I was home visiting my dad over Labor Day weekend. On Saturday night, I set some fishing poles in the back yard and came into the house. My dad and stepmom had the television on. I joined them, cracked open a Coors Light and got comfortable.
They were watching a television show with musicians playing various instruments, like slide guitars, accordions and a Hammond Organ. There were dancers. One was a guy who clicked his heels, spun in circles, jumped from one leg to the other and moved his arms in a pumping motion. He had a red scarf around his neck and held a smile through it all. When he finished he strained to say “thank you.” I was mesmerized.
It hit me — I was watching the Lawrence Welk show. At this realization, I didn’t reach for the remote or leave the room. I continued to take it in; the entertainment continued. It included two sisters who looked like twins, wearing matching blouses in modest skirts who sang a melodic harmony. ‘That’s the Aldridge Sisters,” my dad and stepmom declared almost simultaneously. With hair frozen stiff and 95 percent of their body covered in clothes, it was simple, elegant, refreshing. Even their necks were draped in bandanas or some kind of material long since donated to the Smithsonian.
As it continued, I watched a bear — yes, a black bear — presumably an adult in costume — dance through an instrumental tune. None of us assembled in dad’s den flinched. It was brilliant. An ensemble played “Wabash Cannonball,” a song partial to the K-State band during basketball games. Barbara Mandrel later came out and sang a beautiful song to which my ears had never been exposed. Near the end, a clown came out and danced.
I suppose one could say the last song was a head scratching harmonic convergence of a country-western song interpreted by a Ronald McDonald wanna-be, but on that night, in that home, with my beer, it worked to perfection. I learned the show was a rebroadcast of a show originally broadcast in 1981.
By contemporary standards, one might think the show was horrible deficient. After all, it did not include bleeping lyrics, people contorting their bodies, bumping body parts and extending tongues, for starters. There were no nose rings, cleavage or people dressed in rags doubling as clothes. People sang, not talked, through tunes.
Shockingly, Lawrence Welk didn’t attempt to crowd surf, flash gang signs or promote a Web site or hashtag. There were zero tattoos, piercings and not a whiff of anyone believing that immodesty was a virtue. The only risk of a wardrobe malfunction was the lapels of Lawrence Welk’s suit obscuring the entire television screen.
I read where Lawrence Welk recorded over a thousand shows. Never once did he appear with a foam finger.
If today’s music is a toxic mix of saccharine infused phonies, Lawrence Welk and his musical entourage remind us it didn’t used to be that way.
Very soon the day will arrive when one of the Keenan kids will walk into the family room on a Saturday night when I’m enjoying retro entertainment courtesy of Mr. Welk.
If I’m lucky, the TV will feature a black bear square dancing with a clown. What will follow could include a pseudo seizure, sudden evacuation back to college or most probably, my next column.