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Why Lawrence Welk was successful for so long

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Posted: Tuesday, July 24, 2012 12:00 am

In the interest of scientific inquiry, I decided to look into what made Lawrence Welk such a durable entertainer in the hearts and minds of people (over 30) worldwide. I tuned into Channel 6 and sat there for a whole hour the other night, and I think I discovered what his secret to professional longevity was. Speaking for squareheads everywhere, I found he spoke with the exact same accent that the average Wishek, North Dakotan thinks he doesn't have.

You might remember why many Lodi residents, whose roots are firmly the same as Lawrence his own self, were so convinced our recent governor didn't have an accent whatsoever — and still feel the mistakes he made were not of his own making (yeah, right).

Lawrence had the foresight to know that people would like music that didn't cause nervous tension and headaches, music that was written with the care and keeping of tympanic membranes in mind and not cause actual physical pain. His music had rhythm and continuity as well as melody and harmony in mind. He went so far as to feature music one listened to that has lyrics your children wouldn't have to pray for forgiveness because they listened to it on purpose. I suppose the word I was looking for earlier was "comfortable."

One of the reasons I am a classical music fan is the fact that music is predictable. If you have an ear for music, you can always predict the next note, and that is one of the secrets to the longevity of that art. Anything else leads to nervous tension, alcoholism and depression. Studies have shown that cows, even low-brow Holsteins, dry up when subjected to long-term doses of atonal, glass-shattering rock or its bile-stirring derivatives.

Lawrence went farther and saw to it the men on the show sang like their hormones were not askew and weren't causing irreparable harm to their vocal cords trying to reach notes that are even a problem for Steven Tyler.

The members of the band are gifted, and there's a simple explanation for their expertise: When the word went out for auditions, 50 guys showed up for every position. It's no wonder many of his bandsmen were the best of the best — the accordion player fer dang sher.

The pretty-as-a-picture Welk women sing downright prettily as well. Not a one sounded like her voice was tempered with booze and tobacco. (Relax, I ain't sayin' nothing' about tattoos in this column. You already know what I don't know about that subject.) Janis Joplin is my perfect bad example for ink and drink.

Welk did insist on costumes on his show that featured the same colors as the posters in the windows of the 31 Flavors sherbet ice cream cones joint. But then, those were engendered during the times when every retired New Yorker in Florida wore a white belt and matching patent leather shoes thinking he had attained haute monde nirvana So you could say that even the colors on Welk were on the pastel side, nothing nerve-jarring there either. The whole stage looks like a Van Gogh post-impressionist painting of tulip field, only in focus. Cutting off your ear changes everything, you know.

All in all, it was a most entertaining evening and, since I left Wishek at the age of five, I can only imagine the Lawrence Welk show was sorta like the senior prom at Wishek High School only with muddy shoes. The music was the same: 45 rpm discs of Bennie Goodman and Harry James played on a tinny-sounding Sears and Roebuck record player.

Watching the folks in the audience dance on the show was a lot like Lodi High in the '40s. The dancing was about as bad, the haircuts on the men were the same, duck tails and all, and the hair-dos on the gals were much like the Lodi gals. All you would've had to do in making an apt comparison was subtract 30 years from the ladies' ages and add four inches of hair piled up bouffant style. I ain't saying the people looked their ages, but with the changes in dental development, the phoney choppers were almost as obvious as the Hair Club for Men customers.

I used to have a bald friend who wasn't all that fussy about his hair. He did wear his rug backwards at lunch one day. No one mentioned it, but when he went to the little boys' room, he came back a changed man and that's all I'm gonna say about that.

Bob Bader can be reached at

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