Thursday, August 05, 2010

What A Character

A few years ago David Garland, host of WNYC's SPINNING ON AIR, wrote to me:

I'm about a third of the way into Michael Chabon's [Pulitzer Prize winning novel], The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (published by Random House), and to my surprise Raymond Scott shows up as a character in the story. The novel is set in New York City, and at this point in the story it's 1940. They've just gone to a party for Salvador Dali:

"Most of the names were unfamiliar to Joe, but he did recognize Raymond Scott, a composer who had recently hit it big with a series of whimsical, cacophonous, breakneck pseudo-jazz pop tunes. Just the other day, when Joe stopped at Hippodrome Radio, they had been playing his new record, 'Yesterthoughts,' over the store PA. Scott was feeding a steady diet of Louis Armstrong platters to the portable RCA while explaining what he had meant when he referred to Satchmo as, 'the Einstein of the blues.' As the notes fluttered out of the fabric-covered loudspeaker, he would point at them, as if to illustrate what he was saying, and even tried to snatch at one with his hands. He kept turning the volume up, the better to compete with the less important conversations taking place around him."

A few pages later, Dali, who was wearing an old-fashioned diving suit, begins to suffocate, and Raymond Scott tries to remove Dali's metal helmet. In that scene, when someone suggests they remove Dali's helmet, Scott shouts, "What the f*ck do you think I'm trying to do?!" That seems uncharacteristic to me, but what the f*ck do I know about how much d*mn cursing Raymond did? So far, I'm enjoying the book a lot.
—David Garland

Another email I received today:

Hi: I am a librarian in San Bruno, CA and I have a patron who is trying to find the sound/music for something he thinks Raymond Scott wrote. Michael Chabon, in his "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay," writes, "The doorbell played its weird tune, Raymond Scott's shortest composition, 'Fanfare for the Fuller Brush Man.'" Does such a composition exist and if yes, can I get the sheet music or do you know where the patron could hear it?
 Thank you in advance.

Although Scott released a tune titled "Yesterthoughts" in 1940, the events depicted in this novel, as well as the composition "Fanfare for the Fuller Brush Man," are creations from Chabon's imagination. Scott did, however, invent an electronic musical doorbell.

• Order the book from: Amazon


  1. At a Scott-related concert last year a member of the audience approached me with "a question [he's] been wanting to ask for years." He had to know if the Scott incident recounted in TAAK&C actually took place. I told him it was fictitious and that Mitzi Scott, Raymond's widow, found the passage offensive because "Raymond never talked that way." This is the tenth time someone has asked about it.

  2. Yeah, that was back when the book was first published. I was in touch with Chabon at that time. He was a bit chagrinned that he may have misrepresented Raymond's personality--didn't want to offend the family--but I believe he's a licensed poet, or has poetic license, or something.