A Hundred Years Ago in Music: The 1906 Scene by Jonathan Shipley


1906 was amazing. The Victor Victrola was blasting out the hits! For instance, who can forget “Captain Baby Bunting of the Rocking Horse Brigade”? You can’t? What, are you crazy?! It was a brigade, see, of rocking horses. Ha! And who was leading the charge? Captain Baby Bunting. Oh, that Baby Bunting, he always cracks me up. And the tune is magic! I whistle the tune a lot to keep my spirits up when I’m in the hospital with another bout of scarlet fever.

Yes, 1906 music was truly something special. Remember all the wonderful times? Will Dob’s “When Tommy Atkins Marries Dolly Gray,” was a wonderful number, as was “You Can’t Give Your Heart To Somebody Else And Still Hold Hands With Me.” Back then songs could have very long titles. None of this riffraff music with short song titles like “Loser,” by that effeminate Beck, or “One,” by You Too, or whatever their names are, those Irish bums. Yes, back then you had titles like “When You Know You’re Not Forgotten By the Girl You Can’t Forget,” and “Let Bygones Be Bygones and Let Us Be Sweethearts Again,” and “He Walked Right In Turned Around and Walked Right Out Again.” What a great song, but the dance didn’t last long at local grange halls. What happened was he walked right in turned around and walked right out again.

Remember that one time at the ol’ saw mill? How we ribbed Jonah when Harry Hoyt’s “If Anybody Wants To Meet a Jonah Shake Hands With Me” came out? Jonah shook all our hands hundreds of times. He had big ‘ol blisters afterwards oozing with pus! That was before he went to the hospital because of rickets, and malaria, and polio. Poor Jonah, he just didn’t want to shake anyone’s hand after they had to amputate because, well, he didn’t have hands anymore! The owners of the saw mill treated him poor after that. Filthy men. Filthy.

I remember I was in Chicago soon after all that happened. It was right after Upton Sinclair’s novel “The Jungle” came out and everyone was hooting and hollering about how horrible it was for immigrants in a meat packing plant. I was working in one of those plants after I got laid off the saw mill (filthy men) and I was in this tavern, see, and who should be sitting up near the billiards table but Sinclair himself. I walked up to him and said, “Thanks for telling folks how it is in the plants.” He said, “You’re welcome.” I asked him to dance. We twirled around to Ed Rose’s “The Bee That Gets the Honey Doesn’t Hang Around the Hive.” Afterwards he called me honey and we kissed in the alley out back, but I digress.

But don’t digress too much because Sinclair was smitten with me, and me with him, so we took a train to New York to see some Broadway shows! “George Washington, Jr.” was a wonderful show. And don’t get me started about “The Spring Chicken.” It’s the best English musical comedy adapted by George Grossmith, Jr. I’ve ever seen. “The Glass Blowers” was rubbish.

After the whirlwind tour of New York, me and Sinclair returned to Chicago. We stayed up late at night in his parlor listening to “The Game of Peek-a-Boo” and then we played a little peek-a-boo ourselves under the sheets, but I digress.

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