In the late sixties a Fremont, NH woman made three predictions regarding her son Austin Wigin: That he would marry a strawberry blonde, that he would have two sons she would not live to see, and that his three daughters would play in a band.
After the first two premonitions came true, Austin was determined to aid the last one. He bought his daughters instruments, made weekly trips to Manchester for music lessons, and made them practice everyday. Soon they were playing gigs every Saturday night at the Fremont Town Hall as Austin dubbed his musical daughters The Shaggs for their shaggy hairdos.
A year later they trekked to a recording studio in Revere, MA and laid down 12 tracks that would be released as Philosophy of the World. The sound engineer promised 1000 copies of the album but somehow, only 100 where distributed throughout local DJ’s and events with little fanfare.
They eventually returned to the studio to record a few more tracks but by then the band was slowing down. The drummer, Helen Wigin, eloped at 28 years old much to their fathers Austins dismay. The other Wigin sisters went about their lives as well. Then tragically, Austin suffered a heart attack and passed away in 1975. The Shaggs were finished.
Throughout the years, those 100 albums made its way into the hands of collectors and purists and in the late 70’s a Boston radio station played a few songs. Philosophy of the World was re-released on vinyl in 1980, eight years later both the band’s recording sessions were combined on the self titled CD The Shaggs. Frank Zappa heralded the Shaggs as being “Better than the Beatles” which later became the name to a tribute album, and Rolling Stone magazine declared their album one of the 100 most influential alternative releases of all time.
Their music is off tempo, off key and has a very amateur arrangement with simple and often predictable lyrics. But listen to it all the way through, then listen to it again, then again, and something begins to happen. The story of Dot, Helen, and Betty starts to come through. Saturday nights at the Fremont Town Hall comes through. Hours of practice from the basement of their Fremont home comes through. The innocence, the simplicity, and the cliché philosophy comes through. Austins perseverance comes through.
This is a textbook example of what we know today as the outsider music genre. Music that follows no rules, that sets no presidence or no expectations. Music that doesn’t top the charts, or sell hit records, or play on commercials, or make it to many if any MP3 players. But give it a chance, and it will make it to your soul.