In 1977, the obscure American band Ram Jam adopted blues cult hero Leadbelly’s song “Black Betty” as part of the band’s proposed conquest of the world’s airwaves. It was no wonder that world domination was not immediately forthcoming, and the song (which dealt with a singing dancing insane blind lady) would be eternally destined to be a marginalized favourite played in seedy dark alternative clubs.
The same seedy dark alternative clubs where I first saw a young Adrian Sevitz do “the scarecrow” to the aforementioned Ram Jam hit. The scarecrow to those of you who don’t know, is the alternative equivalent to Hip Hop’s breakdancing (but don’t tell that to any Goth, unless you want your teeth removed). The participant stands in the middle of the dancefloor, with his or her arms to the side, swaying in the (proverbial) wind like a scarecrow.
Being the young impressionable guy that I was, I found the behavior strange. But strange behaviour was what I had come to expect of Adrian.
I had first met him a few years before the scarecrow incident when I attended a party and met Adrian through a common friend of ours. I found Adrian to be rude and abrasive, having an awful resemblance to Edward Scissorhands and constantly threatening to kick everyone in the shin with his Doc Martins. Fearing for the sustainability of my shins, I avoided him for the rest of the evening and many years thereafter. The years passed and he attended the same university as me. I was the arts student sleeping most of the day on the lawns, and he was the engineer, learning how IP packets can be rerouted through Latvia to reduce Internet costs. I would meet him at lunch, where he sat and carved up tables with his pocket knife and we would discuss life, girls and him kicking my shins over lunch. It’s weird how friendships form when something is threatening to kick you in the shins the whole time.
But back to the Black Betty incident. After seeing the strange scarecrow moves on the dancefloor, I instantaneously decided that from that moment onwards he would be known as Black Betty. That in turn lead to the idea of a comic strip featuring Adrian as the main protagonist – the comic would be called Black Betty Seabitch (to rhyme with Sevitz), and would deal with the adventures of an aggressive Goth who goes around dancing like a scarecrow, and kicking people in the shins. The lines between Sevitz and Seabitch were thinly drawn.
The whole novelty of this cartoon was however that Betty gets killed by the second strip in every installment (usually by a bus running him over).
Well, time went on and Adrian changed. Soon that long black hair and stubble that had become synonymous with the Black Betty persona were replaced by what I like to refer to as the “Reg Dwight Years”. Overnight the Goth was transformed into one of those Anderson Consulting types – dressing in the blue checked shirt and chinos, and saying things like “action item”, “synergize” and “drill down deep to the core of the problem”. The kind of thing Dilbert cartoons are made of.
Before I could say “Way down in Alabam”, the whole image of Black Betty had been dissolved and Adrian Sevitz had become something else. He left South Africa, venturing off to find brighter pastures in London posing as a “Saffer”, and leaving behind his past to embrace that new future.
I often sat by myself wondering who I would now mock. Sure there were lots of people out there worthy of being mocked for no reason, but none of them lived up to the high standards of mockable activity set by Sevitz. Then one day it changed. He sent me a mail (together with the 567 other recipients) stating that he had created a new website. At first this seemed trivial – I mean, how much could one person really write about themselves and mail to the world? Adrian tested that boundary. On sevitz.com we learnt how Adrian picked up woman, moved into his new flat and (famously) posted a picture of his leg in stockings and Docs on the net. And who can forget the Reg Dwight glasses, that we thought were a joke, but really weren’t.
So is Sevitz still Black Betty Seabitch or has he moved on? I think it’s a bit of both. Sure we can all admit that he has the propensity to still kick you in the shin because he feels like it, but Sevitz these days is synonymous with Sevitz.com. Today he stands as a legend in the blogging fraternity. A commentator of the postmodern world.
No, Black Betty has not gone. He has just grown up. Long live Adrian Sevitz. Long live Black Betty Seabitch.