Y2K Fever has gripped the nation. Nay, the world. I don’t deny it’s a big problem – in fact science fiction authors have been warning about it for decades. But whereas they envisioned a robot uprising, the reality is that the machines will just stop working. It’s more an inconvenience than a disaster, though still significant. It underscores the fact that modern civilization has come to depend too much on technology. I worry about the immediate effects, but I know humanity will bounce back like it always has. The worst case scenario is we go back to using pencil and paper for a few years.
But that’s a worst case scenario for humanity as a whole. On a smaller scale it can be devastating. I grew up in a time before we had this dependence so I’m not concerned about returning to “the good old days” for a little while, but I do understand how it can be deeply worrying the younger generation.
And in this potential final month, I have the latest release from The Residents, a group that is defined by their use of technology, and therefore likely to be profoundly affected. This could very well be their last release, at least until civilization gets up to speed again.
They have seized this moment to present a kind of career retrospective, using their oft-revisited song “Santa Dog” as the focal point. The disc alternates old and new, and in fact the first track is both of these: a recording of the unfinished 1984 version augmented with 1999 production. And it’s labeled a work in progress, perhaps to show future generations how busy they were right up until the end when the computers shut down. They let us know their intention right away: “the only thing that we are here for… is to give a little cheer… as our wishful way to help another solitary self to want to see a future.” They see the global issue but recognize that it must be addressed on an individual basis. If you can keep each person from falling into hopelessness you’ve saved humanity.
Okay, that’s probably reading far too much into their intentions. But it can’t have slipped past them that “Santa Dog” with its preoccupation of future existence has some relevance to the current mood of the planet. They probably don’t believe Y2K will be the end of The Residents, but have produced what may be a final statement on their work as a kind of insurance policy – one that covers Fire, Lightning, Explosion and Aircraft Damage. Everything one needs to know about The Residents can be found in a single composition… stretched over twenty-seven years.
This policy also covers Flood, Famine, Plague and Pestilence – concerns that have certainly dominated the thoughts of many the past few years. These titles tie in with their Wormwood project, which I realize now must in some way have been inspired by the religious fervor that has grown as the Millennium has neared.
Speaking of which, they have also released a two-disc live Wormwood recording. I don’t have much to say about the live album other than to note that the arrangements are vastly different from the studio album. As a departure from their usual performance lineup, The Residents have chosen to form themselves into a more or less traditional rock band, with guitar, bass, keyboards and real drums. They’ve flirted with this kind of organization before, but never quite as completely as this.
The two releases taken together highlight the most important aspect of the group: change. Collecting multiple versions of a song over twenty-seven years shows a gradual change; sharing vastly different live arrangements of a studio album from only a year prior shows a rapid change. It is in the group’s DNA to constantly mutate, sometimes drastically and sometimes in a more subtle fashion. Whatever upheaval takes place when the ball drops, The Residents will take stock of the situation, find an angle, and move forward as best they can.