I know it’s hard to believe, but even history bloggers sometimes think about something other than history. We knit, canoe, wrestle bears, feed people, drink whiskey, and play with the cat.* Whenever we get the chance, My Own True Love and I pull on our dancing shoes and two-step and waltz to a Cajun band.
The heart of Cajun music is the accordion–a fiendish instrument by any standard. So when the editor at Shelf Awareness was looking for someone to review Squeeze This!: A Cultural History of the Accordion in America I waved my virtual hand in the air and squealed “Pick me!” (Oddly enough, no one fought me for it. Go figure.)
Ethnomusicologist Marion Jacobson’s Squeeze This! is a serious work of musical and cultural history written in an engaging and accessible voice. **
Jacobson goes beyond a consideration of the accordion as physical artifact. Writing in the tradition of Paul Berliner’s The Soul of Mbira and Karen Linn’s That Half-Barbaric Twang, Jacobson also looks at how the accordion operates in social, cultural, and symbolic terms.
Squeeze This! begins with Jacobson’s inadvertent introduction to America’s “accordion culture” and ends with the modern accordion revival, which repositions the often-derided instrument “as avant-garde, edgy, even sexy”. In between, she discusses how the role of the accordion in American society evolved in response to changes in immigration law, the death of vaudeville, the rise of radio, the invention of the electronic microphone, cultural assimilation, cultural preservation, and the youth culture of the 1960s. She traces the rise and fall of the accordion in popular culture through the careers of the musicians who play it, from Guido Deiro to Weird Al Yankovic.
Possibly the most interesting portion of the book is Jacobson’s exploration of the accordion as “a low-tech, anti-postmodern antidote to synthesizer saturation”. Subversion, the search for authenticity, and the contrast between images of female sexuality and male nerdiness are not topics commonly associated with the accordion and accordion players.
Squeeze This! is not just a book about accordions. It will appeal to readers interested in both the development of American music, America’s cultural history as a whole.
Now if you’ll excuse me–I think I’ll lure My Own True Love away from his desk for a quick two-step down the hall. They’re playing our song.
The body of this review previously appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers
* Note bene: I’m not claiming I do all of the above.
** Warning for Cajun music enthusiasts and other fans of the button accordion. Jacobson focuses almost entirely on the piano accordion. Squash down your prejudices and read the book anyway.