I say "accordion" and what do you say?

"Lady of Spain."

I say "accordion" and what do you say?

"Lawrence Welk."

I say "accordion" and what do you say?

"There's nothing else to say."

That's where you're wrong.

Listen up, culture vultures: The accordion is making a comeback! That's right. Riding high in the pop record charts even as we speak is a group out of Los Angeles called Los Lobos, whose critically acclaimed first album, "How Will the Wolf Survive," features the rock 'n' roll rhythms of -- can you believe it? -- the accordion, America's most maligned musical instrument.

As the name might suggest, most of the members of Los Lobos are Hispanic, and some of the numbers on the album do seem more reminiscent of an ethnic street fair than a rock festival. But then there are the other tunes, authentic get-down-to-it rock 'n' roll, and right there in the middle of the action is lead singer David Hidalgo and his boogie squeezebox.

We could be talking history here.

You see, I've been there. I spent the better (or at least the slower) part of four youthful years learning to play one of those things -- piano keys on one side, 120 buttons on the other, bellows in the middle, and one reluctant body strapped in underneath. Sure I played "Lady of Spain" -- everybody played "Lady of Spain," it came with the territory -- and "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" and "Hava Nagila" -- but my show stopper was "Moon River." I played "Moon River" at the drop of a hat, for friends, for relatives, for strangers. I played "Moon River" in my sleep. I'd play it through one time normally, and then by pushing a special button just above the keyboard, I could soar through it again sounding vaguely like a clarinet.

I could have done it in "bassoon," too -- nobody every said the accordion wasn't versatile -- but, truth be told, "Moon River" never sounded quite right to me in "bassoon." But oh, in "clarinet"! It brought tears to your eyes.

You may gather from this account, that legend notwithstanding, playing the accordion did not subject me to instant social stigma from my peers. It's true. In fact, in my grade-school class alone there were two of us who took it up, and we both held onto our friends. Linda Bloom's was a beautiful instrument, I recall, with "LINDA" set in rhinestones all the way up one side. Mine, bought secondhand, was more ordinary (a good thing, actually -- I'd have looked ridiculous with an accordion named "LINDA"). And nobody laughed when either of us sat down to play.

My accordion teacher, though, went even further -- he tried to convince me that the accordion was a social plus. Practice hard, he kept telling me, and you'll spend your summers playing resorts in the Catskills: A couple of hours of music every night, and sunny afternoons lounging beside the hotel pool with all the girls gaga over "the accordion player in the band."

That's what he said.

The fellow who lived in the apartment downstairs actually spent one summer that way, but since he played both accordion and piano, I never considered his gaga experience an accurate indicator of what I'd find.

Anyway, can you see a girl being stirred to frenzy over an accordion player? Any accordion player? Can you see Elvis wearing one, tearing every muscle in his body as he tries to wiggle? Can you see the Beatles making the little girls scream with a lineup of John, Paul, George and Squeezo? I couldn't. So I gave it up, and I never went back.

Now it looks like I missed the boat. Lots of little girls, big girls, women, whatever, will be going gaga over Los Lobos in the months ahead. I've got pangs of regret, of course, mulling over what might have been. But for all of us who once played and have been ashamed to admit it, for all of us who endured the hours of practice with 25 pounds of music strapped to our chests, Los Lobos has brought at least a sense of vindication. We all walk just a little bit taller now.

Of course, taking off the accordion helps.