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"Protect Your Friends From This Monstrous Musical Swindle"

Some of our earliest information about the song-poem game comes from the pages of The Etude, a now-defunct monthly magazine aimed both at professionals and amateur musicians. In the 1920s The Etude ran several long pieces, written (or at least by-lined) by well-known songwriters and music publishers, warning amateur songwriters to beware of the "song shark."

In its issue dated July 1925, The Etude ran this E. Theo. Nelson cartoon to accompany publisher E.C. Mills' cautionary article headlined "Protect Your Friends From This Monstrous Musical Swindle." It's unclear whether the editors commissioned the illustration themselves and arranged it to look like it was from an old publication, or whether they dug something genuinely old out of the archives. Either way, this cartoon provides an amusing glimpse at the typical Tin Pan Alley-era attitude towards song-poem music. The "victim"/"master" split-panel idea is, by coincidence, similar to Dan Clowes' cover art to Carnage Press' first song-poem compilation, The Beat Of The Traps.

Thanks to Cliff Doerksen for turning me on to The Etude, and for finding this piece in particular. By the way, the "rip" effect surrounding the cartoon is exactly as it appears in the 1925 article, but you can still make out the beginnings of an ad titled "Colon Hygiene" beneath the cartoon. The '20s sure were weird, weren't they?

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