Outsider musicians can be the product of damaged DNA, alien abduction, drug fry, demonic possession, or simply sheer obliviousness. This book profiles dozens of outsider musicians, both prominent and obscure—figures such as The Shaggs, Syd Barrett, Tiny Tim, Jandek, Captain Beefheart, Daniel Johnston, Harry Partch, and The Legendary Stardust Cowboy—and presents their strange life stories along with photographs, interviews, cartoons, and discographies. About the only things these self-taught artists have in common are an utter lack of conventional tunefulness and an overabundance of earnestness and passion. But, believe it or not, they’re worth listening to, often outmatching all contenders for inventiveness and originality.
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.