The Placeholder Salutes – Raymond Scott and Powerhouse

Word Count – 850

Don’t you think its about time you showed some appreciation for the man who wrote the soundtrack to your entire childhood?

Raymond Scott never scored a single Looney Tunes cartoon in his life. It was the wise acquisition of his music by Warner Brothers that would forever bind him to its bevy of colourful, unkillable characters. Scott was more content to create music for its own sake rather than cater it to the antics of an anthropomorphic cross dressing rabbit. His compositions, left in the skilled and able hands of Looney Tunes musical director Carl Stalling, would be reused and interweaved into dozens of popular golden age cartoons. As all this was going on, Scott continued to compose and create, paying little mind to the fact that his music was being drilled into the heads of children all across the world, and would continue to be for generations to come.

Scott’s music has been running through your head all day and you probably didn’t even know it. You’ve had dreams that he was responsible for. You’ve watched strangers walking, working, moving and playing while his compositions played in your head as their unknown accompaniment. His most pervasive and engrossing song was undoubtedly Powerhouse, a three minute salute to mental frenzy, featuring two distinct yet equally engrossing segments. The first, a fast paced running theme, usually invoking images of speeding cars or out of control mass transit vehicles (in my mind, anyway). The second, and probably the better known of the two, is the victory march of the industrial era. The simple jazzy riff that is the sound of all things coming together in a mechanically maniacal fashion. Simultaneously sinister, jubilant, and whimsical, Powerhouse can currently be heard playing on loop inside the head of every productive malcontent on the planet.

The term ‘brainwashing’ often gets a bad rap, and is seldom used in a positive sense. It is not very likely that you could convince people that having their brains anesthetized by an intoxicating piece of music is a good thing. Even though this was not the intent of Warner Brothers, Stalling, and certainly not Scott, that was exactly what happened with Powerhouse. Hum a few bars of any part of the song, and watch as all those around you smile and nod in recognition.

A skilled artists’ endurance is all about audience remembrance. You see it, you hear it, and if it did its job, you will remember it. Decades before advertising firms fought desperately to find the way into the minds of young people, Powerhouse was already settling in for a long stay. While certainly no accident, the pervasive use of the song aided its rise to prominence greatly. However, its catchy hooks were not created by studio wizards, and its repetition was not ushered in by black hearted marketing gurus. Scott, either by chance or wilful desire, was able to find an empty spot in our minds that Powerhouse was meant to occupy. There is a hole in our heads that we fill with the sights and sounds that please us the most, and that give us the most energy. We will often dip into that hole for those little remembered nuggets at the oddest moments, and are never angered or displeased when they suddenly come upon us. Powerhouse is not alone in this category. A special spot in all our heads is likely reserved for this, this, and most certainly this. To assume that getting a song stuck in your head immediately makes said song bad is underestimating the power of the skilled song and dance man.

Powerhouse is the soundtrack to the productive abstract mind. A mind that thinks of things that move and crash and turn and burn and jump and grind and fall. It is not a song for the relaxed or pacified. It begs for visualization, for physical manifestation. The many cartoons it has been featured in are obvious examples of such creation, but the fertile brain sewn with the seeds of Powerhouse can still provide beautiful and unspeakable visions that dare to be usurped. If your child is acting up in school, before turning to ritalin, turn to Powerhouse and hand the kid some crayons. Tell him to go nuts, and say it like you mean it.

For the indelible skid marks it has left on our brains, we at The Placeholder salute Raymond Scott and Powerhouse. Climb The Highest Mountain, Punch The Face Of God.

For more Powerhouse goodness, see the Steroid Maximus garage band version of destruction, maybe my favourite cover of the song to date. Not on youtube, sadly, but it you can preview and buy it here at track 13. Also, the Soul Coughing song Bus to Beelzebub uses the song as its backbeat. Told you it was synonymous with demonic public transportation.

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