Songs in the Key of Z: The Curious Universe of Outsider Music

Irwin Chusid, Author
Irwin Chusid, Author Chicago Review Press $18.95 (272p) ISBN 978-1-55652-372-4
Reviewed on: 04/03/2000
Release date: 04/01/2000
Open Ebook - 272 pages - 978-1-56976-493-0
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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. (May)
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