If you define it as music that is recorded not for popular consumption, then that too is not exactly correct, since Outsider musicians often dream (perhaps delusionally) of mainstream success. If Outsider music is defined in relation to Outsider Art, then it has to be put in the context of music that is created by people who are mentally imbalanced (for that is what Outsider Art was originally meant to define: the artwork made by asylum patients).
Milty F Gulbicki, whose musical repertoire was recorded by the activities director at the Texas Nursing Home where he was a resident, is surely a classic example of this definition. His cassette only release, ‘Crayons Sure Taste Good To Me’, is a classic of the Outsider Music genre and would have surely reached a wider audience were it not for the fact that Milty destroyed all the existing copies by tearing-up the spools and made a ‘birds nest’ out of them, in which he lived until his untimely death in 1974 from a bizarre stork mating ritual.
But not all Outsider musicians are asylum patients. Some seem more like novelty acts, but at the same time it is also wrong to define Outsider musicians as simply novelty acts because Outsider musicians are not necessarily “in” on the joke, so to speak. Before violinist Hopeton Jayhawk had his breakdown he spoke of his music as, ‘Wandering across so many applique meadows and quilted shores, under skies crisp with rhinestone shooting stars. Feeding lambs and dinosaurs to serpents and horses. Christian fish, Buddhist cats and real ducks braced for a deluge of modish Jesus worship and hippie fundamentalism. Jagged bands of mountains and cold skies, that purely American assemblage of bottlecaps, broken glass, soft polyester filled animal forms and my violin. That is certainly not a novelty.’
The only undeniable unifying aspect of Outsider music is its genuine expression of feelings, ideas, emotions, etc., that can’t be effectively expressed otherwise.
There have been many outsider musicians, both prominent and obscure who have been profiled in the past, but none as obscure and eccentric as the recently re-discovered, Hurston Krebs. Long thought to have disappeared into the vapour of history, his strange life story is slowly beginning to unravel once more. The only thing Krebs, a self-taught artist, had in common with other outsider musicians was an utter lack of conventional tunefulness and an overabundance of earnestness and passion, inventiveness and originality.
Saracen Records have just released a 12” EP of Krebs’ only known recorded output. The ‘Streaky, Spotted, Speckled and Spattered’ EP which, if truth be told, doesn’t offer much distinction between the “serious” avant-garde and the merely insane and talentless, but it is still worth buying.
‘Roly- Poly Looseness’ kicks off the EP with Krebs equating the bleakness of his home town Tuscaloosa, Alabama with the virility of beavers; the constriction of his jeans with a certain manifest destiny in his heart and a certain snobbishness with the folklore scene of Ebenezer Cemetery. All underpinned with Hurston’s grim Teutonic utterances. The music is assured, disturbed, and inaccessible.
‘Labyrinthine Woven Concerns’ follows with all the Byronic dandyism of the Romantic period for the first 30 seconds until Krebs begins to play and sing. He touches on the strictest rules of the Victorian bourgeoisie, concerning how many rings and what sort of shirt studs could be worn by a gentleman at what hour of the day, and what colour his gloves should be. Clearly this all mattered to Krebs. His encroaching singing ‘style’ a counterpoint to the sound effects of a gurgling brook. By the end of the song Krebs sounds like he is drowning in that very gurgling brook.
The final song on the EP, ‘Fools and Puppets’ is Krebs’ homage to the blackmailers of Paris. The great epoch of haute couture power: of women waiting in a kind of despairing anticipation to find out what hating joke would be played on them this season. The song has what sounds like an accordion being rolled through a mangle whilst Krebs screams the word ‘Denim’ over and over again.
The only information on the record is a quote from an old friend of Krebs – himself a bearded loon known only as ‘Jonathan’, who would frequent shopping malls wearing the horsehair plumes of Huns, brilliantly dyed hide breeches of Franks and Visigoths and a brightly dyed medicine pouch inlaid with porcupine quills full of LSD.
‘’He (Krebs) was a stoic man to say the least, terse and contrite. His live set consisted of him creating these sweeping vistas of notes on a guitar with no discernible melody or key while a female compatriot traveling with him played a Theremin and wept into a jam jar.’’
The woman in question was thought to be Grace Ricketts, Krebs’s then wife. Jonathan continues,
‘Later in his life Krebs took to busking, playing his folky stuff on the melodian and singing unmellifluously like a raven’s caw. So one day he’s busking and it’s getting late-ish in the afternoon and a woman has been watching him for quite a few minutes. He decides to pack up and finishes his song. She continues to stand in front of him. He thinks she looks a little familiar but he can’t quite place her. He asks “Er – do I know you?”
She says “Yes, I used to be married to you.”
Those seeking an introduction to the music of “non-musicians” (by the accepted standards music theory & mainstream taste) would be wise to pick up this EP as it offers a peek into the Outsider Music spectrum and the inner workings of Hurston Krebs amateur and very intriguing mind. Approach with a very open mind.
Hurston Krebs – The Streaky, Spotted, Speckled and Spattered EP out now on Saracen Records.