Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Like Frank Zappa...But Better

I haven't even been listening to them lately, but I couldn't help but be amused by the Wikipedia entry on legendarily secretive/ridiculous cult band the Residents. The most impressive aspect of the band is that even though they've been semi-famous for about thirty years now, no one actually knows who the bandmembers are. I would have figured that somebody - their girlfriends, their dentists, their landlords - would have ratted them out by now, but I guess we can take some heart in the knowledge that some celebrities in this multimedia age can still remain anonymous (either that or nobody really cares). As for their charmingly ludicrous discography, Third Reich 'N' Roll is a cult masterpiece I would unreservedly recommend to any fan of '60s popular music, and the rest I have yet to fully explore. Highlights:

The Residents supposedly hail from Shreveport, Louisiana, where they met in high school in the 1960s. In 1966, members headed west to San Francisco, California. After their truck broke down in San Mateo, they decided to remain there. Like all information pertaining to the early days of the band, this is provided by The Cryptic Corporation and is potentially false. Newer information indicates they are probably from Slidell, Louisiana, and picked Shreveport as the "place to be from" since it is the city in Louisiana that was furthest from Slidell.

The first performance of the band using the name Residents was at the Boarding House in San Francisco in 1971. That same year another tape was completed called Baby Sex.

The Residents, at this point, were at a rough point in their career. There was internal turmoil, which supposedly resulted in a large, "embarrassing" food fight. They decided to resolve this tension in 1974 by allegedly recording what would later become Not Available— representative of N. Senada's Theory of Obscurity taken to its logical conclusion. The album was recorded and then placed in storage to be issued only when everyone had forgotten about it. However, contractual obligations (related to the much-delayed release of Eskimo) forced its release in 1978 after the band had almost forgotten about it. The Residents were unbothered by this deviation from their plan since the 1978 decision to release the album would not affect the philosophical conditions under which it was originally recorded.

The Commercial Album(1980) consisted of 40 songs that, like Eskimo, rejected traditional song structure. Each consisted of a verse and a chorus and lasted one minute. The songs pastiched the advertising jingle although the songs were not endorsements of known products or services. The liner notes state that songs should be repeated three times in a row to form a pop song. With a leap of promotional imagination, The Residents purchased 40 one-minute advertising slots on San Francisco's most popular Top-40 radio station KFRC forcing the station to play each track of their album over three days. This prompted an editorial in Billboard magazine questioning whether the act was art or advertising.

In 1981, a trilogy of albums, starting with Mark of the Mole, was released. A tour ensued, and was narrated nightly by Penn Jillette. Many think, after observation of official clues in liner notes such as those found in Demons Dance Alone, that the Mole Show caused several members of the Residents to leave, leaving Mr. Skull to studio duties. The Mole Trilogy is made up of parts I, II and IV. This tour is also noted for being the first time The Residents appeared on stage wearing their trademark eyeball masks and tuxedos. The performance featured The Residents in front of painted back drops used to help illustrate the story. Penn Jillette would come out between songs telling long intentionally pointless stories. The show was designed to appear as if it was falling apart as it progressed: Penn would grow angrier with the crowd, the lights, music, and smoke would intensify, all building up to the point where Penn was dragged off stage and returned handcuffed to a wheel chair, which is where the show would end. During one performance Penn was assaulted by an audience member while handcuffed to the wheelchair.

Much of the speculation about the members' true identities swirls around their management team, known as "The Cryptic Corporation." Cryptic was formed by Jay Clem (Born 1947), Homer Flynn (born April 1945), Hardy W. Fox (born 1945), and John Kennedy in 1976, all of whom denied having been band members. (Clem and Kennedy left the Corporation in 1982.) The Residents themselves don't grant interviews, though Flynn and Fox have conducted interviews with the media. Nolan Cook, who has been working with the band recently, denied in an interview that Fox and Flynn are the Residents, saying that he has come across such rumors, and they are completely false.

William Poundstone, author of the Big Secrets books, claimed Flynn and possibly Fox are likely members of The Residents, probably the group leaders; this is probably the most widespread belief among the group's fans. A subset of that belief is that Flynn is the lyricist (a conclusion buttressed by the fact that his voice bears an uncanny resemblance to that of the Singing Resident) and that Fox writes the music.

Many other rumors have come and gone over the years, including the idea that the band members are physically disfigured; that 60s psychedelic band Cromagnon shared members with the band; and that the band members are in fact The Beatles in disguise.


herr zrbo said...

That’s a great story. The KLF have a similar history, I wonder how much they were inspired by the Residents? I culled the following from the internet:

The KLF is/was composed of Bill Drummond and Jim Cauty, basically lifting their whole ‘persona’, and the name KLF from the Illuminatus! Trilogy (one of my favorite books). The originally appeared as the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu (aka ‘the JAMS’ (also lifted from Illuminatus)).

According to Wikipedia, their debut album '1987 (What the Fuck is Going On?)' included a song called "The Queen and I" which sampled large portions of the ABBA single "Dancing Queen". The recording came to the attention of ABBA's management and, after a legal showdown with ABBA the 1987 album was forcibly withdrawn from sale. Drummond and Cauty travelled to Sweden in hope of meeting ABBA and coming to some agreement, taking an NME journalist and photographer with them, along with most of the remaining copies of the LP. They failed to meet ABBA, so disposed of the copies by burning most of them in a field and throwing the rest overboard on the North Sea ferry trip home. In a December 1987 interview, Cauty maintained that they "felt that what [they]'d done was artistically justified.” Later they released an edited version of the album called 1987 (The JAMS 45 Edits), with specific instructions on how to recreate the original 1987 at home.

The KLF continued to sample without permission, releasing a song called ‘Whitney Joins the JAMS’ where they combined Houston’s ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody’ and the theme from Mission Impossible.

In 1988, Drummond and Cauty became "Time Boy" and "Lord Rock", and released the single, "Doctorin' the Tardis" as ‘The Timelords’. The song is predominantly a mash-up of the Doctor Who theme music and Gary Glitter's "Rock and Roll (Part Two)"

Also credited on the record was "Ford Timelord", Cauty's 1968 Ford Galaxie American police car (claimed to have been used in the film Superman IV filmed in the UK). Drummond and Cauty declared that the car had spoken to them, giving its name as Ford Timelord, and advising the duo to become "The Timelords".

A single of The Timelords' was released: "Gary Joins The JAMs" featured original vocal contributions from Glitter himself, who also appeared on Top of the Pops to promote the song with The Timelords.

The Timelords released one other product, a 1989 book called 'The Manual (How to Have a Number One the Easy Way)', a tongue-in-cheek but nonetheless insightful step-by-step guide to achieving a number one hit single with little money or talent. Artists such as Germany’s ‘Scooter’ have supposedly utilized this book (Scooter makes many KLF references in their music to support this claim).

In 1991 Drummond and Cauty, now having changed their names to 'King Boy D' and 'Rockman Rock' released the album ‘The White Room’. In the credits for the album John Dillinger is listed as one of the backup singers (another Illuminatus reference).

The White Room went on to inspire the trance/ambient album ‘Chill Out’ with the idea that the album was a nighttime drive along the Gulf Coast, with such titles as ‘Six Hours to Louisiana, Black Coffee Going Cold’ and ‘3 A.M. Somewhere Out of Beaumont’.

In 1992, The KLF and hardcore heavy metal group Extreme Noise Terror performed at the BRIT music awards; a "violently antagonistic performance" in front of "a stunned music-business audience". The performance was garnished by a limping, kilted, cigar-chomping Drummond firing blanks from an automatic weapon over the heads of the crowd. As the band left the stage, The KLF's promoter and narrator Scott Piering announced over the PA system that "The KLF have now left the music business". Later in the evening the band dumped a dead sheep with the message "I died for ewe — bon appetit" tied around its waist at the entrance to one of the post-ceremony parties.

On May 5, 1992 — the date commemorated the 15th anniversary of Drummond's emergence in the music industry, the KLF retired. To convince the public that it wasn't simply a scam to sell more records, Drummond and Cauty deleted the entire back catalog of KLF Communications (their music label). They declared they wouldn’t reform until world peace had been declared.

In 1994, in a long story you can google if you'd like, Drummond and Cauty decided to burn one million British pounds. They filmed the event and toured the country with a film entitled ‘Watch the K Foundation Burn One Million Quid’.

Some people compare Drummond and Cauty's incarnations to The Residents for their antics, if not their music. Chris Lowe of the Pet Shop Boys said that he considered the only other worthwhile group in the UK to be The KLF. Neil Tennant added that "They have an incredibly recognisable sound. I liked it when they said EMF nicked the F from KLF.”

Whew, anyways as you can see I'm a big fan of the KLF.

Little Earl said...

"Well they're justified and they're ancient, and they like to roam the land..."

How did I know you would mention the KLF somehow? Yes, it's possible they were influenced by the Residents, but I think both of these acts were probably just influenced by ideas in performance art, going all the way back to the Dadaists, up through John Cage and even John and Yoko. That, and the twisted remnants of their own diseased minds.

The KLF's music is more accessible and radio-friendly than the Residents (although I think the Residents are more accessible than some cult acts like Captain Beefheart and Pere Ubu). Another difference is that I think the KLF's motives are more easily understandable: they just wanted to fuck with people. What's motivated the Residents for all these years, however, is really anybody's guess.

herr zrbo said...

Of course I was going to reference the KLF, duh..

I agree, it's probably more of a performance art influence. I couldn't help think of the KLF though when I read that description of yours. I have that song by them with Tammy Wynette still, I actually saw the music video for it at a bowling alley during one of those 'hyper-bowl' nights with all the neon lights. It was strange.

herr zrbo said...

Speaking of which:

(how I love youtube)

yoggoth said...

The KLF? Can it be that I don't know of a famous underground band?

Little Earl said...

Thought you knew 'em. Doesn't The White Room ring a bell?

yoggoth said...

I thought that was by the Beatles.