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Key of Z [May. 25th, 2004|12:33 pm]
[Current Mood |artisticartistic]
[Current Music |"Stout-Hearted Men," by "Shooby" Taylor]

Title: Songs In The Key Of Z: The Curious Universe Of Outsider Music
Author: Irwin Chusid, 2000
Genre: Biography
Rating: 8 1/2 out of 10

If you want to read about Aerosmith, you pick up a copy of Billboard. Johnny Cash? Try any issue of Rolling Stone. Or if it's Justin Timberlake you're looking for, there's a plethora of materials on any Bargain Basement book table.

But what if you're in search of information on someone like, say, Wesley Willis (the rotund, schizophrenic lyricist behind such melodies as "I Kicked The Mighty Thor's Ass" and "Rock 'N' Roll McDonald's")? Or his low-key counterpart, Daniel Johnston (of "Walking the Cow" fame)? How about the songstress behind "In Canada," B.J. Snowden?

In that case, have you even heard of any of these artists? Irwin Chusid, the author of Songs in the Key of Z, thinks that you should.

Each of the artists profiled in this unique book qualifies as an "Outsider Musician" in the sense that they never fit into the genre of Popular Music - and in all likelihood, never will. Each artist, inspired by "damaged DNA, alien abduction, drug fry, demonic possession, or simply sheer obliviousness," is sincere in his or her own version of sonic expression. And to be sure, they each have back histories far more intriguing than anyone in the common musical market.

Chusid hasn't compiled a catch-all discography of virtual unknowns with this book. The very definition of "outsider musician" prevents one from knowing all of the musical miscreants out there. And yet, by his diverse selection, the reader feels a certain intimate involvement with the subjects detailed within. From the unknown recluse Jandek to the decline of Tiny Tim and Syd Barrett, Key of Z never fails to provide.

The book's single downfalling is the somewhat dated nature of the material contained therein. Yet, Chusid has provided a Website which provides follow-up information (especially touching are the journal entries on the rediscovery of William "Shooby" Taylor, the "Scat man," by Chusid in 2002).

With two companion CDs (to be had independently of the book), Songs in the Key of Z provides a personal, often intense, look into the lives of people whom otherwise you'd likely never hear of. This book is brimming with humanity and raw talent, unfettered by formal training of any kind.