Tonight on America’s Superchannel, KBBS…
Footage clip: “This damned scat singing again!”
We see a man entering a café. He carries himself with a self-conscious air, a slight conspiratorial slouch to his shoulders. He wears those horrible eggshell colored Dockers that are tailored about as expertly as the average weather balloon. The camera shoots from waist height: the view of one crouching, as if embedded on the scene, surreptitiously. Implication: a scandal is being uncovered. There’s something lowly afoot.
The man carries a laptop bag. A writer?
A confiding voice-over narrator: Here at this neighborhood café, it’s being reported, not once, not twice—but three times, Ella Fitzgerald has played in the past week alone, with her bee-bopping and scatting like a house on fire. The very neighborhood café where this man (seen again, now seated) tries to work. But it turns out, the Lady, god love her, is not the best thing for productivity.
Scat singing. What is it exactly? Annoying, that’s what.
Then, in an exciting turn of events that no one saw coming!
We see the man in the driver’s seat of his car, backing out of a parking space when his eyes dart to the radio as he hears the Lady herself rat-at-tat-tatting and zippity-doo-dooing! And wah-wah-weeing.
This time, it’s the radio! His usual talk program, All Things Considered.
“Is it all things?” the man says to no one (for he rides alone) throwing his arm over the seat, eyeing often-bustling cafe lot. “Or is it one thing?”
We hear the crash and see him wince as he smashes into a lamppost and the fender of his Dodge Fury falls to the pavement in the dark of the parking lot. And for good measure the hood pops open, steam billowing out.
Well, end the footage gag, because this was no film. This was my life. I am that man. I didn’t crash my Fury. That was for dramatic effect. I rolled out of that spot with the grace and elan of an All-State Preferred Driver Member Club Rewards cardholder, and on with my life.
But I did have my ears besieged by scat once, twice, then thrice, over a succession of days while working at the cafe. And then, subsequently, while leaving the cafe, noticing the preponderance of doo-dahs in my life, I did hear Tony Bennett waxing ebullient of Ms. Fitz, as he is wont to do, saying, “Ella Fitzgerald used her voice like an instrument, and could improvise better than anyone I’ve ever seen. She would play in all the clubs in Harlem and Manhattan…” Then news reporter described how all the music publishers wanted her to record their songs. He announced (in a transparent demonstration of media outlets’ capacity to to shill) a set of 10 records in which Fitzgerald sings American standards by Gershwin and Cole Porter. Now Bennett again, saying how she redefined those songs, gave them new life. With so much feeling, etc.
Because those in the biz wanted her to record their songs first, Fitzgerald became known as the First Lady of Song.
The morning after this driving episode, I’m looking up a word online for this editorial job I’m on. And there on Merriam-Webster’s homepage is a link to a story about Fitzgerald’s scat singing. At Merriam Webster of all places. The friggin dictionary! Now the KBBS camera is back, and it zooms in on my caret-like brow as I behold the featured image on my browser: Fitzgerald in a glittering black cocktail dress, on stage, one arm thrust out majestically, her mouth open. Beside her is a Fu-Man-Choo’d guitarist in a suit, tucked into his business over the neck.
The title: “Making Sense of Lady Ella’s Scat Singing.”
Making sense, indeed. This was at my home office desk in the morning. Theresa was in the room, and we were talking. “Jesus, there’s that scat singing again,” I said.
Now here’s the exciting twist to this story, the handy insight that makes you want to subscribe to my newsletter and buy my products (10-volume set coming soon ).
As I’m writing about this, I’m back in the café where all this coincidental nonsense began. I am, once again, that man. I’ve donated my eggshell Dockers to Good Will and wear my best blue jeans. It is my fourth visit of the series in question.
Hold onto your seats, folks. If you don’t have fresh laundry nearby, call the maid.
Entirely unselfconscious, because I’m not performing for B-roll, I order my pour-over Sumatra. I enter the seating area and say hi to Ed, who is always here. We chit chat. I set up my laptop, then pop out of my seat with an “Oops” and to my car for my reading glasses, which I’ve forgotten. After a few minutes, I’ve got a hot coppa in hand, and I’m done with work for the day and free to tappity tap as I please. Yoga is in 90 minutes. I’ve got time, so I’m prattling about recent events, pervading themes and threads if you will, and the music that’s playing.
The usual kind of playlist is on. You know how it is at these places. Nothing to sonically challenging. Palatable music, not often terrible, but of a gentle, acceptable sort. Duke Ellington, then other jazz folks as I’m having my fun with turns of phrases, trying on voices, copping certain comical attitudes as a narrator.
Being on the page should be like being on a playground, I guess is my point about that.
Then, the kicker. Scratch the record. Hold the phone. Stop the presses. All those clichés and more.
Some golden-throated lady whom I’m about to Google sings, sultry like, “…in Webster’s dictionary.” The end of a melodic phrase.
Could it be…?
No, it can’t be. It must be Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughn, or Nina Simone.
But gads, no. Google confirms it. A search for “lyrics jazz singer Webster’s dictionary” gives me:
You’re much too much, and just too very very
To ever be, in Webster’s dictionary
And so, I’m borrowing a love song from the birds
To tell you that you’re marvelous
Too marvelous for words
And we can all see that we have a 4th occurrence, and not only that but an appearance of Ms. Fitz that seems to close the paranomal loop. For, first, she was heard to my ears in this place where I write and use a dictionary for money, because it’s my job. Then just outside the place, coincidentally—nothing more. But then, following that, at the online home of the very dictionary I visit to check the spellings and usages of the very words which I write at that very place where she was first heard—seeming to extend the physical leap that had her going from the indoor cafe’s speakers to those of my car outside the cafe, turning audio bits into inter-tube content. And now back in the cafe, materializing again in sonic form, but singing of the website she’d occupied as if describing her travels.
“In a world…” You know the gag. “The Fourth Occurrence.” Theaters near you, etc.
“Too Marvelous For Words” is the song title. Interesting title. What does it mean to you? Write in the comments below. Take part in the conversation. Call the hotline. Tweet us at @fuckthat.
Hold on, though. Now I’m getting word in my earpiece from the Editorial Interns here at KBBS, that there is no comments section. The hotline is down too. And the station has been banned from Twitter for promulgating fake news. Tragedy. So instead, folks, take part in the conversation on the nearest concrete abutment using spray paint. Take part in the conversation by boiling your attitude down to one ten-letter word and brushing it upon your fingernails in glossy polish, one letter per nail. Shake and blow it dry.
I guess the idea behind playgrounds is that they ought to be too marvelous for words, if you’re a happy kid. Find what you need to prance gleefully from the slide to the teeter-totter on the happy page of your happy playground, no matter your age. Your voice is your instrument, too—don’t forget that. Don’t take it from me. Take it from Tony Bennett.
And now, if I could write half as well as Bob Odenkirk acts, I’d capture the fatuous tone of Bob as newscaster Dale Peckenstiff on Mr. Show, circa 1995. I can’t, but if I could, I’d shuffle my papers, and say, “Stayed tuned to KBBS, America’s SuperChannel. We’ll be back after these messages.”
As the camera withdraws, my anchor’s face reflects, in the lowering of my eyes, a sense of personal disgrace awakening within, which I try to disguise as a conscientious man’s saddened response to tragedy. For this has been…a grim report.
Also published on Medium.