Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Residents or What Does Salt Smell Like?



The first time I heard t
he Residents was in 1979. I was sixteen or seventeen, and an avid listener of I'm So Bored, Susanne Brown's Tuesday night radio program on KRCL in Salt Lake City. There was nothing else like it in Utah at the time, (or the rest of the country for that matter), and assuming that I would likely never hear the songs again, I began recording the shows on ninety-minute 8-Track tapes. I'm So Bored was unique, and presented me with a plethora of new punk and rock wave music, (as Michael G. Cavanaugh* called it), that I could listen to at my leisure on the tapes I had recorded. One of them contained a track called Plants by the Residents, which was nothing like anything I had ever heard before. I knew I'd have to hear more from these mysterious musicians.

The Cosmic Aeroplane was no doubt the most likely place to find Residents music in Salt Lake in 1979. I was astounded that good old el Cosmico had a handful of
Residents records to choose from. I delightfully selected Not Available, and Fingerprince, and purchased them both, having heard neither. I bought Not Available for myself, and Fingerprince for my summertime girlfriend, Jamie, who accompanied me on my quest for the Residents. Back then, the record department at the Cosmic was located downstairs. At least that's where they kept the punk-produkts and related paraphernalia. After finalizing my purchase, we ascended the narrow stairwell, and exited the store. I had a friend named Bob Ruffner who lived near Skyline High, so we went there to hang out and listen to my new Residents records. Bob's house would be a good place to hear them for the first time because his dad had a great stereo, and surely, the Residents could be best appreciated on a good hi fi.

By the time side one of
Fingerprince had finished playing, there was no way to convince Bob and Jamie to listen to side two, or the other record I had purchased. They had decided that the Residents were too weird. Bob had became partial to the last of the successful prog bands, Rush, while Jamie had metal tendencies, and fancied Van Halen and Ozzy. YUCK! Serves them both right! I had to wait until I had driven all the way back to Tooele, dropped off Jamie, and returned home before I could finally listen to Not Available on my own adequate stereo. I was shocked. It was stranger than anything I had ever... anything. It appeared to be some kind of opera about a woman named Edweena. I wasn't sure if I liked it. I played it for my friends Greggary Peckary, Merlin, Jon and Bart. Jon and Merlin gave it three thumbs up, Peck snickered, and Bart sardonically laughed, declaring, "They sound like little kids." I could forgive Bart. He didn't know any better. After all, he was a cowboy from Stockton, Utah, who's most radical venture in alternative music was Molly Hatchet and Lynnard Skynard. I suspect that Peck secretly liked it.
1979 was a time when music was stagnant on most fronts, yet changing on others. Leading the change, so far ahead they were out of sight, were the Residents, who's brand of subterranean-modern tunneled deeper than other alternatives, and kept their fans entertained with comically spooky treatments of familiar and contrived themes. I had become jaded by the polished cookie-cutter music that permeated the seventies, and in 1979 I began a five-year boycott of commercial music. Who needs commercial radio when there's KRCL? No commercial radio stations, and no TV. As it turned out, I missed a lot of terrible stuff during those years... so I hear. Remember Wham? I don't.
On Wednesday nights, KRCL presented Brad Collins' program** which featured more emphasis on the punker side of neo-underground musick. When the Residents released their critically acclaimed Eskimo album, Brad Collins played his copy in its entirety. It was awesome, and I soon procured my own copy on snow-white vinyl. One of my favorite records of all time. Eskimo was an unprecedented instant masterpiece that made it clear to me that the Residents were not only part of the underground scene... The Residents, in fact, were THE underground. Everything else sounded like pop in comparison.
In 1980 my best friend, Jon, purchased the Residents latest release, the Commercial Album. A departure from their anthropologique Eskimo, the Commercial Album featured forty - one minute songs... a mockery of formulaic top forty pop music. What was most surprising about the Commercial Album to both Jon and myself was the album cover which featured a picture of my friend Jon. I have no idea where the Residents got a photo of Jon, or why they used it on their album cover, but there he was.

Jon 1978

The Commercial Album 1980

When the Residents released their Mark of the Mole album, they pressed a handful of special edition silk screened covers which had been signed by the
Residents with brown crayon, and pressed on brown vinyl. My copy was mistakenly sold at the flea market for one dollar. :-( I wish I still had it, especially since now its worth hundreds of dollars. At least I still have my Third Censored and Roll album, the West German version of the Third Reich and Roll. Still in perfect condition.

The first time I saw the
Residents perform was at the Barrymore Theater in Madison Wisconsin in 1990. I arrived early, and was the first person in line that night. When they opened the doors to the theater, I sprinted to the front and center of the Barrymore. Best seat in the house. That night the Residents presented Cube - E (being) The History of American Music in 3 E-Z Pieces. The first piece featured old western cowboy songs. One Resident wore an exaggerated over-sized cowboy hat. A neon fire glowed at center stage while a projected desertscape and evening sky illuminated the backdrop. The other three Residents, cloaked beneath Harry Tuttle-esque disguises, tapped away at their electronique instruments . Black slave songs were the theme in the second set. The third and final set featured Elvis as a fulfillment, or personification of cowboy and black rhythm. In the end, the space-age Elvis is made insignificant by the British invasion, specifically the Beatles. At least that's what Zoroaster said.

I didn't see the Residents again until 1997, when Mighty Mo purchased tickets for the Halloween show at the Fillmore, for our anniversary. I was impressed by projected images onto a large balloon on stage. Brilliant idea! Clam rockers, Primus, and fellow Residents fans, must have liked the idea too because they incorporated the concept for their own stage.

A Simple Song - Ralph Viddy - Buy or Die!
I must have been one of the first people to order this fancy NEW Ralph Records Video.

When it arrived in the mail, it was a simple TDK video cartridge featuring seven different Ralph viddys. Five different bands, including the Residents.

The cover-art consisted of basic black ink on a 81/2X11 white paper-board. I
carefully cut out the video cover, and with Elmers Glue, affixed it to the vhs box (included). Crafty!
The fancified package was complete.

These videos were a great alternative to the trendy commercial music being played on MTV.

The Residents have released lots of other videos over the years. Millions of them in fact. In May 2001, My son and I had the opportunity to see the Residents right here in Santa Cruz, Ca, at the Rio Theater. As usual, the Residents presented a unique and unprecedented concept for their stage show. The Icky Flix Tour featured the Residents playing live on stage as their familiar videos were projected onto a large screen above the band. Not long after the tour, the Residents released the Icky Flix DVD, which featured lots of snazzy Residents videos that could be played with the option of listening to old familiar songs, or newly recorded versions of the same tunes. Sparkling idea! I'll take two. Mm... Salty!


* Michael G's show preceded I'm So Bored. His show featured sixties and seventies rock. This was back when KRCL was located above the old Blue Mouse Theater, next to Cosmic Aeorplane. Jon and I paid Michael G a visit one evening. He played Cucamonga by Zappa/Beefheart at our request.

My friend Squirrelly's cousin, Jamie, who lived in Colorado Springs, Colorado, stayed with Squirrelly's family every summer. She returned home with Fingerprince. Jamie reported to me that she had played it for a friend, and that they both laughed at it. What can you expect from a couple of ignoramiatic metalheads?
*** Mr. Collin's program was originally called Dead Air, but was later changed to Beyond The Zion Curtain. When Brad sold out and began playing speed metal exclusively, Jon and I began to pester him by requesting Eskimo every time his program was on. Years later, I asked Collins about his Eskimo album, and he told me that someone had stolen it. He may have assumed that his taunters were the thieves. He assumed wrong

1 comment:

ecadora said...

No, comments?! In 20 years? That's crazy talk. Brought me back to my humble upbringing in Roanoke, VA. Not Available was my first exposure and I had close to the same reaction as you. Pretty sure I really didn't like it but I kept coming back, over and over and over. Thanks. Good stuff.