Wednesday, April 05, 2006

My Answers to a poll on Outsider Music

I don't know if anyone's interested, but here are my thoughts on outsider music for a grad student in Helsinki.

I will try to answer your questions about outsider music:

Age: 39


"Outsider music" is independantly produced music by generally passionate individuals, who sometimes wish they were not outsider artists, and oftentimes have no idea they are considered outsider by others. The music is either distributed through friends or accident, or word-of-mouth, or thriftstore bins of homemade tapes, or ads in magazines.

b) "Why are some artists considered outsiders?" "What makes them outsiders?"
Their music is not considered widely listenable, or their message is outside of the norm. Sometimes their buzz is more about their own personal stories. Sometimes the performer is mentally ill.

d) "What do you think are the most important features of outsider
Passion, individiualism, kook-motifs, sincerity and/or naievete.

4. Most outsider musicians are informed completely by popular genres, either imitating them or rejecting them outright. But mostly they are similar only through the term "music," and sometimes that is debatable, too.

5. "What do you think is the relationship between outsider music and folk
music? How are they different/same?"
Traditionally, folk music was true DIY-do-it-yourself to please your family and friends music. One can see the similarities. However, a lot of folk music is driven totally by ethnic culture. Outsiders, if driven by anything, are driven by personal passion and/or dreams of popular stardom. The exception to this rule might be Louie Louie, star of the "El Touchie" dances. But again, this is latin popular music, not chicano folk music.

6. "Why do you listen to/like outsider music?"
I have always been moved by passion. I am a big fan of Crackpottery--that is, the individual with a "kook motif:" an idea he or she thinks is The answer to life, the universe, and everything. This is one of the aspects I look for in outsider music. I also love a good story. A song that raises my eyebrows and makes me think "what could have possibly motivated her to write a song like that?" What's more comic/tragic than a woman or a man who fancies himself/herself an opera diva, only to produce painful warbles? Yet, they manage to do it with such sincerity and passion towards the song, that it comes off utterly charming. Utterly human. It's rare to find that kind of humanity on the Top 40.

7. "Who is your favorite outsider musician/ band playing outsider music? Why him/her/them?"
Generally, I don't play favorites, as I am always on the lookout for more discoveries. That's even more enjoyable than listening. I have recently discovered Jandek, and am trying to listen to his music. I recently saw the movie about his mythology. As far as a personal favorite, I've wondered if I could include a song by John Carradine, from the movie "Red Zone Cuba." Carradine is a fine singer, however his charm is exceedingly outsider, as is the movie. I quite doubt that many outsider fans would agree with me that "Night Train to Mundo Fine" is a true outsider song.

8. "How did you became aware of outsider music?"
I stumbled across an episode of "Incorrect Music" on WFMU, hosted by Irwin Chusid, around the same time I found the American Song Poem Music Archives. It caused a flash of recognition, as I graduated from the Evergreen State College with a degree in music. TESC's music department has included such luminaries as John Cage and Laurie Anderson, and has promoted all sorts of different music for years. My own music composition prof had us taking trips to Boeing's surplus store to gather materials to build instruments. I've always been aware of music not of the norm, and having been raised a fundamentalist christian as a child, I was no stranger to impassioned nuts making strange music for non-musical reasons.

9. "Why do you think outsider music is considered “underground music”? Why can’t you hear/see it in the mainstream media?"
The top forty is interested in music that is catchy or promotes money-generating fads. The mainstream media wants songs that will appeal to the largest number of ears possible. They may occasionally sneak in some niche interests, but not as a rule. However, the internet has shown industry the power of such niche-marketing, and may incorporate more interesting sounds in the future. MTV and other companies have embraced DJ's, who tend to be incredibly knowledgeable about these sounds and artists, and sometimes incorporate them into their mixes. The more these mixes are played, the more the typical teenager will become used to it. Everything weird can become "normal" if we're acclimated to it. Just look at "The Rite of Spring" by Stravinsky. Of course, his musicians could play...

10. "If you’re familiar with outsider art/art brut, what do you think is,its relationship to outsider music?"
Art for Jesus. Some of those paintings and songs go hand-in-hand. When you add mental illness or deficiency to basic skills in painting or music that don't include formal training, you've got your similarities. As long as it's sincere.

Thanks, this was an enjoyable survey.


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