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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution


 
The Essay
Show #88
Scarface Al
David Gunn
Scarface Al, they called him, the most notorious hoodlum ever to successfully dodge a 31 Ford sedan careening down a rain-slicked east side Chicago street. They called him "cigarface" because his head resembled a panatela -- long and slender with straight sides that tapered to a point at the neck ... i.e., neck not as in the solidified lava which fills vents of extinct volcanoes, but neck as in the siphon of a bivalve mollusk, such as a clam, a lifeform he openly admired. No matter he was partly responsible for increases in the nation's high crime rate, Alphonse Capone was more importantly a generous supporter of the performing arts. As a Brooklyn street tough, he played the violin and formed the Capone String Trio, which performed at well-heeled, snooty salon functions. He liked the money, which was easy, the dames, who were fast, but mostly he liked the heft and feel of his fiddle case, which he carried everywhere and in which he stashed food swiped from the buffet table. Success followed, and he soon had a comfortable life playing Saturday gigs and living off buffet table spoils for the rest of the week. Gradually, Al grew weary of sawing through the same old tunes, so he took on five more musicians and renamed the group "Al and His Thugs," after the narrow part along which the strings of an instrument extend to the pegs. But something besides the name changed Al. He became moody, depressed, surly and took up drinking, much like many of today's mainstream musicians. At his regular weekend engagements, he began to openly clear the buffet tables before playing. Sometimes he didn't bother with the music at all. Not surprising, many people failed to understand and embrace this sort of attitude -- so vital to today's American pop culture -- so Al was eventually fired. A new upstart classical swing band, the Bugs Moran Septet, took his place without missing a beat. On February 14, 1929, Bug's band was hired to play a gala at the Peruvian Embassy. Capone's Thugs, disguised as Tupac Amaru revolutionaries, slipped into the hors d'oeuvre-abundant chateau, pulled from their string cases enough weaponry to arm a Ferengi dog cruiser, and neatly blew away the competition in a spectacle which made the food fight scene from Bellini's Norma pale in comparison. Because of the cosmetics Al's men used to color their eyebrows to make a revolutionary fashion statement, the incident became known as the Saint Valentine's Day Mascara.

Capone's Age of Philanthropia soon followed, as he parleyed cash earned from liquor rackets into funding feasibility studies of underwater harp orchestras and other musical oddities. Although much of his research went nowhere, he will forever be known as the grandfather of the sprechstimme phenomenon known today as "gangster rap."

Alphonse Capone, who croaked 50 years ago today thanks to an allergy to syphilis, often referred to on this program as le flambeau oriange -- this program being, and no surprise here, Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar, episode 88, this portion of which has not yet been rated by the Radiophonic Guild of America, an amalgam of self-aggrandizing broadcast nitwits out of whose favor we have forever fallen due to a nominal misunderstanding, the less said of which, the better. And who better to not say anything about it than one who probably was unaware of it in the first place, bon radio, Kalvos.