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Outsider Music

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Book cover of Irwin Chusid's book Songs In The Key Of Z about the genre.

Ever heard music that is So Bad, It's Good? Well, some amateurs happen to be quite interesting musicians.

Outsider music is music "sung" and "played" by amateurs who obviously are far removed from being professional talents. They sing off-key, can't carry a tune, can't play their instruments, are unable to read music or write bizarre, sometimes Painful Rhyme lyrics without any sense of song structure. To most people these musicians are basically something to laugh at, but fans of outsider music look beyond the cheap and easy laugh. As it so happens many of these bad musicians have a refreshing unconventional sound, far removed from the monotone, sterile and corporate controlled hits you hear in the Top 40. If they were musicians who consciously wrote cacophonic or otherwise bizarre music they would probably be hailed as innovators. The thing however is that these amateur musicians are actually more genuine and heartfelt in making creative and original music than professional musicians who try to sound different, but consciously never go so far that they would alienate their audience completely. Author Irwin Chusid of Songs In The Key Of "Z": The Curious Universe Of Outsider Music makes a clear distinction between these so-called consciously odd professional artists like Frank Zappa, Velvet Underground and/or The Sex Pistols and musicians who are clearly not aware how eccentric and unique they sound, like Tiny Tim, Syd Barrett and Daniel Johnston. The latter category are the real "outsiders".


"Outsider music" has a long history with predecessors such as The Cherry Sisters and Florence Foster Jenkins, but as a genre it only started to get audience interest from the end of the 1960s on, with examples like Wild Man Fischer, The Shaggs and the only one who ever managed to get a hit in the charts: Tiny Tim. By the 1990s it practically became its own genre, with author Irwin Chusid writing an interesting analysis about it in the book Songs in the Key of Z, where he devoted several chapters to artists deemed outsider musicians. Some of them are mentally unstable, some plain eccentric, others merely naïve and innocent, some very social like Tiny Tim, others don't want to see anyone, like Jandek, but they all share an adventurous, authentic and unusual style of music.

For more information check out Irwin Chusid's book Songs In The Key Of "Z": The Curious Universe of Outsider Music. Chusid also has a Compilation Album with music by all these artists than can be ordered online.


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