“The Misfit” — John Larkin
John Larkin? Who? Does this have anything to do with a certain short story?
You probably know him as this guy.
When I was a sophomore at Berry, my roommate and I developed a slightly unhealthy (and mercifully brief) obsession with what were perhaps Larkin’s two best known tunes — to the point where I am pretty sure everyone on seventh Dana thought we were just a tad unhinged (for a couple of weeks) what with all our singing about Scatman’s World and being the Scatman.
For whatever reason I never really sought out any additional music of Larkin’s until earlier this year when the aforementioned roommate stopped by Berry upon his triumphant return to the states from Scotland. Of course there were the obligatory reminiscences of our antics in 2002 and 2003 and of course Scatman John came up in our discussions. Later that day, and quite by accident, I happened upon a couple of audio-only uploads from his eponymous 1986 album whilst scouring YouTube for videos of tunes from his three Eurodance releases.
The best word to describe my reaction was shock. Genuine shock. I’d always assumed his success and notoriety were the result of a clever marketing campaign to take an everyday 50-something guy, slap a hat, suit, tie and not altogether unpleasant mustache on him, have him release an album of scat singing chock-full of idyllic aphorisms about world peace, the value of soul over body and the obsolescence of winning and losing to a European audience, and reap the monetary benefits. Instead, there was a legitimate musician hiding behind all the techno beats and dance hall synth effects.
somebody asked “what’s the meaning of jazz?”
and I said “we’re the misfits
and all I can tell you
is while you’re still sleeping
the saints are still weeping
’cause things you call dead
haven’t yet had the chance to be born”
I have two reasons for citing these particular lyrics: (1) I always felt like a misfit when I was in jazz band in high school (it was apparently a sin to be a bando between the ages of 14 and 18 when my “peers” thought it was best to turn disengagement into an art form) and (2) I discovered that what you might call Larkin’s idealism wasn’t necessarily a product of his mid-90s dance beat stage persona (anyone familiar with “Scatman (Ski Ba Bop Ba Dop Bop)” should be experiencing déjà vu).
The whole story of John Larkin is worth reading if you have some time — his fortune in turning what is usually regarded as a hindrance into a success story is heartwarming (if perhaps too predictable for folks familiar with how things tend to develop in the music industry). Larkin passed away in 1999 — it’s hard to say what he would have done into his 60s and 70s but I maintain the naive hope that he would have revisited his jazz origins in the form of an album of original work. It’s my opinion that his current legacy — though it contains a message of hope to those seeking to turn a disadvantage into an advantage — is incomplete. By offering this tune for your listening pleasure, I feel that I’m helping correct this oversight in some small measure.
Author’s Note: An official Myspace Music page for John Larkin does not currently exist; I hope the Facebook page maintained by his widow will suffice.
- Love the 90′s? You’ll love this Medley! (bloggingaboutsomething.wordpress.com)
- Various Artists: Larkin’s Jazz | Jazz review (guardian.co.uk)
- Philip Larkin, jazz critic (telegraph.co.uk)
Posted on 09/12/2011, in Correcting Misconceptions, Pleasant Surprises and tagged eurodance, Flannery O'Connor, idealism, jazz band, John Larkin, mid-90s, Scatman John, Scotland, synth, techno, world peace, YouTube. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.