I was lured into Blair Kilpatrick's memoir, Accordion Dreams: A Journey into Cajun and Creole Music, the moment I saw the charming cover depicting a happy little girl holding her accordion, although I was surprisingly unprepared for the extent of the adventure she'd lead me on in this extraordinary musical memoir.
Before I even opened the book, a small voice in the recesses of my mind encouraged me to find my BeauSoleil album, Bayou Cadillac, which I hadn't listened to for ages. Find it I did, and as the first beats of Bon Temps Rouler resounded, I settled back in a comfortable chair and darn near didn't get up until I'd read this entire, enchanting book.
To my delight, within the first dozen pages, Kilpatrick talked about how she had excitedly ripped the plastic from her newly purchased BeauSoleil cassette, which shows off the battered red Cadillac convertible, upended in a swamp. Now the hook in me worked itself deeper and deeper. Her compelling, obsessive journey into Cajun-Creole music progressed with her quest to learn to play the accordion, and pay it well, after she fell in love with all things relating to Louisiana's famous folksingers and musicians, whose French lyrics tell stories through song and melodies merge souls through accordion, fiddle, guitar, and triangle.
In, what I consider a love story, Kilpatrick shares the secrets she learned from the fathers of this genre from learning to play "by ear" to knowing you must practice a tune 100,000 times, if you want to succeed. From her illuminating prose, I now understood more of the nuances of this music I love. I learned to hear the fiddles talk in their call-and-response style and to feel the easy contracting and expanding bellows of the accordions, as those who played their pearly keys lead the tunes. Moreover, the commanding personalities of the giants of Cajun-Creole music came to life as Kilpatrick peeled back the layers of developing friendships with her friendly, though passionate, conversational style of writing.
Kilpatrick had me "vibrating in some kind of universal rhythm lock" by the end of the book; and by then, too, I wanted to play in her band, Sauce Piquante, even though I know how to play not a one of those beckoning instruments. She has a way of expressing in writing exactly what I think I'd feel if I had been so fortunate as to have taken this journey into the heart of Cajun-Creole music.
She even includes a ‘mother memoir' within her Accordion Dreams memoir, when in chapter fifteen she gives us a look at the women in her Eastern European family, as her "mother laughed and cried as the memories came back." For me, that's the beauty of writing ‘mother memoir' because you can't help but be taken back to your beginnings, just as Kilpatrick couldn't help but be taken back to the roots of Cajun music. "And you find yourself back at the beginning, at the place where you began."
I fell in love completely with the "laughter and tears, love and loss. Holding on and letting go. The mysterious dance of memory linking past and present - and carrying us forward, into the days ahead." The resonance of Accordion Dreams: A Journey into Cajun and Creole Music will stay with me for a lifetime.