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The Ballad of Jonny Corndawg

April 11, 2012

At first I thought he might be retarded. Later I wanted to kill him. This was Jonny “Corndawg” Fritz, age sixteen, when he first started showing up at the Tokyo Rose. In retrospect you might say he had star quality; at the time some of us, by which I mean me, just found him… too much. Even at that tender age he had a well-developed persona of indeterminate authenticity. Corndawg was a country boy, a wholesome free-spirit, wide-eyed but sly, always bursting with energy, courteous in rude humor, a clever naif who inserted himself in what would have been an edgy scene except hell, it was Charlottesville, and we were just a bunch of nice people in our twenties hanging out and looking for interesting ways to pass the time. A friend of mine — I think she would, quite understandably, want her anonymity preserved so I will just refer to her as Agent 99 — gave him a ukulele for his seventeenth birthday. He took to it right away, making a raucous nuisance of it with his strumming and singing. It was not long before he had himself an act, performing novelty country songs before any captive audience he could find. He continued to work the scene with some innate cunning, establishing himself at the Rose and the Pudhouse, forming a spastic primitivist band with Melkerson to trouble the souls of passersby on the Downtown Mall, taking guitar lessons with the Hillbilly Werewolf, eventually even going on tour with Bella Morte. When the time came for him to go out beyond Central Virginia he had the Charlottesville cultural diaspora to give him a home in places like Philadelphia and New York.

Well last Saturday he came back into town to play, now a grown-ass man with a full band behind him, a national following, and his face on condom wrappers. It was a real good show and I have to say that I did feel a surge of C’ville pride. Jonny is a born performer and I expect he would have found his way anywhere, but as it happened it was Charlottesville where he got his start, with the wise tutelage and support of many in the Subverbo community. It is true that if I had gotten my way the kid would have been sent packing back to Esmont, as I did argue for most vociferously at the secret meetings of The Council of the Rose. But my fellow archons would have none of it, and my own plots against him were always foiled by 99. I have to admit now that they were right and I was wrong. The older generation of C’ville hangers-on may have Dave Matthews, but we got The Corndawg, and that is a better deal all around.

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