Success and fame are two things that are often hard to obtain, depending on the individual and their particular skills. Every person dreams of being a rich director, actor, or singer, but only a select few can ever climb that ladder. Sometimes, one may not even achieve this level of success at first. There are some who won’t even become famous until later in their lives, when their golden years had already passed them by.
That brings us to Scatman John, a musician who didn’t make it big until his 50s. Scatman John started life as “John Paul Larkin”, and had a serious stuttering problem. This would occasionally make communicating with other people a bit difficult. However, John found a way to turn his disability into an ability. He modified his stuttering into “Scatting”, which involves singing non-verbal/made-up words at a rather fast pace.
John’s first album was released in 1986 and had very little scatting in it, and is often considered his worst album. A few years later, John would completely reinvent himself and his music. He took on the name “Scatman John”, and started scatting much more in his songs. He combined his scatting with rapping, and fast-paced pop music to create a truly unique sound. Scatman’s fusion of genres was a truly spectacular thing to hear, like a chorus of angels singing catchy dance music.
Scatman released released his fight single, appropriately titled “Scatman”. This song would become Scatman’s “theme song” in a way, the song that most people remember him for. It helps that it’s catchy and establishes the style of music that he helped create. To a lot of people, this is the single best song he ever put out.
Over the course of the 90s, Scatman would release a ton of really good songs. One such song was Scatman’s World, which was truly a great one. Scatman sings about the problems of the world, and talks about a fantasy world called “Scatland”. In Scatland, said problems don’t exist.
In a way, Scatman was inviting us into his fantasy of a better world, one where peace and joy are an utter constant. It’s a powerful song, and the visuals featured in the music video compliment it well. Another Scatman song that came out during this time was “Everybody Jam”, a song that’s decided to John’s idol: Louie Armstrong.
Using special effects and techniques, they were able to digitally insert the long-gone Armstrong into the music video. We were able to see Scatman John side-by-side with his hero, even if it was just special effects wizardry. The song itself was super catchy and energetic, a trait shared by most of Scatman’s songs. This particular song felt like a song that’d be right at home at a dance club.
While Scatman was popular at the time, his popularity didn’t initially come from his home country of America. Instead, he was popular primarily in Europe and Japan, due to the catchy dance-beats of his songs. This eventually lead to the creation of one of Scatman’s last singles, known as “Su Su Su Super Kirei”. This single was only released in Japan, and managed to outdo Everybody Jam, at least in terms of energy.
Unfortunately, John was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1998. Despite this, he still came in and recorded several songs for his third and final album. The album was called “Take Your Time” and was released on June 1st 1999. Sadly, Scatman himself would pass away 6 months after the album was released.
Despite John’s unfortunate passing, his legacy lived on. While not originally being a hit in America, Scatman’s songs later gained new life through the internet. Scatman John’s material became “memetic”, causing his popularity to spike considerably. Even though John was gone at this point, his music lived on in the hearts of many.
To me, Scatman is a hero. He shows that just because a person has a disability, it doesn’t mean they can’t achieve great things. He turned his stuttering problem into a solution, and was able to create truly great music because of it. I strive to be like Scatman, and accomplish amazing feats in spite of a disability. In a way, I think there’s a lot about Scatman’s story one can learn. Truly, he was a great man with a great legacy.