What's wrong with the "Beer Barrel Polka"?
At a book signing party for my new mystery, Death By Accordion, I played “I’m Sick of Playing the Beer Barrel Polka,” a song I wrote years ago and which is mentioned in the book. Then someone asked, “What do you have against the “Beer Barrel Polka?”
It was an interesting question and one I hadn’t ever really analyzed. So I started thinking about it. Here’s what I came up with:
There are other polkas in the world. It isn’t that the song isn’t a perfectly good polka. There are many others I like more, but there is nothing wrong with the “Beer Barrel.” It’s catchy and lively. But why do people always request this polka over all others? After a lifetime of playing it, I’m tired of it. I suppose big name artists get tired of singing or playing their hit songs, but at least they have usually made a fortune on them. If I’d made a fortune playing the “Beer Barrel,” I’m sure I’d have a better attitude about it.
Bad rhyme. I don’t like the line, “Zing boom tarrarrel.” I strongly suspect the lyricist just made up the word “tararrel” because he couldn’t find anything to rhyme with “barrel.” (I do admit there’s not a lot he could do with “sterile” or “peril” in a polka, though.)
The song makes me nervous. Many years ago I learned the not-all-that easy Charles Magnante solo version. Given a bit of practice, I can still play it. But when I haven’t played for a while and someone asks for the “Beer Barrel,” I go through a moment of panic. Should I try the Magnante version and maybe screw it up? Or should I just wing it and play an easy version?
“Beer Barrel” history. I decided to do a little research to see if I could figure out why the song is so popular. It seems it started out as an instrumental piece written in 1927 by Czech composers Jaromír Vejvoda and Eduard Ingris. Later, Vaclav Zeman added lyrics—but not the lyrics most of us know. He called his version “Skoda Lasky,” meaning "Wasted Love." One source I found gave this as a translation of part of the song:
Pity the love which I gave to you
Today these eyes of mine would cry
My youth fled like a dream
All that remains to me is only a memory in my heart.
Not exactly a cheery piece.