A Musician’s Life

Do kids still take music lessons? When I was growing up a lot of kids did. As far as parents were concerned for kid music, accordions were the instrument of choice. About every other house on my street contained at least one kid taking accordion lessons, learning to play “Lady of Spain” while parents second mortgaged their homes to pay for instruments and lessons, dreaming of the day their child would blossom into another Dick Contino (you kids Google that name).

You don’t see accordions these days, so for the benefit of younger people who are actually reading this, an accordion is an expensive piece of Italian furniture that you wear. It has a keyboard like a piano, is slightly smaller, but still weighs the same. You play it by hooking it on your body with heavy leather straps and maybe a back brace; a truss enters the picture after a few years. The keyboard is vertical on the right side. Since it’s very hard to press the keys with both hands in this position, a couple of thousand buttons that all look the same are on the left side of the instrument, so your left hand has something to do while your right hand is pressing keys and your brain is trying to decipher sheet music and figure out which button is which.

The accordion is not electric! It’s powered by an unfortunate human—you. The instrument has a bellows separating the right and left halves. In order to make noise or music you have to pull the left half out by stretching your arm to the point where you feel it’s detaching from your shoulder socket. If that weren’t bad enough, you have to push it back in to get it together with the right half so you can pull it out again. If you’re lucky and strong enough, air is squeezed out of the bellows, which blows through the reeds inside and you produce music; if you’re neither lucky nor strong, you produce noise mainly because the skin on your chest gets pinched in the bellows and the noise is the blood-curdling scream of pain coming out of your mouth. It’s the worst for female accordionists.

I wanted to be a musician so I could pick up girls, which is the only reason any young guy wants to be a musician no matter what they tell you. I discovered that girls weren’t attracted to guys playing “Lady of Spain” on an accordion except on the Lawrence Welk Show and if they were 90 years old, so I quit. I taught myself to play the organ, joined a band and played loud rock music. Fortunately, rock music is simple and can be played by anybody. I found I didn’t have to worry about notes and melodies so I was free to concentrate on picking up girls and drinking and not falling off the bandstand.

Dick Contino, eat your heart out.


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