Friday, June 22, 2012

Meet the Shaggs!

The Shaggs were three New Hampshire sisters who were forced by their  father to form a band in the mid-sixties. They had no musical training but he bought them instruments and forced them to practice for hours a day in the basement. Determined to make a record, he ignored the recording engineer who suggested they needed more practice, and cut tracks for their album, “Philosophy of the World.”

The comments I’ve cut and pasted below from Amazon reviews and YouTube express my own reaction to their music. Stupefied at first listen, appalled---(the drummer is playing a completely different tempo!)---but then weirdly, wanting to hear them again. If this was merely bad music it would only be interesting the first time. There is a spark of life and an inner sisterly logic in this music that makes me happy. I like the Shaggs.

The third song I’ve posted, “My Cutie,” is actually a pretty little tune, and was recorded a few years later, after they had improved some. The song has a wistful sweetness that haunts me. The drum track is turned way down and is faintly audible on the right channel.

They have a cult following and their story has been documented, (see New Yorker article) and  even made into a play. The sisters, now grown, live modest lives not far from where they grew up. In interviews they seem both bewildered and tickled by their fans, but the extra money from CD sales helps.

Listen to "My Pal Foot Foot" and prepare to have your brain cells re-arranged:

Welcome to the alternate universe of The Shaggs! A band that goes against every concept of music.

It's like they have a whole different musical language and we don't speak it.

I can tell you exactly why these three women are a total musical abomination. _ If only I could tell you why I like them...

Listen once and you hear the craziest most backward beginner racket you could ever imagine repleat with flat harmonies, a propensity for playing the melody on guitar along with the vocal line itself and in the midst of rythmic stumbling like youve never heard (i think lester bangs said "a pegleg stumbling through a field of bald uniroyals")...

Forget the out-of-tune guitars, the drunkenly meandering tempo, and the nonsensical lyrics. Listen to the naïve, adolescent earnestness, unrestrained by self-doubt or the straightjacket of musical convention.

You do not so much listen to them as endure their total assault upon the concepts of melody, harmony, rhythm, and logic. Your first play-through will be a cathartic experience of sorts - disbelief turns into incredulity, incredulity mutates into speechlessness, speechlessness transforms into a deeply-rooted hatred of the life force within you, and before you know it your lower intestine is snaking up through your neck trying to strangle you. This is the music your dogs would make if they could strum guitars and speak English. And this is the beauty of The Shaggs - they are so mind-bendingly, death-defyingly horrible in every conceivable way that they grab your viscera, shove them through a turbocharged garbage disposal, and put them back inside of you in random order.

Still, there is something so compelling about the album. Hearing these girls attempt to play their individual instruments is mesmerizing. If you were to put three other musical novices in a room together and ask them to play their instruments, you'd get nothing more than bad noise. The Shaggs, however, managed to hit that magic point where their racket actually combined to create a unique and haunting sound.

The singing is appalling, the guitar work execrable, and the drumming laughable. Truly, truly rudimentary musicmaking. Yet...the stuff is strangely beguiling. As much as this is a CD to be endured as opposed to enjoyed, there are moments when these three musical hominoids actually manage to make some sort of sense, when the din of their music suddenly and surprisingly, for a few seconds, gives way to a strangely beautiful form of musical expression.

One listen to the song "My Pal Foot Foot" will no doubt send you clamoring for the stop button on your CD player. A second listen will have you hunting for a hammer to smash the CD into as many pieces as you can. A third listen will have you strangely desiring a fourth listen, and that fourth listen will have you fascinated as to how you have managed to make it this far.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Weird Cloud

    Rare sighting of a tapeworm cloud. *  Pictured here near Lawrence, the cloud stretched north for miles and stayed in one piece as it moved into the Kansas City area during rush hour, giving commuters abdominal discomfort and loss of appetite.

* Classification provided by the MSS. (Meteorological Society of Simone).  

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

My chat with the bike dude at the Frigid Creme

While in Ness, the girls and I were happy to find The Frigid Creme operating under its summer hours, though for some reason the girls took issue with the fact that the hamburger bun on the big outdoor sign was painted green, when this had never bothered them before.

The girls got cyclones ---ice cream mixed up with broken bits of candy bars, and I got my usual hot fudge sundae, which is not only delicious, but also challenging. Maintaining the right ratio of hot fudge to ice cream requires attention and skill.

 As we sat on a bench and ate the ice cream, our curiosity was piqued by the two bicycle riders hanging out in the parking lot. Their bikes were loaded with gear, so we knew here were more of those rogue bikers who were not doing the official BAK, but were going it alone.

One of the bikers was extra friendly and asked us if we were just passing through. Maybe he'd heard Annabelle questioning the green paint on the hamburger bun, something a local wasn't likely to do. After explaining that I had grown up there, and was visiting my mom, the biker told me he and his buddy were on their way to Denver, where his little sister lived. They had struck out from Jacksonville, Florida more than 30 days ago. Of course I had to point out that from here to Denver it was a steady incline. The biker, whose name was Colin, said he's a lot stronger now than when he started, so he was ready for it. They were going to ride to Pueblo, and Colorado Springs, and then go north to Denver from there. I envied them for that much, but didn't envy their mode of conveyance.  

Colin said their hardest ride so far had been in Missouri, going through the Ozarks. From Jacksonville they had crossed over to Pensacola, and then gone up to Mobile, and north from there.

During our conversation, one of the women working at the Frigid Creme came out and spoke to the biker, and he said, "Oh, I thought you were just going to whip something up for us."  No, it turned out he had to order what he wanted. The woman went back inside the Frigid Creme. Though I didn't ask about the exchange, Colin explained to me that when they told the woman about their trip, she had offered them a free meal. I observed that they must have to eat a lot of food to keep their energy up. "Oh yes," he said. "It takes a LOT. But I've actually gained weight."   

Sunday, June 10, 2012

A new coffee shop (sort of ) in Ness City.

When I'm back home and shopping in the town's only grocery store, a family-owned operation, I'm always interested to see signs that local tastes are changing. The store has limited space and a fairly narrow inventory, so when I saw that they now stock Silk soy milk and almond milk, I know they must have some demand for it.

Another change -- Ness now has a coffee shop. A little place called "Cuppa Joe."  It is an incremental change, because this is a coffee shop in the old school vein, meaning, their coffee is in a pot, and there is one flavor: dark. No lattes or fancy roasts. But the coffee is set up on a friendly help-yourself counter and in the morning they also have baked goods to go with.

I went there on Friday around noon to check it out. First thing I noticed was the pair of wrought iron tables and chairs out front. I don't know if Ness will ever be ready for an espresso machine, but little outdoor tables are a start.  Inside they were doing a brisk lunch business. People were seated at small booths and tables eating the meal of the day --barbecue chicken with sides. Each day they serve a different homemade meal. As I poured myself a cup of coffee, I saw they also had pie!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Combines and wheat trucks and bikers, oh my!

Remembering Dad, who passed away seventeen years ago today. So hard to believe it's been that long. We miss you, Dad.

This morning I drove Mom to Healzer's to have her car serviced. She had made an appointment, but when she dropped it off she was told, "It's harvest-time so it may take us awhile to get to it."
Like the spring that preceded it, Harvest has started early this year, and downtown Ness City is a hive. Seems every other minute some big trailer is rolling through the four-way stop carrying combine blades, grain carts, etc..

Driving from Ness to Larned and back on Wednesday and Thursday, for mom's cataract business, I saw more Oversized Loads than I could count. On Wednesday we got stuck for ten miles behind a combine that was weaving all over the road. On Thursday we got stuck behind a crew of custom cutters, a convey of three combines and a semi. We passed fields where cutting was underway, and where ancient-looking wheat trucks sat waiting for another load.

As if the harvest traffic wasn't enough, the annual migration of the summer bikers has begun. We saw them struggling against the wind on eastbound 96, looking out of place on their flimsy bicycles next to the huge farm implements. The dude with the long, white hair and shiny red jersey I saw taking a break in Rush Center seemed perfectly at ease as he coasted into a vacant lot, but stood out like a wild animal that had strayed from its natural habitat. Most of the bikers we saw rode alone, miles separating him or her from the next biker. Scattered as they were, they each seemed an anomly on the rural landscape, pedaling to nowhere for no apparent reason.

I assumed that these were BAKers, and that their larger purpose was to complete the  Bike Across Kansas route, but as it turns out, the official BAK route doesn't follow highway 96 this year as it has in the past. This year BAKers are riding across the northernmost portion of the state. These bikers we have out here are rogue bikers.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

I think aliens were visiting Cedar Bluff Dam last night. I turned to the Cedar Bluff Lake cam on the TV last night, and it was completely dark, except for two egg-shaped lights swirling above the lake. This was like at 2:00 in the morning, which I guess is when they show up.

I'm going to check again tonight to see if they come back.