You can never please anybody in this world

The “anti-power trio,” Lester Bangs called them. They were the Shaggs, sisters from remote Fremont, New Hampshire, who really didn’t want to be musicians, but their father insisted. In 1969, they cut an album called Philosophy of the World, which was like nothing else you’d heard before, and like nothing else I’ve heard since.

And now their story is coming to the stage, kinda sorta:

Featuring a book and lyrics by Joy Gregory, and music and lyrics by Gunnar Madsen, The Shaggs: Philosophy of the World chronicles the real-life story of sisters Dorothy Wiggin, known as Dot (vocals and lead guitar), Betty Wiggin (rhythm guitar) and Helen Wiggin (drums), who had no previous musical experience when their father, Austin, pulled them out of school and set them on a very crooked path to artistic immortality.

Oh, I wasn’t kidding about “nothing else you’ve heard before”: Philosophy of the World makes Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica sound like John freaking Tesh. (You can hear the title song here.) The late Cub Koda, who knew his rock and roll, described it this way:

The guilelessness that permeates these performances is simply amazing, making a virtue out of artlessness. There’s an innocence to these songs and their performances that’s both charming and unsettling. Hacked-at drumbeats, whacked-around chords, songs that seem to have little or no meter to them (“My Pal Foot Foot,” “Who Are Parents,” “That Little Sports Car,” “I’m So Happy When You’re Near” are must-hears) being played on out-of-tune, pawn-shop-quality guitars all converge, creating dissonance and beauty, chaos and tranquility, causing any listener coming to this music to rearrange any pre-existing notions about the relationships between talent, originality, and ability. There is no album you might own that sounds remotely like this one.

There might have been a second album — the girls went back into the studio in 1975 — but Austin Wiggin died that year, and the group disbanded. All those tracks eventually surfaced, of course. (You perhaps don’t want to hear their cover of “Paper Roses.”)

And after all:

You may love their music or you may not, but whatever you feel, at last you know you can listen to artists who are real. They will not change their music or style to meet the whims of a frustrated world. You should appreciate this because you know they are pure what more can you ask?

From the liner notes from that first LP. What more, indeed? (And yes, they have a Web site.)







5 comments

  1. J.S.Bridges »

    28 June 2010 · 7:49 pm

    Wow. Just…wow.

    At first, I thought that they were, y’know, just having a little difficulty getting entirely together, that they’d get it sorted and take off…

    Then, after a bit, I began to understand – they WERE “together” – at least, as much as they were going to be, and so far as THEY were concerned…

    Not precisely atonal – just not really…meshed.

    Definitely “unique”…

  2. CGHill »

    28 June 2010 · 8:26 pm

    One of these days you’re going to have to try out some Jandek, of whom Irwin Chusid (who co-produced a Shaggs reissue) once said:

    [I]magine a subterranean microphone wired down to a month-old tomb, capturing the sound of maggots nibbling on a decaying corpse and the agonized howls of a departed soul desperate to escape tortuous decomposition and eternal boredom. That’s Burt Bacharach compared to Jandek.

    I have some of his stuff, too, though even I have my limits.

    In the meantime, here’s “Real Wild,” from Jandek’s forty-first (!) album, recorded live.

  3. David Fleck »

    28 June 2010 · 9:12 pm

    “Philosophy of the World.” Man, I loved that LP. Right up there with the Pop-o-pies “Fascists eat Donuts” and Lou Reed’s “Metal Machine Music”.

  4. CGHill »

    28 June 2010 · 9:18 pm

    The Pop-O-Pies I knew only by reputation: apparently they used to play Grateful Dead numbers at even greater length than the Dead did. I did, however, track down “Fascists Eat Donuts”, and if there’s ever a declared chord shortage, this band will not be affected in the slightest. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

    I actually have Metal Machine Music.

  5. CGHill »

    29 June 2010 · 8:04 pm

    Meanwhile, Mark Alger throws the BS flag:

    “If there’s no technique, it’s just childish scribblings.”

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