I had one of my periodic musical cravings the other day. I get cravings for music the way many people get cravings for food, and it drives me crazy until I put on the CD—or go buy one, as in this case. I had a craving for Scott Joplin.
It then occurred to me that there are probably many people in my generation who have never seriously listened to Joplin. Of course it’s unlikely that they’ve got this far without ever hearing, say, “The Entertainer.” But to many of them, I suspect it’s just been like the Wagner in the backgrounds of Roadrunner cartoons.
Ragtime is such beautiful music—boundlessly joyful, even in the sadder pieces, paradoxical as that may be. It’s one of the building blocks in what became Dixieland jazz, but it would be a serious (and common) mistake to think that ragtime is unsophisticated, or anything short of real art music. It was popular music, which to many people means it could not possibly be art, but it’s time we finally abandoned that silly prejudice.
Here’s a nice detailed biography of the great ragtime composer, Scott Joplin. As many people know, ragtime had been largely forgotten until the 1970s, when a revival was largely sparked by the popularity of the movie The Sting. This is ironic, since The Sting is set in the 1920s, when ragtime was utterly passé. But a good start if you’ve never listened to the music, would be the soundtrack album.
By the way, am I the only person who thinks that Peabo Bryson’s 1983 hit “If Ever You’re In My Arms Again” was a ripoff of the melody from Joplin’s “Solace (A Mexican Seranade)”?