The Wonderful World of Outsider Music
Outsider music has always been a source of curious joy for those of us who explore life’s more unusual recesses. It is the domain of the pariah, the misunderstood and, quite often, the hopelessly deluded. It is the junction where reason ends and accidental innovation begins. This isn’t the music of an obscure experimental musician making noises in their basement, this is music that wants to belong – music that instinctively believes it belongs. Even if the music in the below list elicits nothing more than mocking laughter from those who listen, the artists responsible for making it all believed in their work very strongly. Outsider music doesn’t strive to exist outside of an existing system – it just does.
The artists highlighted in the below list represent only a small fraction of what’s on offer. In the interest of space, I’ve only included 5. I hope to highlight more outsider music in upcoming articles.
The Shaggs have become synonymous with ineptitude. Their shambolic attempts to re-create popular music really need to be heard in order to be believed. These three sisters, Betty, Helen and Rachel Wiggin, each combined their lack of talent in order to produce something strangely amazing. Under the borderline tyrannical guidance of their father, Austin Jnr, The Shaggs were formed and their sole album, “Philosophy of the World” was recorded and promptly forgotten. In 1980, ‘Philosophy of the World’ was re-issued and since then, their popularity has continued to rise. There has never been another band like The Shaggs.
Wikipedia sums things up perfectly:
“Florence Foster Jenkins (July 19, 1868 – November 26, 1944) was an American soprano who became famous for her complete lack of rhythm, pitch, tone, and overall singing ability.”
The beauty of Florence Foster Jenkins is she was in possession of the money required to propagate her lack of talent. The barriers that should have stopped her pursuing such an ill-informed desire could be purchased until they were no longer a problem. During performances, you can hear musicians speeding up and slowing down to match her fluctuating tempo. She drew crowds whenever she played, mostly because she was a humorous curiosity. Given Jenkins’ delusions of grandeur, it’s reasonable to surmise she viewed this popularity as evidence of her ability. Without further adieu:
One great thing about outsider music is its tendency to inadvertently trigger the early phases of full-fledged musical styles. The Legendary Stardust Cowboy (Norm Carl Odam) is said to be responsible for ultimately inventing Phsycobilly. Best known for his 1968 song, “Paralyzed”, LSC’s music was typified by howls, screams and random vocal exorcisms. The backing music contained only the rudiments of structure and reason. It all adds up to a very unique and strangely exhilarating experience. Odam is still doing his thing and going strong.
BJ Snowden is a real pleasure of mine, and although maybe not as well-known as other outsider musicians on this list, I had to include her. She is best known for a strangely naïve and stirring song called “In Canada”, where she extols the virtues of… yep… you guessed it…Canada. This song appeared on the 1996 album, “Life in theUSAandCanada”. Snowden’s appeal lies in her complete disregard of trend. Listening to her music, it’s hard to know who it’s designed for. The songs are very simple and, for want of a better word, corny. Yet her dedication to the schmaltz somehow transcends into a realm of musical bliss. The good news is that Snowden works as a music teacher and is passing on her unique musical talents to entire generations of children.
There’s something about public access television that breeds a unique form of gonzo brilliance. It’s a gumbo of wannabes, used-to-bes and never-will-bes let loose onto the television screens of those with the gumption to watch. If you were inTampa,Floridain the late eighties, there is chance you happened upon the truly wonderful, “My Show” starring Sondra Prill. “My Show” was essentially Prill screaming and wailing over heavily synthesized backing tracks without restraint or self-consciousness of any kind. It all adds to up to a beautiful fiasco. What makes Prill different from any other inebriated karaoke reject is the undeniable presence she has. Judge for yourself:
What are some of your favourite outsider musicians?