Author Archives: gio80

Everyone Always Knew It’d End Up This Way (Grandpa Gio and The Residents)

Not a Resident (really).And so it’s come to this.

Three years ago my granddaughter had the idea to take selections from my music diary and put them on the Internet.  She was only interested in the entries about The Residents, and that’s understandable because theirs is one of the more interesting stories – or lack of stories – in the music and art world.  She set the clock at an accelerated pace, and the end was always going to be today, December 25, 2016.  There isn’t a new “Santa Dog” to bark about, but I feel something has to post today, so I’ve decided to write about my relationship with The Residents.

A year into her project, Jennifer received an email from Charles Bobuck.  I told her he didn’t exist.  She took that to mean that I thought the email was a prank.  On the contrary, I knew it was genuine, but I also knew that Charles was a fictional construct.  A contraption, if you will.  But whether a person or a character, he said he enjoyed reading my pieces, even if he didn’t agree with them (a side effect of me having to guess at the truth while he lived it).  I only write my music diary for myself, never intending for anyone to read it, let alone the subjects of my entries.  Obviously I let go of what I suppose could be considered my implementation of the Theory of Obscurity, and Mr. Bobuck rewarded me by letting go of his.  Just a little.  Enough to make human contact, that which is so needed but so often overlooked.

Jennifer also shared comments from fans.  Most were positive, a few were negative.  The most interesting ones were based on the assumption that I myself am a member of The Residents.  As far as I can tell, it wasn’t even debated in the fan forums, only accepted as unspoken fact.  I know that to be completely false, but to try to deny it would be futile.  The legend of The Residents has grown beyond the originators, and will swallow up anyone who gets too close, even if it is just an old man muttering about what he thinks the latest album is trying to convey.

I have, quite by accident, become an authority on the history of this group.  This is unfortunate due to my having no confirmation for most of my conclusions.  Sometimes I’d make a mistake and the fans would run with it, believing I was revealing new insider knowledge, and refused the much more likely possibility that I was just wrong.  But that is also perfectly acceptable if we believe that art does not live in the artist, but within the mind of the audience (even, and perhaps especially when, that audience is not a consideration when making said art).  The Residents are what we make of them, and they probably mean something different to each person who has found them.

And so I will leave you with this, my most recent realization about The Residents: they are completely normal.  I don’t mean the people ultimately responsible for the art; of course they are normal (otherwise they wouldn’t have made it past the first few years).  I mean The Residents as an artistic entity.  Look at mainstream music.  Really look at it.  Doesn’t it strike you as strange that so much of it sounds similar?  Art is about individual expression, about showing the world who you are.  The Residents are one of the very few doing just that.  The others are following a formula, and only veering off in pre-approved ways, just enough to brand themselves in the marketplace.

Everybody has art within them.  Everybody has a song.  But most of us don’t share our personal song because it doesn’t fit with what we’re told personal songs are supposed to sound like.  More people should contribute their own views to the world.  We should all step up and declare ourselves art world citizens.  We should all become Residents.

Merry Christmas.  Arf.

Melting Tin Upon the Tracks (Rushing Like a Banshee)

I walk a big dog.The new single from The Residents gives us a small glimpse into what a post-Bobuck world for them might be like (though it’s unclear at this time if some of his work from early in the project survives in this recording).

And… it does feel strange to talk about members of this group as one would any other band.  Until Mr. Bobuck retired, it seemed just another facet of the games they play – a way to bend the concept of identity and question reality.  There has long been speculation that the group’s membership is fluid (actually, more than speculation I think that is core to the concept), but it’s never been so explicit before.

So now a realization hits: Residents with identities are Residents who can leave.  And this was explicitly stated at the beginning.  As soon as we were introduced to the trio, we were told the fourth member, Carlos, had left.  It seemed like a joke at the time – and maybe it was – but in retrospect it’s become much more.

They are definitely at uncertain crossroads (as depicted in the artwork), with potential failure ahead of them, but definite failure if they refuse to move forward.  In the interest of self-preservation the chance must be taken, despite any unintended consequences.

So the group remains fluid, with Rico stepping in to fill vacant shoes or, more likely, to show off an entirely new pair.  If he’s supposed to be an invisible replacement then he’d be named Charles Bobuck.  He’s not, so I expect nothing more from him than something completely new.

And this song does push into new, or at least minimally chartered, areas for The Residents.  It has a ferocity I don’t think I’ve heard from them before.  Even their rendition of “Satisfaction” with its unhinged guitar still has a slower tempo and feels more laid back than this.  This has a fury and rage driving it, like some industrial-fused punk band.

But it can’t be representative of the album (for what single ever is?) so I won’t make any assumptions based upon it (and if anything the new direction is temporary, with the b-side being so different, and also why would they suddenly settle into a pattern after all this time?).  But production-wise one difference I hear is how the vocals are mixed;  I’m used to Residents vocals kind of lying on top of, or existing somewhat separate from the music, and this has them right there in the trenches, as it were.  Should I expect to hear that going forward, or does it just work with this one track?  We shall see.

The single is accompanied by a music video, their first standalone video since, I believe, “Harry The Head” from Freak Show.  There have been other new videos (most recently with Icky Flix and The Commercial Album DVD), but those were for video projects in and of themselves, and not separate promotional tools.  This could indicate a renewed interest in marketing, but more likely it has grown out of more video work coming from The Residents in the past few years.  Of course it doesn’t hurt that there just so happens to be a new studio album on the way.

There’s so much going on in the video that I don’t know where to begin, or if I should begin at all.  We’re inundated with images, all screaming for our attention.  It’s madness and hysteria, but at the same time it’s all contained within little boxes.  The entire video itself is enclosed in a box – the computer screen and even the YouTube window within that – so any comment it makes about the clips it also makes about itself.

All in all it is organized chaos – a perfect description of The Residents themselves.  Other performers attempt to duplicate The Residents but few succeed.  I think some see only the chaos and miss the organization.  Not only is there a method to the madness, the method comes first, which effectively nullifies the madness.

Heroes Always Speak the Truth and Heroes Never Explain (Theory of Obscurity)

Where there are mountains, there are always clouds.The pattern of late has been that by the time I get a chance to experience their latest project, The Residents have already moved to their next.  The Wonder of Weird CD was released while Shadowland was happening, the Shadowland CD came out as Theory of Obscurity premiered, and now that I am able to see the film, a modified Shadowland is in full swing.  I’m certain they’d be releasing Train Wracked By God if the touring group hadn’t had to reform in the wake of Charles Bobuck’s departure.  I suspect the extra time he’s spending in the studio will result in something quite different.

This documentary has a difficult balance to achieve.  First and foremost it needs to be a beginner’s guide to The Residents.  That in itself is not an easy feat – how does one distill four decades of varying work into ninety minutes of sound bites?  Without a narrative from the band itself, you are left with the unenviable task of working backwards from finished product to hypothesizing the intentions.  If the filmmakers opted to have a narrator throughout the film it would only be the wild theories of a single person, and cease to be representative.  The model they settled upon – a broad overview just lightly dipping its foot into selected highlights – is probably the best given the restrictions, though still problematic.  Let’s be frank for a moment: The Residents are not a popular group, and never will be.  Only a small minority of people will ever be interested, and they are more often than not keen to explore and don’t wish to be spoonfed information.  As for the majority of the film’s audience – those who will never investigate further – there’s no point in delving into minute details of something they simply won’t care about.  So that’s how to handle mainstream audiences.

The other demographic to consider is the existing fanbase.  Of course they’ll see this film, even though it’s targeted to newcomers.  But will they accept such a shallow overview?  Of course not.  They expect a movie that reveals new insights, as impossible as that must be for the dedicated fan.  And the film caters to that mentality – while still being accessible to the public – in two ways.

First is the brilliant use of alternative footage for music videos.  A newcomer need only see some of the stills from the “Hello Skinny” video to get the idea of the visuals, but the longtime fan recognizes the heretofore unused shots, and squeals with glee.  Secondly, a handful of never before (or rarely before) revealed stories from behind the scenes.  Are the construction details of the original eyeball necessary to the story?  No, but it is interesting, and happens to tie into the main thesis of the documentary.

And that is the do it yourself attitude that pervades everything The Residents touch.  Even when enlisting outside help, it seems those collaborators are given a challenge, taken out of their comfort zone, and must invent new methods to meet the goal.  This is partially a movie that celebrates self reliance.  It is also a movie about discovery because, as I understand it, the director had never heard of The Residents before he started this project.

How did he do?  I think quite well.  There are too many pseudo-insider perspectives when it comes to this group.  With many fanbases one’s loyalty level is measured by amount of collected arcane knowledge, and with The Residents that goes into overdrive.  Unable to verify even the most basic facts, they almost become a conspiracy theorist’s wonderland.  To have a true outsider come in is gloriously refreshing.  It’s not the film I would have made – and that’s certainly true for many others – but on the other hand, wouldn’t we rather have something that is different?  Art – as well as Life – flourishes on the constant struggle between comfort and discovery.  And after four decades, it’s nice to be able to watch it all again through the eyes of someone new.