How am I just hearing about this? This documentary seriously looks amazing.
The Man Who Would Be King calls itself “an irreverent look at the rise and fall of Grammy-nominated polka superstar Jan Lewan.” Unless you grew up on the polka circuit as I did, you wouldn’t have much reason to know who Lewan is. He was the Elvis of polka, a charismatic performer who built an empire on his flamboyant brand of the genre.
As a kid, my dad constantly dragged us to the polka festivals where Lewan was a fixture. I’d stand brooding just off from the dance floor, arms crossed and plotting my escape to the car to listen to the Bananarama cassette in my Walkman. But when Lewan took the stage, darn it if I didn’t stretch my neck to get a look at his theatrics. With the blare of the band’s trumpet vibrating in my chest, I’d watch as he sang and whooped and hollered until he was red-faced and sopping wet. Then, his signature move: one after another, he’d drag a red handkerchief across his sweaty brow and neck, tossing the moist souvenirs into the crowd of reaching hands. Women swooned. Men cheered. My mother pursed her lips, unimpressed.
Lewan rose to such prominence in the Polish community, he was said to be besties with the likes of Pope John Paul II and Lech Walesa. And then? His polka empire crumbled in scandal after scandal – charges of rigging his wife’s win in the 1998 Mrs. Pennsylvania pageant, a tour bus crash that killed two of his musicians and a five-year prison sentence in 2004 for bilking investors out of millions of dollars.
Classic tale of fame, greed and destruction – with a polka twist. I’m really eager to watch this. Even more excited to tell my dad about it.