You know those tiny ads for “songs wanted” in the back pages of magazines? This is the story of the people who succumb to this siren by sending in money with their late-night poems, and of the professional musicians who record them for a few hundred dollars, and of the avid collectors who prize this “outsider” art. Song-poems, as they are called, are a weird hybrid of silly lyrics and professional recording. It’s like having one of your telephone doodles turned into a giant city-block mural. There’s something inherently lopsided about them. The wannabe songwriters are of course, a wonderfully bizarre and sometimes clueless cast of characters. But just as interesting to me are the weathered musicians who make their living playing these stupefying songs. I was impressed by how serious they took each creation, giving it their utmost — well as much as they could give in a half hour. Incredibly, many of the songwriters were repeat customers happy with the results. The third leg of this unusual triangle are the collectors, the fans who find this outsider music more interesting than the smooth releases of pros. This film does what I always hope a documentary will do: it respectfully immerses me into a world I had never heard of before and changes my view. I came away with more sympathy for the folk writers and the professionals who serve them than I would have thought possible. While the business may be a scam, it’s a willing scam for all the parties. Nice piece of work.
Off the Charts: The Song-Poem Story
Directed by Jamie Meltzer
2003, 132 min.
Rent from Netflix
Available from Amazon