Life Just Bounces don't you get worried at all. (A weblog of music and otrogenerica)

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Song of the day: #19 Walt Solek – "Who Stole the Keeshka?"

Kishka (sometimes kishke, kiszka or keeshka) is a Slavic-originating term for various types of sausage or intestine stuffed filled with meat and/or meal, and popular among Eastern Europeans, Ashkenazi Jews and diaspora communities of both.

Its several types include kaszanka, a black pudding-esque concoction involving a pig's intestine filled with pig's blood and barley. Sometimes liver is used as a filling; sometimes buckwheat, ground potatoes (as in Greater Bialystok kiszka) or other grains are subsituted for the barley. Paprika is frequently added for flavour. Ashkenazic Jewish kishke obeys kashrut restrictions by using beef intestines (or sometimes, an edible synthetic substitute) filled with matzo meal, rendered fat (schmaltz) and spices. So-called "false kishka" is actually helzel, chicken neck-skin stuffed with a flour-based mix. Finally, believe it or not, there's such a thing as vegetarian kishka.

Someone has stolen Polish-American lyricist, composer, and Clown Prince of Polka Walt Solek's kishka, and, though he might not look it, he is extremely unhappy about this. Intending to secure the return of his intestine-based feast through song, he penned "Who Stole the Keeshka?" (as it was originally spelt), which has since become a minor polka standard to the extent that it is often credited as "Polish traditional" rather than to Solek (lyrics) and polka promoter and musician Walter Dana. It has been recorded by numerous groups including Grammy-winning polka artist Frankie Yankovic, polka revivalists Brave Combo, and dependably dreadful musical comedian "Weird Al" Yankovic.

The song veers oddly and abruptly between the mournful verses bemoaning the loss of the food, the slightly more optimistic questioning of the chorus, and the frankly balls-out, horn-filled joyous exuberance of the instrumental sections, also featuring some truly wild1 tambourine-playing. This probably says something profound about the Polish-American experience, but search me if i know what it is.

Solek's anguished vocals really convey the pain of the lost blood sausage: it's actually quite surprising that someone can imbue the words "it was hanging on a rack" with so much emotion. After a while he moves from anger to the bargaining stage, offering up pretty much any of his other Polish delicacies in exchange for the kishka's return:

You can take my szynka
Take my fine kielbasa
You can take my [stewed]? czernina2
But gimme back that kishka

Happily, everything turns out ok for Walt: at the end of the song it turns out that it was in fact Yashil who stole the kishka, the big bastard. To his credit, he returns it to the rack, and Solek thanks him, just in time for another tambourine-soaked hoedown frenzy. He's lucky Walt's such a nice guy. i'd have considered giving him a fine kielbasa round the face, to be honest with you.

Walt Solek's records seem insanely hard to find nowadays. There's a couple on eBay, two records on Spotify for British/Scando readers, and that really is about it. For ages i've been trying to find a tune of his called "Old Whiskey Shoes Polka", which was used to great effect by Les Blank in his 1980 documentary short Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe, so if anyone knows where i can get hold of a copy of that, hit me up and i will reward you with some Polish sausage or something. Word.

mp3: Walt Solek – "Who Stole the Keeshka?"

1 And endearingly over-high in the mix, for that matter.
2 Couldn't work out for sure what this says, though some research into Polish cuisine throws up czernina – duck blood soup – as probably the closest-sounding dish. Like the kiszka, it's also full of blood.

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