Agony Shorthand

Thursday, January 15, 2004
VARIOUS ARTISTS : “ONLY IN AMERICA, VOLUME 2” CD….Never saw the first one, but DP was kind (or misanthropic) enough to let me roast up his copy of this second collection of 1960s-70s outsider music, song poems and general delusions of grandeur. I also never took the time to read through the 24-page booklet that came with it, so I’m at a loss to explain just how these “ONLY IN AMERICA” cornballs came into existence. I just know it hurts. Yet I’m willing to give some props to this Arf Arf collection beyond pure novelty/kitsch value; it is important for one to have heard this collection to grasp the degree of delusion that spread across this land during the everyone-can-be-a-recording-star era of the 1960s and me-decade 70s. Bins at thrift stores across the country only tell a part of this sordid tale; this collection reveals a great deal more. And parts of it are indeed quite funny, if you’re into laughing, as I am.

Standouts spread amongst the 29 groaners are the majestic song poem “Emily’s Illness” by NORA GUTHRIE, which I understand got a big write-up in an UGLY THINGS that I’m too lazy to go into the boxes in my garage to research. The song concerns a music-loving young woman and her terminal disease, and her hopes that when she dies, her blood will be let onto a page, whereupon it will magically reassemble into musical notes and instruction. Emily hopes and wishes that a friend will then gather these sheets and play her masterwork “at Carnegie Hall” in her name, something which is obviously easier said than done. But I certainly wouldn’t be the one to tell Emily how implausible this is; would you?

Another knockout is the debacle that is the LUCKY CHARMS’ live-on-local-radio rendition of “Wipeout” – imagine the worst pimple-faced teenage garage band finagling their way onto the radio because one of their dads was the station’s accountant. Now imagine them all playing their instruments lefthanded and blindfolded. It’s that bad. There’s also a great “Little Deuce Coupe” by much-heralded Canadians the LANGLEY SCHOOLS MUSIC PROJECT, and a flat-out intolerable instrumental from the SACRAMENTO CITY COLLEGE STAGE BAND called – wait for it – “LSD ‘67”. And 25 more! This outsider genre is a whole research project unto itself, one that I’m not inclined to get too deeply involved with; generally I prefer to like the music I listen to. But dipping a toe in from time to time can’t hurt, and this is a pretty comprehensive way to do so and get it out of the way for a couple years. (Oh, and if you want a deep look into some truly amazing related record covers, spending a couple of hours on the SHOW AND TELL MUSIC web site is an exceptionally fine use of your valuable time).