Thursday, March 03, 2005

The Journey Begins: "The Scumbag Rag"

As long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by old music. I can't say just why I never really enjoyed the rock or pop music contemporary to my childhood or adolescence--it just never really appealed to me in any way. I can almost pinpoint the occasion of my divergence from the norm--I had to have been about four or five years old. I had a Disney LP on which (as I remember) Cliff Edwards sang the Charleston. That, along with a compilation of songs from Gilbert and Sullivan, was my favorite thing to listen to. And, of course, I loved comedy.

When I discovered actual old 78s it was like stumbling on King Solomon's mines. Why had these treasures been withheld from me? Why had this music disappeared from public consciousness? It was great. The first actual piece of 1920s music I can recall was an old batwing Victor of "Dreaming of a Castle in the Air" played on an old Victrola at a relative's camp. I couldn't have been much older than six. By the time I was ten, I was piling up stacks of 78s which, for some reason, nobody else wanted. (The old people preferred Mitch Miller, Lawrence Welk, and other such ersatz drivel.)

The Gilbert and Sullivan hadn't left me untouched, either. The intricacy and cleverness of W.S. Gilbert's lyrics were thus practically hardwired into my brain. I would make up rhymes extemporaneously, and tunes as well. By the time I was fourteen (while struggling to teach myself guitar), I had written my first presentable song, which was firmly in the novelty category. I sang "I Thought that it was Love but it was Only Indigestion" both as part of a class presentation and later in the school "Gong Show"--and it went over surprisingly well. It was terribly long and intricate, and I had trouble memorizing all the words.

The first song that I wrote that my friends still mention I composed in 1979 at the age of 17. It was my answer to Punk Rock--I began the Punk Ragtime movement with "The Scumbag Rag." I wrote the whole thing in about two days (adding a verse somewhat later). I'm still proud of it. Musically it was sort of cross between "Darktown Strutters' Ball" and "I Got Rhythm"--but lyrically it was unprecendented, to my knowledge:

There's gonna be a Scumbag celebration--
Every Scumbag will be there;
The total Scumbag population
Will be at the Scumbag Fair;

Why is there this fascination?
Is this just a Scumbag gag?
No, it's the hotshot syncopation
Of the Scumbag Rag.

All the Scumbags jump and shout--
They know what it's all about;
This ragtime tune is so designed
To captivate the Scumbag mind;

So if a Scumbag tribulation
Makes your disposition lag
You'll find joy and inspiration
In the Scumbag Rag.

There's more, of course--but this will do for a sample. The die, as they say, was cast.


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