July 29, 2020
No Joy in Endsville: "Cool" Casey at the Bat
Caseyatthe.blog has forever like, dug "'Cool' Casey at the Bat"-- artist Don Martin's unique contribution to the still-growing canon of literature inspired by Ernest Thayer's "Casey at the Bat." Now, thanks to the generosity of longtime friend, contributor, and faithful Caseyatthe.blog reader George Heer (@GJHeer2 ) this classic featured in MAD Magazine (Number 58, October 1960) can at last be posted here!
Mad Magazine cover, Number 58, October 1960
The action wasn't groovy for the Endsville nine that day;The beat was 4 to 2 with just one chorus more to sway.And when old Cooney conked at first, and Burrows also sacked,A nowhere rumble bugged up all the cats who dug the act.
Man, somewhere in this far-out scene the sun is packing heat;
The group is blowing somewhere, and somewhere guts are beat.
And somewhere big cats break up, and small cats raise the roof;
But there is no joy in Endsville -- Swinging Casey made a goof.
Artist Don Martin 1931 - 2000
Seriously, do I need to include a glossary of beatnik slang? OK, for those squares not hip to Beat lingo:
ax = instrumentbread = moneycat / cats = hipstersdig = to like / enjoy / approve of, as in "I dig this cat -- he's a gas!"gas = outrageous fungone = high, intoxicated to the point of no returnguts = as in "to beat guts" has a crude contemporary meaning which you can look up on your own time. Here, it probably refers to the gut strings (from ancient times, fashioned from animal intestines) of the guitar or upright bass used in jazz comboslike = typically used as an mild interjection such as "if old Casey could, like, get in one more lick..." with meaning similar to modifiers "sort of" or "kind of"ribble = as in "he fanned down all that ribble.' The exact meaning is unclear, but "ribble" meant at one time to cheat or withhold income from one's employees. More generally, conveys a sense of gratuitous trouble-making.rumble = as in "a nowhere rumble." "Rumble" was a mid-20th-century street fight (as in Sharks vs. Jets), but here intended metaphorically. "Nowhere rumble" = vague disturbance.sick = not used as in 21st-century jargon, meaning "cool" or even "cool/crazy" or "cool/insane." The Beat meaning was, like, old-fashioned "crazy" or "insane"-- and NOT in a "cool" way. (In Thayer's original, the crowd at this point in the game challenges the second strike call with shouts of "Fraud!")sideman = back-up musician in an ensemblesplit = to go, or leave; "A hassled group...started in to split"stick = instrument (also "ax")
From Hipsters to Hippies: The Beat Generation and its hipster jargon provided a rich vein of inspiration for Mad artists and writers into the early 1960's. Very soon, however, the hipsters would give way to an even more fruitful source of Mad comedy: "hippies".
Let's consider the credit due to Don Martin himself--the "maddest of the Mad artists," as he was described by contemporaries. Educated at the Newark (N.J.) School of Fine and Industrial Arts, and a graduate of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia (1952), Martin employed his talents in album cover design before he broke into the ranks of Mad in 1956.
Don Martin's design for the Miles Davis album, "Miles Davis and Horns" (1956).
At Mad, Martin often applied his creativity to poetic parodies, including versions of poems by Longfellow, Coleridge, Edgar Guest, and Clement Clarke Moore ("A Visit from St. Nicholas"). Besides contributing his distinctively eccentric comic characters, did Martin also help write the verses? Mad provided no clues: Martin is attributed as "artist" in the 1960 "'Cool' Casey at the Bat," but no other attributions are apparent, except to the "usual gang of idiots" recognized collectively behind the front cover as artists and contributors.
Mad Magazine "Beatnik" edition, September 1960
The text alone, though, places Mad's "'Cool' Casey" in the front ranks of "Casey" parodies. This "Beat" version follows the classic 52 line, 13-stanza framework of Thayer's original, with the action in each stanza matching the corresponding sequence of the 1888 version. Even the introduction to the 1960 "Beat" poem mirrors Thayer's lifelong habit of self-deprecation: "...a hip version of the poem which is destined for obscurity."
The brilliance of "Cool Casey" lies in the way it deftly juxtaposes the imagery of sports and that of "be-bop" music--in a way that commingles the language and drama of both! When Casey struts in with his "stick" he could be holding either his bat--or his saxophone--and when "...the joint is jumpin' with the sound of Casey's blast," we hear both the crack of the bat and the desperate sforzando of his "ax." And of course Casey is left with the aftermath of his "goof" in a finality with which both athletes and artists can sympathize.
So bravo to the memory of Don Martin! Thanks for reminding us that in whatever idiom it has appeared, the legend of "Casey" retains the power to evoke not only the anguish of deflated expectations but also the sublime insight known to the ancients. The story has ended just as any classical drama should end--by suspending us in the moment of fear and pity until the last stanza, the last out, the last blast. Or as "Cool" Casey might have put it, "It's, like, Endsville. Can you dig it?"
With thanks to George J. Heer and content attribution to Mad Magazine and to the genius of Don Martin