A Selection of the Flat-Out Weirdest Careers in Music

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As we noted yesterday, we’ve been going quietly gaga about the new Scott Walker record ever since we got a copy of it a few weeks back. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Bish Bosch is that, weird as it is — and, mark our words, it’s really fucking weird — it’s still not as strange as the career trajectory of the man who made it. Walker’s journey from the fresh-faced MOR pop idol of his Walker Brothers years to the experimental maverick who’s just made what’s arguably his best album yet at the age of 69 is one of music’s most unlikely stories, and got us thinking about other unusual career trajectories. We’ve put together a selection of our favorites, so click through and let us know what you make of it all.

Scott Walker

Walker swam against the tide from the very beginning — he went the other way across the Atlantic at the height of the British Invasion, and has been based in the UK ever since. He enjoyed an initial rush of success with his band The Walker Brothers, before comprehensively torpedoing his commercial appeal with misunderstood masterpiece Scott 4 in 1969. As a result of that album’s failure, he retreated into MOR meanderings for a while, and then disappeared all together, quitting live performance in 1978. And then, suddenly, he was back in 1984 with Climate of Hunter, an album that’d mark his slow transition into experimental weirdness beginning in earnest. From there, he’s only gotten stranger. It’d be 11 years until his next album, 1995’s remarkable Tilt, and another decade until the even stranger The Drift. This means that it’s been a relatively short wait for Bish Bosch — god only knows what he’ll do next, but we’re sure it’ll be worth hearing.

Genesis Breyer P-Orridge

Born plain old Neil Andrew Megson, Throbbing Gristle singer and industrial pioneer Genesis Breyer P-Orridge has been one of the most fascinating and unusual figures in music for the best part of four decades. He’s perhaps best known these days for the story of his and his late wife Lady Jaye Breyer’s pandrogyne project — the sad story of their love and Breyer’s untimely death at just 38 is explored in Marie Losier’s rather lovely film The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye — but even apart from that, his career has been a consistently unusual one, from being dubbed a “wrecker of civilization” in 1965 by Tory MP Nicholas Fairbairn to inventing an entire new genre of music (and wrecking civilization in the process.)

Alanis Morissette

From Canadian TV institution You Can’t Do That on Television to gazillion-selling global mega-stardom with Jagged Little Pill in the space of less than a decade — it’s no wonder Alanis Morissette decided to take out some of her angst on the English language, eh? (Wait, wait, before you head to the comments section, we’re joking.)

Drake

There’s something about Canadian child stars, it seems, because Drake’s journey from Degrassi to Lil Wayne’s label is almost as outlandish a journey as Morrissette’s — it’s certainly hard to reconcile the fresh-faced Aubrey Graham above with the man we know today. He also gave the world YOLO, for which, um, thanks, Drake.

John Darnielle

Despite our best intentions, we’re probably just as hard-bitten and cynical as everyone else on the internet — but even so, Darnielle’s story is a rather inspirational one, starting with an abusive childhood, a job as a psychiatric nurse, and a whopping meth addiction… and ending with a torrent of great records, wedded and parental bliss, and general folk-rock elder statesmanship. Bravo. Also, if you’re not following Darnielle on Twitter, you’re missing out.

Damo Suzuki

We’re pretty sure that Can are the only band ever to recruit a homeless Japanese busker as their singer. Suzuki sang on Can’s classic Tago Mago, Ege Bamyasi, and Future Days albums, before packing it all in to become a Jehovah’s Witness in 1973 and effectively disappearing for nearly a decade. He reemerged in the mid-1980s, and these days travels the world playing with a constantly rotating cast of local musicians. His interviews are pretty great reading, too.

John Maus

Regular Flavorwire readers will know how much we like John Maus, and it’s a pretty safe bet that he’s the only philosophy professor who has a sideline in making strangely profound synthpop. This is a shame. We think more philosophy professors should make strangely profound synthpop. (Also, weird musical fact of the day: the real name of Scott Walker’s 1960s band mate John Walker was… John Maus. Our head just melted a little.)

Serj Tankian

It’s not that Tankian has had a particularly strange career, it’s more that we’re endlessly amused by the fact that music’s most tediously adolescent anti-capitalist used to sell accounting software. Smash the state! In a manner that’s properly itemized and adjusted for depreciation and expenses!

Jandek

We touched on Jandek’s strange story with a post on strange and disturbing back stories last year — as we noted at the time, his story is “perhaps the strangest back story of all, for the simple fact that… it’s just not there.” So it remains. We still know pretty much nothing about Jandek beyond his name, his labyrinthine back catalog, and the fact he apparently wrote some novels in the 1960s. Beyond that, he remains an enigma — and in an age where everyone knows everything about everyone, preserving anonymity over the course of a 30-year career is remarkable indeed.