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Is this pushing our appreciation of The Shaggs a bit too far? For one might argue that pop music—especially of the heavily commercial variety e. Such is not the case with The Shaggs. Moreover, it would seem that, for Cutler, as for other popular music theorists like Theodore Gracyk and Simon Frith, such a take on the popular might begin to cut through what have traditionally been certain sharply drawn distinctions in popular music criticism. For his part, it is here that Frith makes the challenging assertion that, if cultural modes—e.

For instance, in his discussion of hip-hop and dance music, Russell A. Examples of the latter are more immediately identifiable. Examples of the former are a bit more challenging—but I suppose that is the point. But where do The Shaggs fit in this taxonomy? Music does not exist in a bubble. We may not always wish it to be the case. We may often want to be able to listen to just the music—but there never is just the music.

Or, differently put, music is always already more than we might imagine. Music is a fundamentally heterogeneous phenomenon. One price to pay is that each listener will, at times, take pleasure in material that imparts a noxious message. Instrumental autonomism thus explains the predicament of feminists who are troubled by the fact that they love misogynist rock music. They love the music as music despite some of the ideas it so powerfully expresses. I am reminded of a somewhat light-spirited—and yet edgy—exchange, I once had with my sister, having to do with Frank Sinatra.

And moreover, who cares if he is a great musician?! Better still, what is right here? How do we find our way in such cases?


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Or, more challenging still, one could reflect on the possibility of entering into community with someone [e. When unfamiliar music provides jouissance, it promises further rewards that derive from a fuller, more complex understanding of its perspective on the world. Listeners who pursue this promise often confront and perhaps refashion their existing interests.

Committed feminists will have to confront the misogyny of the Rolling Stones. Bringing very different interests to the same music, other members of the popular audience will confront identities that, from the perspective of their current interests, involve varying degrees of subversion. Thus, we might say that, generally speaking, the very line between disinterest and interest is blurred. It might very well entail the image of innocent darlings of unintentional musical chaos under the auspices of happy-go-lucky songs about parents, radios, stuffed animals, and Halloween.

Perhaps this is a matter of kitsch, or cult status, like the failed successes or successful failures? What The Shaggs seem to lack is precisely the kind of phenomenological intentionality most listeners, might attribute however much to even the most experimental pop music—an intentionality, to be more specific, that seizes its object.

All About Battersea,

The Wiggin sisters of the late 60s seem unable to arrive at or align certain rhythmic, harmonic and melodic elements with any group cohesion whatsoever. In fact, each individual instrumentalist displays a marked lack of technical ability in general. At the very least, these items might seem requisite for identification with some musical genre.

Or are they requisite? The Shaggs, in this estimation, are then really out there! Yet, beyond this, everything rhythmically remains quite consistently and completely off, and the voices, melodies, and harmonies are essentially out of tune with the instruments, not to mention with each other. The liner notes from the original release of Philosophy of the World somehow still leave us with a strange feeling of bewilderment:. The Shaggs are real, pure, unaffected by outside influences.

Their music is different, it is theirs alone.

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They believe in it, live it. It is a part of them and they are a part of it. Of all contemporary acts in the world today, perhaps only the Shaggs do what others would like to do, and that is perform only what they believe in, what they feel, not what others think the Shaggs should feel. The Shaggs love you, and love to perform for you. 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? Betty, Helen and Dorothy Wiggin are the Shaggs. They are sisters and members of a large family where mutual respect and love for each other is at an unbelievable high.

They study and practice together, encouraged and helped by those around them.

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Betty, Helen and Dorothy live in a small town in New Hampshire, in an atmosphere which has encouraged them to develop their music unaffected by outside influences. They are happy people and love what they are doing. They do it because they love it.

The notes are direct, but seem to be suggesting that there is more here than meets the eye, or ear. One wonders whether The Shaggs actually realized how perfectly odd the music sounded. Perhaps the joke is on us.

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Although Mike Walsh is playful in his dissection of the above liner notes, his commentary articulates well our curious entanglement with The Shaggs:. This fact I readily conceded. It is part of them and they are part of it. I wanted to know who was behind this mysterious project. But the back cover note carefully avoided facts. It did not seem possible that anyone who had listened to the radio in the past twenty-five years could have made this record.

These girls and their music simply did not seem plausible. Rather, I am interested in the ways in which the very phenomenon of The Shaggs irritates our aesthetic antennae through their seemingly unnameable, inarticulatable affect, their ability to confound our aesthetic judgment and reception.

Are The Shaggs sublime? What The Shaggs themselves could not have possibly realized was how someone, such as myself, or Mike Walsh, or even Frank Zappa could so delight in this music. Precisely, because it seems to miss the mark, pure and simple, but with such a provocative result; it appears to be, at once, deliberate and carefree.

Lyrically, too, The Shaggs elicit this delightful incredulity.


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  • Apparently, their parents—especially their father—did care. Somehow, these three young girls the oldest of whom was 22 at the time , and the music they created, were, as the story goes, prized enough by their father, Austin Wiggin, Jr. However, as we learn from the liner notes for the release The Shaggs,. But Austin Wiggin, Jr. Perplexity, once more. Of course, only now in hindsight, through the benefit of time and the immortality of the recording, can some of us come to the strange and somewhat perverse conclusion that Austin Wiggin, Jr.

    Critical hedonist that I am, I become preoccupied with the ramifications of this music in terms of how it seems to disorient our musical listening experience. But is there more to this music?