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April 06, 1995 - Image 24

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1995-04-06

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12 - The Michigan Daily - Weekend etc. - Thursday, April 4, 1995

The Shaggs are women of (un)deniable talent and fun

By Heather Phares
Daily Arts Editor
From the firstjangled, mangled off-
key chords to the last muffled vocals,
the Shaggs are easily seen as one of the
worst, most ludicrous excuses for a
band in the history of pop music. Why,
then, would such varied musical lumi-
naries as Bonnie Raitt, Jonathan
Richman, Eddie Vedder and the late
greats Frank Zappa and Kurt Cobain
think this band is one of the most im-
portant and influential? Though the
band is certainly not conventionally
talented, they certainly are originals
and complete musical iconoclasts. One
could even argue that the band, in their
own naive way, spawned their own

form of do-it-yourself, all-girl punk rock.
The Shaggs' history is just as odd
and fascinating as their music. The
three Wiggin sisters, all in their teens,
formed the Shaggs in the late '60s.
Their father, Austin Wiggin, took them
to a Massachusetts recording studio.
Though the recording engineer encour-
aged Wiggin to wait until the girls had
moreexperience, Wiggin insisted, say-
ing that he wanted to get the band on
tape "while they're hot." Then Wiggin
got a local businessman to release the
recording session as "The Shaggs' Phi-
losophy of the World" on the Third
World label. Unfortunately, the
entrepeneur took off with Wiggin's
money and the majority of the records.
But fortunately for record collec-
tors everywhere, the Shaggs' records
that actually survived were found and
championed by local and college radio
stations like WBCN in Boston, and
local musicians like Keith Spring, apart
of the New Rhythm and Blues Quartet.
From there, the Shaggs' cult status

swelled to include important musicians
and critics, all taken by the band's hon-
esty, creativity and freshness.
And literally all of their creative
output is on "The Shaggs." This reissue
includes aremixed and remastered ver-
sion of "Philosophy of the World," as
well as the band's second album "The
Shaggs' Own Thing" and outtakes from
the recording sessions of both albums.
The entire collection is remarkable, not
only for the unusual musicianship, but
also for the honesty, humor and poi-
gnancy in the lyrics. It's music for
teenagers, by teenagers and about teen-
Granted, the musical skills that one
expects from a rock band, like a prop-
erly tuned guitar or predictable chord
changes and rhythms, are not evident
in the Shaggs' work. But that's part of
the beauty of the band; like fellow
avant-popsters like Jad Fair or Daniel
Johnston, the Shaggs make their own
weird music because they have to. And
the genuine sweetness of their material

sets them apart from most other rock
bands. "I'm So Happy When You're
Near" is all about first love, as is "My
Companion." There are odes to sports
cars, Halloween and emotions, and
covers of such classic songs as "Paper
Roses" and "I Love." Also found is a
cover of the Carpenters' song "Yester-
day Once More," arguably the best
version of the song for its guileless,
non-saccharine innocence.
But there's more. One of their more
remarkable songs, "Philosophy Of the
World," goes "All the girls with long
hair want short hair/And all the girls
with short hair want long hair/All the
boys with cars want motorcycles/All
the boys with motorcycles want cars/
You can never please anybody in this
world" - a rare gem of hilarious phi-
losophy set to music. "Who Are Par-
ents" sings the praises of parents:
"Parents are the ones who care/Who
are parents?/Parents are the ones who
are always there." "You're Something
Special to Me" is a classic love song

with a hup-two-three-four chorus, and
"Shagg's Own Thing" which features
the legendary Austin Wiggin and the
band's brother, Bob, on vocals.
The actual sound of the music is a
bizarre mix of '50s soft-rock conven-
tions mixed with detuned guitars, off-
key bass and clunky drums that lag
along behind the natural beat of the
music. The voices of the Shaggs -
Dorothy, Betty and Rachel Wiggin -
are generally flat and monotonous, but
somehow the group turns all of these
shortcomings into a life-affirming me-
lange of experimentation and honesty.
The band is important for these traits, if
nothing else, in a world that generally
favors things slick and prepackaged;
they're not the easiest listening for
those faint of heart and weak of ear. But
as Jonathan Richman says of the Shaggs
in the well-crafted liner notes, "Forme,
one song about your real life is worth
ten 'professional' songs. The Shaggs
convince me that they're the real thing
when they sing."

Alvin and the Chipmunks don't got no stinkin noserings either

By Ted Watts
Daily Weekend Editor
Back in 1980, Excelsior Records
(a division of Pickwick International,
Inc.) released a platter with the title
"Chipmunk Punk." Now before you
get your mega-alternative diapers in a
bunch, it ain't like that Green Day
stuff. You see, there used to be this
marketing gimmick designed around
a song where a guy says "I asked the
witchdoctor..." and it turns out that
the witchdoctor said "Ooh ee ooh ahh
ahh ding dang walla walla bing bang"
in a really high and squeaky voice.
The guy who came up with this gim-
mick, Dave someone or other, real-
ized he could parlay the high squeaky
voice into a fortune if he played his
cards right in the kiddie market.
Thus was born the Chipmunks.
Frontmunk Alvin was the prototype
of the rock 'n' roll bad boy. He always
seemed to play his harmonica late at
night, causing Dave to yell "Alvin!!!"
This trait eventually evolved into rock

stars shattering their hotel rooms into
little pieces (or in the case of pre-
NKOTB New Kids on the Block, set-
ting the hotel room on fire and burn-
ing the room into little pieces).
So the Chipmunks, with their devil
may care attitude and penchant for
changing styles to fit whatever style
they came into contact with, would
seem unerringly headed to do a punk
(that's late '70s punk, not that current
load of bastards) album, right?
Not exactly. Sure, the album title
is spray painted onto the wall behind
the band on the front cover. Sure,
Alvin has a safety pin apparently
through his right nipple (chipmunks
do have nipples, don't they?). And
Alvin and Theodore do look like
they're about to knife each other while
Simon stares wide eyed and dialated
at the onlooker as if he were pumped
up on so many amphetamines that he
won't sleep until early next century.
But the proof needs to be in the musi-
cal pudding, and there's just very
little punk about the song selection.
The artists they cover simply don't
ring punk to various degrees. Blondie
could have a case made for them.
Queen a whole heap less so. But the
final straw that was driven through the
camel's eye like a needle? That would

be the presence of Billy Joel. The utter
concept of the piano man being associ-
ated with punk in any way, shape or
form is sufficient cause for any divine
being that may exist to take some cos-
mic fire and burn the earth to its foun-
dations or until the marketing people
get their heads straight and figure out
that soft piano pop 40 is not punk by
anyone's standards except for time trav-
elers from more than 100 years in the
Not that it isn't a fine album in
spite of its awfully misrepresenting
label. Any singer who can take the
plodding and dopily low vocals to
Tom Petty's "Refugee" and turn it
into high pitched kiddie fare surely
has some skill (or a skilled proaucer).
That's right, the eternally popular
"Uncle Tom Petty" (as he was called
on "It's Garry Shandling's Show") is

covered by the rodent trio. Their ver-
sion of Blondie's "Call Me" actually
sounds creepily like Debbie Harry as
voiced through a lower mammal an-
thropomorphized into a singing sen-
And then there's "My Sharona."
Quentin Tarantino couldn't get the
rights to the normal version of "My
Sharona" for the anal rape scene in
"Pulp Fiction" because the "Reality
Bites" people had already sewn up
that deal. One wonders if he tried to
acquire this version of the song.
There's a shuddering concept. Out-
side that context, though, the song
pretty much fails to bear any resem-
blance to anything more punk than one
of those Kiss dolls I recall one of my
childhood neighbors having. (Note to
the culturally impaired: Kiss spat stage
blood and is thus in no way, shape or

form punk; real punks spit real blood.)
Looking at the album in a concep-
tual way, however, the fact that they
cover such unpunk artists as Queen
and Billy Joel could be their
punkitude. Yeah, man, it's so out there
to cover these guys that it might be
punk to do it, like the Dickies cover-
ing "Nights in White Satin." Nah, that
can't be it. They just don't have the
sound or the outgoing energy for it.
Their energy is all tied up in internal
vibrations required to produce the sound
that issues from them.
Actually, there is a way to punk up
the album. First, get it on vinyl. Now
put the speed control to 45, spin that
platter and close your eyes to imagine
Alvin, Simon and Theodore belting
out "God Save the Queen" while try-
ing as hard as you can to forget "Ur-
ban Chipmunk."

You 'Might';
enjoy this
By Kirk Miller
Daily Books Editor
The humor in "Might" is so scath-
ing, so politically incorrect and so accu-
rate I won't repeat it for fear of getting
one of those weekly letters to the Daily
that claim we're racist or insensitive.
Nothing about "Might" is about hate;
it's about satire of all politics and pop,
"Might" hails from San Francisco
and is sort of the close cousin to "The
Nose" and other evil satire, low-bud-
get, low-circulation magazines. Be-
tween the rantings are some fasinating
analysis pieces by today's best writers
and some covert reporting that you'll
never see in the New York Times.
Each issue of this somewhat bi-
monthly/somewhat Gen X zine turns
simple items like the Table of Contents
and editor's page into a wacky little
parody. For example, if you follow the
contents page you'll see items like
"Women and Coffee: Trouble Brew-
ing?" and a giant picture explaining
scuba equipment, none of which has
anything to do with the actual contents
magazine continues with a scathing
"Corrections" page that includes such"
tasty items like "On page 111, in out
'Religious News Round-up,' we re-4
ported that Jesus Christ was aderanged
filthy proto-hippy. In fact, Jesus Christ
was the son of God. We regret the
error." Ouch.
Articles on Don Ho, Barbie and a'
roundup on "The Future" ("It's kind of
like right now, only different ...") are
less pointed and more in vein of light,
sardonic reading, but it's really the
harsher satire that deserves recogni-
tion. These are not the politically cor-
rect liberals or the dittohead conserva-
tive diatribes, just accurate and infor-
mative. Small pieces on the future of
gangs, the hypocrisy of Dianne
Feinstein, the general stupidity of Newt
Gingrich and swipes atGen X competi-
tors Swing magazine are informative.
and funny without going overboard into
meanness. Well, usually.
There's a good article on AIDS,"
some funny surreal barbs at Jesse Helms
in a list of 95 bad things that could
happen to him, fiction, cartoons, record
reviews (any magazine that describes
R.E.M. as "Fleetwood MacGrunge"'
can't be too bad) and assorted othet
kooky items. But it's their ability to
make fun of what they represent that,
works so well. Take "How to Give
Rock Criticism," which successfully
destroys the reputation of anyone who
has ever written a CD review by telling
how to do it and sound smart. Review-
ers are accurately labeled as people
who will "get nowhere near as much'
attention as the bands you're writing.
about, which is why reviewers can get
pretty snide, hold grudges and lord it
over the band . you'll have to accept'
the fact that you are a nerd ... at a_
gathering, arockcritic would huddle by"
the entertainment center making faces
at the music selection." Ouch.
Look, if this doesn't make you want
to rush out and spend four bucks instead
of blowing it on some new bagel place
catering to the Greek system's finest,

then at least know it has a great review
section on how-to sex tapes.
(Since this is my final magazine *
column, I leave you with Might's ex-
cerpt from the sex tape "Tantra Love":
"We swim in a sea of sex, yet we are

Get an ugly girl to watch 'Dogfight' with on a bet

MAKE $7,116

By Scott Plagenhoef
Daily Arts Writer
Early November 1963. The night
before shipping out for Vietnam a
group of Marines decide to end their
stay stateside by pooling their money
and having a dogfight. That is, having
a contest to see who can pick up the
ugliest girl; the biggest "dog." This is
how Birdlace (River Phoenix) and
Rose (Lili Taylor) meet.
Birdlace, portrayed by the late
Phoenix with the harrowing innocence
of a boy about to be forced into the
very masculine world of war, does
not exactly choose Rose because she
is the ugliest girl in the bar, but be-
cause she is the "worst" his awkward
self can do.
Rose, ironically a sensitive, poetic
child, undoubtedly a future member of

the Students for a Democratic Society
and/ornumerous anti-warrallies, agrees
to leave with him because she feels
sorry for him. He is about to go to war.
The magic of "Dogfight" is that it
does not follow the traditional narra-
tive pattern of this such film. That is,
Birdlace pretends to go along with the
date for the sake of the money, realizes
he may really be attracted to her, finally
tells her about the contest at end, she
leaves upset, he gets ready to leave for
Vietnam broken-hearted, she meets him
at dock or airstrip or whatever, prom-
ises she'll wait for him.
Nancy Savoka, who at the time
had only directed "True Love," the
misadventures at an Italian-American
wedding, keeps the film paced grace-
fully. She allows the film to be defined
by the characters and their discoveries


This is a clone. It does the same
summer job as everyone else. It
will never know the adventure of a
roadtrip with friends across the
country to work harder than it has
ever worked and make more money
than it has ever made before. It
will endure another summer of
boredom and repetition.
It is stuck.

about themselves and others rather than
the events of the film. Savoka's films
are excellent portraits of inner beauty
and celebrations of the sensitive, the
artistic side of humanity.
Therefore, no the climatic moment
is not the revealing of the contest. That
takes place in the middle of the film.
And when it does, proving Rose will
also be a future champion of women's
rights too, she is more upset at what he
and his more neanderthalic friends have
done to the other women picked up in
the dogfight.
Beneath all of the revelations these
characters are making about them-
selves bubbles metaphorically the rev-
elations the nation is about to make
about itself. For afew more weeks John
*Kennedy is still President. Vietnam is
still supposed to be a place where our
"advisors" are sent, not our soldiers.
The poetry and folk music read, lis-
tened to and recited by Rose has not yet
spurred a cohesive counterculture.
The '60s are incubating in a small
hotel room in which a confused and
frightened marine is trying unsuc-
cessfully to pick up the ugliest girl he
can find. He is deep down too kind-
hearted to truly hurt this fellow child,
yet beginning tomorrow he will be
sent out to kill. She sees him as lost
because of his fate, his going to war,
and this sentiment will continue as she
discovers the inadequacies in society
throughout the remainder of the de-
cade. In the endjust as they hadn't this
night, neither will win.

Get Unstuck.
Informational interviews being held:
TODAY ONLY. April 6th
Michigan Union Rm 1209
3pm and 5pm SHARP.
Bring a friend. The Southwestern Co.
If unable to attend call
Shelly Smith 971-2715

Also featuring:
2O* a wing
$3.25 pitchers Coors Light
$5.00 pitchers Long Island Ice Tea
1220 South University 665-7777
21 and over after 9pm

U a.

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M rt r

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Stop in Saturday, April8, and meet
the Doc Marten representative,

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