If I have a relaxed deadline, sometimes I like to have something on in the background but I’m particular about what I listen to. Top 40 won’t do it because it doesn’t inspire anything. Still, it needs to be more interesting than fan noise. So I’ve ended up with an odd collection of music that does that for me. They span a few generations and genres but they’re all made by interesting people who made art they wanted (or were compelled) to make.
I’ll list a few highlights below, but I’ve also shared the entire “Outsider musicians” playlist on Spotify. If you have suggestions for this compilation, please message me.
- Jandek has independently produced his music in Houston for several decades and is said to be one of the most elusive outsider musicians, preferring his musical “product” to speak for itself. Those products are eerily dissonant tunes dripping with undertones of folk and blues.
- Wesley Willis If you spent some time in the 90s punk scene, you’ve heard of Willis. He got a lot of play on Rice Radio and beyond for his absurd and quotable lyrics. Willis’ music was a coping mechanism for his schizophrenia and said he wrote songs to “gross-out” the demons he imagined so that they would leave him alone.
- Bingo Gazingo was an elderly Queens NY musician of tireless self-promotion. He sang and yelled his rhythmic spoken-word songs on the streets and anywhere people would listen. Lyrics were hilarious and based on current events or happenings in his life. (He is the man in the cover photo for the Spotify album.)
- Jad Fair is a visual artist and musician who started writing and playing lo-fi alternative music in the grunge-influential band Half Japanese in 1975. Since then he’s continued to inspire and work with a wide range of musicians.
- Erik Satie was a Parisian composer experimenting in the late 1880s. Although he influenced greats like Debussy and Ravel he never gained success for himself. He produced a concert performance with Picaso and other great artists that caused a riot and landed him in jail with charges of “cultural anarchy”. Never considering himself a composer, he insisted he was a “phonometrographer” with science as the dominating factor in his creations.
- T. Valentine was an R&B amature and playwright in Chicago in the 60s. He wrote the cult classic “Hello Lucille are you a lesbian” and distributed it widely to get back at his wife for leaving him for another man. He also wrote a play called “The Vampire” which he performed in east side clubs for a run of three years until he “ran out of actresses who could really scream”.
Many of these artists are also featured in a great 2003 documentary titled “Outsiders”.