Welcome to the Scatman’s World

Photo of the ScatMan, AKA Scatman John.

Download the audio version of this blog post here.

It’s far too early for jazz, and especially this kind of jazz; a cacophony of discordant screeching trumpets, seemingly all competing for supremacy, as if vying for the high-pitched-screechy-trumpeter-of-the-decade award. It’s 8 o’clock on a Monday morning for goodness sake. Does this coffee shop really think this is an appropriate style of music for this time of day? Apparently yes, as the next piece of – what I am pained to describe as – music, is a lengthy song consisting of two people scatting.

“There’s going to be a fifteen minute wait on your order. Is that OK sir?”

I said that it was fine, but might I have reconsidered if they’d warned me that this fifteen minutes would consist of me being positioned at a table directly underneath a speaker, blurring out an incongruous litany of “shhobidy dooberdy bar boo boodities?”

After ten minutes of relentless scatting, I sort of entered a trance like state. Perhaps this is what happens with this type of music. After ten minutes of nonstop scatting, you eventually enter into an altered state of consciousness. Perhaps some modern day buddhists use scatting to help them meditate. Come to think of it, I’m sure I’ve just heard one of the scatters sing “ba ba boobity Buddha,” so I might actually be onto something here.

At first, I was finding the screeching trumpets and constant, scatting annoying. But now, I’m starting to get into it. There’s just been an incredible saxophone solo that made my hairs stand on end. Although, that could be more a result of the narrow jet of freezing air, that my seat is positioned directly under.

Wow! This sax is on fire. And I’m really starting to get into the scatting now. It’s a male and female taking it in turns to scat line by line. I think it might be Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald. They sound like they’re having an amazing time. Their enthusiasm is infectious. Or maybe that’s just my full bladder being chilled by the freezing air conditioning. It’s like they’re trying to outdo each other with their scatting, both of them getting more and more phrenetic, elaborate and enthusiastic with every line. I’m starting to wonder whether this scatting is almost like a form of sexual expression for the two of them. Louis’s lyrics would certainly indicate this, with plenty mentions of “boobity boobies” and “boobity bra bras.” At least that’s what it sounds like. But certainly, the noises that they’re both making are getting increasingly sexual. So there might be something in this theory. Any musicologists out there fancy doing a study into the sexual habits of scatters?

I assume that all this is completely improvised, and that it’s all entirely off the cuff. It would be weird if in actuality they’re both reading the lyrics and music from a highly complex and intricate score, and delivering it to the letter.

“Well, Ella, I thought that went rather well. I think that was certainly the best take out of the fifty-seven we’ve done. In fact, I’d go so far as to say, I think we’ve got it.”

“I think you’re jumping the gun a bit Louis. It was going well, but then you completely messed up bar 279.”

“Bar 279? What was wrong with my bar 279?’

“You sang, “ba ba shobiddy boobidy boo baaaa,” when it clearly has written here, “ba ba shobiddy boobidy bee baaaa.” So, we’re going to have to start all over again. From the top producer.”

“Hang on Ella. Do we really need to start again? I mean, does it really matter?”

“I’m sorry Louis, I’m not with you here. What on earth are you suggesting? Are you suggesting … Are you honestly seriously suggesting that we leave the recording session there, with that errant “boo” in the take? Is that what you are suggesting, Louis? I mean, is it? really?!”

“Ella! Calm down! I just thought … I think we got a really good take there. I was really feeling it.”

“That’s the problem Louis. You got carried away. You got too excited. Have you not read the Scatter’s rule book? The top one hundred rules of scatting. The rights and wrongs of scatting. Good and bad practise for Scatters. The dooby doos and dooby don’ts of scatting? All these texts are vital reading for the professional scatter, Louis.

Rule number one of scatting: don’t lose composure, don’t let you’re emotions run away with you. The trick is to sound like you’re just improvising, while in actuality you’re staying completely and rigidly focused on the musical and lyrical notation. Sometimes I think you get a bit too carried away Louis. Also, can you stop looking at me with that lascivious expression. I find it rather off-putting. I hope you’re not thinking sexual thoughts while scatting, Louis. Scatting is a noble and pure art form. You are clearly losing focus, Louis. You dare to suppose that you can just busk it. Do you think that I won’t notice? Do you think you know better than the arranger? If the score says, “ba ba shobiddy boobidy boo baaaa,” then “ba ba shobiddy boobidy boo baaaa” is what you shall sing! Do I make myself clear?“

“As clear as the lyrics on this score, Ella.”

“Good. Now, I’ll let you off on this occasion. After all, the man writing the lyrics did it on one of those new computer thingies with something called a spell checker. And given that we only got the revised copy this morning, I think we’re doing well under the circumstances.”

“Yes, apparently the computer was correcting his spelling automatically as he typed and he didn’t notice. I’ve been learning those words for weeks. Practising them in the shower and around the house. Singing: “bad bat sherbet tea blueberry badger.” I should have realised there was something wrong and gave the producer a call. I mean, of course that wasn’t right. I mean, “bad bat sherbet tea blueberry badger?“ What does that even mean. It doesn’t make sense.”

I wonder what Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald would make of the Scat Man, AKA Scat Man John. Do you remember the Scat Man? What am I saying? Of course you remember the Scat Man. But just in case you don’t, the Scat Man had a couple of top ten hits in the mid nineties: Scatman (Ski Ba Bop Ba Dop Bop) and Scatman’s World. His songs comprised him scatting over a dance beat as well as him rapping motivational lyrics.

The Scatman suffered from a debilitating stutter problem that plagued his formative years and made him feel like an outsider. He became a drug addict and an alcoholic. Fortunately he overcame these obstacles, finding escapism and liberation in scat singing.

He wanted to use his music to relay a positive message to young people, addressing his stutter problem and themes such as overcoming adversity, and broader issues such as the environment and humanity. Pop songs seemed like the perfect way for him to achieve this objective. And this may sound weird to you, but I can tell you first hand that it worked.
At the age of eleven, I was feeling quite down about things. I’d just transitioned to secondary school and was finding the experience very difficult, feeling embarrassed about being blind and often being bullied for it by some of the other children. I too felt like an outsider. And I remember sitting on the floor in my bedroom, feeling down, and switching on the radio. And the words of the Scatman entered my ears and changed my perception.

“I’m calling out from Scatman’s World. If you want to break free, you better listen to me, you’ve got to learn how to see in your fantasy.”

And those words were a sort of revelation; an epiphany. “If you want to break free, You’ve got to learn how to see in your fantasy” may sound like a fairly trite lyric, but it spoke to my eleven year old self. The reason I was feeling so down was because of how I felt about not being able to see. I was holding myself captive. I was repressing myself. Afraid to be the person who I felt I really was, through fear that blindness meant that I couldn’t be that person. There were other people in my school who had disabilities, including other people who were blind, and I saw that they were very dependant and that they didn’t socialise with the other students, especially the sighted students. I was afraid that this was and perhaps always would be me.

But these words changed my perception. My fantasy was to be unlike these other disabled students, who didn’t fit in and were dependant on support staff and teachers. I wanted to be included and not feel different. I could see my fantasy clearly, and this realisation aloud me to break free of these shackles that I realised were self imposed. I started to see other possibilities. And from that day forth I began to see things differently, and began to fit in better with all the other students. I still had a lot of learning to do, and there were many times when I still felt uncomfortable and embarrassed about being blind, but I began to make more of an effort. And people accepted me. That was all it took; a little bit of effort from me, to send out the message to people that I wasn’t so different and that I wanted to be friends.

I think I’d almost forgotten this episode of my life, and how the scatman played a part in awakening me. As he rightly said: “If you want to break free, you better listen to me.” And he was right. I listened, and I broke free.

Perhaps I have exaggerated this incident slightly, as my memory of the event is somewhat hazy. Perhaps I have played up the importance of this one single episode. However, it did make a significant impact. I’m sure there were other things that played a part in my change of mood and perception about life, but, strange as it may seem, the Scatman was definitely a factor.

So, as I sit in this coffee shop, I forget about the jet of freezing air, I forget about my grogginess, I am no longer irritated by the jazz. I am grateful for it. I am happy that my order was delayed by fifteen minutes. I feel blessed that Elah Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong’s ten minute scatt epic brought me into this place in my mind, and reminded me a little bit of who I am and where I’ve come from. I’ve been to Scatman’s world. I could have spent the fifteen minutes checking emails, checking twitter or Facebook, reading the news, texting, phoning or What’s Apping a friend. But sometimes we achieve more just by allowing our minds to wonder. We achieve more by simply being, rather than doing. In fact, the Scatman himself exclaimed this sentiment in his song Scatman’s World: “I want to be a human being, not a human doing.” How very apt, for it was that absence of doing, and through simply being, that this morning’s experience was able to happen, and that this blog came into fruition, and possibly a standup routine, although, it will have to be a lot funnier than this blog post.

Despite the revelatory nature of the Scatman’s music on my life, I have only heard two of his songs. He has released a few albums, and I am contemplating checking them out to see if I can glean anymore pearls of wisdom. Perhaps I’ll find something in there that will shape the next fifteen years of my existence. Perhaps ill become so taken with the words of the Scatman that I’ll start a new religion based on his teachings. Perhaps I’ll set up a church and we’ll all worship at the feet of a massive Scatman idol, while reverentially chanting “ski ba bop ba dop bop”. Any takers? If you get in quick then you’ll be forever remembered as one of the chosen few and you’ll be written about in the holy book, which I’ll probably call the Ski Ba Bop Ba Dop Book”π.

I”m going to conclude this blog post with the lyrics to Scatman’s World. Enjoy.

I’m calling out from Scatland
I’m calling out from Scatman’s world.
If you wanna break free you better listen to me.
You got to learn how to see in your fantasy.

Everybody’s talkin’ something very shockin’ just to
Keep on blockin’ what they’re feelin’ inside
But listen to me brother, you just keep on walkin’ ’cause
You and me and sister ain’t got nothin’ to hide.

Scatman, fat man, black and white and brown man
Tell me ’bout the colour of your soul.
If part of your solution isn’t ending the pollution
Then I don’t want to hear your stories told.
I want to welcome you to Scatman’s world

Everyone’s born to compete as he chooses
But how can someone win if winning means that someone loses.
I sit and see and wonder what it’s like to be in touch.
No wonder all my brothers and my sisters need a crutch.

I want to be a human being not a human doing.
I couldn’t keep that pace up if I tried.
The source of my intention really isn’t crime prevention.
My intention is prevention of the lie (yeah)
Welcome to the Scatman’s world

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