One of my favorite memories of John Candy was when he played Gus Polinski, in the movie Home Alone. Gus, the lead singer of the Kenosha Kickers, was proud of winning a Grammy for his one big hit- Polka, Polka, Polka- even though he and his band were riding home in a rented panel truck on Christmas eve, clearly not major players in the world of music.
Just the other day I was reminded of Gus and Polka, Polka, Polka when I heard that the real Grammy awards were not going to recognize the polka as a separate category of music. The news came as a stab to the heart. As someone from a proud Polish-American heritage, I grew up on the polka, and if I might say, dance a pretty mean polka.
But after three years of what appears to be a kind of probation, the Grammy people have decided that there haven’t been enough entries in the polka category to merit an award, and so this year the polka will be melded with other folk music, a further stab in the heart.
At one time the polka was a popular mainstay in many of the ethnic communities in this country with such big name bands led by Frankie Yankovic, Eddie Blazonczyk and Stas Gomulka. The arrival of Lawrence Welk on the scene even heightened the popularity of the polka as Lawrence danced with one of his young singers to the utter joy of the senior set.
But Lawrence Welk is gone and the seniors no longer have the energy to fly around the floor with reckless abandon. Time marches on and time has overtaken the polka. In recent years, New York polka king, Jimmy Sturr, won the Grammy by trying to modernize the music with a little bit of country sound, but that change has not stimulated much interest.
There are a few new polka bands around such as the San Francisco group called, believe it or not, Polkacide, but their version of the music is so far removed from the famous Chicago big brass and accordian sound that it might as well be folk music.
The polka has been the butt of jokes for years as the music of working class oldsters with bowling shirts who were stuck in thye 40s and 50s. But this music of the Poles, Slovenians, Serbians, Czechs, and Germans has been an important part of our musical heritage in this country, and now it is likely to fade away, a victim of neglect.
This year I am boycotting the Grammys and playing my cherished copy of Eddie Blazonczyk and the Versatones as I dance with my wife in the living room.