The Shaggs - Destiny and Rock & Roll
better than the Beatles"
- Frank Zappa
Austin Wiggin Jr.'s mother was an amateur palm reader. When he was young, his mother read his palm and told him some very specific information about his future. She informed him that he would meet and marry a strawberry blond woman. This proved to be true. She told him that he would have two sons but that she would not live long enough to see them. This also proved to be true. Lastly Austin's mother told him that he would have daughters and that they would form a popular band and become world famous. Austin was determined to make his mother's last prediction come to pass.
In 1968, Austin withdrew his daughters Dot, Betty & Helen from school so they could practice their music and he didn't want them mixing with outsiders. Austin had a strict schedule for them; practice their music all day, perform for him in the evening and do calisthenics (or more practice) before bed. Even though the girls didn't feel they were yet ready to perform, their father thought otherwise. He booked them in shows at the town hall in their town of Fremont, New Hampshire. Teens kept coming to the shows. Some may have been there just to make fun of the band, but most were just glad of having something to do in Fremont.
"My father felt that if we were taking both lessons and going to high school that we would have to drop one or the other, so we took home courses all through high school with American School in Chicago, through the mail. All three of us got out diplomas that way. We liked doing it that way because we did it on our own time, and that way we had time for our music as well. The only thing we missed was the social part of it." - Dot Wiggins
Although the girls still didn't feel they were ready, their father had a different opinion. He wanted to get them recorded, "while they were still hot." So in 1969 the girls recorded their album Philosophy Of The World. All songs were written and arranged by Dot Wiggin. Although they were promised 1,000 copies of the album for their money, the family only received 100. The other albums and their money disappeared along with the studio owner.
The only way you are really going to learn about The Shaggs is to listen to them. The music is truly indescribable. I would venture to say that unless you've heard this band before, the sound will be completely new to you. It is true that many people will consider it terrible and discordant. I've heard people say that The Shaggs can't even find or keep a beat. A Rolling Stone critic wrote, "like a lobotomized Trapp Family Singers."
Others (myself included) find something else in this music. There is an innocence to The Shaggs. There is also an odd sort of "internal logic" to their sound. True, they do not play their instruments "correctly," but they found their own way to make music. It is not surprising that Kurt Cobain listed Philosophy Of The World at #5 in his list of favorite albums of all time.
"It's so obviously the real thing." - Kurt Cobain
At the time the album was released it made no money for the girls. In 1980 the band NRBQ, who were fans of the record, convinced their record company to re-issue the album. Rolling Stone magazine named it the "Comeback Of The Year." The Shaggs' Philosophy Of The World was discovered by a lot of people. Some thought of it as a joke (like Mrs. Miller or Rebecca Black) in which the joke is nothing more than that they sound horrible. But many became fans of that indefinable quality (charm?) that The Shaggs have. A tribute album, Better Than The Beatles was released in 2001. Dot Wiggin returned to the studio and released a new album Ready! Get! Go! on Alternative Tentacles Records in 2013.
The Shaggs - they didn't want to be pop stars, but fate gave them a fame that belongs to them - and them alone.
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