This week’s weird act was suggested by reader jlrake, who wrote in with all sorts of worthy weirdo contenders. We’re going with Gary S. Paxton because he’s responsible for one of the most
popular overplayed Halloween songs of all time and a catchy little tune called “Vote Em Out Boogie,” both of which seemed pretty apropos for this week. If only he’d written a song about hurricanes, we’d be hitting the timeliness trifecta.
Throughout his 40-plus year career, Paxton has been a master of the novelty song. His very first hit, “Alley Oop,” was a Coasters-style R&B goof about a caveman from a popular comic strip, recorded with fellow nutjob Kim Fowley and a thrown-together group called The Hollywood Argyles. He followed that up with the revered/reviled Halloween party staple, “Monster Mash,” which he produced with singer Bobby “Boris” Pickett in 1962. But surprisingly, his music really took a turn for the weird after he converted to Christianity in 1970. His early Jesus stuff was fairly conventional, easy-listening ’70s gospel—like his most successful Christian song, the oft-covered “He Was There All the Time.” But his Amish-on-steroids facial hair was a clue that the dude behind “Alley Oop” and “Monster Mash” was, well, there all the time.
That dude—the Paxton who would eventually start wearing, y’know, gold boots and masks with his initials on them—really busted out on his second gospel album, More From the Astonishing, Outrageous, Amazing, Incredible, Unbelievable Gary S. Paxton (a sequel, obviously, to The Astonishing, Outrageous, Amazing, Incredible, Unbelievable, Different World of Gary S. Paxton). Alongside more conventional Bible-belt fodder like “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” and “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” were such immortal Paxton originals as “Jesus Is My Lawyer in Heaven,” “When the Meat Wagon Comes for You” and my personal favorite, “There Goes a Cigar Smoking a Man.” If Bible Camp had been more like this, I might have gone for more than one weekend.
Paxton’s next album, Terminally Weird/But Godly Right, further cemented his status as sort of a Christian cross (Jesus pun!) between Randy Newman and Wavy Gravy: a lovable but irascible old hippie writing catchy little songs that were easy to dismiss as silly but full of sly social satire to anyone who was paying attention. You can listen to excerpts of the whole thing on The Pax’s website. We recommend starting with “Fat, Fat Christians.”
A bizarre and tragic event nearly ended Paxton’s life in 1980. He was living in Nashville at the time and producing a lot of country artists. Depending on which version of the story you believe (Paxton’s, or that of his current wife, Vicki Sue Roberts), Paxton was shot three or five times by two hitmen hired to kill him over a contract dispute with a country singer he was working with. He survived, only to run into troubles with the IRS and develop a near-fatal case of hepatitis C. Oh, and he might have also had an affair with Tammy Faye Bakker. So the ’80s were a particularly odd time for The Paxman.
Since 1999, Paxton has lived in Branson, Missouri with Roberts, where he by all accounts (well, his and Vicki’s) keeps a fairly low profile. He can’t perform any more because of his health problems, but that hasn’t stopped him from churning out a steady stream of increasingly bizarre novelty songs, including “When I Die Just Bury Me at Wal-Mart” and “Frankenclone” (The Pax does house music!). He also does the occasional conservative wingnut screed, but he’s old and white and lives in Missouri, so we’ll let that slide.
So Happy Halloween and Happy Almost-Election Day, My Gary S. “Monster Mash/Obamascare” Paxton! We hope you’re still keeping it weird in Branson, even if we also hope “Vote ‘Em Out Boogie” only applies to the Tea Party and not our boy Barack. He’s not perfect, but Romney and Ryan scare the shit out of us.
Most of Paxton’s weirdest stuff sadly is unavailable on YouTube, but we did rather enjoy the zany lyrics (though not, it must be noted, the gratuitous use of gruesome Holocaust imagery—sorry about that part) of this little pro-gun ditty. You’re totally right, Gary, no handgun ever drove itself to a schoolyard. All inanimate objects are inherently harmless! C4 and hand grenades for everyone! And anyone who disagrees is Hitler.
Forgive me if this week’s post is even more rambling and incoherent than usual. I just completed a very early morning transcontinental flight and I’m so jetlagged, I’m starting to talk like Sean Penn in I Am Sam. Then again, being delirious with jetlag might be the perfect mindset for exploring the bizarre pop music footnote that is Tiny Tim.
Born Herbert Khaury in 1932, Tiny Tim became, very briefly, the most celebrated oddball in all of music, thanks to some memorable appearances on the comedy/variety show Laugh-In in 1968. With his gawky stage presence, comically miniscule ukulele (contrary to his stage name, he was rather a hulking fellow), and warbling falsetto, Tiny was an unlikely star—but something about his guileless interpretations of old American songbook warhorses like “A-Tisket, A-Tasket” and his signature tune, “Tip-Toe Thru the Tulips,” struck a chord with middle America. He became a regular fixture not only on Laugh-In but also The Tonight Show, where Johnny Carson teased out enough personal details (five showers a day, wore ladies’ cosmetics, openly had a thing for pretty underage girls, which he referred to as “classics”) to finally convince viewers that he was not some elaborate put-on, but a genuine weirdo.
On his first Laugh-In appearance, Tiny was introduced by the show’s droll, chain-smoking hosts, Rowan and Martin, as both an undiscovered diamond in the rough and “the toast of Greenwich Village.” Both things were true, in a way. After years of taking any gig he could in every New York dive under a variety of stage names (including Darry Dover, Emmett Swink, Judas K. Foxglove and “Larry Love, The Human Canary,” when he briefly appeared as part of a freak show), Tim finally hit the big time when he was “discovered” at a hip nightclub called The Scene. By the time he made his first Laugh-In appearance, he had already released his first album, God Bless Tiny Tim, on Frank Sinatra’s Reprise Records label. It contained his signature “Tip-Toe Thru the Tulips,” but the album’s most memorable moment is probably a cover of “I Got You, Babe,” on which Tiny sings both Sonny and Cher’s parts in a performance that’s simultaneously virtuosic and ridiculous.
Like all true outsiders, Tiny Tim was not destined for lasting stardom. He and his music were just too “far out” for the mainstream squares and too old-fashioned and fuddy-duddy for the hippie rock ‘n’ roll types. His jump-the-shark moment came in December of 1969, when he married his 17-year-old sweetheart, Victoria Mae Budinger, aka “Miss Vicki,” on an episode of The Tonight Show that is reputed to be the second most-watched TV program of the ’60s (21.4 million viewers) after the moon landing. Apart from the bride’s age, the ceremony is actually kinda boring by today’s Springer/Kardashian standards, but there was still a certain freak-show aspect to the whole thing that eclipsed Tiny’s music—especially when the couple revealed that they planned to sleep in separate rooms and even dine apart because of the groom’s phobia of eating in the presence of others.
By the late ’70s, Tiny Tim was divorced (though he later remarried, twice), dropped from his label, and reduced to releasing novelty tunes like “Tip-Toe to the Gas Pumps.” In the ’80s and ’90s, he occasionally collaborated with younger artists who admired his work, like (no, really) Camper Van Beethoven—but for the most part, he was remembered (dimly) as a tulip-sniffing, one-hit wonder. In 1996, shortly after the release of his final studio album, Girl (recorded with the aptly named Texas polka-rockers Brave Combo), he suffered a massive heart attack during a performance in Minneapolis and died that same day. He was 64.
Even though it’s probably true that most Laugh-In and Tonight Show viewers were laughing at, not with, Tiny Tim, it would be unfair to dismiss him as the Rebecca Black of his era. There was nothing manufactured or phony about him. His talents were outlandish, but they were genuine; take this amazing, Tom Jones-like version of “Stayin’ Alive,” which starts out a little shaky but eventually turns into a tour de force of vocal elasticity. Not many humans have ever been able to sing in a hairy-chested baritone and a choir-boy falsetto in the same breath. At least not with this much chutzpah.
I could go on defending Tiny Tim’s legacy, but I know I’m preaching to the choir; several readers over the years have suggested we add him to the Weird List, and since he would have turned 80 this week, we figured this was a good time to do it. We’ll leave you with perhaps his most famous performance. If you’ve never seen it before, you’re in for a treat.
- Tiny Tim Memorial Site
- Tiny Tim “official” website (hosted by this company, which apparently now owns the rights to his likeness and some of his music)
- Interview with Tiny Tim expert Justin Martell (much of this post was cribbed from this interview, as well as from Irwin Chusid’s Songs in the Key of Z: The Curious Universe of Outsider Music)
The only thing weirder than a weird band is a weird loner armed with a guitar, ukulele or thrift store keyboard. This week’s playlist celebrates some of the best, greatest and (to use a clinical term) craziest of those loners, along with a few other slightly more socialized purveyors of what’s come to be known as outsider music.
What is outsider music? Usually (though not always) it’s music created by someone with no formal training and often rudimentary technical abilities. To the untrained ear, it nearly all sounds terrible, but if you listen to enough it, you start to find some diamonds in the rough.
For more on the subject of outsider music, I highly recommend seeking out a copy of Songs in the Key of Z, an authoritative book on the subject by the great Irwin Chusid. That book informed much of this playlist—and, to be honest, much of this entire blog. Chusid’s the guru, we are but his lowly disciples.
Ready to take a walk on the weird side? Fire up your Spotify and make sure your headphones aren’t strapped on too tight.
1. Daniel Johnston, “Walking the Cow.” Maybe the most famous outsider singer/songwriter of his generation, Johnston is a diagnosed schizophrenic from Texas who writes surprisingly beautiful, simple little pop songs and sings them in an achingly childlike voice. Throughout the ’80s, he gained a sizable cult following for his homemade cassette tape albums, all illustrated with his own bizarre cartoon creatures like the one we swiped for this playlist’s artwork. There’s a documentary about him called The Devil and Daniel Johnston, and if you haven’t seen it, you should.
2. B.J. Snowden, “School Teacher.” Maybe the best way to describe this Massachusetts native is that she’s a female, less crazy version of Wesley Willis (see below). She claims to be a graduate of the Berklee College of Music, and works as a music teacher, but her songs mostly feature very rudimentary piano playing and cheesy, pre-programmed keyboard backbeats, a la Willis. Still, her stuff undeniably brings to mind words like “jaunty.” Fred Schneider of the B-52′s is a big fan.
3. Tiny Tim, “People Are Strange.” You’re probably too young to remember this, but this totally untiny performer, with his ukulele and unmistakable warble of a voice, was once one of the most famous musicians in the world. Bizarre, but true. Tiny Tim’s version of “Tiptoe Through the Tulips,” which he performed on Laugh-In in 1968, became a huge hit, making him a regular guest on that SNL precursor as well as The Tonight Show (he even got married on Johnny Carson’s set in late 1969, in what was at the time one of the most watched events in television history). As mind-blowingly ridiculous as his version of “Tulips” is, I thought this Doors cover was more apropos to this week’s theme.
4. Lucia Pamela, “Hap-Hap-Happy Heart.” Like many outsiders, the biographical details of this Missouri native are a bit hazy. She claims to have been crowned Miss St. Louis in 1926, which sounds plausible, and to have performed in the Ziegfeld Follies, which we’ll also buy—but then, she also claims to have been the first person on television, so who knows? What we can confirm is that, in her mid-sixties, she recorded an album in 1969 called Into Outer Space with Lucia Pamela and it’s kind of amazing. She’s one of Irwin Chusid’s favorites.
5. The Legendary Stardust Cowboy, “Someone Took the Yellow From My Egg.” A little a cappella interlude from Lubbock, Texas’ greatest proto-psychobilly lunatic.
6. Charles Manson, “People Say I’m No Good.” Yes, that Charles Manson. One of the world’s most notorious cult leaders and mass murderers is on Spotify. Yeah, we’re not sure how we feel about it, either.
7. Wesley Willis, “Mojo Nixon.” Chicago’s late, great purveyor of “Harmony Joy Music” (and our playlist’s second schizophrenic), Willis wrote bouncy tribute songs to everyone from Oprah Winfrey to Kurt Cobain. This, as far as I know, is the only song of his about another artist we’d already added to The Weird List.
8. Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper, “I’m Gonna Dig Up Howlin’ Wolf.” And here he is, Mr. Mojo himself, singing about digging up famous dead bluesmen and affixing their skulls to his guitar. We’re sure he’s just speaking metaphorically.
9. Bob Log III, “I Want Your Shit on My Leg.” For 20 years, Bob Log III has been persuading sweet young things the world over to put their “shit” (read: ass) on his leg so he can bounce them around while playing kick drum and high-hat with his feet. Yes, he’s a one-man Delta blues wrecking crew. In an Evel Knieval jumpsuit, no less.
10. Roky Erickson, “Don’t Slander Me.” Our playlist’s third schizophrenic, Roky (pronounced “Rocky”) was a psych-rock pioneer with his ’60s band, the 13th Floor Elevators, before a trip to the loony bin sidelined him in 1968. He’s since made something of a comeback and is now a celebrated cult hero of psychedelic rock and outsider music. This track isn’t his nuttiest by a long shot—it kinda sounds like Creedence Clearwater Revival, which make sense given that he worked a lot with former CCR bassist Stu Cook in the late ’70s and early ’80s—but something about the sentiment makes it a perfect outsider anthem.
11. GG Allin, “I Live to Be Hated.” The original rock ‘n’ roll outsider—angry, obscene and unrepentant. This is actually one of his moodier, more introspective numbers.
12. The Mad Daddy, “Record Acid Test.” Just decided to throw in a wacky little transition from Cleveland’s Pete “Mad Daddy” Myers, one of the original lunatics of rock ‘n’ roll radio. Alan Freed may have “invented” rock DJing, but The Mad Daddy made it shake, rattle and roll, one wavy gravy platter at a time. (For more on Myers, this post is pretty excellent.)
13. Mission Man, “Gotta Work Hard.” If Mad Daddy had lived (sadly, he took his own life in 1968) to hear his fellow Ohioan Mission Man doing his stoned-Lou-Reed-rapping routine, we’re sure he would have approved. Or he might have said, “What the hell is this shit?” and put on another Elvis record.
14. Gonken, “Rockin’ Robots.” Another modern outsider for the electronic age, this time from Seattle. He’s making fun of pop music, sort of. But on another level, he’s just making so-bad-it’s-actually-kinda-good pop music.
15. Deerhoof, “My Pal Foot Foot.” One of our favorite current weird bands pays tribute to one of our favorite weird bands of yore, The Shaggs, by covering their immortal song about looking for a lost cat named Foot Foot. Magic ensues.
16. Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band, “Grown So Ugly.” In many ways, Don Van Vliet doesn’t actually fit the classic mold of the outsider musician. The dude could actually play, as could his band, all of whom had deep roots in blues, jazz and the psychedelic rock scene of the late ’60s. But somehow, they managed to never let those skills or influences get in the way of creating records so original they were sometimes kinda frightening.
17. Arcesia, “Butterfly Mind.” Another discovery courtesy of the bottomless fount of weirdness that is Songs in the Key of Z, Arcesia was actually the work of a veteran big band crooner from Rhode Island named Johnny Arcessi who moved to California and became an acid casualty in the late ’60s. In 1970, at the age of 52, he released his one and only album as Arcesia, Reachin’, and it’s an amazing relic of that strange time in American history, an acid folk freakout delivered by a guy who clearly had lost all interest in phrasing, pitch or lyrical comprehensibility. Needless to say, it’s now a highly prized collector’s item—the fact that it’s on Spotify is almost as mind-blowing as Arcessi’s adenoidal bray.
18. Syd Barrett, “No Good Trying.” No self-respecting mix of outsider music would be complete without an appearance from that most famous acid casualty of all, Uncle Syd. R.I.P., gentle sir.
Hope you enjoyed this week’s mix.
I don’t know about you, but if I was a white supremacist, I’m pretty sure hardcore punk would be my soundtrack of choice. I mean, if you’re gonna go around hating the vast majority of all other people on the planet all day, you need to be listening to something that’s gonna keep you revved up. Keep those hate juices flowing, so to speak.
And for the most part, actual white supremacists seem to agree with me. Google the words “white power music” and you get lots of smashy-smashy, shouty-shouty anthems from bands with names like Skrewdriver and Xenophobe and Max Resist and Blue Eyed Devils, who all pretty much sound like early Black Flag, except with lyrics like, “Now I’ll fight for my race and nation, Sieg Heil!”—which, by the way, is an actual lyric from a Blue Eyed Devils song called “White Victory.” No, these people are not fucking around. Most of them think Hitler was actually a pretty swell guy (although they also tend to think the Holocaust didn’t happen, which is a pretty convenient way to take some of the stink off the whole Hitler-loving thing).
Given this backdrop, it’s all the more bizarre that a band like Prussian Blue ever existed. For one brief shining moment, white power music had its Carpenters, its Hanson and its Jewel all rolled into one adorable little blonde-haired, blue-eyed package—and mainstream media lost their fucking minds over it.
Prussian Blue was a folk-pop duo from Bakersfield, California, made up of twin sisters Lamb and Lynx Gaede (yes, their actual names). They began performing together at the age of nine at the behest of their mother, April, who basically made the two girls mouthpieces for her racist world view before they were really old enough to fully grasp the significance of what they were singing about.
At first, they were cute but kinda terrible, doing tentative, slightly off-key Skrewdriver covers and goofy originals like “Skinhead Boy” (“Oi oi oi, skinhead boy, you’re my oi boy”). But by their second album, The Path We Chose (which came out when the girls were seasoned concert vets and all of thirteen), they had actually gotten pretty good. But by then, the novelty value had worn off and the mainstream media went back to ignoring them. And soon after that, they started covering Bob Dylan (“Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” which would actually be a great white supremacist song if it hadn’t been written by a hippie Jew from New York City), and pretty soon the white supremacist community was ignoring them too. By 2006, at fourteen, they were done.
Today the girls live in Montana and have disavowed their up-with-whitey roots entirely. “I love diversity,” Lynx told an interviewer for The Daily just a few weeks ago. “It makes me proud of humanity every day that we have so many different places and people.”
They’ve also become big medical marijuana advocates, mostly because they use pot to treat a whole host of medical issues that you have to figure are either the result of bad karma or the stress of being the target of so much public outrage at such a tender age. Lynx has cancer and something called CVS, which stands for Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome (and you thought the drug store chain was bad). Lamb has scoliosis and chronic back pain. You have to feel sorry for them—even though reading some of the interviews they gave back in their Prussian Blue days is pretty cringe-inducing.
“I like everything except nigger music,” Lamb told an interviewer for Resistance, the magazine put out by their record label of the same name. Although they also told an interviewer for Vice magazine who asked the same question: “But our all-time favorite is Barney the purple dinosaur!”
So here they are, in all their Aryan glory: Prussian Blue. Don’t let the cuteness brainwash you into hating black people. Or white people, for that matter. It’s not our fault that some of us white folks are ignorant, hate-filled people who dress their children up like Sound of Music extras and coax them into singing about the coming race war like it’s “Kumbaya.”
I gotta be honest: I’m not sure how I feel about starting our second year of Weirdest Band in the World with this guy. But you, our cracked-out readers, have spoken, and the votes are in: after a ridiculously long tenure on our “Submit and Vote” page (we kept hoping the “no” votes would pile up, but no such luck), this Gonken character has been declared weird. And yeah, I guess he is. At least he gets points for trying.
Here’s the deal: No single thing Johnny Gonken has ever attempted in his now fairly long career is either especially weird or especially good. But when you add it all up, there’s a sort of dogged determination to it all that’s kind of amazing. I mean, you name it, this Gonken dude has done it. Nerdcore-inspired electro-punk-rap opuses with titles like Robot vs. Zombie? Check. Catchy synth-punk, complete with low-budget video featuring random hot chick? Got it covered. Fake Lost-style government training videos? All over it. A Halloween record? Fuck yeah. Acoustic, Flight of the Conchords-style novelty tunes? Hey, how hard can it be? A commercial jingle for the Shake Weight? Sure, why fucking not?
Through it all, Gonken has endured obscurity, negative reviews and judging from the clip below, awkwardly small crowds for most of his shows. But he perseveres, writing songs with titles like “The Butterfly Reject” and “Hate Is For People With Hearts” and clearly, on some level, reveling in his outsider, misunderstood-artist status. Success would probably ruin this guy.
So you know what? We just convinced ourselves. Gonken, you are one weird fucking dude. Keep doing what you’re doing, and fuck the haters. Including us. (And we hope that guy in the robot costume is well-paid. Or at least gets lots of free trips to Taco Bell.)
(Photo by Carl Saytor)
Today’s TWBITW entry was suggested to us by one of our readers, Marc Blazel*, who turned us on to the fabulously bizarre gypsy/punk/folk/beatbox stylings of one Sxip Shirey. Sxip (we still have no idea how to pronounce that) is one of those guys who uses everyday objects as instruments and instruments as, well, objects—not necessarily a weird or original idea in and of itself, but the music he conjures up with that approach definitely exists in its own little universe.
His bio page, which also features a nifty little short film about the man and his madcap music, mentions such contraptions as “Industrial Flutes, Bullhorn Harmonicas, Regurgitated Music Box, Triple Extended Pennywhistls [sic], Miniature Hand Bell Choir, Obnoxiophone.” All of which might sound totally random and made up, but we’re pretty sure those are all actual Shirey “instruments.” We can vouch for the existence of the Industrial Flute and the Bullhorn Harmonica, at least. (We’ll get back to the Bullhorn Harmonica in a sec.)
Beyond that, we haven’t been able to suss out much about Shirey, except that he’s based in New York, has worked some with folks like author Neil Gaiman and singer-songwriter Jason Webley (one-half of another TWBITW favorite, Evelyn Evelyn), and he’s also part of a band called Luminescent Orchestrii, which as near as we can tell is sort of a Gogol Bordello for the Fringe Festival crowd. He also has a new album out called Sonic New York, which is great. Among other things, it includes a spooky Portishead-meets-Regina Spektor cover of that old disco song “Ring My Bell.” We know that sounds terrible, but trust us, it actually kinda works.
Oh, about that Bullhorn Harmonica. It’s featured, along with beatboxing and some very funky tuba, on this song called “I Live in New York City,” which as far as we’re concerned should replace that fucking played-to-death “Empire State of Mind” monstrosity as the official Big Apple anthem immediately.
*Yes, we actually have readers—and what’s even more amazing, we do sometimes take suggestions from them. Email us at weirdestbandintheworld(at)gmail.com is you have a favorite weird band you’d like to see on The Weird List. But be prepared to be mocked ruthlessly if your idea of weird is, we dunno, Bowling for Soup or some shit.
Okay, let’s see: You dress up as Frankenstein and the Wolfman in your publicity photos. Your first song features a children’s chorus–dressed up in Halloween costumes. Some of your first concerts are taking place at a children’s marionette theatre. Sounds like a TWBITW candidate to us!
But wait, it gets better: Dead Man’s Bones is a collaboration between L.A. actor/musician Zach Shields and…wait for it…actor/musician Ryan Gosling. Yes, the Ryan Gosling. The dude who was so awesome in Lars and the Real Girl and Half Nelson…and The Notebook, or so my girlfriend tells me. Who says all actor-fronted bands suck?
According to the band’s official bio, Dead Man’s Bones sprang into existence from a shared love of the Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland, plus old horror movies, ghosts, graveyards and anything generally creepy and macabre. It evolved according to a strict set of rules that forced Gosling and Shields not to conceal their occasional amateurishness, or that of their collaborators, which mainly include local choruses and choirs. The resulting music sounds kinda like what Tom Waits might create if he gave up making records and went off to run a children’s theatre. It’s spare and spooky and surprisingly elegant–and very, very weird. Their debut album is due out October 6th on Anti Records–also home to Tom Waits, as it turns out. We can’t wait to hear the rest of it.