And the boys with motorcycles want cars
November 2, 2015 10:55 AM   Subscribe

A "holy grail" for fans of outsider music: the only known (?) footage of the Shaggs live, at Fremont Town Hall in 1972. Context and introduction to the Shaggs here via Dangerous Minds. Mike McGonigal notes on Facebook that the footage was floating around a few years ago, but this new incarnation (courtesy of R. Stevie Moore) is higher quality, longer, and synced to audio. Though as one Youtube commenter notes: "The audio's out of sync. Or it might be perfectly in sync. Or... we'll never know." The Shaggs previously on Metafilter: 1, 2, 3.
posted by naju (39 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
There seems to be a disappearing act with this footage, so here's hoping the FPP link will keep...
posted by naju at 10:58 AM on November 2, 2015

Carla Bley's quote on back cover of the 1990 Rounder collection is forever the best: "They bring my mind to a complete halt."
posted by naju at 11:11 AM on November 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

They kind of rock out, this is awesome
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:20 AM on November 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

people are trying to dance to this music.
posted by entropone at 11:24 AM on November 2, 2015 [7 favorites]

This is positively Lynchian.
posted by panama joe at 11:26 AM on November 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Yeah, true enough. It's an improvement on the purely silent footage, though!
posted by naju at 11:29 AM on November 2, 2015

I had Alice Coltrane's "Sivaya" on when I clicked on this, and the rhythms of the two felt weirdly in sync. Sad to find out that there isn't live audio, but just one more strange, slightly mystical moment with the Shaggs.
posted by ryanshepard at 11:36 AM on November 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

I love this.

The synchronized dance moves are surprising, and just as bewilderingly delightful as everything else about the Shaggs. It's heartbreaking that this footage is effectively silent - I have to assume that they had a whole different dimension as a live band.
posted by dirtdirt at 11:48 AM on November 2, 2015

I watched the blood moon/lunar eclipse last spring high as fuck with a group of friends on the beach, soundtracked to The Shaggs. Worked surprisingly well.
posted by mannequito at 11:50 AM on November 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

people are trying to dance dancing to this music
posted by Ennis Tennyone at 11:53 AM on November 2, 2015

They seem to be having a swell time!
posted by naju at 11:54 AM on November 2, 2015

They seem to be having a swell time!

Are they? I mean, in that Jon Ronson interview it seemed like they were basically forced to do the entire rock thing against their will. I mean, I’m glad people enjoy what The Shaggs made, but it seems like there’s a big rider of sadness and misery and compulsion that goes along with.
posted by Going To Maine at 11:59 AM on November 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

That was something special to me 2, 3, 4...
posted by chococat at 12:08 PM on November 2, 2015

They seem to be having a swell time!

Are they?

I meant the people dancing. (I'm not willing to be persuaded by any binaries here, either, with respect to whether The Shaggs were in abject misery or not. I don't think it's simple.)
posted by naju at 12:25 PM on November 2, 2015

Is this... is this something we are liking ironically? Or...?
posted by Justinian at 12:33 PM on November 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

I unironically like the Shaggs. I mean, it's not exactly background music for household chores, but I find equal parts sincerity and weirdness in it. It's not random or incompetent, it just bears little relation to the music we're used to.
posted by cmoj at 12:40 PM on November 2, 2015 [4 favorites]

Is this... is this something we are liking ironically? Or...?

Whether someone "gets" the Shaggs has been a barometer by which I've gauged their taste since at least the Clinton administration.
posted by ryanshepard at 12:42 PM on November 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

... (courtesy of R. Stevie Moore) ...

I still remember this name from his display ads in the Trouser Press classifieds.

(I'm old.)
posted by ZenMasterThis at 12:52 PM on November 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

A few years ago, I went to a Shaggs tribute night in Brooklyn -- the surviving members attended and were treated as royalty -- and watching a bunch of bands covering these songs made it clear that their stuff is really hard to play, especially for the drummers. It was as if every music convention was turned on its ear. I love their stuff unironically -- it is unlike anything else.
posted by AJaffe at 1:20 PM on November 2, 2015 [5 favorites]

I enjoy reading about the Shaggs, who were a legitimately interesting band, a lot more than I do listening to them.
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:55 PM on November 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Needs a MyPalFootageFootage tag.
posted by Hey Dean Yeager! at 2:22 PM on November 2, 2015 [7 favorites]

Is this... is this something we are liking ironically? Or...?

My theory about The Shaggs (and this is coming from someone who loves them) is that you kind of have to be mired in song structure to really fall in love with them. Most of the full on love for them comes from musicians, and I don't think that's the reason.

The thing is that it's not that they're good. They're so completely ignorant of what elements traditionally go into a song, that it's delightful. That album is completely free of the constraints most songwriters labor under.

It's like you've been eating steak and gravy forever and you know all about it and good ones and bad ones, and you can tell different versions apart blindfolded. And then someone gives you a plate with chopped up meat and banana soufflee on it. It's probably not good, but you'd be grateful for the novelty.
posted by lumpenprole at 3:11 PM on November 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

I'm just gonna link to my comment from the last Shaggs thread and add that this is the most wonderful thing I've seen all year. The Shaggs are love.
posted by SansPoint at 3:30 PM on November 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

For my own part, I don't believe it has to do with being mired in song structure. I'm used to listening to music from savvy, knowledgeable musicians who purposefully eschew traditional song structure. I think it has to do with something like "naivism". It's the same reason I find Maher Shalal Hash Baz and Langley Schools Music Project beautiful. This is untrained expression in a pure way. I firmly believe compelling art need not require formal knowledge in any way. It oftens gets in the way of expression. The childlike in art digs down deep into a part of my brain that is often unused. Rather than being a hipster savviness thing, I find it the opposite: I appreciate the feeling that music like this gives me, that I know next to nothing, that my knowledge is useless.
posted by naju at 3:31 PM on November 2, 2015 [4 favorites]

naju That rings true. I am not a musician. I know nothing about song structure, about different kinds of tuning, about any of the formal aspects of music and its creation. I just know what I like, and I like what The Shaggs did. But I also like a lot of other crazy, weird stuff too.
posted by SansPoint at 3:34 PM on November 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

For anyone who missed that last Shaggs thread, it looks like they've archived the clips from the Jon Ronson show. Luckily the audio is on youtube.
posted by lumpenprole at 3:42 PM on November 2, 2015

I know for me it has to do with the way they defy pop expectation (whether accidentally or otherwise) but still somehow manage to land on something recognizably "pop"; there is a logic to their music but its tantalizingly difficult to grasp by anybody not in the Shaggs. But ultimately their music is just pleasurable to hear once you're keyed into it.

It's not any kind of elitist thing, and there's no hierarchy in music, and I don't believe you have to be more evolved or knowledgeable to appreciate it. It's unfortunate that they are sometimes viewed with suspicion as some kind of elitist shibboleth, and I refer to dirtdirt's eloquent response to that whole thing.
posted by anazgnos at 3:49 PM on November 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Captain Beefheart is an interesting comparison point. I think that's an example of someone who is so unutterably hyperliterate and visionary that he simply exists in a musical universe most of us have never visited, and employs a musical vocabulary we're not prepared to accept until we make serious effort to engage with it on its own terms. When you factor in how much The Shaggs ended up getting to a similar place while being hyperilliterate, maybe those two states end up being the same thing, when you get right down to it.
posted by naju at 4:02 PM on November 2, 2015 [4 favorites]

Count me in the camp of listening/liking The Shaggs in a 100% un-ironic sense. I find it unique, otherworldy, transcendent ... but mostly it simply always puts a smile on my face. And holy hell does the idea of covering it terrify me - from the background of playing the drums in prog/math rock bands - that shit came straight out of a dimension where there is no conception of time signatures.

Also, that thread from 2011 is a great longread. It's gotta be the gold standard for "Your Fav Band Sucks" arguments. There's a bunch of comments in there I'd like to link, but most importantly there's this amazing gem from Sys Rq breaking down what's so different about their music.
posted by mannequito at 4:29 PM on November 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

Captain Beefheart was not as musically literate as you might think, and I think that a lot of his amazingness comes from a similar outsider place. In his case he had the advantage of a stable of musicians who actually were hyperliterate that were able and willing to translate his visions into concrete performances. I think he's a pretty unique case.
posted by dfan at 4:47 PM on November 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Good thing there was a cop keeping the kids in the audience honest. That proto-mosh pit at the 12 minute mark could very easily have gotten out of hand.
posted by layceepee at 4:48 PM on November 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

They never really fall apart in the way they would if they were truly incompetent. Any individual part of any song might sound like terrible players totally out of sync, but then whenever they come to the change, they nail it every time. Over and over again, you'll hear them drift and drift and drift and then suddenly snap back on a dime with perfect precision and consistency. It's maddening and delightful.

Whatever logic that allowed them to do this had nothing to do with "conventional musicality" but they clearly fucking drilled it.

I'm no kneejerk champion of the naive or primitive, I've seen plenty of woeful open mic acts who just need to learn to play their fucking instruments. But The Shaggs were really something else.
posted by anazgnos at 5:00 PM on November 2, 2015 [5 favorites]

dfan - that's fair. I'm just aware that he was voraciously consuming a lot of music from his youth on - delta blues, R&B, and most notably free jazz freakouts from the likes of Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor. I can hear it all quite clearly in his music, which has always struck me as very intentional and deliberate in its vision.
posted by naju at 5:02 PM on November 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Obscure music trivia question: many years ago, I was listening to a creaky old obsolescent golden-oldies AM radio station, and they had a show where they ran through all of the chart listings for a particular year, and in this case I think it was 1959(?) There was a rather strange song at the bottom of the chart, a slow beat with minimal or no drums, primitive jangling guitar downward arpeggios with lots of reverb, and a natural-sounding (not so perfect intonation) girl singer. This song is one of the classic proto-Shaggs archetypes of music. I would love to hear it again.
posted by ovvl at 5:05 PM on November 2, 2015

this band is amazing and i can't believe i've never heard of them before. thanks OP!
posted by JimBennett at 5:42 PM on November 2, 2015

Many great rock artists that aren't great musicians. I suspect that many people are just fundamentally unable to appreciate songs without a predicable arrangement, a fist-pumping chorus, a catchy melody, a cuckoo clock sense of rhythm etc. etc. etc.

It's interesting to note that jazz players tend to aggregate improvisation schools into "inside" playing (somewhat consistent with the melody and harmony) with "outside" playing (anything goes). Ultimately, it's what communicates on an emotional level to the listener. De gustibus non est disputandum....

The world is a richer place for bands like the Shaggs.
posted by onesidys at 6:32 PM on November 2, 2015

It's possible to not really enjoy The Shaggs without favoring predictable, fist-pumping, yadda yadda. That's just kind of a strange and unhelpful binary to set up.
posted by argybarg at 9:57 PM on November 2, 2015

OP link gone :(
posted by infinitewindow at 10:58 AM on November 12, 2015

Oh my god. I just listened to My Pal Foot Foot for the first time. Which feels like the equivalent of saying, "I just took bad acid for the first time." Oh my god.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 9:08 PM on November 16, 2015

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