- - If you're
interested in Outsider Music, it's safe to assume you're a fairly
unusual person, inquisitive, perhaps a bit "outside"
the mainstream yourself. Because Outsider Music, by definition,
offers little of interest to the vast majority of your fellow
citizens. They have neither the time nor the curiosity for.it.
- - The spectrum of music to which the average person
is exposed -- versus the variety of available sonic art -- is
extremely limited. Yet I don't subscribe to conspiracy theories
about the music industry suppressing uncommercial (or non-commercial)
artists; nor do I believe that the government, the Trilateral
Commission, Billboard, radio programming consultants,
Warner Bros., and agents of the Nine Elder Bankers are in collusion
to prevent anyone from exploring the nether reaches of musical
marginalia. These lumbering Goliaths aren't concerned with Jandek
- - Most consumers simply do not have adventurous taste
in music. They're preoccupied with families, careers, and paying
bills, home improvements and car repairs, and getting a good
night's sleep. Insofar as music plays any role in their lives,
they prefer the comfort of familiar artists and formulas. For
that, no one should be faulted. It's a filtering process, necessary
to avoid sensory overload. A person who can't appreciate music
beyond Air Supply or Jimmy Buffett may have an appetite for exotic
food, fine art, or extreme sports. But when they or their progeny
get married, they prefer that the festivities resonate with the
strains of Billy Joel, Sinatra, Motown oldies, and Madonna. Weddings
and Bat Mitzvahs are not occasions for expanding your musical
horizons, or those of your guests. And yet music provides an
important ritualistic function, and I harbor little doubt that
pop standards played or performed at these events have great
significance to all involved. Captain Beefheart's "Neon
Meate Dream of a Octafish" or Wesley Willis's "Shoot
Me in the Ass" just won't.do.
- - Yet Outsider Music has its place -- an intimate,
dimly lit enclave. Songs in the Key of Z attempts to air
out the dusty attics and damp cellars of the greater music community,
introducing some of the dizzy aunts and eccentric uncles about
whom your parents rarely.spoke.
- - Does this project contend that Outsiders are "better"
than their commercial.counterparts?
- - Of course.not.
- - Are Outsiders more."genuine"?
- - This is arguable, and hinges on the measure of
one's cynicism about packaging and marketing as practiced by
the music business. How sincere is Whitney Houston? Megaplatinum
stars like Garth Brooks and Mariah Carey are often bad-mouthed
by jaded sophisticates as "shallow" and "manufactured"
(though the same accusation is rarely leveled at a gangsta rapper
who moves 12 million units and is considered an authentic "voice
of the street"). Are we to presume that artists who have
achieved explosive commercial success did so by accident? That
there was no compelling aspiration on their part to become rich
- - No one honestly believes.that.
- - So -- no, I don't feel that Outsiderdom is the
exclusive provenance of.authenticity.
- - Nor is ambition solely characteristic of "inside"
musicians. Most Outsiders would love to be certified gold. Some
recognize the unlikelihood of such acclaim, others anticipate
triumphant breakthroughs any day, and still others seem totally
oblivious to the broader.public.
- - The difference rests in the "fingerprint"
factor of packaging and selling music. For those exploited through
conventional music channels, by the time their product reaches
the market, it will have been revised, remodeled, and re-coifed;
touched-up and tweaked; Photoshopped and focus-grouped. It's
- - Consciously commercial releases are targeted at
an imagined audience that must be second-guessed: "What
will appeal to them?," and "Will they buy this?"
If CDs acknowledged all the cubicle cattle who contribute to
production, the list would be endless, like the five minutes
of eye-blurring credits that scroll at the motion picture's.conclusion.
- - Most outsiders don't have a committee at their
disposal -- and many don't have much of a target audience. Autonomy
is often the prevailing modus, the process intensely solipsistic.
Outsider efforts thus reflect greater individual control over
the final creative contour. This is partly attributable to the
low-budget operations of many Outsiders, and in some cases to
their inability or unwillingness to cooperate with or trust anyone
but themselves. It's ironic that the less corporate money at
an artist's disposal, the more singular the.vision.
- - In this, the Outsider represents greater creative
purity, something closer to a natural state. Equally ironic,
because many Outsiders sound perfectly "unnatural."
Perhaps "visceral" would be a better adjective to describe
the enigmatic Outsider.process.
- - This inscrutability -- our inability to fully comprehend
the internal calculus of Outsider art -- partly explains its
charisma. Art under the microscope, art denuded, is art.demystified.
- - We can listen to Outsider Music. We can analyze,
appreciate and extol it. But we can never fully understand the
odd compulsions and stupefying inner visions of those who create.it.
- - Mainstream and Outsider perspectives can be contrasted
with two fundamental.questions.
- - To the mainstream artist, the question is: "Where
do you get your ideas?" The artist may have an answer, or
- - As regards the Outsider, the question -- never
asked directly, but always to a third party -- is: "What
- - This question holds a key to appreciating Outsider
Music. Because it's not really a question -- it's a statement
in disguise, implying, "The mind that created these unearthly
sounds is beyond my.grasp."
- - Hence, "What were they thinking?" can
probably never be.answered.
- - Perhaps we should dispense with the question altogether,
and just listen and.enjoy . . .