The bejeweled patrons of Miami’s upscale Club Nu like to affect the nouveau-riche style of Dallas or Dynasty. So they weren’t quite ready for the break in the ambience when the disco music stopped abruptly one night and a woman with platinum-colored pop-up braids, studded lederhosen and a beer stein on her head came hurtling into the spotlight. Backed by an all-girl band wearing push-up bras, $2 wigs and layers of makeup, she began singing, “He eats schnitzel/Drinks schnapps/Gets stoned/ I stay at home/ Eat strudel/ Alone.” It might as well have been Springtime for Hitler. “The crowd literally gasped and backed away,” says a witness. “You could tell that people thought, ‘Polka? Rock polka? What is this?’ ”
The sleek types at the Club Nu may not even know who stole the kishke, but the question would seem perfectly reasonable to the New York City band Das Furlines, also known as the Polka Pride of the Lower East Side and—to themselves at least—as “the women who could eat or drink all of you under the table.” Das Furlines represent one of the most energetic and least expected musical life-forms: the hybrid combination of polka and punk. A ballroom craze in 19th-century Europe, polka was one of the wildest, most uninhibited forms of dance music until Lawrence Welk helped make it a symbol of squareness. Now, with a sped-up, electrified style, Das Furlines have helped poke polka back to life, performing for yuppies, punks, blue-collar types and even some oldies. They will begin touring the West Coast next month. “It rejuvenates you,” says guitarist Holly Hemlock, 31. “I have never danced so wildly or nonstop to rock as I do to polka.”
Das Furlines, who used to perform with underground New York rock bands like Clambake, Mad Violets and the Fuzztones, claim to have been struck in 1985 “by a vision from the goddess of polka.” Thus inspired, they set about reviving songs by their favorite cult band, the Monks, a group of American GIs who went AWOL in West Germany two decades ago for the purpose of making wigged-out rock music often with an oompah beat. Soon Das Furlines began writing their own polka-style songs, and they were not alone. Restless Records will release a compilation album this winter featuring eight North American rock bands that have converted to polka, and since 1984 L.A.’s Club Lingerie has sponsored something called the U.S. Polka Wars. During past skirmishes, Brave Combo, a four-man Texas band that helped kick off the polka revival in 1979, has gone head-to-head with such groups as San Francisco’s Polkacide and L.A.’s Rotondi to see who could whip the crowd into a greater frenzy. “But no one takes the battle too seriously,” says Wars organizer Brendan Mullen. “Once, the judges had such a good time, they forgot to vote.”
From the tip of their fur-trimmed spike heels to their denim jackets with the hand-painted motto “Sworn to Fun/ Loyal to None,” Das Furlines raise polka to a new level of kitsch. Their headgear, infamous in its variety, includes a tiara of fake eyeballs, an Attila the Hun helmet (with horns), a pretzel crown and a two-foot-high fur toque. Guitarist Wendy Wild, 31, enlivens concerts with “Furry Tales,” improvised and often obscene.
Dark circles under their eye makeup hint that these women lead double lives. After polkaing the night away, Hemlock becomes Holly George, a copy editor at American Baby magazine. Bass player Liz Luv, 26, is Liz Gall, an editorial assistant, and organist Deb O’Nair, 30, otherwise known as Carol Krautheim, labors in a publicity agency. Drummer Rachel Amodeo, 29, who uses her own name onstage, supports herself with odd jobs, while Wild, born as Wendy Andreiev, earns her living dancing on the bar at Manhattan’s gritty Pyramid Club.
Das Furlines haven’t released a record, but the band has published a cookbook that includes recipes for Alcoholic Bluefish and Brownie Goo. “We decided to win our fans through their stomachs first and their ears second,” says Hemlock. Adds O’Nair: “The fatter you are, the better you polka. The body weight gets you going.”
Whatever their musical merits, Das Furlines and their colleagues in polka plan to enjoy themselves come what may. “If you take this stuff too seriously, you either walk away very mad or brain-damaged,” says Wild. All her bandmates nod in agreement. “And here’s another thing we all share,” adds Luv, with a coy wink. “We don’t like ugly boys.” Wait a minute—ugly boys! There’s got to be a theme in there somewhere. And-uh-one-and-uh-two…