It’s outsider music’s Greatest Story Ever Told: at a visit to a palm reader, the mother of Austin Wiggin, Jr. was told that her son would someday marry a woman with strawberry blonde hair, have two sons after she (the mother herself, not the strawberry blonde) died, and that his daughters would form a celebrated band. Once the first two things actually came to pass, Austin hustled (or strong-armed, to hear some tell it) his teenaged girls Dot, Betty, and Helen into a band called The Shaggs, despite their showing little prior interest in or aptitude for music performance. Much money was spent on instrument lessons, voice coaching, recording studio fees, and pressing, all to realize The Shaggs’ wholly incompetent 1969 debut album, Philosophy Of The World.
This doesn’t happen very often, so when it does, it’s a thing to cherish. Sometimes, artists who have no idea what they’re doing and no conventional artistic gifts can still make profound, enduring and enchanting work, simply by being themselves.
Thanks to the cheerleading of folks like NRBQ, Frank Zappa, and Dr. Demento, Philosophy became a phenomenon years after its very quiet release (the label owner absconded with all but 100 copies). If you’ve somehow missed out on it, understand that this great album is in no typically understood sense a good album. Instruments and lyrics careen around each other, lurch into each other, fracture each other, and generally do everything except sync up. And yet, the Wiggin sisters’ ineffable and completely unaffected cheer and charm elevate it tremendously. Certainly, plenty of people listen to it and hear nothing more than the clatter of inept kids, and I will not deign here to invalidate that viewpoint. But those of us who hear magic in it - myself ardently included - swear by that album. Zappa famously hailed The Shaggs as “Better Than the Beatles,” and one can hardly imagine most of the K Records roster existing without them. The entire album is here:
Or if you don’t have a half hour to spare, just check out the representative (and legendary) single that launched a thousand ‘90s emo-chick tattoos, “My Pal Foot Foot.”
When their father died in 1975, The Shaggs called it quits, but now, 38 years later, The Dot Wiggin Band has emerged with a new album, Ready! Get! Go!, on the Alternative Tentacles label. The musicianship - to answer what must surely be the first question to cross a lot of minds - is perfectly competent. Seasoned players like Jesse Krakow and Laura Cromwell appear throughout, but they keep things much, much simpler here than in the work they’re otherwise known for, allowing Wiggin’s undiminished charm to show through. The album includes previously unrecorded Shaggs songs “Banana Bike” and “The Fella With A Happy Heart” along with new material, and culminates with a fantastic cover of Skeeter Davis’ “The End of the World.”
The long and the short of it all is that maybe The Shaggs weren’t just some flukey accident of naive dumb luck; if you liked them, there is so much to enjoy in Ready! Get! Go! that one has to be open to the likelihood that this is simply what Dot Wiggin sounds like, that she essentially possesses a tremendous uncontrived appeal. As she’s been a relatively anonymous wife and mother for decades now, this is not a comeback anyone would have expected, but it is most welcome.
This too-brief promotional documentary has some great clips and sound bites from the people involved in bringing Ready! Get! Go! to fruition. Enjoy.