Season 3 — Episode 301.1 August 7, 2022
Irwin Chusid and Outsider Music
Before we begin the begin here, we should first define what we mean by “outsider” as it relates to “art.” Broadly speaking, we can say that “Outsider art is art made by self-taught or supposedly naïve artists with typically little or no contact with the conventions of the art worlds.” This concept has been applied to all art mediums.
While it certainly existed in music, before Irwin Chusid’s 1996 Pulse magazine article “You Want Alternative?” it had never made its way into the musical vernacular.
We can therefore say, as Chusid does, that outsider music is music made by self-taught artists who “radiate an abundance of earnestness and passion. Most importantly, they betray an absence of pretense.”
The creative world leaves the door open for outsiders; it arguably beckons them. And one of the creative industry’s more welcome environments for outsiders is music.
That said, it’s not just musicians or artists who can be labeled “outsiders.”
Take the career of Irwin Chusid.
A calling that includes roles as a record producer, journalist, disc jockey, music historian, and his primary role as a self-described “landmark preservationist.” Chusid’s mission statement is to “find things on the scrapheap of history that I know don’t belong there and salvage them.”
On this first part of a two-part episode of Abandoned Albums, Irwin Chusid stops by Thunderlove Studio to talk to us about his career path. Which, if you’ve ever been to San Francisco, strongly resembles Lombard Street.
The get to where he is now is the very definition of a non-linear career trajectory.. And I’m not even sure trajectory is the right word.
Irwin was candid as he shared his story with Rob and me. And as you listen to this first part, you will notice that we were both dumbstruck as we listened with our mouths open. I’d include a picture here, but seeing both of us with our mouths wide open is a bit embarrassing.
Many business publications emphasize those idiotic “40 Under 40” or “30 Under 30” lists. I say fuck that. I’d much rather hear from someone who has tripped up, stumbled around, and searched to find themselves to discover their life’s work. Those are stories to learn from.
I’m not saying the young’un born on second or third base, who had a smooth educational path paved with ivy, doesn’t contribute or that they don’t have value. It’s just… well, different.
Irwin Chusid is to outsider music as Irving Azoff was to Atlantic Records. This is to say that Chusid is the outsider music mogul. He’s the guy behind the guy behind the artist… that you’ve probably never heard of.
However, you’re familiar with both Chusid and some of the artist’s work he champions.
You may not know who Raymond Scott is, but if you’re above a certain age, you may recall the animated series The Ren & Stimpy Show. Well, it’sChusid’s dogged championing of Scott’s music and push for its re-release that found its way into the earholes of The Ren & Stimpy Show Creator John Kricfalusi and Creative Director Bob Camp.
They, in turn, used Scott’s music in a number of recognizable episodes.
One of Cusid’s most notable projects was The Langley Schools Music Project. If you’ve never heard it, you should. Sure, on the surface, it sounds kinda silly… kids singing pop songs. But it’s so much more than that… it’s children discovering music. And that’s cool.
Think about how much cooler your school choir would’ve been if your music teacher had you singing “Space Oddity.”
Getting stuck in the cross-hairs of Robert Christgau (the Noam Chomsky of music reviews) will almost always yield convoluted wordplay. In his review of The Langley School Music Project, Christgau gave the album a C- rating but then said this:
Irwin Chusid is a tedious ideologue with a hustle. Turning that (the original recording) vinyl into a collectible CD is the latest way for him to remind the converted that artistic intention is reserved for the beholder in these postmodern times — especially if the beholder has a hustle.
Someday, one of those fancy Ivy league institutions, maybe Dartmouth even, will have a class to help decipher and deconstruct Christgau’s reviews.
Over the years, Chusid has not limited himself to outsider music. He is also a strong advocate for the overlooked work of innovative record cover artist/commercial illustrator Jim Flora.
In this first part of our two-parter with Irwin, he talks about Raymond Scott, Esquivel, and The Langley School Music Project. You may not know the artists Irwin Chusid is talking about, but it doesn’t matter.
Regardless of your profession, creative or not, insider or outsider, if you’re paying attention, Irwin reveals three character traits missing today — candor, willingness to share credit, and tenacity.
Episode two drops next week, Wednesday, August 17 @ 6p ET.