Is he strong?
“Hey! Do you write originals?”
This initial question should have been a tip off.
I responded to this request to message me that came via Instagram with “What else would I write?”
Then came the pitch… I was being asked to write song for the questioner’s son’s birthday, which was next week. Just a simple 2 minute birthday song which will have his name mentioned lol
Willing to pay $300
Sort of out of the blue, but I had just had my little adventure writing the In Lieu of Fun Theme song and this person’s handle was “lleulumaylin” — maybe it was related? Perhaps someone had heard what I’d done with that and thought having a personalized song would be a fun gift given how my Cheers inspired anthem went over… not that that first question makes any sense in that context. Not that I recognized them from that show’s audience and their account was private (Hmmm…)
Still I responded cordially explaining that I would need some details in order to personalize it and guidance as to what it should song like. And of course I'd need to know what the kid’s name was and how old he would be. This is what I got:
Not really a lot to go on, to be honest. Kind of generic. Also, what 5 year old wants a personalized song? But based on that last bit, it’s really more for the parents than it is for the kid. Given the fact it was nearly 11 at night I figured I’d sleep in it.
At 5:45 in the morning I’m asked “When can you start?”
As it happens I’m up not much later and thinking about the spider man theme song, wondering if there are elements of it I can use, maybe take the bridge as jumping off point. Granted I’m thinking about the old cartoon from the late 60s, maybe it wouldn’t be relevant to this kid though it has some ubiquitous pop culture relevance, including a cover by the Ramones and being a song in-universe in the 2002 and 2004 Spiderman films where it’s played by buskers. But once again, this seems like something that would be more for the parents. So as long as I’m up, I might as well I look up the chords to the spider man theme song (I regret still not having the ear for these things — I’m quite jealous of folks like Brendan Getzell who can hear a tune and know how to play it — though I have stumped him a bit, such as with that Maj7 in the B section of “I Need a Sugar Mama” which he plays piano on).
Not that I’ve ever listened to it closely or thought of it from a theory perspective, but I hadn't realized it has as sort of Andalusian cadence — just playing the chords on guitar, I get the impression of a Spanish flamenco or a tango in its construction with its use of the vi, ii and III chords. It actually feels even more pronounced in the bridge in context. Weird. I wonder what inspired the composer of the theme to make that choice — maybe a way to harken back to that other masked crime fighter Zorro? Or maybe it was the influence of surf music which had been popular in the not too distant past when the show was produced, and thus owes its musical heritage to that cultural melange developed by Dick Dale (surf guitar features in the incidental music, or underscore, of the cartoon, although apparently that music is all stock music with its own history and devotees — too bad the podcast link doesn't work). It strikes as a weird cultural juxtaposition between comic book hero and a whole other cultural tradition that Saturday morning cartoon watching me would have had no knowledge of — it was just a bopp’n tune with horns (it may help explain my love of jazz though).
In fact, according to Song Facts, there’s a rumor that the jazz great Charles Mingus played the baseline. Though that’s mostly based on the fact that the melody sounds similar to his Boogie Stop Shuffle which the Charles Mingus More Than a Fakebook says "may be seen as the ultimate tribute” to boogie woogie, that genre of “fast western” blues connected with the development of the railroad in East Texas. The theme is credited to lyricist Paul Francis Webster of I Got it Bad (and That AIn’t Good) fame, and Bob Harris who’s other notable credits include the Theme from Lolita — and of course Spider Pig from the Simpson’s Movie. Other sources credit Stu Phillips and D. Kapross as well for the music. The vocals were recorded at RCA studios in Toronto with a musical backing track recorded at RCA studios in New York but I can't find information specifically about the arranger — Ray Ellis who gave us Billie Holiday's The Latin in Satin is credited for all that film noir detective style underscore music.
Lots of minor chords, though. Maybe not the right direction for a kid’s birthday song.
So about an hour later I relay to my new “friend” that I’ve been thinking about his song as well as my discovery about the Spiderman theme song. I ask for some additional details as well as when exactly the kid’s birthday is so I have better idea as to what timeline I’m operating under, given it’s already Wednesday. None these details are forthcoming.
Instead at 8:08 AM I get this message:
Well that set my spider senses tingling.
I mean it had been a bit weird up to that point but a “mobile check” sounds, uhm, atypical. Also the impatience to pay me up front was off putting.
So I suggested Venmo instead.
An hour after I sent that response:
Okay, aside from the fact we are communicating over Instagram (granted he could be using the web UI) this is just weak sauce as far as excuses go.
I figure I’ll post to Facebook and see if my songwriter friends have run into this, but I’m already 90% certain that this is a scam. Still, a little scam baiting doesn’t hurt — but this joker is not getting my email address — so I simply assert “I also accept PayPal” in response.
About an hour passes and no response, though I know he’s seen my message.
In the meantime I’ve done a bit more research and come across an article from a local Nashville paper about other song songwriters who'd been taken advantage of by this routine — it's a typical sort of scam where someone sends you a check (possibly faked/stolen) and then claims there was a “mistake” and they “accidentally” overpaid, and they need a refund, usually through a means unconnected to the original transaction like gift cards or some such, meaning recovering your funds is well nigh impossible. I also start getting responses on Facebook from folks who’ve run into this, some of whom actually got taken. A friend forwarded a video of one woman who had been really put through the emotional wringer as result of all this, though her scammer seemed to be putting in a lot more effort into his backstory than mine was, which suggests there are copycats out there now or he's just gotten lazy (the puppy named "maxxie" was a nice touch).
There are whole YouTube channels dedicated to the art scam baiting — folks like Jim Browning go through extreme lengths to get access into the systems of call centers in India that are running various scams and then there’s folks like kitboga and irlRosie who create characters and scenarios on the phone to waste the scammer’s time in elaborate and amusing ways (irlRosie is fond of getting into “fights” with her Alexa during a call, which is really her doing a dead on impression of Alexa). But I wasn’t really feeling up to being such a merry prankster and while I was vaguely curious as to how my interlocutor would react as it became clear I wasn’t the mark he’d hoped, I am not a professional like the folks I mentioned above so I decided to just call it quits. I reported the account and blocked the guy.
Kind of an anticlimactic ending, I know.
At least I learned some things about the Spiderman theme song and found this cool compilation of the background music.
Stay safe out there.
The extended musings of a songwriter.