Louisiana is maybe one of the few places where the accordion is taken seriously, not merely as some kitsch novelty in a hipster band.
There was a comic from a while ago:
“Welcome to heaven,” an angel says to newly arrived souls. “Here’s your harp.” The panel below, “Welcome to hell, here’s your accordion.”
I really like the accordion, actually. It’s such a bizarre instrument. But like it or not, it’s hard to take seriously, unless you’re a big fan of traditional European polkas. It looks and sounds so goofy.
The blues and writing about the genre; filling the hole in my life; my early musical ambitions; revelations in Louisiana; acceptance and understanding
A personal break through for me as a journalist (I think) came after recently speaking with blues musician Chris Thomas King, the Louisiana native and so-called King of New Orleans Blues.
I’ve known of King since he starred in “O Brother Where Art Thou” as Tommy Johnson, an early blues musician from the Mississippi Delta. His eerie and reflective rendition of “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues” always intrigued me as a kid. When I was learning how to play the guitar, and when I was acquainting myself with the blues, I often did my best to imitate King’s sound. I never thought that one day I’d speak to the man.
Then again, I never thought I’d live in Louisiana, the heartland of the blues.
My interview with King comes at an interesting point in my life: I am 26; trying to establish myself as a writer; managing a newspaper in West Baton Rouge, Louisiana; displaced from my home state (Washington); in a committed relationship with someone for the first time; and yet I am still somehow lacking in some aspect. What it is, I can’t say.
I have a good life, but the things I once found fulfilling – even just a few years ago – seem forgotten to me. My “lust for life” seems like a forlorn quest, or just another unremarkable path to self-acceptance. Perhaps that’s not such a terrible ending, but I have a hard time imaging how I will ever reach that ending happily and at peace.
As a kid, the answer to happiness – or at least self-respect – was an easy one: music.
Since taking up the guitar at 12, I took the phrase “play till your fingers bleed” to heart. Although I never actually cut my fingers on the strings I damn sure tried. I loved my guitar. It was actually my dad’s guitar that he owned since he was about 19; an ember-colored Applause, similar in design to the Ovation guitars. I wasn’t very sentimental at the time, but I enjoyed the fact that my father was passing down the skill to his son with the very guitar that he learned on.
The guitar was huge for my size, but it was a point of pride for me. My friends’ parents bought them nylon-stringed guitars and cheap-o electric ones, but not me. I was determined to learn the hard way. As my friends quit after just a few months of playing, I stuck with it and I got better.
Music, and certainly the blues, taught me so many things about myself when I was growing up. My guitar was my therapist, my friend, and – as corny as it sounds – my first love. I could consult it when I was angry, lonely, happy, etc. I was constantly pushing myself to experiment with it.