King of Rags by Eric Bronson
Author Bio: Eric Bronson teaches philosophy in the Humanities Department at York University in Toronto. He is the editor of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Philosophy (Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), Poker and Philosophy (Open Court, 2006), Baseball and Philosophy (Open Court, 2004), and co-editor of The Hobbit and Philosophy (Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), and The Lord of the Rings and Philosophy (Open Court, 2003). In 2007 he served as the “Soul Trainer” for the CBC radio morning show, “Sounds Like Canada.” His current project is a book called The Dice Shooters, based loosely on his experiences dealing craps in Las Vegas.
Book Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Neverland Publishing
Release Date: May, 2013
Buy Link(s): Amazon
King of Rags follows the life of Scott Joplin and his fellow ragtime musicians as they frantically transform the seedy and segregated underbelly of comedians, conmen and prostitutes who called America’s most vibrant cities home. Inspired by Booker T. Washington and the Dahomeyan defeat in West Africa, Joplin was ignored by the masses for writing the music of Civil Rights fifty years before America was ready to listen.
If I had the means to go to any New Years party I wanted, I’d probably go to jail. The prison on Robben Island, specifically, some fifty years ago. I’d sing along to the music as best I could. Until it came time for the old Scottish ballad, “Bonnie Mary of Argyle.” Then I think I’d probably just listen.
Still to me wilt thou be dearer
Than all the world shall own
I have loved thee for thy beauty
But not for that alone
The uplifting voice from the cellblock would ring through the halls. The scuffle of footsteps, the skittering of mice – I’d try my best to hear it all.
One way we all can all honor Black History month is to pay closer attention to the music. Jazz music, rock music, blues or pop, it doesn’t matter really. There’s a sweet passage at the end of the book Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre. The narrator hears jazz music inside his favorite cafe. He’s heard the song there before but never like this.
“I no longer think of myself. I think of the man out there who wrote this tune… He had troubles… There is nothing pretty or glorious in all that. But when I hear the sound and I think that that man made it, I find this suffering and sweat… moving.”
Something changes inside us when we listen to the visions behind the voices, the stories behind the songs. Try listening to vaudeville comic Bert Williams sing his signature song “Nobody” from one hundred years ago (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CI8e2_Ymo9Q). Bert was one of the most famous comedians of his day but he was also black. That meant he couldn’t be taken seriously by white America. When audiences heard him sing they laughed uproariously. But when friends saw him suffering, smoking cigarettes one after the other in the back of a bar in Harlem, they were moved in a different direction.
So might we be. Louis Armstrong sang “What a Wonderful World,” but he also sang heartbreaking songs like “Black and Blue.” (“What did I do to be so black and blue?”) Knowing the full story helps us appreciates the upbeat songs all the more.
Do you think the prison guard who heard Nelson Mandela sing the Scottish ballad that New Years Eve could have known the prisoner would day change the world? I guess it all depends on how closely he was listening.