Monday, October 30, 2006

Can Accordions Be Cool?

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Dave "loud-time" Zimmerman sent me this story: The Associated Press wants to know what kind of aliens are still playing accordions. In a profile of a school in remote Wishek, North Dakota (map above), we meet several high school students learning traditional German oompah music, accordions and all.

The tone of the article is sort of ethnographic – like “check out these hillbillies”. Their out-of-date-ness can make the rest of us feel better. We aren’t cool, and we wish we were cooler than we are, but at least we’re not playing accordions.

Unfortunately, cool is harder to master than a simple squeezebox.

I know I’m not the only one who tried to be cool in middle school. I remember trying to increase my hipness by wearing cool shoes. At another time it was denim jackets, or earrings, or whatnot. But I remember discovering, about five minutes into the school day, that my new Converses (I’m dating myself, I know) weren’t going to help me.

The cool kids still didn’t let me have whatever it was that I wanted. And total brownnosers were wearing the same shoes as me.

Here’s the secret the retail world doesn’t want you to know: Cool doesn’t reside in objects – be they shoes or accordions. Cool is an attitude. It’s how you wear the shoes, or play the accordion that makes the difference.

Perhaps the AP hasn’t noticed, but accordions were present at the birth of Rock and Roll (as part of Bill Haley’s rhythm section).

More significantly, accordions are a mainstay of Norteño music, the very-cool Mexican pop music (pictured - and video below: Refugio Norteño). You can indeed be very cool while playing an accordion.

But there is another layer here, a deeper problem: we presume that it’s a good thing to be a hip rebel. Reporter Blake Nicholson repeatedly lands on the town’s German heritage, either as he sets the stage, or as he quotes the students themselves. These kids are learning the accordion because it’s a thing of heritage, not because it’s cool. Cool is what Nicholson has projected onto teenage trendiness.

Are these kids cool for learning Polka? Not at all. They are doing something much better. They are living without shame, celebrating their parents and grandparents, and they are making music in the process. That is authenticity worth living.

Here's Bill Haley, by the way. The accordion is second from the left.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

White, Nerdy and Still in Charge

Hip Hop remains black power cultural space. Ever since Vanilla Ice tried to rip off hip hop, the fathers of hip hop have aggressively asserted hip hop as black cultural space, such that non-black artists like Bubba Sparxxx, Jin, and of course Eminem must acknowledge black ownership of hip hop before they're welcome to participate. More importantly, coolness resides (in this line of thinking) exclusively in black hands.

Here's Weird Al's satire of Chamillionaire's Ridin Dirty. Wierd Al affirms that whiteness is not cool, and that the opposite of not-cool is hip hop. The problem is that even as black and cool are equated, white and educated/intelligent are as well. White men can't Jump, or Flow, but that's ok: white (men) are smart(er).

I'm not saying that Weird Al is a racist. And as a comedian, he is not exactly nerdy. He is satirizing a broader cultural bias: that black people can be cool and can sing and leap, but whites are still superior.

Posted By: Weird Al Yankovic

Way back in 1970, Black-Power theologian Tom Skinner said:

This is the white man's world, and in his world he controls things from the top to the bottom. He might allow you to be a jazz player, a rock-and-roll singer or the janitor in his building. But he will not allow you to compete with him on an open basis to make a tangible contribution to society. He does not consider you to be his equal.

We've made big strides since 1970. But White and Nerdy doesn't evidence any of that. Whites today have a good awareness of what white isn't. But we still don't know what white is.

There's nothing shameful about being white, unless that whiteness is defined negatively, in opposition to others.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Band's In Trouble

Originally uploaded by LeeLee81.
My Alma Mater is getting around to disciplining several members of the marching band for lewd behavior.

At one level, this is not surprising. Everyone who has gone to Wisconsin knows the band is crazy. They're one of the most athletic bands I've ever seen. I'm sure many of them are in better shape than many varsity athletes. They work hard, and they party hard. Band parties were always the wildest, and have been that way for a long, long time.

What's more surprising to me is how often in the last week I've heard the word "Band Geek" or its equivalents. People are surprised that nastiness could come out of the band. Those were the big losers at that high school or the other.

But the band-geek comments are plain old "ig'nant". I'm sure there are football players at Wisconsin who mistakenly believe the majority of UW students at the stadium are there for the game. No, they're there for the party. The game is the occasion, and the band is, well, the band.

A Wisconsin home game wouldn't be a home game without the band, but can very well happen without the football players. Just stick around for the post-game "fifth quarter" party. That's where all the fun is.

While I was in college 7 years ago, the UW band always held the wildest parties. I'm sure that's still the case.

Band Geeks! These are the true cool badgers.

Unfortunately, they were a little too cool for their own good. And they're getting disciplined.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

England Own-Goal

This doesn't have anything to do with anything I'm trying to do on this website, but I can't resist.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Polka Uncool

polkaOnce we get over our cool, new vistas open up for the enjoyment of life. We can sing. We can enjoy stupid games. We can get let ourselves be seen with more people - perhaps even the best people we'll ever meet.

It's surreal. There are so many hours I wasted worrying how good I look. Who cares? An example: rejecting cool allowed me to dance at a great wedding I was at last week. More specifically, it allowed me to request the chicken dance from a DJ who was playing exclusively funk/disco.

Uncool freed me up to show off my polka moves.