The “anti-power trio,” Lester Bangs called them. They were the Shaggs, sisters from remote Fremont, New Hampshire, who really didn’t want to be musicians, but their father insisted. In 1969, they cut an album called Philosophy of the World, which was like nothing else you’d heard before, and like nothing else I’ve heard since.
And now their story is coming to the stage, kinda sorta:
Featuring a book and lyrics by Joy Gregory, and music and lyrics by Gunnar Madsen, The Shaggs: Philosophy of the World chronicles the real-life story of sisters Dorothy Wiggin, known as Dot (vocals and lead guitar), Betty Wiggin (rhythm guitar) and Helen Wiggin (drums), who had no previous musical experience when their father, Austin, pulled them out of school and set them on a very crooked path to artistic immortality.
Oh, I wasn’t kidding about “nothing else you’ve heard before”: Philosophy of the World makes Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica sound like John freaking Tesh. (You can hear the title song here.) The late Cub Koda, who knew his rock and roll, described it this way:
The guilelessness that permeates these performances is simply amazing, making a virtue out of artlessness. There’s an innocence to these songs and their performances that’s both charming and unsettling. Hacked-at drumbeats, whacked-around chords, songs that seem to have little or no meter to them (“My Pal Foot Foot,” “Who Are Parents,” “That Little Sports Car,” “I’m So Happy When You’re Near” are must-hears) being played on out-of-tune, pawn-shop-quality guitars all converge, creating dissonance and beauty, chaos and tranquility, causing any listener coming to this music to rearrange any pre-existing notions about the relationships between talent, originality, and ability. There is no album you might own that sounds remotely like this one.
There might have been a second album — the girls went back into the studio in 1975 — but Austin Wiggin died that year, and the group disbanded. All those tracks eventually surfaced, of course. (You perhaps don’t want to hear their cover of “Paper Roses.”)
And after all:
You may love their music or you may not, but whatever you feel, at last you know you can listen to artists who are real. They will not change their music or style to meet the whims of a frustrated world. You should appreciate this because you know they are pure what more can you ask?
From the liner notes from that first LP. What more, indeed? (And yes, they have a Web site.)