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Octavius Bagshot: The Man Behind the Jingle

This was the combined legal holiday for the birth of James K. Polk, the launching of the Great Eastern, and the Sack of Troy, so Ding-Dong and I walked over to the old clam factory to see how Octavius Bagshot was making out with his new business. Octavius operates only on holidays, and wants to get in the Guinness Book of Records when they observe combined Christmas, Thanksgiving, and July Fourth on a Friday the 13th. Ding-Dong and I hadn't been to the old clam shop since it failed in 1928 for want of clams. It was good to see how Octavius had restored it. The clam steamer was gone, and the place had been swept. We found Octavius at his desk, or podium. His crew was on break between takes.

Octavius makes singing refrains for radio and television commercials, and everybody was listening to a playback of "Your Money Back If You're Not Satisfied" set to the Grand March from "Aida." It was for a 60-second commercial for Honest Reuben Renfrew at the used-tire barn on Route 23. We all spoke, and Octavius invited us to watch the next recording. It was to be a full minute, with "JOBS! JOBS! JOBS! He's Working Hard for Maine!" set to The Overture from "William Tell." The client was Roscoe Jennings Pferdpflege, a wealthy computer salesman running for Community Service Commissioner in Oxford County.

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Edie Whitsun, star forward on our high school basketball team, and pretty good at singing, was striking in her Brunhilde costume, and Octavius had her stand and turn about so we could see he was really doing quality work.

Ding-Dong asked Octavius, "Why do people want this kind of jingle-jingle to sell plumbing and oil heat and folding chairs and politics?"

"I don't know," Octavius said. "But don't knock it. I'm eating three square and my wife is overweight, and we got a place in Arizona. I don't believe, myself, that 'Open Every Night 'Til Nine' ever sold many lamb chops in waltz time. But who am I to quibble? The ones that get me are the ones that we have to read as if everybody was on a runaway truckload of logs about to hit a church, and all it says is that prices are 10 percent off through Tuesday. Those are the ones who want original music."

Ding-Dong said, "I was wondering about that. What do you do about music?"

"I tape most of it from either the good music station or the one that plays country-western all day. We need both kinds. But we do have an orchestra for special recordings, and if the client wants something original."

"So you do have an orchestra?" Ding-Dong asked.

"Eyah, but it's on-call. They come in when I need 'em. We have a drum, a Mollie Malone fish horn, two dishpans, and Squeaky Folsome with his five-string banjo. A good many times we use what we have on tape, and don't use the orchestra in person. That is, for radio; for TV, they gotta be seen and that runs into costumes and makeup, and mostly our clients can't afford that. Except the politicians."

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Ding-Dong asked, "Where do the politicians get the money to pay you and buy the time?"

"I don't know, but it's cash on the barrel. We have a stock tape that we stick onto any political commercial free of charge. It's to the tune of 'Waiting for the Robert E. Lee,' and by the girls' quartet. It says, 'Paid For By The Friends of The Candidate.' Wibble-Wobble Luther Ramsdell, who runs for governor every time and never makes it, uses that all the time, and he doesn't have a friend. I guess they either steal it or print it. I don't ask."

"There's a woman," said Ding-Dong, "who's running for the Senate and she says she's experienced."

"I wondered about that," Octavius said, "but she didn't want us to juice up Chopin when we sang the 'Honest, Able, Fearless' bit, and I thought that indicated good taste and mature thinking, and I took a chance on her. I think she's a dietician at a state institution, and probably will make us a good senator. My father always said if I had a choice to take the woman who made the best biscuits. My mother made the best biscuits this side of Dingwall, and I never questioned my old man's judgment. Light as a feather!"

'HAVE you been interviewed by the press?" Ding-Dong asked. "Not yet," Octavius replied, "but I have my extemporaneous remarks written down for when they come. Mine is a low-key business, and the public isn't ready to know about it. My job is to make a product or a candidate acceptable, popular, and enticing, and then finish with a tune that distracts everybody so nobody knows what he heard. On this next one you're going to see us make, we play 'Suwannee River' in waltz time on a bagpipe, except that we do it backwards. It's on a tape made by mistake for an MIT experiment in noise levels. I was happy to find it on the dump at York Beach."

"Do you look for a long future with this kind of service?" Ding-Dong asked.

"Well, yes and no. Humanity will always have its low-quality folks, and some will continue to run radio and TV stations, and some will continue to tune in. I think 'Suwannee River' played backwards has an amusement factor to overcome the stupidity, but I don't know about these people who come in and want to buy it to sell sneakers and ice cream. We had one manufacturer of software who insisted we get another dishpan for the orchestra. Then he wanted to play it for the recording. He's to start on the network next Sunday for four times a day 'til forbid. I just don't know."

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