Monday, December 20, 2004

The Bad Rapping of the Marquis de Sade

Christmas in Seattle wouldn't be Christmas for me without listening to Lord Buckley's "Scrooge." While other people trill Scandinavian carols or rock out with Bruce Springsteen or John Lennon, I let one of the grandmasters of rap bring a huge smile to my face.

If you think rapping began with young urban hipsters with extremely baggy pants, I invite you to look back 30 or more years to one of the wildest characters (along with Lenny Bruce) to wreak havoc on the New York (and Los Angeles) cabaret scenes in the 1950s.

I first encountered a Lord Buckley track on a Frank Zappa-produced sampler in the 1960s, but didn't discover "Scrooge" until Christmas 1984. I had just moved to Seattle with my first husband, a post-doc at UW, and I was working as a phone order-taker for Eddie Bauer at their Redmond headquarters (now a part of the Microsoft campus). It was Sunday afternoon, and I was driving to my shift on a near-deserted stretch of 520 (well, that certainly dates this story) while the DJ at KBCS-FM was interviewing Bryan Bowers. Bowers was telling a story that involved Christmas, an autoharp, and a refrigerator, and that segued nicely into "Scrooge."

"Scrooge" is a 9-minute monologue, and not something you can interrupt--particularly when it's the first time you've encountered it and you're trying to determine if your radio has been taken over by aliens. I turned into the parking lot at Eddie Bauer, and sat there in my car, listening to the strangest version of the Dickens Christmas story you could possibly imagine. It begins:

"Yes, me, I'm Scrooge and I got all Marley's barley,
and I'm the baddest cat in all dis world.
I been studyin' all my life how to Scrooge people,
and I guarantee I done some fine work in dat direction."

The Bad Rapping of the Marquis de Sade, with "Scrooge," is not available on iTunes. But you can purchase a used copy of the CD on Amazon. Unfortunately, the audio sample on Amazon doesn't give a very good idea of the originality of Buckley's approach.

Better to check out the Lord Buckley website which includes transcriptions of his best-known routines, including "Scrooge." A convenient mouseover feature provides translations of the hipster jargon.

Merry Christmas!

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