To preface this article, I'm gonna have to re-display my geekiness once again and refer to a 2nd-season episode of "Star Trek: The Next Generation", "Loud as a Whisper". In that particular episode, deaf and mute Ambassador Riva remarks that the key to negotiating success is making a disadvantage into an advantage.
I've often thought about that statement when I think about the heartwarming story of the late Scatman John (aka John Larkin). As a boy, he had a rather tough childhood due to a stutter. However, he was able to overcome this difficulty by using it to his advantage when he was introduced to the art of scatting at the age of 14, a couple of years into his education on the piano. John then became a jazz pianist in the 1970s.
Now, why am I introducing this fellow in a blog about Japanese music? Well, just a few weeks into my time as an English teacher in the megalopolis that is Tokyo, Scatman John released his debut single as a pop singer in November 1994 titled "Scatman (Ski Ba Bop Ba Dop Bop)", and not long after that, his face, through the above video, was all over the place. My first encounter with the anachronistically-tailored (but darn dapper) fellow with the Fuller Brush mustache was in Shibuya when I saw the video being flashed up on the big screen just across from Shibuya Station. Because of all the noise in the area, I couldn't quite hear what the video was all about but then after seeing it on TV one night, I realized the fellow was scatting at Warp Eight! It was like hearing Ella Fitzgerald and Lambert, Hendricks & Ross on acid. All that to a techno beat.
And initially, I thought that Scatman John was one of those inexplicable "Big in Japan" acts. For a while at least, he became the most popular and cuddliest middle-aged non-Japanese guy in the country. I saw him appear on a number of TV shows including the above "Music Station" on TV Asahi. And he always came across as very amiable and gracious. His debut single was nowhere near the Top 10 on Oricon, peaking at No. 36, but as I said, he became a pop culture fixture for a few years after that. Not only that, I later realized that he became quite the popular fellow in Europe and, to a certain extent, in North America as well.
One of the signs that someone or something has made a definite impression in pop culture anywhere is its ability to be parodied. So, of course, Ultraman had to put his 2 pennies in.
The monomane tarento were also more than willing to take on Scatman John. And considering John's sartorial tastes, he probably was an impressionist's dream.
Plus, the Scatman himself pushed the merchandise.
Via YouTube though, I discovered more of his discography as a jazz pianist and singer. This is the bluesy and soulful "Last Night I Dreamed".
And the above is his 1986 debut album "John Larkin".
I did mention the term "heartwarming" up above. Scatman John made that initial disadvantage into a big advantage, and although I don't think he's become an icon in Japanese pop culture, he did make his mark for a certain generation with his distinctive style, happy demeanor and, of course, his golden tongue during what would become unfortunately his last decade of life. I think he was truly grateful for that opportunity to make other people, especially people in other nations, happy. He passed away in 1999 from lung cancer at the age of 57.