Phantom Songs: Scatman John – “Scatman”

Phantom Songs is an ongoing series of musical pieces that you can’t quite put your finger on. You have most definitely heard the song before, but are most likely not able to pinpoint who made it, when it was released, and/or what the song is really about.

A lot of schlock was made in the 1990’s. It was a decade when many talentless entrepreneurs walked away with millions for contributing next to nothing. There was no need to create an actual musical masterpiece. By then, record execs figured out that the everyday consumer would take just about anything with a fancy package. All decade long, the radio waves oozed out putrid filth that the general public ate with a side of coleslaw. A song about wearing sunscreen may come to mind. Or possibly the dude that was just too sexy to do anything. MMMBoppin. Etcetera. The main focus of today’s Phantom Song is from a man that had seemingly nothing better to do but speak rapidly in incoherent tongues.

John Paul Larkin probably had a nightmarish childhood. Born with a terrible stutter and signature mustache, he was the [bu-bu-bu-butt-ennd] of every playground joke. He would uncontrollably repeat phrases over and over without any recourse or sympathy to his listeners. Most people believed he was faking it, but deep down in his soul, he knew it was a curse. In his early teenage years, he started likening himself to the genre of scat singing. He would allegedly sit in his room day in and day out, scatting & mumbling away to the smooth schizophrenic sounds of Louis Armstrong, waxing away at his well-groomed stache. His parents believed that he was possessed by the lord Satan, of whom they [falsely] reportedly worshiped. In reality, he was possessed with the notion that his disability would someday make him famous.

Still ashamed of himself and the monster that he had become, he spent most of his life hiding behind a piano. He took tours on the unsuccessful jazz circuit. He would try his best to not be noticed as a human being, but merely a quiet mustached jazz pianist. In order to instill this desire more amiably, he moved to Berlin shortly after Roger Waters or some other dude tore down a wall. It was there that he started experimenting with singing, or attempting to sing. This got the utmost attention out of the Germans. Everybody thought that he was onto something big. Cocaine and caviar big. Like fucking BIG. Huge. BMG Records literally begged him to cut a record with him stuttering over hip-hop beats. Eventually, he reluctantly accepted, and it made him a goddamned millionaire.

Essentially, the underlying meaning behind his magnum opus, Scatman was John coming out of the closet as a stutterer. He wanted to inspire the stutterers of the world, and make his nervous tick the hottest new fad. It’s all spelled out clearly in the lyrics: [Yes, I know what you’re thinking. There actually is real lyrics to this song. Contrary to popular belief, this song was written, and behind all of the mutterings lies the heartfelt words from a broken yet driven man]

Everybody stutters one way or the other

So check out my message to you

As a matter of fact don’t let nothin’ hold you back

If the Scatman can do it so can you

Everybody’s sayin’ that the Scatman stutters

But doesn’t ever stutter when he sings

But what you don’t know I’m gonna tell you right now

That the stutter and the scat is the same thing

Yo I’m the Scatman

Off the bat, it seems as though John’s message has already failed. While reportedly the song was made to inspire current stutterers to feel better about themselves, the first verse instead encourages everyone to stutter. As if having this mental disability was a fun thing to do in order to kill time before supper. It’s most definitely the most obscene call to arms in music history [until, that is, when the Black Eyed Peas told everyone to act retarded].

The second verse is filled with nothing but lies. Nobody is saying that the Scatman stutters. First off, nobody knows who the Scatman is. He is obviously using this song to introduce himself. That’s like being a rookie QB and claiming to be a legend. Secondly, anybody that would know Scatman from his recorded music would not think he stutters, because they haven’t heard his fucking voice before! Now the second line claims that he doesn’t stutter when he sings. That sounds like a barrel full of deceit, because he obviously just got done stuttering. I would also like to speak to his recording engineer, because I am sure he has a hundred semi-interesting stories that would tell you otherwise. He spends the next two lines explicating that the stutter and the scat are one in the same. So if he’s the man of scat, and he wants to be known for scatting, and scatting is the same as stuttering, then he has already negated the previous two lines. If he scats while he sings, then he also stutters while he sings! After spewing out a terrible contradiction, he decides to introduce himself one more time as the Scatman. Let’s move on here.

Where’s the Scatman? I’m the Scatman

John is obviously lost. He’s not asking who the Scatman is, and then answering his own question. He asks a question, and then answers a different question. Let’s fill in some blanks here:

[Scatman crawls in through the bedroom window. A scared man is lying in bed.]

Man: Who are you?!?!?

Scatman: Where’s the Scatman?

Man: You’re in my bedroom, you fucking asshole! What do you want from me?

Scatman: I’m the Scatman!


Why should we be pleasin’ all the politician heathens

Who would try to change the seasons if they could?

The state of the condition insults my intuitions

And it only makes me crazy and my heart like wood

This is where John shows his political side. He’s speaking out about something, but what he is speaking out against is unknown. I’m not exactly sure what his world views are, but he seems to be a bit of an anarchist. I really don’t know why he thinks that we as civilians spend our time pleasing politicians. Maybe he once bared witness to a blowjob competition at the good ol’ House of Reps? Was he foreshadowing the Clinton scandal? Is he even talking about American politics? And there’s actually politicians out there that are actually trying to build weather-manipulating devices, like something out of an issue of [Don] Quail Man? Whatever this problem is, he is feeling extremely insulted by it. I have a feeling this is actually something about the government stopping a bill to aid kids with a stutter. That’s the only conclusion I can come to. And this whole thing is getting all up in his grill, driving his shit bonkers and turning his heart into wood. Because that’s what happens when you go crazy. Your heart turns into wood. And your brain turns into hay. The cow comes, eats the hay, and poops the hay out onto the wood. Circle of life.

I hear you all ask ’bout the meaning of scat

Well I’m the professor and all I can tell you is

While you’re still sleepin’ the saints are still weepin’ cause

Things you call dead haven’t yet had the chance to be born

Okay, sit down folks. Professor [in Scat] John is going to tell us about the origin of the stutter. You see, every night while you’re asleep, there are these Saints that roam the Earth. They wander around all of the land not doing anything important, but merely moping around in mourning. This is because these Saints are mentally ill. You see, they believe that all dead things are actually alive, and vice versa. So when your poor dog Bobby Slice died of heart failure, the Saints would say that he was just a newborn puppy. Because the Saints are sad about seeing life happen in reverse, they decided to use their Saintly powers for bad instead of good. They put a hex on certain little boys and girls, so that when they speak, they have much trouble with finishing sentences. Make sense? Well, not really. Part of being the Scatman means not making any sense at all. This is all some chauvinistic proclamation of the troubles that go into being a handicapped individual.

I’m the Scatman….repeat after me

It’s a scoobie oobie doobie scoobie doobie melody

Wait, so he wants us all to be Scatmen? What about Scatwomen? Do they not count? Or maybe he just wants us to repeat his scatting. Either way, he really doesn’t give anybody time to actually repeat anything before he promptly interrupts with introducing himself for the umpteenth time. This could also be a symptom of a stutterer: no courtesy to what others have to say. To tell you the truth, John may be a professor in Scatting, but I have learned nothing from his incoherent and utterly danceable lecture.

We could talk about the video, but there’s really not much to say. It sheds no light on what the song is actually about. It features nothing but people dancing, Scatman dancing, people lip-scat-synching, and Asian people generally having a good time. There’s also some fake instruments thrown into the mix. Why would Scatman be playing the trumpet when there are obviously no horns at all in the song? And the bass is obviously not being played by an upright bass, but rather from a digital mixer doohickery. The video offers nothing but a distraction to an incomprehensible song that everybody loved at one dark point in history.

When Scatman became an international #1 hit, selling 6 million copes worldwide, John was already at the ripe age of 52. He released 2 more albums. Everybody Jam! was released in 1996 and received little to no critical praise or attention. Then in 1999, he released Take Your Time. The title ended up being wholly ironic because during the recording process, he was diagnosed with lung cancer. He died on December 3, 1999 in his own home in California. In his mind, he lived a very satisfying life, and I would probably say the same. It’s not very often that someone’s artistic success in music comes so late in one’s life.

I also find it to be quite ironic that a man that would never be able to make his popularity last past the ’90s wasn’t actually able to make it past the ’90s. I guess the world is a truly different place…for a Scatman…

Originally posted 11/4/10