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.
So the other day this reader writes into us and goes, “You know who’s way weirder than all these bands? The Bloodhound Gang.” And we’re like, “You mean the guys who had that song about the Discovery Channel? What the fuck is weird about that?” And apparently, this guy thinks they’re, like, the weirdest band ever because they’ve been known to occasionally piss on each other and drink vomit onstage. Which at this point in rock history is not even that weird anymore. It’s so not weird that the other current band semi-famous for such things, The Black Lips, got bored with it and stopped doing it. It’s a post-”Jackass” world, people! Grossout stage antics just aren’t that interesting anymore…especially if the best you can provide for musical accompiment is shit like that Discovery Channel song.
But one positive did come out of the whole Bloodhound Gang thing…it reminded us that, holy shit! We haven’t written about GG Allin yet! What the fuck is wrong with us? Time to drop a little punk-rock history on you young’ns.
For those not familiar, GG Allin was a punk rock singer active in the ’80s and early ’90s whose entire shtick was basically to get naked, start fights with people in the audience, and spew various bodily fluids everywhere until someone called the cops, venue security hauled him off, or he passed out—whichever came first. Oh, he’d shit onstage, too. Although he was also known to take laxatives before each show, so very often his feces qualified as just another bodily fluid.
A little backstory: GG was born Jesus Christ Allin (no, really) in New Hampshire in 1956. His dad was apparently one of those wackjob Christian fundametalists who swore that Jesus came to him in a vision and told him his son would be the messiah. Dad skeedaddled while little J.C. Allin was still a toddler, and mom eventually changed his name to Kevin Michael, but the nickname GG—his brother’s mispronunciation of “Jesus”—stuck.
Apparently, so did dad’s messianic visions and mental health issues. As he got older, little GG fell in with various punk bands, first as drummer, eventually as a frontman. Pretty early on, by all accounts, he decided that he was the savior of rock ‘n’ roll—that rock was becoming safe and commercialized and he was going to bring it back to its rebellious roots. Eventually, he pretty much dropped the rock ‘n’ roll part and just decided that he was The Savior, period—come to rescue America’s youth from all that is boring and conformist. He would do this, apparently, by flinging poo at them when they came to his shows.
Not surprisingly, GG had a hard time keeping bands together and he churned through a bunch of them: The Jabbers, The Scumfucs, The Texas Nazis, Bulge, The AIDS Brigade, and his final and most famous outfit, The Murder Junkies, featuring his equally batshit older brother Merle on bass. The music was all pretty much the same, though: noisy three-chord punk rock with lyrics that sound like they were cribbed from some middle school boy’s bathroom. Sample song titles: “Bite It You Scum”, “I Wanna Fuck the Shit Out of You”, “Suck My Ass It Smells”…you get the idea. There were also a few more grandiose songs about things like penal code reform (“Legalize Murder”), pedophilia (“Expose Yourself to Kids”) and religion (“Jesus Over New York”). But mostly, it was all just so GG would have a soundtrack while he was writhing in his own filth and smacking a microphone against his head.
The best document of GG Allin’s antics is a documentary called Hated: GG Allin and the Murder Junkies, which came out literally three days before his death. Weirdly—or maybe not so weirdly—it was shot by the same guy who directed Old School and The Hangover, Todd Phillips. Back then he was a film school student at NYU. Wonder if it’s still on his reel? (You can watch most of the documentary online. Heads up: It’s what the squares call “not suitable for children.”)
Despite GG’s best efforts, he did not die onstage—after a pretty extraordinary life, his death was all too ordinary. He died of a heroin overdose in New York on June 28, 1993. His last show ended in a mini-riot that found GG running naked through the streets with his fans in pursuit—or at least that’s how one version of the story goes. In another account, by punk writer Mykel Board, the cops showed up and GG fled to avoid arrest. Who knows? Either way, he turned up dead the next morning.
Even GG Allin’s funeral, which was videotaped, turned into a piece of transgressive rock ‘n’ roll theater. It was an open casket service, with the rock messiah’s bloated, unwashed body in full view, clad in his trademark leather jacket and dirty jockstrap. People stuck bottles of booze in the casket and his brother put in a Walkman and stuck a pair of headphones on his head, playing some of Allin’s own music. His gravesite is routinely vandalized. Apparently, people really like pissing and shitting on it.
Fun little side note: You can still actually see the Murder Junkies, from time to time. Merle Allin and the band’s perpetually naked drummer, Dino Sex, have kept the group going as a GG Allin tribute band, with various fill-in singers and guitarists. Judging from this video, we think the group’s current lead singer, PP Duvee, doesn’t try to start fistfights with the audience, but we make no guarantees.
Second fun little side note: If there’s an aging punk rocker in your life who already owns GG’s greatest hits, and you’re too lazy to figure out the rest of his bewildering catalog…well, now you can just get the dude a GG Allin bobblehead doll for Christmas instead.
Listen, let’s be clear here: GG Allin was a delusional asshole. He wasn’t some punk DIY purist like Fugazi. He wasn’t above going on The Jerry Springer Show. If any major record label had the balls to give him a record contract, he probably would have taken it. Behind all his talk about putting the danger back in rock ‘n’ roll and calling out the hypocrisies of society was a violent sociopath with a severe messiah complex. He says he was building an army of followers who would do anything he asked of them, and he probably believed it. How could he not, when he saw how many of his fans actually enjoyed getting kicked and punched and even raped by their hero?
So we’re not trying to canonize this guy. But we are saying this: To all you would-be weird bands out there, how far are you willing to take it? “It” doesn’t have to be pissing on each other—in fact, we’d rather you try something else, because GG Allin pretty much took care of the whole pissing and shitting thing. That ship has sailed.
So what else you got? That was kind of the whole original purpose of this blog, actually—to find and single out bands that are doing something really, truly unique. It doesn’t have to be the kind of shit that lands you on Jerry Springer—but it should be the kind of thing where, when people see it, or hear it, or read about it for the first time, they go, “Wow—I wasn’t expecting that!”
We’ll leave you with that thought—and with this little GG Allin highlight reel. Truly, the man was one of a kind. And we’re kinda glad we never made it to one of his shows.