“Santa Dog ’78” turns out to be a new recording of “Fire,” the Ivory & The Braineaters song from the Santa Dog compilation. It was my favorite from that collection, and I had high hopes that Ivory and company would return with more. They never returned. But, as it turns out, that’s only because they never left.
The song is now attributed to The Residents, which implies the two bands are the same. At first I was having a fair amount of trouble wrapping my head around that. Sound-wise, I don’t recognize anything from the original in what I am hearing. But then again I don’t recognize anything from Duck Stab! as having much in common with Meet The Residents, either. Bands change, especially if they have room to experiment. But this is a much more dramatic change than The Beatles underwent in their six years. Despite them starting as a small skiffle combo and ending as a polished group with lush string arrangements, I had no problem understanding that “Let It Be” and “Love Me Do” came from the same people. (“Revolution 9” is an outlier of course.)
For me it’s the voices. “I Am The Walrus” is really out there, but I recognize John’s voice, and can tell it’s the same one that sang “Twist And Shout.” I’ve listened to the two versions of “Santa Dog” back to back, and I can’t tell it’s the same singer. But maybe it’s not – there are no individual credits, so it could simply be another member. And that is not unheard of. The singer of “Penny Lane” does not sound like the singer of “Strawberry Fields Forever,” after all.
It stands to reason that the other three bands from Santa Dog are also The Residents. I had a suspicion they shared members, but not that they were all a single entity. Now I’m forced to reevaluate what I know about this group. I’ve come to know them as a band with no identities, but now I know they started out as a band with several identities. An alter ego is, in the end, a form of anonymity, so it’s not much of a stretch to go from many false personae to none at all. I wonder if David Bowie’s experience as Ziggy Stardust was an influence. At first the group saw the idea of a stage character very exciting, and created many to play with. But by 1974 they saw how the Ziggy persona overtook the man behind it, so they went to the other extreme in order to guarantee their public and private lives never intersected. The notes say The Residents recorded this song as a tribute to their former innocence. Did their innocence die along with Ziggy?
One Resident says “innocence must always give way to maturity eventually” which is very surprising coming from such a youth-oriented musical group. Most promote rebellion against the status quo and, well, people my age. Or they get caught up in their own success and, unable to cope, self-destruct. Another Resident also sees this tragic state of affairs and offers this advice: “happiness comes from manipulating your weaknesses into your strengths, not from chasing desires.”
As rebellious youth goes, this is a rebellion against the rebellion. I’m reminded of a piece from Mad Magazine many years ago (as a teacher I’m often obligated to confiscate the comic from students, and as a person who likes a chuckle I always read some before returning it at the end of the day, often saying with a wink “now don’t let me catch you with the next issue!”). It was called “How To Be A Mad Non-Conformist,” and while the examples are lost to time, I do remember the premise being that there are conformists and there are non-conformists, but the non-conformists all seem to behave in the same way, which has become its own kind of conformity. The Mad non-conformist takes it a step further, and that’s exactly what The Residents have been doing.