The Rolling Stones

Part 2: How The Beatles Ended My Musical (Accordion) Career

On February 9, 1964 at 8:00pm, I joined over 70 million Americans watching The Beatles live on the Ed Sullivan Show. I was 13 and would turn 14 that September. For weeks before their appearance, their songs were all over the airwaves. I Want to Hold Your Hand was the #1 song on the Billboard charts. My 8th-grade class was buzzing with excitement.

Paul, George, Ringo and John, 1964

Paul, George, Ringo and John, 1964

Ed Sullivan introduced The Beatles to his audience of teenagers as the “youngsters from Liverpool” and the girls screamed. In front of our TV, mom, dad, sister Chris and brother Tom were glued to the screen. As soon as George, Paul, John and Ringo started singing All My Loving, Chris and I joined in the screaming, 10-year-old Tom got caught up in the excitement and dad was making fun of the haircuts and outfits but seemed to be having a good time, too. Mom just looked mystified by it all.

The Beatles played three songs in the first half hour of the show (Including She Loves You… Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!) and two in the second half hour, including my favorite I Saw Her Standing There.

Here’s how the performance started:

The British invasion was underway and although I didn’t know it right then, my 8-year accordion-playing career was about to be over.

In Part 1 of this blog, I wrote about how my parents bought accordion lessons for me at the age of 6 from a door to door salesman and how I became a very good classical accordionist by my teens, performing with an accordion symphony orchestra and competing in solo events around the city and state.

Me … a little girl with a big accordion! Circa 1958

Me … a little girl with a big accordion! Circa 1958

The Beatles, and the British rock and roll bands that followed them like The Rolling Stones, The Animals, and Herman’s Hermits, were all about guitars and drums. Teenagers all over the US were listening to this new music and many of them were yearning to be in their own rock and roll bands, preferably playing guitar like Paul, John or George.

In the book Squeeze This: A Cultural History of the Accordion in America, the author wrote:

“By 1963, the accordion had reached the height of its popularity, but America’s youth were beginning to embrace new music and new instruments. Playing the accordion became, for all intents and purposes, uncool”.

At 13, I really liked boys, I was experimenting with makeup, I wanted to wear short skirts and I played Beatles records constantly with my friends.  I also started to rebel against authority (i.e. my parents). I was a true teenager.  I definitely didn’t want to be uncool.

I started to complain.

There’s nothing I can do with the accordion… … I have too much homeworkI want to go out with my friends …. I don’t want to play polkas for grandpa anymore.

And then, sometime in late 1964 or early 1965, I quit.

I don’t remember how hard my parents fought with me about this, but I don’t think they fought too much. They, too, were seeing the change in musical tastes and didn’t have an answer for me about what I’d be able to do with accordion skills.

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My brother began taking guitar lessons. The money my parents had spent to develop my musical skills were now transferred to developing his.  He grew his hair long, got an electric guitar and drove us crazy. I was jealous. Playing guitar was definitely cool. I would have liked to play, too, and even bought an acoustic guitar and taught myself some chords. But in my family, Tom was now the guitar player so I didn’t get any encouragement. (He became an excellent guitarist, played with several bands, has a great tenor voice, gained recognition as one of the best guitarists in Cincinnati and still plays gigs at age 62.)

Brother Tom’s publicity shot in the early 70’s

Brother Tom’s publicity shot in the early 70’s

I was busy being a teenager anyway.

Over the years, I have had a lot of guilt about quitting after my parents had spent so much money and I had spent so much time. I’ve also been asked why I didn’t transfer my accordion playing to the piano, an instrument that provided more practical career opportunities, even in rock bands.

Those of you who have played accordion understand that this is not as easy as it may seem. Although my right hand played on a musical keyboard similar to a piano, I played buttons with my left hand. The transition could have been made, of course, but not without a lot of work, more lessons and a good piano in our home. At that time, I didn’t have the will to learn a new instrument and my parents didn’t have the money to encourage it.

I have to admit that my recent reading about the accordion’s popularity in the 50’s and its subsequent demise in the 60’s and 70’s made me feel a little better. Sales of accordions dropped to an all-time low in 1964, around the time I stopped playing.  I was not alone in being caught up in the new music wave.

I’ve never regretted my years of musical training, but I’ve often wished that my parents had gotten me started on a piano or guitar.

Here’s “the rest of the story” about accordions:

Accordions made a comeback in the 80’s and 90’s and since then have found their way into rock bands like Bare Naked Ladies, Counting Crows, and Bruce Springsteen’s E-Street Band. Bruce Hornsby, Tom Waits, Billy Joel, Pete Townsend and Eddie Vedder play accordion, too.

Bruce Springsteen with band member Mark Metcalfe

Bruce Springsteen with band member Mark Metcalfe

Backstreet Girl by the Rolling Stones features an accordion and Sheryl Crow plays one for the song Are You Strong Enough to Be My Man?

Sheryl Crow

Sheryl Crow

A January 2014 article in The Atlantic entitled Accordions So Hot Right Now reported that the last remaining accordion manufacturer in the US is selling 60% of its accordions to people under the age of 30 and is having trouble keeping up with production.

My accordion playing days were obviously in the wrong century!

By the way, I learned recently that both Paul McCartney and John Lennon played the accordion before the guitar. Somehow, that tidbit of information about the Beatles didn’t make it into the press releases at the time.

I’m pretty sure that it wouldn’t have made a difference to 14-year-old Cathy anyway.  Being cool was just too important!

Cathy Green

PS… Friends have asked me if I have ever wanted to play accordion again. I remember picking up my old accordion when I was  in my 40’s and realizing how little I remembered and how poorly my hands worked on the keys and buttons. I had lost the ability to read the sheet music, too. When musicians tell you that practicing constantly and consistently is critical, believe them!

Making New Friends

Most of us old enough to be fabulous, sophisticated women remember meeting people as related to some smoke-filled room with tremendous amounts of alcohol and loud music.  We were trying to “meet new people” or otherwise find love, companionship or at the least great sex or a job lead.

Our parents and most adults had friends when we were growing up.  We learned that friendship meant lots of real back and forth communications on the phone or through the mail.  The primary way it worked was by mutual talking, listening and responding, following up, and remembering birthdays. It focused on listening to other people’s stories and lives and of course sharing – gossip, secrets, dreams.  We didn’t really have any place or way to present ourselves to others except through conversation or photo albums, or sharing experiences.  Good news is, most of us know how to BE friends, it is the ‘meeting the right people’ part that has become a bit of a drag.

Unlike our early searches to find new and different people, and also discover ourselves, we now know who we are. We’re comfortable in our own skin or REALLY working to be, and set on what works and doesn’t work for us in terms of acquaintances.  This is probably one of the very reasons it is so hard to find good new friends.  We know what we want—and will know it when we see it—but till then it is sort of hit and miss at the club, church, synagogue, neighborhood or volunteer activity.  We plan “dates” with singles or couples, with or without mates and see what happens.  Often, nothing happens.  It is a bust of sorts—nice people as we say—but nothing really “in common” or as fabulous women, we conclude—they are nice—but basically boring.

So what’s an adventurous person or couple to do?  How can you attract and find great new friends.  Well truly, I don’t know—but here are my sources, successes and failures; and for what they are worth, use them in your journey to find just the right people for you!

Good ways to meet people

  • Have something important to you in common—be honest—if you hate people talking about their grandchildren, do not look or try to reach out for people who are living very close geographically to their children.  If they live close they talk all the time—you will be bored and they won’t care because they are surrounded by their kids and that is all that matters.  If you have at least two or three other interests in common like art, food, politics or whatnot—OK to try them—but don’t get your hopes up.
  • You heard them talking to someone else, or they gave a talk or you heard them share something and just something about their style appealed to you.  If you find someone drawing you in—it is a possible friendship lead.  See if you can find out who they are and introduce yourself.
  • Reach out specifically to someone even if you they are not your age or other “obvious” category —hey if you live in a small town or even NYC—you read about someone owning a gallery, writing a book, opening a restaurant, starting a club and think—hey that sounds “neat” or “cool”—contact them and suggest coffee or an iced tea—you are fascinated by what they do or are doing and would love to meet them—if you have an eye on George Clooney or Ryan Gosling I wouldn’t get my hopes up—99 percent of real people will be flattered and meet you.  And if they blow you off, who cares—you don’t know them YET.  We are long out of ANY school—and NO ONE CARES. Their rejection just proves you are not yet the best at pre-friendship selection—but you will get better.
  • Clubs—golf, or otherwise—or churches—or neighborhood associations—but make sure you are truly in the demographic stereotype– (there is a grain of truth in most stereotypes—especially in terms of what you are doing here)—what I mean is don’t join the local country club hoping to find others who adore President Obama and want to get involved in inner city volunteer activity—most country club members really are republicans—not all and maybe not one or another specific club–but wake up—it isn’t a happy hunting ground for friendships for the very liberal . . .
  • Ask around—remember that one—ask your vendors if you use any—hairdressers, law professionals, your new lawyer or local accountant—who is fun, or who is interesting—who are their favorite clients and why—I really like our neighbors—but unsure how to connect—till Sherri showed up in the seat next to me having her hair colored by MY Jason at MY salon.  The old adage that birds of a feather means something.  Likely someone like you will love the same people—including people like your hairdresser.
  • Do dump people you don’t like quickly—it is like dating—you kind of do know after a lunch or dinner that it just isn’t going to make it—let it go with grace—and style—don’t extend again and if you really don’t like the people/person, be direct but very nice—“hey we really just don’t have more time for new friends”—sounds cruel—but if you say it in a nice and light-hearted way people get it—and if they don’t aren’t you glad you are dumping them?

As the Rolling Stones put it: “you can’t always get what you want, but you get what you need.  The key is self-knowledge coupled with some assertive useful rules of thumb—we fabulous women are good at that—or try to be.

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