STOOGE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (9)

By: Mimi Lipson
October 26, 2023

One in a series of 25 enthusiastic posts, contributed by 25 HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of proto-punk records from the Sixties (1964–1973, in our periodization schema). Series edited by Josh Glenn. Also check out our proto-punk playlist (a work in progress) at Spotify.

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THE SHAGGS | “MY PAL FOOT FOOT” | 1969

The song begins with a drum solo, the soloist applying herself to one part of the kit at a time. High hat, snare, floor tom: each discovered and briefly explored. What does this thing do? Tap, tap. And this? Guitars come in thwanging low, uncertain of their welcome, each tuned to a different Martian key. Two girls begin a polyrhythmic jump-rope chant:

My pal’s name is Foot Foot.        He always likes to roam.
                                          [Foot Foot]

My pal’s name is Foot Foot.        I never find him home.
                                          [Foot Foot]

[If reading this on a mobile phone, please turn your screen horizontal in order to view the chant properly.]

I discovered the Shaggs’ album Philosophy of the World in 1984 while flipping through a record store bin on my lunch break. Pictured on the cover were three ungainly teenage girls in department-store hippie clothes, arranged in front of a theater curtain with Kmart instruments. Why was this record shrink-wrapped and on offer at Newbury Comics? It looked like it belonged in the 25-cent stack at Goodwill. I turned it over and read the notes.

The Shaggs love you, and love to perform for you. You may love their music or you may not, but whatever you feel, at last you know you can listen to artists who are real. They will not change their music or style to meet the whims of a frustrated world.

Below the notes is a drawing of an animal, half cat and half fish, with the caption “Where is Foot Foot?”

At last. A frustrated world. The bizarre combo of seduction and grievance compelled me. I bought it, played it, and cherished it with a devotion uncomplicated by irony. Or anyhow, my appreciation was more devoted than ironic. After all, I was a teenager myself.

The Shaggs were Helen, Dot, and Betty Wiggin: a sister act, audibly from southern New Hampshire. I came to understand that they had a cult following among the underground music cognoscenti, which explained the mystery of the LP’s appearance at Newbury Comics; it was a vanity pressing from 1969 that had been discovered, passed around the Boston area for a decade, and reissued in 1980 on NRBQ’s Rooster label.

It was possible for a long time to think of the Shaggs as irrepressible teens who just wanted to make music and didn’t let a lack of proficiency stop them. And then, in 1999, The New Yorker published a profile of the band by Susan Orlean that forever changed for me the way their records sound.

The Wiggin sisters did not form a band; they were conscripted into one by their father, who was equal parts bully and lunatic. Apparently, the idea came from a palm reading. They were taken out of school and forced to practice for hours every day, made to mortify themselves before their mocking peers at town dances. Playing music was a kind of prison labor for them. The Shaggs disbanded the minute their father died, and the sisters disappeared into anonymity the best they could without leaving their community. For a while after I read Orlean’s piece, Philosophy of the World was unlistenable to me — a snuff film in which the spirits of three teenage girls are squashed. Some of the songs (“Who Are Parents?”) are permanently spoiled. “My Pal Foot Foot,” though, somehow rises above, sui generis.

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STOOGE YOUR ENTHUSIASM: INTRODUCTION by Josh Glenn | Mandy Keifetz on The Trashmen’s SURFIN’ BIRD | Nicholas Rombes on Yoko Ono’s MOVE ON FAST | David Cantwell on ? and the Mysterians’ 96 TEARS | James Parker on The Modern Lovers’ SHE CRACKED | Lynn Peril on The Pleasure Seekers’ WHAT A WAY TO DIE | Lucy Sante on The Count Five’s PSYCHOTIC REACTION | Jonathan Lethem on The Monkees’ YOUR AUNTIE GRIZELDA | Adam McGovern on ELP’s BRAIN SALAD SURGERY | Mimi Lipson on The Shaggs’ MY PAL FOOT FOOT | Eric Weisbard on Frances Faye’s FRANCES AND HER FRIENDS | Annie Zaleski on Suzi Quatro’s CAN THE CAN | Carl Wilson on The Ugly Ducklings’ NOTHIN’ | Josh Glenn on Gillian Hill’s TUT, TUT, TUT, TUT… | Mike Watt on The Stooges’ SHAKE APPEAL | Peter Doyle on The Underdogs’ SITTING IN THE RAIN | Stephanie Burt on Pauline Oliveros’s III | Marc Weidenbaum on Ornette Coleman’s WE NOW INTERRUPT FOR A COMMERCIAL | Anthony Miller on Eno’s NEEDLES IN THE CAMEL’S EYE | Gordon Dahlquist on The Sonics’ STRYCHNINE | David Smay on The New York Dolls’ HUMAN BEING | Michael Grasso on the 13th Floor Elevators’ YOU’RE GONNA MISS ME | Holly Interlandi on Death’s ROCK’N’ROLL VICTIM | Elina Shatkin on Bobby Fuller’s I FOUGHT THE LAW | Brian Berger on The Mothers of Invention’s WHO ARE THE BRAIN POLICE? | Peggy Nelson on The Kingsmen’s LOUIE LOUIE.

MORE ENTHUSIASM at HILOBROW

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Categories

Enthusiasms, Pop Music, Punk