Roundup" by Nick Catucci and Hillary Chute in the Oct. 25-31
Village Voice included the following account of the Oct. 21 Outsider
Music Panel at CMJ 2000, in New York City. Panelists included
Michelle Boule of the Incorrect Music Hour, Erik Lindgren of
Arf Arf Records, Miriam Linna of Norton Records, music researcher
Russell Scholl, and filmmaker Doug Stone. The panel was moderated
by Irwin Chusid, author of Songs in the Key of.Z.
October 25-31, 2000
"The Sound of the City: Outsider Providence" [excerpt]
Willis (Friday at Luna Lounge),
a formerly homeless 230-lb black schizophrenic who poked at a
"Demo"-set keyboard, held an extended head-butting
session with a fan and challenged "the demons" to the
nervous laughter of his Star Trek-ish audience. Songs in the
Key of Z compiler and "Outside Music" panel moderator
Irwin Chusid called him a "teddy bear," a typically
condescending term from this infantilizing assemblage of experts,
who described the artists as having "ambition exceeding
ability" and a "lack of self-awareness." (Miriam
Linna of Norton Records was the sole dissenter: The panel's "intellectualism
makes me vomit.") Better "teddy bear" than "freak"
and "imbecile," words used to describe CMJ performers
B.J. Snowden and Jandek. Erik Lindgren of Arf Arf Records confessed
it unnecessary to give elderly Jack Mundrian royalties or even
a copy of the comp in which his repertoire of real old rural
tunes appears, while filmmaker Doug Stone pointed out to an unaware
Chusid that Snowden was "very upset" to have her song
on his disc.
Note: The original (entire)
review about various CMJ events can be read at:
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Irwin Chusid replies:
TO: Editor, Village Voice
RE: Outsider Providence (October 25 - 31, 2000)
I'd like to correct and clarify
a number of contentious points raised in writers Nick Catucci
and Hillary Chute's coverage of the Outsider Music Panel at CMJ
("The Sound of the City: Outsider Providence," October
25 - 31, 2000).
Catucci and Chute say (of a
Wesley Willis club performance), "Willis..., a formerly
homeless 230-lb black schizophrenic ... challenged 'the demons'
to the nervous laughter of his Star Trek-ish audience."
Later in the article, I am accused as a panelist of calling Willis
"a 'teddy bear,' a typically condescending term."
The term "teddy bear"
implies gentle and non-threatening. It's an affectionate -- and
apt -- description for a 320-lb (not 230, maybe Catucci and Chute
are numerically dyslexic), 6'4", unkempt schizophrenic who,
despite his imposing mien, poses no physical threat to those
And don't you think referring to Willis fans -- those who support
his efforts and, in effect, put money in his pocket -- as "Star
Trek-ish" seems rather condescending?
The panel is then referred
to as "this infantilizing assemblage of experts who described
the artists as having 'ambition exceeding ability' and a 'lack
"Ambition exceeding ability"
was indeed uttered by one panelist. However, such sentiments
are a common perception about outsider musicians, whose works
are often denigrated as valueless. I can't speak for all the
panelists -- I respect diversity of opinion -- but my book Songs
in the Key of Z goes to great lengths to celebrate the work
of musicians who are often casually dismissed as "talentless"
As for "lack of self-awareness"
-- a seeming inability to culturally contextualize one's art
-- this is a common trait of so-called "outsiders"
across the artistic spectrum. Indeed, it is considered by many
authorities a defining characteristic.
Catucci and Chute quote: "'freak'
and 'imbecile,' words used to describe CMJ performers B.J. Snowden
Did someone on the panel specifically
refer to B.J. Snowden as a "freak"? That went right
past me, though I doubt anyone on the panel actually said it,
because there are few in the outsider realm who are more universally
adored than Snowden.
Furthermore, what's this about
"CMJ performer Jandek"? Did the Houston mystery man
actually stage his first-ever public performance -- and I missed
As for "imbecile"
applied to Jandek, the comment specifically referred to his one
recorded piano work, a 15-minute keyboard-bashing free-for-all
which was indeed described to me by panelist Erik Lindgren as
"imbecilic." I respect Erik's opinion in this regard.
Jandek might be an outsider, but he's no Monk.
Catucci and Chute then fault
Lindgren of Arf Arf Records for "confess[ing] it unnecessary
to give elderly Jack Mundrian [sic] royalties or even a copy
of the comp in which his repertoire of real old rural tunes appears."
The word "unnecessary"
is not in quotes, so I doubt Lindgren said it. Fact is, Mudurian
(note correct spelling) isn't getting royalties or a copy of
the CD because his current whereabouts are unknown. We don't
even know if he's still alive. He left the Duplex Nursing home
in 1987 when the facility closed, and as Jack's friend and chronicler
David Greenberger noted, "The trail just went cold."
As for Mudurian's repertoire
consisting of "real old rural tunes," Jack's 129-song
recorded medley consists mostly of such Tin Pan Alley standards
as "Heartaches," "Night and Day," and "Wish
Upon a Star." But perhaps the indie rock-hip Catucci and
Chute just don't know the difference.
Finally, Catucci and Chute
try to pit friend and co-panelist filmmaker Doug Stone against
me by saying he "pointed out to an unaware Chusid that Snowden
was 'very upset' to have her song on his disc."
First, with Stone's permission,
his response: "B.J. wasn't 'very' upset, just 'somewhat.'
I should have added that she's also incredibly happy and grateful
to be included in the book and the CD."
The context of Stone's remark was that Snowden felt the other
artists on the Songs in the Key of Z compilation CD were
inferior, and that she didn't like their songs. After the panel,
someone told me that Hasil Adkins considers The Legendary Stardust
Cowboy a "no-talent." Even among outsiders, there seems
to be disagreement about the value of one another's work.
Author, Songs in the Key of Z: The Curious Universe of Outsider
Music (A Cappella Books)