Note: Irwin Chusid, journalist, music historian, radio personality and self-described “landmark preservationist,” wrote the following essay to mark the centennial of composer Raymond Scott. It was originally published at Boing Boing.
His merry melodies have propelled the antics of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, Animaniacs, and Bart Simpson. His recordings underscore the body-fluid fetishism of Ren & Stimpy. Yet Raymond Scott, who was born in Brooklyn 100 years ago today, never wrote a note for a cartoon in his life.
Scott’s popular 1930s faux-jazz novelties were festooned with titles like “Dinner Music for a Pack of Hungry Cannibals,” “Celebration on the Planet Mars,” and “New Year’s Eve in a Haunted House.” When Warner Bros. purchased Scott’s publishing in 1943, their music director Carl Stalling began seasoning his cartoon scores with Scott’s sonic spice. In hundreds of these anarchic shorts, Stalling sampled over a dozen Scott titles, with “Powerhouse” echoing behind countless cat-chase-mouse sequences and ominous assembly lines. Since forever, Scott’s quirky musical motifs have become genetically encoded in every earthling.
Not that it mattered to Scott. He didn’t care about cartoons. He cared about machines — whether they had a pulse or not. His demanding perfectionism was legendary. He rehearsed his sidemen to the point of exhaustion and resentment — and insulted them if they failed to meet the maestro’s standards. Drummer Johnny Williams (father of composer John Williams) told an interviewer: “We were machines, only we had names.”