Sean Dixon

Tango With The Ugly

Recently, I had a misunderstanding with a fellow Ryeberg curator that hinged entirely on the negative perception of the ukulele.

I saw an essay here about a music video for a popular song, and then later came across a ukulele cover. So I posted the link beneath the essay, adding that perhaps this was all you really needed to play it.

The author read my comment and replied that if something so simple as a uke could cover it, it would mean it was a brilliant song.

This would have been my argument too, so we seemed to be in agreement. But the response had a slightly hostile tone which I put down to the author thinking the uke cover sucked. It took me a day or two to uncover the truth, which was that the author thought I thought it sucked.

Which meant I thought the original sucked.

Which meant that I sucked.

All because of the assumption that everyone hates the ukulele.

Lots of clichés in the world but there are few I hate more than the theory implicit behind the following joke:

Definition of perfect pitch: When you throw a banjo into a dumpster and it hits an accordion.

I find the attitude revealing in the way you might if someone mocked an unconventional person. My response.


Gary Nickard, Reinhard Reitzenstein and The Vores, “Monsters of Nature and Design” (Hallwalls, Buffalo, NY)

Which reminds me of my favourite dis: Once, when banjoist John Millard was playing a gig, someone called from the audience asking why he’d didn’t play guitar instead. John replied that he’d love to have a guitar. If he had a guitar, he said, he could set it down in the middle of the stage and take a shit in it.

This is not to say I have not abused the delicacy of these much-maligned instruments on occasion.

I used to play the concertina. Or that’s not quite true. I used to strap one end of the concertina to my open hand and then hurl the opposite side away from me. I was trying to master a kind of one-handed playing style for the benefit of a street performance, but it didn’t work and anyway I ended up hurling the other end too far one day and tore the instrument in half.

As might be expected.

And not like this at all:


Juliette Daum, “L’Enfant Demon France” (on a Wheatestone Aeola Bass-baritone Concertina)

After destroying the concertina I moved on to a bugle that got covered with dents because I used to throw it spinning up into the air and then not catch it.

I might have destroyed my ukulele too but I ended up loaning it to a musician who failed to return it. One might wonder whether he knew what he was doing.

+++

The accordion is a big instrument, but it’s also portable. It takes both hands. It breathes with a big set of lungs while strapped to your body.

So: I’m having trouble deciding between two final vids. Behind door number one there are high production values and a performer whose hair and make-up have been done by professionals. He wears a tuxedo and performs a piece on the baby grand piano with long, muscular fingers.

And then the floor collapses and the piano falls and lands on a guy who’s warming up to tell the joke about the accordion and the banjo and the dumpster.

So let’s go straight to door number two:

Behind door number two, there are lower production values including a shaky camera, poor lighting, lack of focus, background noise… and the accordion.

The performer’s face is mostly turned away, her shoulders are up. Muscles taut. She pushes the instrument and it pushes back. It’s sexy. There’s a dance that happens as she plays it — a push/pull of the tango variety.


“Accordion from Japan”

I don’t even know what the band is called, though I believe it might be the Andy Sheafe Trio.

And the player: I don’t know her name either. Perhaps she is no virtuoso. I don’t know anything about it. She’s good but it’s the struggle that makes it so compelling, so beautiful. She pulls that thing against her body, curls around it and holds on for dear life.

There’s a woman sitting at the bar who’s privy to a close look. She seems to be saying to herself, Man, I wish I had a lover like that.

And the men murmuring in the background, repeating the joke over and over about the banjo and the accordion and the dumpster, are doing their best to ignore her. They can’t look at her. They’re afraid of her. They can’t compete.

- Sean Dixon

  • http://turkeydinner.net Jesse

    Absolutely love this post. I always thought those jokes and the general dislike of instruments not conforming to high-brow Western music smack of plain old ignorance. For more unusual and interesting banjo use, see the Spanish group Curandero (esp. the album Arás) and for the accordian action, see the French Canadian band Les Négresses Vertes.

Ryeberg Curator Bio

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Sean Dixon is a novelist, playwright, and actor. His novels include "The Many Revenges of Kip Flynn" and "The Girls Who Saw Everything" ("The Last Days of the Lacuna Cabal" in the U.S. and the U.K.) — named one of the Best Books of 2007 by Quill & Quire. His plays have been produced in Canada, the U.S., Australia and the U.K., and three have been collected in "AWOL: Three Plays for Theatre SKAM." He occasionally plays banjo with the Toronto glam rock band tomboyfriend. For more Sean Dixon, go here.