January 13th, 2009


Keep on Rockin' in the Fairy World

I've already discussed sex and drugs with respect to Oz, so what comes next? The usual answer would be rock and roll, but that style of music didn't yet exist at the time when most of the Famous Forty were written. There is a fair amount about music in the books, though, although not quite enough to tell us what Ozites typically listen to. Most of the songs we see mentioned in the series are dances (like the Oz Two-Step), patriotic anthems (like "The Oz Spangled Banner" [1] and "Ozma and Oz Forever" [2]), and impromptu nonsense rhymes and folk ballads. In The Patchwork Girl of Oz, we're introduced to Victor Columbia Edison, a phonograph accidentally brought to life by Dr. Pipt, who tries to play a few different songs for the other characters. He plays classical music (which he describes as "puzzling" and Baum calls "dreary"), ragtime (which the author calls "a jerky jumble of sounds," and Ojo says is "dreadful"), and a popular song about "coal-black Lulu" [3] which is "sung by a man through his nose with great vigor of expression" (possibly a comment on the recording quality of the time rather than the singers themselves). The latter is often considered to be a parody of the then-popular racist "coon songs." Baum also has a character in John Dough and the Cherub named Tietjamus Toips, a spoof of both his own composer friend Paul Tietjens and on Wagner. Toips exclaims, "Some folks can understand Vogner [sic] a little. No one can understand me at all!" Despite these blanket pronouncements, I've heard that there's some evidence Baum enjoyed Wagner and other classical music, and (regrettably) coon songs as well. It's possible that he didn't enjoy ragtime at all, though. Ruth Plumly Thompson seems to have been a little more open to it, though. In her own Tune Town, a location visited in The Gnome King of Oz, there's a bandmaster who seems to run the town, but the queen is named Jazzma. She offers Scraps to let her stay as a maid-in-waiting and "live in ragtime harmony," and while the Patchwork Girl refuses, she doesn't seem to object to ragtime in particular. In her own book, however, Scraps refers to the style as "extremely bad" and "enough to drive a crazy lady mad" (a line I've always quite liked). Incidentally, in describing Queen Jazzma for Who's Who in Oz, Jack Snow refers to her being "worried about a saucy young upstart named Bee-Bopma who has just come to Tune Town and is even noisier and less melodious than Jazzma." I suppose the trend of each generation hating the next generation's music is just as active in the Oz books as anywhere else.

It's not entirely clear how ragtime records came to Oz in the first place, but the fact that there is one suggests that SOMEONE there might enjoy it, even if it isn't a member of Ojo's party. So did Oz keep with with the Great Outside World's musical trends after jazz? I don't know. Even though Oz HAS electric power, it never seems to become all that widespread (when Leon describes wiring up his house in Wicked Witch, he treats it as a novelty), which would presumably mean few to no electric instruments, on which most musical styles of the latter half of the twentieth century and beyond have pretty much depended. And I can't really imagine the Emerald City getting, say, a disco or a slam-dancing club. But maybe that's just because I view Oz as remaining somewhat quaint by modern standards, despite the fact that the books actually present us with a fair number of then-modern amenities.

So now that I've talked about the music in Oz itself, I'm wondering what music reminds other people of Oz. I know kevenn has said he usually listens to Tori Amos when drawing Oz characters, and I know there are a few other Oz fans (in addition to me, that is) who like They Might Be Giants. I think songs that bring Oz to my mind are usually ones that mention imaginary themed locations, like TMBG's "Cowtown," and the town of Misery from XTC's "1000 Umbrellas" (which I think might be located in the Munchkin Sadlands, not too far from Tear Drop City). Actually, XTC explicitly refers to the Wizard of Oz in "Merely a Man," and references the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman in "Scarecrow People." There's apparently also an Andy Partridge demo in which he mistakenly credits the Oz books to Frank L. Richards, rather than Baum. (Has anyone ever heard this song? I believe it's called "Rip Van Ruben.") Interestingly, it's an old Oz e-mail list that I partially credit with getting me into Tom Lehrer, who seems quite popular among Oz fans. I don't think there's anything particularly Ozzy about his music (although he does mention the book in "Smut," and jokes that he translated in into Latin in his introduction to Tom Lehrer Revisited), but I guess Oz fans also tend to be bibliophiles in general, and hence probably likely to enjoy music that employs unusual vocabulary and clever wordplay. I believe that both Baum and Thompson were fans of Gilbert & Sullivan, who did much the same kind of songwriting in their own day.

[1] This is referred to as the Ozian national anthem in Dorothy and the Wizard, which is interesting because "The Star-Spangled Banner" didn't officially become the American national anthem until over twenty years after the publication of this book. There's no indication that the Ozian anthem has the same tune, and I prefer to think it doesn't, but it would be only fair considering that it was a rip-off of "The Anacreontic Song" in the first place. And, of course, "My Country, 'Tis of Thee" reuses the tune of "God Save the Queen."
[2] There's a reference to a song called "The Land of Oz Forever" in Hidden Valley, which could be either a different song or a pre-Ozma version of the same one.
[3] For the Books of Wonder edition, "coal-black" was changed to "cross-eyed." I can sympathize with the desire to remove what could be viewed as racist material, but I must say it's an odd substitution.