It’s Halloween, and I know for a fact that I’m not the only WXNA DJ with The Shaggs’ 1969 Philosophy of the World album as their seasonal soundtrack. The band of sisters from Fremont, NH may not have looked as witchy as Stevie Nicks or sounded as ghoulish as Sunn O)))– but Helen, Betty, Dot, and (sometimes) Rachel Wiggin possessed something much deeper beneath the surface. And isn’t that, after all, the spookiest place imaginable?
The Wiggin sisters were managed by their father, Austin Wiggin, who organized their concerts in Fremont and depleted his savings on their studio sessions. It can be said that perhaps their cult following began with him, who may have bordered on obsessive in his attempt to make his daughters rock stars. Since Philosophy of the World was released in 1969, record collectors and music heads across the world have fulfilled his dream by becoming similarly obsessed with and possessed by this record and this band. The Shaggs’ sound demands a response in this way– you can’t listen to their angular, artless rock n’roll without feeling something. There’s a declarative kind of joy that emanates from their sing-song melodies. The obtuse jangle of it all is beautiful, like the broad strokes of a de stijl painting.
It’s time for games
It’s time for fun
Not for just one
But for everyone
The jack-o-lanterns are all lit up
All the dummies are made and stuffed
By just looking you will see
It’s this time of year again
I’m not sure who made these dummies and what they’re stuffed with, but they sure sound terrifying! Even more terrifying to some might be the evidence of a recurring Shaggs theme– that something might be for everyone. In the title track of Philosophy of the World, they outline their worldview with a disarming simplicity:
Oh, the rich people want what the poor people’s got
And the poor people want what the rich people’s got
And the skinny people want what the fat people’s got
And the fat people want what the skinny people’s got
You can never please anybody in this world
It doesn’t matter what you do
It doesn’t matter what you say
There will always be
One who wants things the opposite way
In form and content, The Shaggs were champions of the everyday person– they didn’t have expensive equipment, glitzy outfits, or beautiful harmonies. They were sisters that sang about the universal struggle of obeying your parents, losing your cat, heartbreak, and God— but did so with an unnerving singularity. Sometimes they’d sing the melody, all at once, but each with different phrasing. What could be more witchy than that? These weren’t seances, perhaps, but spellbinding all the same in their dissonant, wide-eyed wonder.
- New Yorker article about The Shaggs
- Light in the Attic Podcast about The Shaggs
- Pitchfork write-up of a Shaggs concert
Shout, Sister, Shout!
Sundays 1-2 pm