Wailing on Each Other

Plus: Seeing Red

Wailing on Each Other
A musical feud hits the accordion world

About a minute after the first caveman began banging two rocks together in rhythm, another caveman came along and called him a sellout for commercializing the avalanche sound. Since then, no genre of music has been without its bitter feuds, from Mozart vs. Salieri to Tupac vs. Biggie.

Squabbles can signify both a coming of age, as the Dixie Chicks vs. Toby Keith did for the Nashville sound, and the end of an era, as did Paul McCartney's 1970 lawsuit against the rest of the Beatles. Which of these, if either, applies to the Texas Accordion Association remains to be seen. Accordion teacher and performer Natasha Geddie's quest to unseat association founder Norman Seaton has all the passion of the other great feuds in music--and if that's not enough, Geddie does play a peppy version of the Beatles' "I Saw Her Standing There."

Natasha Geddie is suing former members of the 
accordion group she helped to create.
Natasha Geddie is suing former members of the accordion group she helped to create.

"Norman has been essentially practicing fraudulent business since 1989," Geddie says. That was the year that the TAA's nonprofit status with the IRS lapsed, three years after Geddie helped Seaton with the incorporation process. Since then, Geddie claims, Seaton has consistently steered callers offering paid accordion gigs to his wife, Sharon, in business under the name Accordion Entertainers. In fact, the TAA and Accordion Entertainers' phone number and address have been one and the same for years. The claim is one among several listed in the lawsuit Geddie, a paralegal, filed in June against the Seatons in Richardson.

Further muddying the waters is the fact that Geddie now actually isthe TAA, at least on paper. When she found that the organization that Seaton heads didn't exist according to the state, she claimed the name for herself. "And guess what else didn't exist?" Geddie says with a note of glee in her voice. "Accordion Entertainers--so I bought that, too!" Seaton reincorporated under the name the National Accordion Association, and now the two have issued rival newsletters as Geddie tries to win over the old TAA's estimated 1,000 members.

Her success so far has been limited to a few members of her accordion group, the New Trick Band, named after her late mentor, accordion guru Al Trick. Convincing the rest to switch from Seaton's group may be an uphill battle, since many members are of the opinion that Geddie isn't quite right in the head--a point that Geddie readily concedes. "Everybody thinks I'm nuts," she says. "And I'm not nuts--well, I may be nuts. I do have mental problems, but I'm telling the truth." Geddie's diagnosed bipolar condition leads to much hyperbole in her correspondence. One letter to Seaton's lawyer asserts, "They'll say whatever they can to 'make Natasha go away,' literally, physically, metaphorically, legally or otherwise. When they've heard this story, the jury may be asked to consider whether or not Defendants and their board members aren't actually involved in conspiracy and organized crime."

Reaction within the TAA has been one of consternation tinged with embarrassment. "We're talking accordions here, so how serious can it get?" says TAA (now NAA) chapter president Ken Swayze. "She basically bought a bagful of nothing because we sidestepped her and went on down the road." But Swayze admits the suit has been unsettling. "This is the last thing we need because accordions already get made fun of enough," he says in a thick Texas drawl. "I ride a Harley-Davidson and drive bulldozers for a living, and you ought to see the flak I get for playing the accordion."

Seaton himself is reluctant to talk about the allegations while the lawsuit is still pending, but his annoyance is evident. "Did she tell you she's bipolar? She loves that," Seaton says. "She's got the idea that she's not responsible for any of her actions." As evidence, he mentions Geddie's arrest in the 1980s for shoplifting and marijuana possession. Seaton, a computer science instructor at El Centro College in Dallas, is also the editor of a 1994 book, Who's Who in the Accordion World. Remarkably, he doesn't actually play the accordion, but he spends much of his spare time promoting the organization. "He's the best thing that ever happened to the accordion world," Swayze says.

Accounts vary on the incident that started the conflict, but all parties seem to agree that it was at last year's Addison Oktoberfest that the mood began to sour. Geddie was playing in the park as a paid TAA performer contracted by the city of Addison. Her official pass was hanging around her neck by the lanyard provided--out of sight behind her accordion. Thinking she was an unauthorized busker, police asked her to leave. Geddie says she straightened out the misunderstanding, while rumors spread that she had gone as far as to spit on the officers. Geddie sent an irate e-mail to several TAA members that night, and things haven't been the same since.

Seaton also points to his wife's appearance on the front page of the July 23 Fort Worth Star-Telegram as a contributing factor. "When she saw my wife's picture, she just came unwound," he says. "We've got some jealousy going on here." Geddie dismisses the allegation. "The real truth is these people can't stand me because I have more talent in my little toe than they could ever dream of," she says. The instant she picks up her accordion her talent is evident, as is her pride when she talks about her students. Several pictures of students are on display among the gleaming multicolored accordions at Geddie's shop in Vikon Village in Garland.

Geddie's obvious dedication to the instrument is one reason it's hard to dismiss her as simply a mental case. The other is her history as a successful whistleblower. In 1994, Geddie blew open a federal investigation into Henry Billingsley, son-in-law of Dallas developer Trammell Crow, and his relationship with representatives of Libya, then under strict U.S. sanctions. Geddie made public dozens of documents, obtained while she worked for Billingsley's wife, Lucy Crow, confirming that Billingsley had close dealings with Libya's treasury ministry. Billingsley was eventually convicted of smuggling the minister into the country. "I nailed Trammell Crow's family to the wall," Geddie says proudly.

Her hopes of doing the same to Seaton will be determined this week. Geddie has filed a motion complaining that Seaton has not provided any of the financial information she requested, nor allowed her to take his deposition. Seaton's lawyer Malcolm Shaw has countered by asking that Geddie be designated a "vexatious litigant." However the case is decided, it has roiled the normally placid waters of the accordion world. "I told her, 'You know what you're doing is driving a wedge,'" Swayze says. "'You're going to turn the whole membership against you.'" But Geddie doesn't seem to be worried about that as long as she is getting to the object of her discontent, Norman Seaton. And she seems to be. "She's very irritating," Seaton says. --Rick Kennedy

Seeing Red
People in Dallas and the surrounding area are filing for bankruptcy like it's going out of style and in a way, they're right. On October 17, a more restrictive federal law regulating bankruptcy goes into effect which has prompted a veritable stampede of financially plagued individuals to beat the grim deadline.

In August, 2,117 people examined their debt load, raised their hands in dismay and filed for Chapter 7 in the United States Bankruptcy Court in the North District of Texas, up from 1,236 the year before. That's an 80 percent increase, and one may expect an even sharper jump when September's numbers are released.

"Right now I'm running at least 10 times my average volume," says Mark Ian Agee, a bankruptcy attorney. "If you ever thought in your life that you might need to file for bankruptcy this is the time."

"If you're on the fence," adds attorney Julianne Parker, "See an attorney ASAP."

That's because the new Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act makes it more difficult and costly to file for bankruptcy. Passed in April, the new law says that if you make more than the state's median income you're now subject to a complicated means test to see if you qualify for Chapter 7. (In Texas, that's a tad over $33,000 for one earner, and up to $56,000 for a household of four.) If the debtor can pay at least $6,000-$10,000 of his total unsecured debt over a five-year period, after a deduction of expenses, Chapter 7 may not be an option anymore. But Agee says that the law is so poorly written that he thinks that more people will be eligible for Chapter 7 than the credit and banking industries realized when they helped draft the restrictive bill.

"What we are finding out is that more high-income debtors are qualifying under the means test," he says.

If you make under the median income, the new law won't be dramatically different, although bankruptcy has always been more about the middle class who have the credit to accumulate punishing debts in the first place.

Interestingly, while many more people are filing for Chapter 7 in the North and East Districts, which covers the affluent residents of Collin County, Chapter 13 filings remain stable. Chapter 13 allows the debtor to keep certain non-exempt property, like boats and vacation houses, and pay off debts while living on an extremely tight budget for a period of three to five years. But Texas state law exempts more assets than other states, making Chapter 13 less desirable.

The new bankruptcy law will also require stricter financial documentation (which could affect hurricane victims who lost records in the storm) and will likely increase the fees for attorneys, who now will be expected to corroborate their clients financial status. It will also affect single mothers, as child support will now count as income.

The new law is supposed to discourage debtors from filing for bankruptcy as a way to avoid paying debts, but Parker, the attorney, says those people were already being disqualified by bankruptcy trustees.

"My clients filed for bankruptcy because they couldn't pay their debts," Parker says. "Not because they didn't want to pay them but they couldn't. This new law won't change that." --Matt Pulle

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