade," to realize I already knew the tune. It's familiar from many a polka dance at the Essen Haus, and indeed is probably the third or fourth best-known polka tune (after "Beer Barrel Polka" and "In Heaven There is no Beer" (and "Chicken Dance"?)).

It is, yes, "Too Fat Polka," featuring the indelible refrain, "I don't want her, you can have her, she's too fat for me (hey!)." The song doubtless was considered a hoot in 1947, but these days it can induce cringes. The sentiment is not so friendly.

So I am left bemused by the 1952 Palmer-Hughes rewrite. "To be healthy, you must eat your vegetables each day," go the lyrics to "Vegetables on Parade." True enough, but are these words meant to rebuke the poor woman in "Too Fat Polka" -- to warn her she ought to eat better? Or is "Vegetables on Parade" meant as a snarky send-up of "Too Fat Polka" itself? The mind reels.

By the way, part of me feels silly about working my way through the youngsters' material in the Palmer-Hughes books. (Book 1 begins, "Dear Parents, YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE PROUD!") But I've had this beautiful accordion a few years now, and all I've done so far is get it out every six months or so and clumsily play "Tennessee Waltz." These books, at least, are structured, which is something. Maybe I'll break down and take some lessons. At any rate, soon, I think, I'll get past these simple songs ("Charlie the Chimp" is a highlight) and on to bigger things.

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