The Music Man
Photography Paulette Phlipot
The humble but passionate eccentric may appear in general to be a vanishing species, but not in Sun Valley. This area boasts a full roster of offbeat, delightfully unique characters—some might call them “oddballs”—and, the truth is, almost everyone here has a story, a quirk that sets them outside the norm. As a group, we don’t blend well.
For example, consider a man most of us have seen—or at least heard—many times in the past decade and a half, at two of Sun Valley’s landmarks.
Tim Eriksen is a 65-year-old Pocatello native who happens to own 61 accordions, some of which see action regularly at Sun Valley’s Roundhouse and Trail Creek Cabin. He was introduced to the instrument in 1952, when his parents took him to see The Horace Height Variety Show at the just-completed Reed Gym in Pocatello. On that day, the accordion player was a Mr. Lou Prohut, and according to Tim, “Horace had found in Lou a musician of extraordinary talent who could coax sensational sounds” out of his fashionable squeezebox. From that moment on Tim was hooked.
Warren and LuDean Eriksen gave the eldest of their three sons an accordion for Christmas that year and Tim began the process of learning how to manipulate its many features. It was a Bonvincini: a popular 1950s creation that was perfect for a beginner or intermediate student. Nothing fancy, but it fed the boy’s creative temperament and, within two-and-a-half years, Tim was earning money giving lessons to other children his age and younger.
The accordion, an ideal metaphor for an unusual soul, is not easily understood and generally struggles for acceptance in the world of serious instrumental music. It can do things that single-note instruments cannot, and has a wide range of emotional and geographic appeal. With strong ethnic allure, the accordion brings grown men to their feet as well as to their knees, from the British Isles to Argentina, from the Ukraine to New Zealand.
Perhaps the accordion is misunderstood because of its prevalent use in peripatetic cultures that rely heavily on folklore. (Most of us enjoy a good story, but often question the truth of the tale.) Combine that with the passions of those who have historically gravitated to this instrument, and you have a winning combination for skepticism and snobbery. Gypsies, Cossacks, Latino Lotharios, and rural Americans have all embraced the accordion for its versatility, portability, and multi-tonal properties. Unlike other wind, string and key instruments, the accordion can suffer all manner of injury and continue to produce some form of satisfactory, toe-tapping, heart-opening sound.
“I get such a kick out of seeing the eyes of children widen when I play them a tune,” Tim enthuses. “Or seeing a couple just enjoying their moment together.” And, while he has been warmly received by Governor Schwarzenneger and Maria Shriver, Bette Midler, and countless other well-known personalities who visit the two Sun Valley Resort restaurants where he plays, Tim especially delights in the “average Joe” who brings his family to the Valley for a winter holiday.
The Eriksens—Tim and his “main squeeze,” Patsy—reside in a quaint apartment on the Sun Valley grounds during the ski season. Married for 13 years, they have known each other since childhood. Although he retired three years ago from his position as superintendent of mine safety for Monsanto’s high-risk extraction of elemental phosphorous from extinct sea beds in Soda Springs, Idaho, he now spends May through November as a private industry-safety consultant to some 30 companies.
In a world that places heavy pressure on individuals to conform, it is the rare bird that sings his own tune and seeks no validation for doing so.
It seems Tim learned this lesson from his parents very early in life. Tim’s father, Warren Eriksen, was a Union Pacific conductor and brakeman who worked for the railroad for 44 years before retiring in 1985. He was often assigned the responsibility of ferrying the Hollywood set from Tinsel Town to Sun Valley in their leased or private rail cars. While not an unusual job in most eras, those were remarkable times in Idaho’s—and particularly Sun Valley’s—history. Tim’s mother, LuDean, was and still is a Democratic political activist: a State Committee woman and Election Judge who currently holds the record in Bannock county for 57 consecutive years working the polls.
After graduating from Pocatello High School, Tim went on to Idaho State College (now known as Idaho State University), where he earned a degree in business and met a man who would change his perspective on life forever. Jack Johnson was born with a profound case of congenital muscular dystrophy that had doctors convinced he would never survive past his teens, but Jack was singularly bright and determined. And, like Tim, he thought outside of the box.
The two became best friends and, after graduation, went on a tour of Europe together: Jack in his wheelchair, Tim with his accordion. They are still the best of friends. (Jack is retiring this year from his position as Chancellor of Brigham Young University’s Hawaii Campus.)
Playing his beloved accordion in Sun Valley is Tim’s passion. He remarks, “Life is about its textures and journeys, friends like Jack Johnson, and family. It’s 40-percent passion and 60-percent balance. You just have to take a big bite of life, wipe what you don’t want off your chin, and try another flavor until you get one that’s just right.”
Local writer Franny Cheston is known (and loved) for several things-—her audacious disregard for pomposity, her raucous and infectious laughter, and her insatiable curiosity.