[Jandek] re: conclusions

Ultimos Anos ultimosanos at gmail.com
Wed Oct 11 07:16:16 PDT 2006

Please:  Having a different opinion about something and raising a question
that challenges a convention does not automatically make someone "angry."  I
would like to continue to discuss the label "outsider music" especially as
applied to Corwood product, but please don't mistake my participation to be
reactionary.  I simply find it curious.

Yuval noted that the term began with an association with mental illness, and
argued that the term progressed so that that association has become
irrelevant.  I wonder, though, if it really is.  Among what group of people
is that association irrelevant.  Given that most of the English-speaking
world probably hasn't heard the term before, what is someone new to the term
likely to think given that description and that people who actually do have
mental illness or developmental disabilities are often cited as prototypical
examples of the style?

I like Yuval's description of the term's "current meaning" much more, but
even speaking as someone with wide and long pursued musical interests, that
term never came to mean that to me, and I never imagined the term was used
to connote that until you just said so... which is not to say one meaning is
"correct" but just that it doesn't clearly get all of that across to
everyone, even people willing to take a second and third look at it.

Ian says it's not accurate but that basically no classifications are, and we
agree on that point.  But attaches that to "useful as a reference point" yet
it's only a reference point for "not classifiable."  Not classifiable might
be a better verbal reference point, then.  And it it's just all meaningless
reference points, why not just call it 101107388?

Part of the point I want to raise is that the term "outsider music" says
nothing at all about the music.  Instead, it tries to refer back to the
person who made it, making an assumption that they are an "outsider" since
the music is, presumably, not appreciated by an undefined percentage of the
population, impossibly to classify by conventional means, etc.  "They must
be an outsider if they make music like that" seems to be an assumption
behind the term.

But part of what is so remarkable about Corwood product, is that the creator
of the music could be anyone.  You can't say concretely that those people
are outsiders, just because they created something beyond definition and
complete capture in a term that describes what other people had done.  That
simply makes it "creative" or "original" (although, those terms have similar
problems, it seems a bit more accurate and relevant to describing the music
rather than trying to describe the people who made it, which I think clearly
Corwood has tried to avoid).

Part of the question is, why classify anything?  If, like Corwood product,
it's worth talking about, why can't we talk about it without trying to
generalize?  It's as if there's a primitive scientific impulse we all feel
to extrapolate and try to normalize something by labelling it, rather than
going further inside the experience.  By labelling it outsider, we establish
a certain distance from it, as if we have some fascination with it, but feel
the need to distinguish it from what can be called a proper, normal
experience.  There's a sort of guilt implied in the term.

The term "outsider music" is so vague because it doesn't refer to to music
and what is an outsider is a completely reference-dependent attribution.
For example, I could say that I feel "Matchbox 20" is "outsider music."  And
to me, it is, even more so than Corwood industries products.  I really don't
understand that music, why someone would want to make it.  I don't get where
it comes from.  I can't get any glimpse into the soul of the persons behind
it.  To me they are truly outsiders, we are separate, they live in their
universe, and I live in mine.

I am a total insider to my universe, from this perspective, and so is
everyone to theirs.  everything else is to some degree an outsider.  When I
hear Corwood and look at what they've done, it doesn't look very outsider
from my perspective.  I hear a lot of experiences that I have had, it even
reminds me of things I recorded (well before I came across them or any
'outsider music').  It certainly sounds a lot more human and understandable
than Matchbox 20 or umpteen other products.  I'm not saying this to be
elitist... there are plenty of more widely liked musicians that I
appreciate, and lots of unliked ones that I don't.  But describing it as
outsider music seems to presume that people aren't going to be able to
connect to it as something that makes sense in their universe.  I can't
really classify the music either, nor do I want to, but I don't think it's
outsider, in fact quite the opposite.  It does come from a unique place, but
once you've started venturing to those places, or if you've been there
before yourself, it isn't outside, it's inside.  Why set up a term that
presumes listener can't have an immediate connection to it?

In the end, you call it whatever you like.  I call it 101105674.  If you
call it outsider music, fine, but it seems that's become a norm.  I just
wanted people to think a little about what it means to label something or
someone in a particular way.  Once something becomes a convention we have a
way of forgetting to think about what we are saying.

P.S. Stacey, sorry you felt I was angry at you.  It really has nothing to do
with you in particular, it's been on my mind for a long time and this
randomly presented an opening to discuss it.  I think you're just peachy.
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