Tuesday, November 3, 2009

No, No and No: Three Ways to Lose the Reader

The local color column this morning opens:
We have all heard, and maybe whistled, the tune, "shave and a haircut, two bits."

No, actually, we haven't. Despite, the ad salesman waxes on: It was a ditty made popular in 1939 and it's never lost its appeal.

It's a good thing this is an opinion column.

In driving around Englewood I could not help but notice all the barber shops this song is dedicated to.

No, actually, it isn't a song and it isn't dedicated to anyone or anything. It first appeared in 1899 at the end of "A Darktown Cakewalk," words by Charles Hale.

A quick skim through the Encyclopedia of Music finds the 1939 version is a 7-note coda, and the words were "shave and a hair cut -- shampoo." The 1939 version was "made popular" by Milton Berle, Lestor Lee, and Dan Shapiro.

But wait, there's more ways to go wrong in the absence of editors.

"Two bits," "five bob," and other expressions -- some not so nice -- are often used for the last two beats depending on the musician's context and intent. The distinctive beat (Latin clave) can be played effectively on car horns. Do this in Mexico, and the driver is tooting the very bad "chinga a tu madre, cabrĂ³n."