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DIY / OUTSIDER MUSIC

THE SHAGGS

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"When...Austin Wiggin, Jr., was young, his mother made three predictions: he would marry a strawberry blonde; he would have two sons she would not live to see; and his daughters would form a famous musical group. After the first two came true, Austin set out to make the third happen.

"In the mid-1960s, Austin withdrew his daughters from school, bought them instruments, and arranged for them to receive music lessons. They named themselves "The Shaggs" after the contemporary shag hairstyle. In 1968, Austin arranged for the girls to play a regular Saturday night gig at the Fremont, New Hampshire Town Hall. The next year, the girls went into the studio and recorded their album, Philosophy of the World. It is clear from the sound that the band was not ready to capture their performance on tape, but Austin persisted.

In fact, listening to the record, the band seems to have no sense of melody, harmony, or rhythm. It is as though the drums were recorded in a separate room from the guitars and neither could hear what the other was doing. During the recording sessions, the band would occasionally stop playing, claiming one of them had made a mistake and that they needed to start over, leaving the sound engineers to wonder how the girls could tell..."

"My Pal Foot Foot" - The Shaggs online

The Official Website of the Shaggs and (bassist) Dot Wiggin

"Better Than the Beatles..." by Lester Bangs

"My Pall Foot Foot" (Video)

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JANDEK

"The longest-running, weirdest, loneliest enigma in popular music is a guy from Texas who calls himself Jandek...Jandek has never performed in public. He has never willingly given an interview, though a reporter from Texas Monthly tracked him down a few months ago (they chatted about allergies and gardening, and he politely told her that he never wanted to be contacted in person about Jandek by anybody again). All his albums have a fuzzy photograph on the front cover, of a man or part of a house or some curtains. The back covers have his name, the album title, the track titles and times, and Corwood's address, all typeset in the same nondescript font -- except for 1991's One Foot in the North, which uses a sort of Chinese-restaurant font. That's it: that's all anyone knows.

"And what does his music sound like? Like pure desolation. Jandek is not just solo but profoundly alone on most of his recordings, picking distractedly at a guitar tuned to no particular notes, moaning in no particular key about thinking and love and wandering around and staying in the same place and God. Beyond that, there's just emptiness -- each off-key ping floats out separately into black space. Sometimes Jandek sounds as if he'd internalized the grimmest death-letter blues of the '20s and is pulling them back out of himself, thoroughly dismembered, hair by hair. His songs have no choruses, no hooks, no melodies, no rhythms, no internal progression, nothing but the inexorable Chinese-water-torture plod of Samuel Beckett's The Unnameable: "I can't go on, I'll go on."

- Douglas Wolk, "Mystery Man," Providence Phoenix, 1999

"A Guide to Jandek"

Forced Exposure Page for Jandek

Official site for "Jandek on Corwood," a recent documentary


DANIEL JOHNSTON

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"Daniel Dale Johnston... is a prolific American singer, songwriter and artist. Johnston, who suffers from bipolar disorder and often writes surreal songs about his hallucinations and mood swings, has been classified as an outsider musician. He currently lives in Waller, Texas.

His songs are typically painfully direct, and often display a disturbing blend of childlike na´vete with darker, "spooky" themes. Johnston's singing voice is rather high-pitched, and his performances often seem faltering or uncertain; one critic writes that Johnston's recordings range from "spotty to brilliant". He also draws and paints; his illustrations have been featured with most of his albums."

"Hi, How Are You?" - the official Daniel Johnston site

The Daniel Johnston Museum of Love

Official Site for "The Devil and Daniel Johnston" - a documentary

Roger Ebert's review of "The Devil and Daniel Johnston"

Daniel Johnston videos at Youtube.com


WESLEY WILLIS

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WESLEY KICKED SPIDER MAN'S ASS!!!

Wesley Willis was a 350-lb. schizophrenic man from Chicago. He wrote and performed his own lyrics on a Technics keyboard, which he possibly couldn't play. By conventional standards, he couldn't sing either. Nonetheless, he is reckoned to have released at least 50 albums -four of which were written and recorded within a 36 day period!

Most of Wesley's songs, at least on the early records, are set to the same pre-recorded keyboard vamp, with only the lyrics to distinguish them from one another. In many cases, the lyrics of several songs are nearly identical as well. For instance, Wesley wrote a song celebrating a Sting concert he attended in his native Chicago, then recorded the same song - word for word and note for note- to document a Morbid Angel show. Similarly, the lyric, "whipping a horse's ass with a belt" seems to appear in nearly every song Wesley wrote during his fifteen-year career. Equally omnipresent, at least early on, was Wesley's "Rock over London, Rock over Chicago" spiel, which preceded the radio-style advertisements (for products such as Coke, Pepsi and McDonald's) that would end each of Wesley's tunes.

It's tempting to dismiss Wesley as a novelty act, which a lot of people, even a lot of Wesley's "fans," do. Calling Wesley a novelty, however, is unfair and inaccurate. A novelty act, by definition, is when a performer makes us laugh by pretending to be something he's not for the sake of satire. Wesley was real. He wrote and sang about things that really meant something to him to in an honest, if flawed, voice. Free of affectation, device or metaphor, Wesley's songs could achieve the kind emotional directness that has eluded some more accomplished musicians and songwriters.

Alternative Tentacles page for Wesley Willis

Wikipedia article on Wesley Willis

The Art of Wesley Willis

"I Can't Drive" Video


SONG-POEMS

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"Song Poem usually refers to song lyrics which have been set to music for a fee. This practice, which has long been disparaged in the music industry, was also known as 'song sharking' and was conducted by several businesses throughout the 20th century in North America.

Typically, the service was promoted through small display ads in popular magazines, comic books, tabloids, men's adventure journals and similar publications with a headline reading (essentially) 'Send in Your Poems - Songwriters Make Thousands of Dollars - Free Evaluation.' The term lyrics was avoided because it was assumed potential customers would not understand what the term meant.

Victims who sent their poetry invariably received notice by mail that their work was worthy of recording by professional musicians, along with a proposal to do so in exchange for a fee (early 20th century versions involved setting the words to music and printing up sheet music from expensively engraved plates). The melodies were either improvised or recycled and musicians often recorded dozens of songs per recording session using minimal resources, often in one take. Some of the companies recorded new vocals over pre-recorded music backing tracks, using the same music tracks over again hundred of times.

"The recordings were then duplicated on 45 RPM vinyl singles or compilation LPs with dozens of other songs by amateur lyric writers, or individual cassette tapes. Copies were sent to the customer. Promises that they would also be sent to radio stations or music industry executives were rarely if ever kept -- partly because the recordings would not have been taken seriously by professionals. The practice played off the intense desire of unsophisticated people, who often lived in remote areas, to realize their ambitions of making money from writing popular songs.

"Some surviving recordings of song poems (especially from the 1950s and 60s) gained interest during the 1990s, when they were uncovered and researched by record collectors who sought out old vinyl recordings. For some listeners, unusual, amateur lyrics combined into recordings made by rushed or at least marginally professional musicians almost half a century earlier offer a unique, discordant sound heard nowhere else."

The American Song-Poem Archive

Song-Poem MP3's at WFMU's "Beware the Blog"

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