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Music / The Shaggs

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"Oh, the rich people want what the poor people's got
And the poor people want what the rich people's got
And the skinny people want what the fat people's got
And the fat people want what the skinny people's got
You can never please anybody in this world!"
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The mother of a young Austin Wiggin, Jr. had three visions: he would marry a strawberry blonde woman, he would have two sons after she passed away, and his daughters would one day form a pop group. The first two came true. A determined Austin set out to make that third vision a reality.

Austin had four daughters: Helen, Dorothy, Betty, and Rachel. He withdrew them from school, bought them instruments, set them up with music and voice lessons, and had them practice their instruments for a good five years straight. Satisfied with their progress, Austin booked them to play on Saturday nights at the town hall in their hometown of Fremont, New Hampshire — except they weren't very good at all, and their ineptitude only resulted in other kids picking on them. Undeterred, Austin booked a single day at the Fleetwood Recordings studio, where it became abundantly clear to the befuddled engineer that the girls weren't ready to record. Austin reportedly replied, "I want to get them while they're hot." The end result, such as it is, was named Philosophy of the World.

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The Shaggs had an unusual approach to making pop music. Not only did their instruments sound blatantly out of tune, but their limited ability caused each member's individual performance to seemingly follow its own time signature. Each individual note matched up to every syllable they sang, and in general, it all added up to what the average person would hear as a lot of disorganized sound. Despite all this, the band has developed a small cult following and even some good reviews over the years (amongst them being from no less than Lester Bangs, Kurt Cobain and Frank Zappa), with many praising the honesty and humanism of their lyrical content. Nowadays they are seen as a prime example of Outsider Music.

The band did have a second recording session in 1975, where among other songs, they did a cover of "Yesterday Once More" by the Carpenters. The sessions never materialized into a full album, as the sessions — and the band itself — were aborted after Austin Wiggin passed away from a heart attack.

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Helen, the drummer, took her own life in 2006. An off-Broadway musical about their life was created and ran in in New York City in the early 2010s. Dot Wiggin released a solo album on Jello Biafra's Alternative Tentacles label in 2013. In 2015, she was the opening act for Neutral Milk Hotel's reunion tour; her band played both her new, straightforward material and songs from Philosophy of the World, played exactly as they were on the album (which is no mean feat, because doing that on purpose is extraordinarily complicated). In 2017, the surviving members of the Shaggs — Dot, Betty, and Rachel — reunited at Wilco's Solid Sound Festival.

In October of 2018, it was announced that there would be a movie based off the Shaggs' story, starring Elsie Fisher of Eighth Grade fame. Against all odds (and we mean all odds), a half-century after Philosophy of the World was released, the Shaggs' legacy lives on.


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Alternative Title(s): Philosophy Of The World

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