People Are Strange

Irwin Chusid presents a film fest of the musically bizarre

Songs in the Key of Z: The Curious Universe of Outsider Music
American Folk Art Museum
November 12

Since WFMU DJ and pop-culture-detritus raconteur Irwin Chusid began his unearthing of bizarre recordings from music's fringe several years ago, a veritable cottage industry has arisen for filmmakers wishing to document their own favorite freaks. No fewer than 10 documentaries have been completed in recent years with "outsider" musicians as their subject, some of them just as fringe as the artists they spotlight. Chusid, the author of the outsider exploration Songs in the Key of Z and producer of its two accompanying CDs (see Take Five), screened excerpts from many of these films in a sprawling showcase of the best known in obscuro.

The films tend toward a respectful, often reverential tone, willfully pretending that Shooby Taylor's psycho-scat efforts and Jandek's no-fi dirges can be enjoyed on their own artistic merits. Outsider music is uniquely valid because it's pure, the documentarians claim, untainted by rules or demands of commerce over art. Which would be fabulous if it were true. But in the 2003 U.K. documentary Outsiders, elderly New York City wordsmith Bingo Gazingo readily admits that he really just wants to make money and get write-ups in the Voice, while the esteemed B.J. Snowden notes, in true Jean Teasdale fashion, that she wants to be a successful musician so that she'll no longer have to work for insipid people who don't understand her. On the other hand, Chusid on Jandek: "He's made 37 albums and he doesn't care if you know them." (Several in the crowd claimed to not only know but actually enjoy them.)

Obscuro's a sonic crapshoot, to be sure. But there is certainly something more genuine about bisexual country musician Peter Grudzien's unsteady balladry than the mannered pinkface of the Queer Eye minstrels. And the abrasive elegance of harpist-singer Joanna Newsom posits outsider art as less "look at the freak" and more "fuck you, we do what we want." JOSEPH MCCOMBS


Who Kills? J&R
Real Life Consumer Guide 2004: Where to get music cheap

It's time to trim the Hanukkah bush, and you need something to put under it. So . . . how well do you really know this person? Can you just sign her up for Rhapsody and let her stream and download as she pleases, or do you need a tangible token? We shopped for 33 items at 11 stores and epinions.com, and found prices as variable as ever. Although in many shops you could pick up a used version for less money, we're giving you the prices of shrink-wrapped, exchangeable units. We found that, of the department stores, newcomer Target has the best selection and prices, and fears of loss-leading by the big boxers have proven unfounded (too bad). Even in bankruptcy Tower holds a slight edge over Virgin, but J&R is still killing them both, and if you can find what you want at Disc-O-Rama or the consolidated Sounds stores, you'll be up a falafel or two.

See the lows and highs for yourself: Bobby Bare Jr., From the End of Your Leash (Bloodshot), bestprices.com $11.50, Virgin $15; DFA Compilation #2, cdconnection.com $18, Kim's $22; Dizzee Rascal, Showtime (XL/Beggars US), Sounds $11, Virgin $19; Interpol, Antics(Matador), walmart.com $10, J&R $16; Isis, Panopticon (Ipecac), fetchamovie.com $12, Tower $18; Juanes, Mi Sangre (Universal), J&R $13, Virgin $15; Juniorboys, Last Exit (Domino), fetchamovie.com $12, Tower $17; Lil Jon and the Eastside Boyz, Crunk Juice(TVT), Disc-O-Rama $11, Barnes & Noble, $18; Nirvana, With the Lights Out box set (DGC), Target $40, Barnes & Noble $63; Ramones Raw DVD (Image), Barnes & Noble $14, Virgin $20; Raysoundtrack (Rhino), J&R $10, Virgin $16; Sigue La Bulla del Reggeton comp (Protel/Universal), J&R $11, Virgin $15; Britney Spears, Greatest Hits (Jive), J&R $10, fye $15; U2, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (Interscope), overstock.com $9, Kim's $18; Bert Williams, Early Years: 1901-1909 (Archeophone), J&R $14, Tower $17; Brian Wilson, SMiLE(Nonesuch), overstock.com $12, Other Music, $20.

Bonus used rummage items: J&R: Timbalada, Brazilian Collection From A-Z, $3; Kim's: Dizzee Rascal, "I Luv U" 12", 50 cents; Other Music: Mahlithini and the Mahotella Queens, "Thokozili" 12", $1; Sounds: Everything but the Girl, Walking Wounded, 88 cents; Tower: Sinatra Reprise box, discs 3, 4, 16, 18, $2.25 each; Virgin, Patrick McMullan So80s coffee-table book, $20. JOSH GOLDFEIN

Addresses: Disc-O-Rama, 186 West 4th Street and 40 Union Square East; J&R Music World, 23 Park Row; Mondo Kim's, 6 St Marks Place; Other Music, 15 East 4th Street; St. Mark's Sounds, 20 St Marks Place

 
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