Completing the cosmic circle

Barry Smith

I’m in Vancouver, performing my “Jesus In Montana” show at the Vancouver Fringe Festival. My friends Kevin and John have come up from Seattle to hang out with me for a few days.We’re sharing a hotel room – two double beds and a little roll-away cot for John. He was the last to arrive, so he gets the cot. It’s morning and we’re slowly getting ready to head out into the world. John puts some music on his portable iPod speakers and heads into the bathroom for a shower. As the shower starts, I catch a lyric that includes a name check of Scatman Caruthers. “What do you think I’d have to do get people to start calling me ‘Scatman’?” I ask Kevin.”Start scatting,” he offers.”Besides that, I mean.”Scatting is out of the question. I want people to call me “Scatman,” not “Dorkman.” Not that scat singing is not a valid and entertaining form of vocal expression. It’s just not for us deadpan folks.”Wasn’t Scatman Caruthers on ‘Sanford and Son’?” Kevin asks.”He was in ‘The Shining,'” I reply.”Well … yeah, everybody knows that. But it seems like he was on a regular TV show, too.”We ponder this for a while – was Scatman on “Sanford and Son”? Not sure. What else was he on? Hmmmm. We draw mutual blanks and move on to the next deep topic.John emerges from his shower and I begin to reminisce about the time when John and I spent several days of an AV gig singing every imaginable song in a Tom Waits voice. If you don’t know Tom Waits, imagine someone singing, say, “Wind Beneath My Wings” while gargling gravel AND being strangled. Now imagine singing, in the same style, “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue,” “Funkytown” and “Love Me Tender,” and a thousand other songs. Sound like a good way to spend a week? You betcha. Hey, AV gigs can get very tedious, so you have to make your own fun.John does an uncanny Tom Waits impersonation. I ask him to demonstrate for Kevin. He does, singing an impromptu and hilarious medley of kids’ show songs from the ’70s – “Scooby Doo,” “HR Puffinstuff,” “Hong Kong Phooey” …Wait a minute! The voice of Hong Kong Phooey, the cartoon dog/karate master, was done by – yes! – Scatman Caruthers! How beautifully synchronous! John was in the shower and didn’t hear our laborious Scatman conversation. How could he know? How could any of us have known?I announce this cosmic convergence with a bit more excitement than is necessary, but my friends are used to such things from me. I get all giddy at these little “circle is complete” moments. My “Jesus In Montana” show, which is about my involvement in a religious cult in the ’90s, contains several such “cosmic” moments. Earlier in the week, right after a performance, a woman came up to me and said, “I have a friend who’s just like you. He was diagnosed schizophrenic. You were just joking about all that stuff, right? Right?”She looked at me with genuine concern, like you’d look at someone who’s running a dangerously high fever.My friends don’t do that. They already know that a diagnosis of schizophrenia would be a case of me getting off easy. My friends play along when I feel I’m peeking behind the cosmic curtain of the Universe and finding Scatman Caruthers at the controls.”Now I’m gonna have the ‘Hong Kong Phooey’ song stuck in my head all day,” I say, once I’ve calmed down.Without even looking at one another, we all begin to hum the theme from “Sanford and Son,” because this is the universally acknowledged song-from-head cleanser. AV guys know this. Now you know it, too. “Wait a minute!” I yell, “Isn’t there a chance that Scatman was on ‘Sanford and Son,’ too? Oh, my God! That would mean …”Yes, Barry, my friends say … that would mean that the circle is even MORE complete, and that it’s time for some fresh air.Catch the last ever – or for a good long while, at least – Roaring Fork Valley performance of “Jesus In Montana” at the Aspen Art Museum on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. Admission is free.


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