Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Book Review: Ah-One Ah-Two

Title: Ah-One Ah-Two

Authors: Lawrence Welk and Bernice McGeehan

Illustrations: 40 pages of black-and-white photos

Publisher: Prentice-Hall

Date: 1974

Length: 215 pages

Quote: “This book is about my Musical Family...the people who make up the 'family' which has become such a big part of my life.”

Ah-One Ah-Two was a nostalgia trip when it was written. Lawrence Welk was enjoying “wunnerful” success within a small but secure niche, performing the early twentieth century pop music against which rock music was supposed to represent a rebellion. The history of 1960s and 1970s music is incomplete without mentioning Welk, so this book is an historical document now.

According to the commercial media, people my age hated Lawrence Welk, his show, and his band. Some people I knew did laugh at them. I rarely watched television, but when we were in places that picked up television my parents and I watched Lawrence Welk. I liked the show. I was bewildered by the differences among church rules that the show highlighted, too, but apparently my parents managed to communicate that Christian adults could honestly disagree about the fine points of their discipline and still respect one another.

The Lawrence Welk Show featured dancing and had a theme song about champagne. Churchgoing people I knew didn't dance or drink alcohol, and many wouldn't watch the Lawrence Welk Show. Nevertheless...he was a modest and tasteful old gentleman, and you have to read all the way to page 213 before he spells it out, but Welk was a Christian who urged his audience to “give our young people the greatest gift of all...trust in God.”

The “family” included an instrumental ensemble as well as seven young men and seven young women singers. We learn most of these people's given names, while reading Ah-One Ah-Two, and we read a few perfectly publishable anecdotes about their performances...the time Welk invited a stage-struck older woman to come up on stage where one of the guys could sing a lovesong “to” her, the lively dance that almost wore the performers out, the time Welk inadvertently caught one of the musicians venting road stress with a lot of “blankety-blank” language.

And, of course, we read more about that lovable little old ham who always managed to stay on center stage. We “see” Welk as Grand Marshal of the Rose Bowl Parade of 1972: his wife and a friend “picked out a suit for me in dark lavender and pinkish tones, to contrast with Fern's purple outfit, complete with a purple hat.” We see an actual photo, as well as the story, of a semi-planned flop in which Welk appeared to surrender to pressure from the young people to do more rock songs and appeal to hippies; Welk put on a faddy outfit and a wig of long dark hair, and commented on the picture, “I could understand why some of our fans didn't like me dressed as a hippie. I didn't like myself!”We even see the vanity plate the State of California awarded Welk, “in appreciation for my taxes,” before vanity plates were available to the general public: A1 AN A2.

He gets serious only in the epilogue, explaining the “Family Plan” on which the band worked as operating “on three distinct levels. First, is our vocational Training...Second, is our Personality and Character Training...in the good humor and professionalism of our group...We complete our Sharing by sharing profits, and awarding extra bonuses for outstanding performance.” The baby-boomer generation were young, at the time, and although it now seems hard to confuse harmless teen fads and slang with drugs, vice, and crime, older people used to confuse these things and talk as if we were one great big social problem. Welk was on to a solution: “Whenever you share something—it increases... [A] few basic changes—on a nation-wide level—would allow it [the Family Plan] to work even better.

1. Establish a more realistic wage scale. This would permit employers to train and develop millions more youngsters...

2. Remove some of the government and union controls. This would cut the paralyzing red tape that now prevents thousands of talented youngsters from getting an early start on a lifetime career.

3. Put God back in our schools.”

Well, plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose...there was more than bubbles in Lawrence Welk's head, after all.

Who needs this book? If your elders were serious fans, they probably already own it. Ask. I'm more inclined to recommend it to people under age fifty who are into melody, harmony, even counterpoint, in music. Ah-One Ah-Two is nothing like a technical guide for musicians and does not include any song lyrics, but it does provide historical background to go with the early twentieth century songs some of us want to revive.

Although Ah-One Ah-Two is not a Fair Trade Book we still have to charge $5 per copy + $5 per package online. Shipping rates "per package" mean that you could order this one along with a few Fair Trade Books and consider the shipping free, though, so scroll down. To buy it here, send payment to either of the addresses at the very bottom of the screen.