September 30, 2005



Oktoberfest! Ahhhh... It bridges my past and present. Oh language, what is language but mere arbitrary sounds! And yet when I hear the sounds of that tongue it takes me back, takes me back to my youth spent with my best friend whose parents and relatives spoke Deutsch. It takes me back to my high school German. And though I identify more strongly with my Irish heritage, it touches a chord there as well.

The band has a few exuberant hams. Like exhibitionists, or bloggers? The groups founders’ son is now in his 70s and wears the most outrageous hats. This year it was some sort of James Brown beret number with long dreadlocks flowing from it. "Is that your real hair?" asked his band member brother. “Yes!”. You could tell when he put it on that he was looking for a reaction. Other bandmembers put theirs on sheepishly. I’m with Amy Welborn when she says that “professionalism ruins everything” and he seems in it for the joy, maybe even our joy; I wondered how much of the enthusiasm of this group was born of amateurism (derived etymologically for the word ‘love’) and how much of professionalism. Of course it’s easy for me to love them – I’m drinking the first beer of the week and I haven’t heard these songs in ages. This is Oktoberfest season and Lord knows they’ve been playing them early and often.

They play this delightfully cheesy number called, "Im Himmel Gibt’s Kein Bier" (i.e. "In Heaven There Is No Beer" - next verse "and that's why we drink it here") and they offer to sing it in whatever language an audience member chooses. And the joke is they just repeat the tune to some word they associate with the language - for Italian they repeat "pizza". It's so obvious that it's funny, or at least it appeals to everyone. It's kind of how Flannery O’Connor wrote that she would name her dog ‘Spot’ as irony, her mother would without irony. She said it wouldn't much matter in the end. And then the band member who is out soliciting suggestions comes up - as if by accident! - with the suggestion "sign language". And they act all surprised, like that's never come up before, but then they silently make the motion of drinking a beer to the tune. There's always an element of acting to performing, isn't there? The crowd eats it up - imagine someone having the creativity to suggest "sign language"! - and yet no audience member did...

The scent overwhelms; the pungency of sauerkraut greets with the sound of polka as I sit down and take the first sips of Warsteiner Dunkel and the music felt gilded, as in a dream. Folks of every age surround me --all in a similarly excellent mood and why not? As the Oktoberfest T-shirts said, "no one can listen to a polka and not smile." And the dancers, well there is something to their humility that struck me. There is a humility in admitting the music has gotten to you and yes it is temporary, but so what? They understand they are human and they celebrate their response to auditory stimuli and there is something sweet in that, in anyone who witnesses unashamedly. Polkas have always been a guilty pleasure. Many don't admit liking them, they groan and think them too simple, "ooh-pah music" they call it. But I'd rather think that polkas are necessary in order to relieve smart people of their dysfunction? A Simpsons episode showed Homer sticking a crayon into the far nether regions of his brain as a child, thus explaining his stupidity, and when it was removed in his middle-age his IQ increased fifty points. Needless to say, after a couple of weeks as the "smart Homer" he had bartender Moe re-insert a crayon. Ignorance isn’t bliss, but it’s close enough for guvmint work. Or so Homer Simpson attests.

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