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Songs in the Key of Z: The Curious Universe of Outsider Music Paperback – April 1, 2000
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"Neverworld Wake" by Marisha Pessl
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From Publishers Weekly
Sincerity and lack of self-awareness rarely earn musicians platinum status or a spot on MTV. Thankfully, for every manufactured boy band and lip-synching pin-up there are 10 "outsiders"--the earnest, often psychotic and not necessarily ingenious stars in Chusid's enchanting universe. For those who've been bemoaning the shortage of ingenuity on the airwaves, Chusid, a radio personality on WFMU in Hoboken, N.J., profiles 20 darlings of dissonance. Several of them--including Tiny Tim, Captain Beefheart and Pink Floyd's former acid troubadour Syd Barrett--have made a few bangs, but the great majority have enjoyed mere whimpers of success. Take Eilert Pilarm, the Swedish Elvis; Joe Meek, who produced the 1962 instrumental hit "Telstar" before committing suicide; and the Shaggs, three sheltered sisters from Fremont, N.H., who recorded the "aboriginal rock" masterpiece Philosophy of the World. Careful not to ridicule his more eccentrically volatile subjects (e.g., Wesley Willis and Daniel Johnston), Chusid narrates each musician's vital statistics and career with rhythm and respectful wit. Even if readers do not rush out to buy Larry "Wild Man" Fischer's recordings, they will remember his musical achievements (he inspired Frank Zappa's record An Evening with Wild Man Fischer), thanks to Chusid's encyclopedic tags. History, as the director Tony Philputt points out in the introduction, is also made by losers; Chusid has given them a microphone and cranked the amp to 11. 60 b&w photos, 15 line drawings, discography.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
If VH1's Behind the Music were as interesting as Chusid's first, and reportedly last, book, this reviewer would never leave his apartment. A record producer, music historian, and host of WFMU's (Hoboken, NJ) Incorrect Music Hour, Chusid has written a valentine to "outsider" artists, musicians whoDunlike frayed pop icons Phil Spector and Brian WilsonDlack total self-awareness but overflow with earnestness. Among others, Chicago-based schizophrenic troubadour Wesley Willis, former Pink Floyd songwriter Syd Barrett, and street musician Larry "Wild Man" FischerDa man even weirdo Frank Zappa found captivatingDare profiled in a voice many rock writers dream about mastering. The "outsider" genre was in desperate need of a biographer, and luckily Chusid was there to tell each musicians's tale as if he were writing about the next "big thing." He possesses a knowledge of music culture that most contemporary rock critics think they have. Guaranteed: this book will take readers to record stores searching for Chusid's list of musical miscreants. Good luck finding all of them. Recommended for all libraries.DRobert Morast, Pro Rodeo Sports News, Colorado Springs
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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He also puts the 'outsider' genre in context, referencing Art Brut and publications like Raw Vision, which is a nice way to frame this instead of just saying this is for jaded hipsters to laugh at. I happen to find Daniel Johnston quite moving in his own odd way. For many, he's an acquired taste.
Overall, I think this is just the right take on this subject.
But what if you're in search of information on someone like, say, Wesley Willis (the rotund, schizophrenic lyricist behind such melodies as "I Kicked The Mighty Thor's Ass" and "Rock 'N' Roll McDonald's")? Or his low-key counterpart, Daniel Johnston (of "Walking the Cow" fame)? How about the songstress behind "In Canada," B.J. Snowden?
In that case, have you even heard of any of these artists? Irwin Chusid, the author of Songs in the Key of Z, thinks that you should.
Each of the artists profiled in this unique book qualifies as an "Outsider Musician" in the sense that they never fit into the genre of Popular Music - and in all likelihood, never will. Each artist, inspired by "damaged DNA, alien abduction, drug fry, demonic possession, or simply sheer obliviousness," is sincere in his or her own version of sonic expression. And to be sure, they each have back histories far more intriguing than anyone in the common musical market.
Chusid hasn't compiled a catch-all discography of virtual unknowns with this book. The very definition of "outsider musician" prevents one from knowing all of the musical miscreants out there. And yet, by his diverse selection, the reader feels a certain intimate involvement with the subjects detailed within. From the unknown recluse Jandek to the decline of Tiny Tim and Syd Barrett, Key of Z never fails to provide.
The book's single downfalling is the somewhat dated nature of the material contained therein. Yet, Chusid has provided a Website which provides follow-up information (especially touching are the journal entries on the rediscovery of William "Shooby" Taylor, the "Scat man," by Chusid in 2002).
With two companion CDs (to be had independently of the book), Songs in the Key of Z provides a personal, often intense, look into the lives of people whom otherwise you'd likely never hear of. This book is brimming with humanity and raw talent, unfettered by formal training of any kind.
The concept of "outsider music" is one that I have embraced for years. While I don't deny liking some classical music and traditional album rock (Dire Straits, Lynyrd Skynyrd, etc.), I have always had a place in my heart for the struggling artists that just don't seem to (and never will) get it (like The Shaggs), others that DO get it, they just mock the norm (Brave Combo, PDQ Bach, etc.) and that peculiar group that are seemingly from Mars (Jandek, The Legendary Stardust Cowboy), that possibly get it, but are a so far beyond the norm that nobody pays attention to them.
This book is an unabashed celebration of ineptitude and (seeming) insanity. It is not to be missed, but when purchasing please make sure to buy the CD as well so you can grasp what he is talking about. Of particular note is the section on the famous MSR Song-Poems (where you send them $100 and your lyrics and they record your song) which, to me is the ultimate in outsider music.
I couldn't put it down. I can't recommend it strongly enough. Buy this book. Do it now!
Most recent customer reviews
A very entertaining book.Read more