THE SECOND TEN YEARS 1982-1992
THE TRUE STORY CONTINUES by Uncle Willie
Followers of The Residents often find it difficult to agree on anything about the groups' (sic) artistic output. People stand by some recording as though it were flag and country while trashing a different title with little thought that it represents another listeners ideal work. It is, in fact, this dichotomy that makes the Ocular-ones so culturally interesting.
However, there is one point about which followers of the group do tend to agree. Something changed in 1982.
The change not only happened for The Residents, but for just about every other musical group that was riding the "New Wave" trend. That "wave" crashed to shore causing independent bands with a commercial edge to scurry to the major labels and the others to mostly dry up. The fad of the "independent" died fast leaving most small specialized record labels, distributors, and shops in a state of confusion.
The Residents had completed their first decade with one of their most exhausting albums to date, The Commercial Album, which they used to burn through as many musical ideas as they could in 40 minutes. The critics in general did not take to it, perhaps because there was no way to really appreciate it without actually listening, and we all know that reviewers do not have enough time in their days to actually listen to all the things that come across their desks. No matter the reason. The Residents were depressed and recorded Mark of the Mole to represent this desperate feeling.
Ralph Records faced the same economic problems as the other independent labels, and as a result of that, two of the Ralph Records officers, Jay Clem, who had headed up the business and accounting, and John Kennedy, who did manufacturing and production, decided to leave the company to pursue more economically lucrative endeavors outside the music and art world.
The Residents wanted to perform live to mark the start of their second decade, and were in final rehearsal for The Mole Show when word came down that the two business heads were leaving the company. Ralph was left in the hands of the creative team of art and advertising director, Homer Flynn, and A&R person and producer, Hardy Fox. The two remaining officers were scrambling to stabilize the business but were unable to prevent the loss of five of the seven employees. The economics of Ralph Records, and, therefore, of The Residents and their new project had disintegrated almost overnight. The Mole Show came to a halt.
Friends came to the aid of the band, especially the parents of The Residents who put money into the show and got it on the road. But calamities continued.
The Mole Show itself, though a bold production intended to display the feelings and frustrations of the group, merely perpetuated the sense of being out of control as it careened around Europe.
The Cryptic Corporation remained in steadfast belief and support of the Wide-Eyed-Ones, and, upon their return from touring, assisted them in setting up a temporary studio where the band recorded George and James, a study of the music of George Gershwin and James Brown, and Title in Limbo, recorded with Renaldo and The Loaf. George and James was licensed by WEA in England, and economics began to stabilize again.
The Mole saga was far from complete. Writing began on a new album that would be radically different structurally and linguistically. It would be sung in the language of the "Moles". But to contrast that, The Residents wanted to treat the music as though this Mole band, "The Big Bubble," had somehow ended up in America during the "rock" era. So the group would arrive with only an electric guitar, bass, drums, synthesizer, and vocalist.
The result was pretty wild. A UWEB poll called The Big Bubble one or the two weirdest Resident albums ever recorded. It tied with Not Available which makes sense in a way. The Big Bubble represented a shaking off of the problems in the same way that Not Available had served ten years earlier. One might even say that is another album recorded under the "Theory of Obscurity."
The release of The Big Bubble didn't have much impact in the USA, but things were different in Japan, where the album's strange beauty was not so alienating. Talk began of taking a live show to the Orient.
Sure enough, Halloween of 1985 found The Residents, along with their friend, Snakefinger, celebrating in the streets of Shinjuku, Tokyo as The 13th Anniversary Show began a world tour. A new album had been completed__a study of the music of John Phillip Sousa and Hank Williams, Stars and Hank Forever. It had already attracted attention because of a Hank Williams song, "Kaw-Liga," which was set to the rhythm of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean."
The tour spent most of 1986 on the road touring Japan, Australia, Europe, and the USA. Torso Records in Holland remixed "Kaw-Liga" to give it a dance mix and soon young people all over Europe were getting down to the pulsating sounds of The Residents. It was yet remixed again into a "house" version and went back into the clubs for a second time.
The 13th Anniversary Show was popular with the public, as well as profitable, and The Residents felt confident that they had put their problems behind once more.
The time was ripe for a major push of creative power. The Residents, having grown emotionally as a result of their struggles, felt that a project was needed that expressed that emotion with a positive statement about what being alive means. The album that resulted was basically an hour-long poem set to music, God in Three Persons. Many people who had happily shook their tails to "Kaw-Liga" were now faced with a poem about sexual compulsion and violence. With its homoerotic overtones, and ritualistic religious sadism, the band pried open new areas of drama, revealing more about themselves in one hour than in the previous sixteen years of recording.
Tragically, during the creation of God, Snakefinger, their closest friend and collaborator died of a heart attack in Austria while on tour with his band.
The story of God in Three Persons was taken further by treating it as a personification of the Elvis legend. The Residents recorded an album of non-satirical covers of Elvis tunes inserted into a story about a baby king, The King & Eye. The band realized that American music was no longer a viable form. When Elvis lost his popularity to the British (who had incorporated his styling), American music died as an art form, and soon American musicians were busily imitating the British (who of course were busy imitating the Americans.) Rock was stuck in a whirlpool from which it could never escape.
The Residents wrote a stage show, CUBE E, about American music; its rise and its fall. Subtitled, "The History of American Music in 3 E-Z Pieces," the production literally attempted to how how country and western music had blended with black soul and blues to produce rock and roll. The climax of the show featured a bloated Elvis-imitator begging the world to be his fans while the Beatles kill his essence by singing "...don't you step on my blue suede shoes."
The show successfully toured the USA and Europe in 1989 and '90 sneaking into such places as Israel and Slovania (sic).
When The Residents use their present emotional state to fuel a project, it is guaranteed to give that project a special power. The reality of touring as giant eyeballs had conjured up a strange self identity, "freaks." "Everyone comes to the freak show," they would often say on the way back to the dressing room. With this in mind, they wrote a new album, Freak Show.
Freak Show is a clean, hard-edged series of "stream of consciousness" compositions with surreal lyrics telling stories of different side show "freaks." That the band is being self-referential is never more than thinly veiled. This album becomes an exorcism of touring; a healing for the return to friends and families. Freak Show is more than just the end of a tour. It is also the end of a second ten-year stretch, except for the year of introspection that has given us the Twenty Twisted Questions retrospective videodisc and the unusual Our Finest Flowers album.
I suppose one might as well say, "They lived happily ever after, The End." But this isn't a fairy tale. And it certainly isn't the end. pp89-94