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Mind Widening Music: Bizarro Music #6 – The Residents

by  Lee Widener

The Residents are one of the most enigmatic, long lasting musical projects to exist on the fringes of modern music. Formed in Louisiana in the late 60s, and moving to California soon after, they have never appeared in public without disguises. Most often, though not always, they wear tuxedos and giant eyeball masks. This has become the iconic image most people think of when referring to the Residents. The band has never admitted their identities, though it is generally accepted that the two main members are Homer Flynn, who acts as their spokesperson and manager, and Hardy Fox, their recording engineer.

The Residents have stated they remain anonymous because they want the focus to be on their work, not who makes it. This approach, of course has led to great speculation on who exactly is in the band, so their goal has met with mixed success. Musically, the band’s output can be divided into two categories- deconstruction of popular musical forms, and complex conceptual albums. This fits in well with what we call Bizarro. In Bizarro Fiction, literary genres, most often horror and science fiction, though other genres such as romance, crime and adventure, are deconstructed, turned on their heads, and mashed together to form new styles of storytelling. This often leads to rich world building within a Bizarro framework, which is analogouseskimo to the Residents conceptual work.

Formed in the 60s and still actively recording and touring today, the Residents have always sought to incorporate new technologies and modes of expression in their work. Early adopters of computers and recording techniques, their first releases featured heavy use of tape manipulation, computer processing, audio sampling and other methods of audio generation. Their second official release “Third Reich ‘N Roll” is entirely comprised of pop and rock songs electronically tortured, edited, spliced together, overdubbed with new vocals and instrumentals. The original songs were then removed, leaving a strange new musical composition. Here is a video with a section of music from this album:

As you see from the preceding video, the Residents were not adverse to using shocking imagery such as Hitler, swastikas and KKK costumes for shock effect. This echoes Bizarro Fiction, which often uses the same approach. In this next video, “Burn Baby Burn” from their Wormwood album combines images of a mushroom cloud with a flaming crucified person to create a new perspective on Christian iconography.

The Residents were one of the first bands to explore CD-ROM technology. In 1994 they released a fully interactive computer animated CD-ROM titled “Gingerbread Man.” As Roch Parisien from Allmusic.com explains it:

“An extra dimension of the surreal is added by going “interactive,” where every mouse or keyboard click generates seemingly random, unpredictable results. In fact, Gingerbread Man never seems to play exactly the same way twice.”

The Residents make extensive use of video technology. An early album, 1980’s “Commercial Album,” which consists entirely of one minute long jingles, was later expanded into “The Commercial DVD.” As Marc Masters explains it on Pitchfork.com:

“More immediately influential are the “one-minute movies” the Residents made for songs from 1980’s Commercial Album. These illustrative clips were among the first to show how the music video could be its own form– not just a song or a movie or an ad, but something in between.”

These bizarre little videos can be seen as the equivalent of Bizarro flash fiction stories. And through over forty years of musical output, we can see perhaps the future trajectory of Bizarro Fiction. The Residents started out as complete musical outsiders who started their career with crude, shocking videos and music, and gradually over time have embraced and mastered new technology and modes of expression, becoming, in the process more sophisticated in their approach and execution. They have remained on the fringes of the music industry, but by doing so have maintained a clarity of purpose and integrity.

They’ve never had a release from a major label, and in fact, ceased selling physical copies of their music years ago, in response to the changing face of the music industry. Still, they have a devoted fan base and play sold out shows whenever they tour. Bizarro Fiction may never have a NY Times best seller – but how relevant is that goal in today’s publishing industry? If Bizarro Fiction can continue to grow and adapt, as the Residents have, they’ll be around and doing better than ever forty years from now and beyond.

To close out this article I want to show you a couple live appearances by the Residents that illustrate how a work of art can be weird, shocking, incongruous, freaky, off the wall, and AT THE SAME TIME be beautiful, awe inspiring, meaningful, touching and profound. This is what the best Bizarro Fiction does. This first clip shows two numbers performed on a German TV show, Night Music, in 1989. It’s from their Cube E project, a three act performance covering the history of American music.

This last piece, “Wonderful,” from a live show in 2003, finds the Residents bemoaning the lack of a hit record, and reminiscing about the past. It’s a very personal piece, and the singer mentions the death of a frequent Residents collaborator, Snakefinger, who died of a heart attack five years earlier. It also shows him tempted by a devil, with a piece of the band’s past. It’s a beautiful and ironic moment for somebody who has steadfastly kept his identity hidden, yet regrets the lack of commercial success. The best art, no matter how weird, how far out there, stems from the artist’s life, the artists heart. Here’s to the Residents, and the future of Bizarro.

 

There is a wealth of Residents related content on Youtube, including music videos, documentaries and full concerts. I encourage you to watch.


 

Lee Widener is a lifelong collector of weird music. For ten years he ran the internet radio station NeverEndingWonder Radio, which specialized in odd, unusual, freaky and bizarre music, and still runs a small Halloween themed radio station, which can be found at Welcome to Weirdsville . He is the author of “David Bowie is Trying to Kill Me!” and “Rock N Roll Head Case” published in October 2015 by Eraserhead Press.

 

 


Mind Widening Music: Bizarro Music #5 – Spike Jones

by Lee Widener

In this month’s column it is my great pleasure to present an artist I consider the grandfather of Bizarro music, Spike Jones. Spike Jones was a drummer, percussionist, composer and bandleader mostly popular in the 40s and 50s, though he did release some recordings in the 1960s.

As a drummer, he rose through the ranks, playing in many different bands, combos and orchestras, but Spike wasn’t happy playing things straight. He loved to clown around, and he and his fellow musicians would practice after hours, playing parodies and jazzed up versions of popular hits. They recorded their sessions and pressed discs to share with family and friends. One of these recordings made it to the hands of an RCA Victor executive, who signed Spike and his band to a contract. Their first release waspikegun.JPGs “Der Fuehrer’s Face,” a novelty tune ridiculing Adolf Hitler. It reached number three on the U.S. charts and Spike Jones and his City Slickers became stars.

Just as Bizarro Fiction takes genre fiction and filters it through a funhouse mirror so that it becomes something strange and wonderful, Spike Jones warped popular and classical music so that it transformed into something that could only be judged on its own merits. His version of the William Tell Overture, filled with sound effects and bad jokes, told the story of a very unusual horse race. As a percussionist, Spike peppered his recordings with gunshots, pots and pans, cutlery, bells, whistles, explosions and general mayhem. Here is a theatrical short where Spike skewers a popular hit of the time, “Cocktails for Two,” which includes one of Spike Jones’ trademarks, a vocal affectation referred to as “gugging,” a repeated rapid fire use of the glottal stop.

Spike and the City Slickers, accomplished musicians and singers all, could be seen in movies, endless touring with his act “The Musical Depreciation Society,” and most importantly on the upstart medium of television where he was a frequent guest and had several series of his own. The visual value of Spike’s performances cannot be overestimated. He and his band wore outrageously loud suits, and filled each number with endless sight gags that stretched the boundaries of reality. Here is their version of the popular tune “That Old Black Magic,” with vocals by Billy Barty, one of the original Munchkins from the Wizard of Oz, doing impressions of Johnnie Ray, James Cagney, Jimmy Durante, and others.

One of the characteristics of Bizarro Fiction is that it’s critical of mainstream society and cultural norms. Spike Jones’ music destroyed the mainstream music of the day, and ridiculed high-brow music with his decidedly low-brow antics. In this final clip from his tv show the sponsor decides the show needs a little class. The solution is to have the entire band dress as women. I don’t know how that’s classy, but it sure is bizarre.

There is a lot more Spike Jones on youtube. I encourage you to seek it out.


Lee Widener is a lifelong collector of weird music. For ten years he ran the internet radio station NeverEndingWonder Radio, which specialized in odd, unusual, freaky and bizarre music, and still runs a small Halloween themed radio station, which can be found at Welcome to Weirdsville . He is the author of “David Bowie is Trying to Kill Me!” and “Rock N Roll Head Case” published in October 2015 by Eraserhead Press.


Mind Widening Music: Bizarro Music #2 – Dot Wiggin

by Lee Widener

For the second edition of Bizarro Music I’m going to talk about Dot Wiggin. But who is Dot Wiggin? You know who she is, you just don’t know you know.

Yes, THAT Dot Wiggin- 1/3 of the Shaggs. Why am I singling her out? We’ll get to that in a bit. First, some background to get everyone up to speed.

The Shaggs released what is probably the most famous bad record in the history of recorded music. Foisted on the public in 1969, Philosophy of the World is spectacularly bad. It’s bad in ways other bad records can only dream of.

The Shaggs were three sisters- Dot, Helen and Betty Wiggin. The formation of the band was the result of a prophesy by their paternal grandmother. She fancied herself a psychic and in a palm reading session for her son Austin she fortold three things. Her son would marry a strawberry blond, he would have two sons after she died, and he would have three daughters that would form a rock band. The first two prophesies came true, so Austin Wiggin set about making sure the last one did too.

He pulled the girls out of high school in their sleepy New Hampshire town of Fremont, enrolled them in a mail order correspondence course, and signed them up for music lessons. He didn’t ask them if they wanted to play music. It was the prophesy, so it was their destiny. For a few years this was their life: home schooling for few hours a day, and then practice music. They also did calisthenics every day. And then more practicing music.

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They took lessons for only a year, and then were left to figure out the mechanics of playing in a band by themselves. Their father had no talent for music. They had no social life. They were not allowed to date until they were 18. One night a week the entire family would go grocery shopping together. That was their life. Practice music, do calisthenics, more practicing music, and again more practicing.

They were growing up inside a cult where they were the only members. Their father, anxious for his daughters to become the stars they were destined to be, arranged for the band to start playing in public. The girls, who had no interest in playing music in the first place, didn’t think they were ready, but Austin’s word was law. They played at a talent show, where they were booed, and had a gig at an old folk’s home on Halloween. This wasn’t enough exposure for Austin, though, and he arranged for the girls to play a weekly show at the town hall.
Again, the girls were a bit embarrassed to be playing in public when they felt they weren’t ready, but disobedience to anything Austin said was forbidden. They played their weekly gig with their out of tune instruments, in their off key voices, with their strange songs that bore no resemblance to popular music, and a drummer that seemed to have no idea what a rhythm was. Lo and behold: people came. Teenagers came and danced as best they could to these weird songs, because what else is there to do in Fremont, New Hampshire? They also heckled the band, talked, caroused, and generally hung out. It was the social hub of teen activity in Fremont.

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Spurred on by this “success,” Austin had his great brainstorm. His girls would cut a record. And so, in 1968, he rented time in a studio, and even though he kept interrupting the session because the girls were “making mistakes,” the entire album was recorded in one afternoon. He paid for a thousand discs, but depending on who you believe, the producer made off with 900 copies, or they were thrown in a dunpster, or they just disappeared. Regardless, only 100 copies of the record survived.

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The Shaggs returned to their weekly gigs at the town hall until one day in 1975 Austin Wiggin had a massive heart attack and died. The sisters put down their instruments and never played again. For the most part. They had never wanted to be musicians, and now they were free of Austin’s autocratic rule. This whole story reads like a Bizarro novel, but it doesn’t end there.

Things tend to get out, and somehow a few copies of The Philosophy of the World made their way into the right hands. Frank Zappa got a hold of a copy and played a few songs on the Dr. Demento Show, proclaiming the Shaggs brilliance. A few DJs played them on the radio. Lester Bangs, of the Rolling Stone, said the album was “one of the landmarks of rock’n’roll history.” Terry Adams, singer for the band NRBQ loved them so much he convinced his record label to rerelease the album. Soon there was a full fledged Shaggs cult. People started comparing the Shaggs’ music to Chinese folk music, free jazz and Ornette Coleman. They weren’t lousy musicians, they had reinvented music in their own manner. The underground word swelled so great it resulted in RCA releasing the original album on CD. The band even reunited for one more show. In 1999 they played live at the NRBQ 30th anniversary between sets by Sun Ra and NRBQ. If this doesn’t sound like real-life Bizarro, I don’t know what does.

But is all this speculation of musical genius warranted? All along, Dot Wiggin has said, and still says, that they just weren’t ready to play when they cut their album, and some evidence appears to back her up. Below is a 15 minute video of one of their dances at the Fremont Town Hall. It was filmed by Austin Wiggin himself in 1972- three years after their album was released. It’s an interesting document. Warning- this is a poorly shot home movie- the sound cuts in an out, things go out of focus, and the crowd noise is quite evident. But we can learn several things by watching it. First is the music itself. The drummer is doing a fine job keeping the beat. The singers, while not great, can carry a tune, and even engage in some simple choreography. Their guitars are in tune, they play enthusiastically and competently. The crowd, at least some of it, seems to be enjoying itself.

It turns out there were unreleased tapes the Shaggs had recorded much later, and when those were released as “Shaggs Own Thing,” they revealed a band that had gained a lot of musical prowess since their initial recordings. The drummer had learned to play along with the band. Dot and Betty now played what can be called conventional pop music. Perhaps what Dot was saying was true, and that first album was just three teenage girls who didn’t know what they were doing. Here’s a selection from “Shaggs Own Thing.” It reveals a band that while not great, certainly weren’t the worst band ever.

But that’s STILL not the end. After the Shaggs broke up the sisters went their own ways. They all moved short distances from Fremont. Dot and Betty got married, raised families, got jobs. Helen was sickly and suffered from depression. She died in 2006. The underground fame of the Shaggs continued to grow, even though the subjects themselves were clueless. After the 1999 performance a tribute album was released by musicians who were fans. In 2012 producer and bass player Jesse Krakow staged a tribute to the Shaggs in Fremont. The sisters didn’t play, but in a Q&A session afterwards, Betty revealed she had written other songs that were never recorded, and had even written a few more recently. Krakow convinced her to let him see them, and the result was the formation of the Dot Wiggin Band.

In her characteristic humble fashion, Dot initially figured she would give Krakow the songs and he would go off and record them. He told her, “Dot fans are going to want to hear Dot sing Dot’s songs.” Reluctantly, she agreed, and Krakow assembled a band, recording the songs in Dot’s living room and the old Fremont Town Hall. What resulted was an album that is kind of like a cross between a traditional pop sound and the Shaggs first record, just as Bizarro fiction often reads like a strange combination of genre fiction and something straight out of nightmares.

Here’s a music video of the song “Banana Bike” from the Dot Wiggin Band album Ready! Get! Go! It’s one of the more recent compositions Dot wrote as a tribute to her sister Helen.

The Dot Wiggin Band, just as the Shaggs did, has continued on past what Dot thought it would. They’ve given public performances, toured as recently as 2015, even played at the Pop Montreal festival.

So, who exactly is Dot Wiggin? Is she a musical genius who reinvented pop music in 1969, or is she just someone who wrote simple songs and couldn’t play or sing very well? What is Bizarro Fiction? Is it a breath of fresh air breathing new life into the tired tropes of genre fiction, or is it just crude, masturbtory crap from people who can’t write very well? Perhaps Dot and Bizarro are alike in that they’re a combination of both the best and worst of the claims made about them.

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Lee Widener is a lifelong collector of weird music. For ten years he ran the internet radio station NeverEndingWonder Radio, which specialized in odd, unusual, freaky and bizarre music, and still runs a small Halloween themed radio station, which can be found at Welcome to Weirdsville . He is the author of “David Bowie is Trying to Kill Me!” and “Rock N Roll Head Case” published in October 2015 by Eraserhead Press.


Unearthly Sounds Volume 3: Songs To Wear Pants To

by J.W. Wargo

Creativity is something everyone is capable of having, but inspiration can be a fickle thing. It comes and goes as it pleases. You never know when, where, or how it’s going to find you. Unless, that is, you find a way to seek it out.

Back in 2000, a guy named Sam Brown began the website explodingdog where he would post pictures he drew in Microsoft Paint based on prompts from people’s emails, usually just a simple phrase.

It caught on and became popular very quickly. Others took the idea and applied it to their own artistic endeavors. One of those people is Andrew Huang, a multi-instrumentalist from Toronto, Canada.

Borrowing the idea from Sam, Andrew created Songs To Wear Pants To in 2004. The website allows people to request a song about anything in any genre, and if he likes it he will produce the song and release it.

His only rule was that free request songs would never be longer than 1 minute and 11 seconds. Alternatively you can commission him to produce any song of any length you like for a fee. He quickly found it a lucrative gig and has been able to support himself full time on the commissioned songs alone.

His first completed request was released on April 9th, 2004:

“i would like you to use only toilet flushing noises and your voice to produce a 17 second song. you must use the phrase “SHELVING UNIT” at least thrice within this song.”

The song was titled Toilet Flush Shelving Unit and it was the only the beginning.

Since then, he has gone on to record and release about a hundred songs a year, most of them for free. He also periodically releases and sells physical and digital download albums containing the bulk of his most recent work at the time.

In 2010, he gradually shifted from his website over to his YouTube channel, where he had been posting music videos of his songs along with fan-made animations of their own favorite songs. He also lifted the time limit restriction and now makes free request songs of any length.

Currently, he releases new requests as videos, usually with a link to purchase the audio from the iTunes store. He’s also branched out and been working with many other artists to collaborate on music. Just this week he released a song with UK electronic musician Boyinaband in 26 different genres alphabetically from A-Z that got coverage from The Huffington Post.

Want an acoustic track with lyrics as a mnemonic for remembering the first fifty digits of pi? Songs To Wear Pants To has you covered with I Am the First Fifty Digits of Pi.

Or maybe a ska song about death metal more your thing? No problem.


(Link to a death metal song about ska at the end of the video!)

Sometimes Andrew gets requests with spelling and/or grammatical errors or that can be taken out of context, and he takes full advantage of the request by warping the original intention and/or straight making fun of them:

“make a really fast rap about dinosaurs… with a outragous BMP.”
Dinosaurs With a Outragous BMP

“Do you think you could make a working song wherein every word is in alphabetical order beginning with A? For an added bonus, try to work your way back to A once you reach Z.”
A Working Song Wherin Every Word Is In Alphabetical Order Beginning With ‘A’ and for an Added Bonus I Try To Work My Way Back To ‘A’ Once I Reach ‘Z’

“a song about a sad toaster made of glass. that walks around the contry.”
I Am a Sad Sad Toaster Made of Glass

He also gets requests to remix his own music:

“Could you do remix one of your previous songs, but replace each of the instruments with noises/words made with your own voice?”
I Am a Sad Sad Toaster Made of Voices

There’s something for everyone here, and it can all be enjoyed online at any time. The best part is that if you’re not finding what you’re looking for, you can request it. Your idea could become his next song!

If you’d like to find out more about the awesome, fun, weird, talent that is Songs To Wear Pants To, you can connect with him on:

YouTube

Facebook

Twitter

Tumblr

Instagram

Bandcamp

iTunes

_________________
J.W. Wargo is a writer and Nomadic Bizarro Storyteller currently off the road and resting in Hawaii. His first book, Avoiding Mortimer, was released as part of the 2012 New Bizarro Author Series. He enjoys hitchhiking, street performing, and if you visit his SoundCloud you can hear an excerpt from his audiobook as well as demo tracks from his upcoming Avoiding Mortimer soundtrack EP.


New David Lynch Music Video!

by Tracy Vanity

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Reminiscent of Lost Highway, this beautifully haunting song is a teaser for a new David Lynch album called “The Big Dream” due for release in July and can be previewed on iTunes.

“Crazy Clown Time” is still on heavy daily rotation in the Vanity residence. Very excited about this new album!


Friday Night Fucked Up Film Festival

by Tracy Vanity

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Demonic Japanese Furbies, killer plush toys, creepy sex robots, and of course, music about hell…here is a compilation of 9 short creepy videos to kick off your weekend:

+1 full-length classic feature film: John Carpenter’s They Live!

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If you haven’t seen this before, WATCH IT! If you have, WATCH IT AGAIN! It’s about a working class man down on his luck who discovers some special glasses that help him see the world for what it truly is. Those of you who are familiar with Shepard Fairey’s work will see where the Obey thing originated.

“Either put on these glasses or start eating that trashcan!”


Enjoy and have a splendid weekend Bizarros!


Welcome to the Maya Apocalypse Bizarro! Let’s Party!

by Tracy Vanity

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As the resident partial Maya, I felt it was my duty to represent my partial people by throwing a Maya Apocalypse party through Bizarro Central.

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First, the world is not going to end on December 21st, 2012. Y2K 2.0, surprise, surprise.

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The Maya calendar resets to 0, which means an epic new beginning, not a cataclysmic end. It’s like a mega-New Year except instead of it representing an end to 365 days, it’s an end of a B’ak’tun which equals 394 years!

The Maya are celebrating by conducting fire ceremonies and giving offerings to Mother Nature.

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But just because there won’t be giant fireballs hitting your city or zombies ripping into your delicious skull, doesn’t mean you can’t still celebrate yet another Apocalypse.

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To get you pumped for this year’s doomsday, I have complied an epic 21-song Maya Apocalypse Party soundtrack for your end-of-the-world enjoyment. This Maya Apocalypse Party soundtrack includes music from Tiny Tim, Nancy Sinatra, Deltron 3030, Nine Inch Nails, Pixies, Rudimentary Peni, David Bowie and more. There’s even a dark song in Mayan. The last video is my favorite!

BTW you can monitor the Apocalypse”LIVE UPDATES” via Russia Today.

domo of doom

You should always live your life as if it’s the Apocalypse but this is Bizarro Central, I know you already do. See you on the other side!