Yearly Archives: 1986

Come And See The Holy Two-some (Stars And Hank Forever)

Original title: Hiram Flank 'em

The Residents have released another volume in their American Composers Series, and this one even more clearly emphasizes their latter-day approach of honest appreciation for the music. Gone are the days of pure deconstructions of pop hits; now they also construct something new using the base elements. The Hank Williams side sounds almost nothing like the originals, but the heart is there. These are respectful (though not faithful) interpretations, adding a dimension to the already excellent songs. The Sousaside does bring a bit of oddity to the compositions, but we are talking about marching bands after all. When the audience stays put while the band dances, you’re already dealing with some kind of alternate universe.

When I first heard the song “Kaw-Liga” I was amazed by its ingenuity. A love song from the point of view of an inanimate object is brilliant, and for years I presented it to my classes as a shining example of personification. Most of the stories my students wrote in response were dreadfully derivative (lots of totem poles falling in love with their various faces) but every once in a while something amazing came through. I still remember one student who wrote a heartwrenching soliloquy about the remorse of old age: the feeling of uselessness, of seeing attention go to those who are younger, and the jealousy and longing for youth – feelings that even I hadn’t experienced – pouring from a girl half my age. Only at the end did the narrator reveal she was a Model T Ford watching the new cars from her lonely, dusty garage.

It’s very rare to find a popular song with educational merit, but by the time the 1970s came around my students increasingly responded to the song as being “old people’s music,” and I knew its usefulness as a teaching tool was lost. I am absolutely delighted that The Residents have resurfaced the song, and melding it with Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” will guarantee its relevancy for years to come.

What the second side really illustrates is that the Residents are not performing these songs so much as suggesting them. The melodies are off just enough to not be accurate renditions, but close enough that it’s easy to tell what it being alluded to, and the listener can’t help but hear the original tune meshed with the Residents version. This is, in fact, how they operate every time they perform someone else’s music. Usually there are vocals that mask how clever the arrangements are. They could, indeed, get away with releasing these songs as original compositions that are merely inspired by other works. There’s a great business in “soundalike” songs for soundtrack and commercial music, and it wouldn’t surprise me to learn The Residents are occasionally hired to do just that. They’ve already demonstrated they can sound like a typical pop band if they wished, and maybe they wish to do so when an advertising agency is writing a check. Say what one will about selling music for commercials, as a musician it must be nice to occasionally be paid up front for commissioned work as opposed to spending a year on something and hoping that it will catch on with audiences.

And I think the world is warming up to this kind of music. It’s an inevitable conclusion, as every popular form of music was considered outlandish when first presented, but in this case I think there’s a slight difference. This music is postmodern in nature, in that it feeds upon its parent form. Punk still does that to a degree, but punk is usually concerned with the ideas of the status quo. The Residents also play with ideas, but more interesting is how they are concerned with the music of the masses, and wish to explore how it looks when twisted and shown under differently color lights, or even in the dark. I don’t know if The Residents themselves will catch on, but someone who uses modern pop music as raw material will.

Eyes Rolled Back Looking For Memories (13th Anniversary Show)

Why did this cartoon never get beyond the proposal stage?This is the concert that the Assorted Secrets rehearsals promised.  It is more accurately the 10th anniversary show, but was put on hold for three years while they worked on the Mole Trilogy, and then updated to give us this version.  This is then, in a way, a retrospective of a retrospective, a revision of the revision.  The Residents are looking back to a time in the past during which they looked back at their past, and that can be quite telling.

It’s not a new situation by any means.  Any group that has put out more than one greatest hits album has gone through this process.  You can only pick about 12-15 songs to represent your best work.  It’s a difficult process if any subjectivity is involved (one could simply go with the best-selling singles and call it a day, but that method completely ignores album-only cuts and assumes there are more than 12 singles to start with).  Some of the choices are based on radio play, some on fan reaction, and some on artist opinion.  This last is the most dangerous, because we end up with a lot of greatest hits albums that include a clunker nobody actually likes, but the songwriter hopes to promote to hit status by surrounding it with confirmed hits.

Several years later, if the band is still active, there will be a need for another compilation and the selections will have to be changed to include more recent offerings.  But which from the original set get let go?  It could be interesting to ask artists to come up with their ten best songs every year just to see what they would pick.  I imagine you’d find the artists that endure will pick mostly from their current projects.  Artists who view their best work as moving further into the past are likely to call it quits sooner rather than later.

So we know what The Residents picked three years ago, and we see what they’ve picked this year.  Assorted Secrets was entirely material from recent years, Duck Stab being the oldest source (though that does depend on how one places Not Available).  With one exception, this collection’s oldest material is from The Commercial Album.  The Residents are indicating a preference for more recent material, and that’s a good sign for their longevity.  They remain interested in what they are currently doing, and do not long for a return to the past.  Even the lone song from their first album (“Smelly Tongues”) has been reimagined, effectively making it new material.

Unlike the Mole Show, this concert feels very relaxed, and it’s obvious The Residents are much more comfortable with this performance.  Several factors could be contributing, not the least of which is experience.  Part of the tension that came through with the Mole Show could be attributed to the nervousness involved in staging their first major production, another part the material itself.  Here, The Residents are familiar with the experience of performing live, and their material is a simple collection of songs, not concerned with telling an overall story or evoking a particular mood other than “enjoy this music.”

Despite their confidence, The Residents have chosen to accentuate unlucky number thirteen with this show, even going so far as to present fourteen songs but purposefully listing two together to get the desired number.  So while they are enjoying some success right now, they keep reminding themselves that luck plays a large part and it can all end in a moment.

Looking at this in a larger perspective, what does this mean for the group?  They originally wanted to present this show, then became so excited with the Mole Trilogy that everything else got pushed aside.  Now here we have a return to that original idea.  Is this as practical as “we put in a lot of work, we should see something come of it?” or is it a retreat from theatrical presentation altogether?  I guess the 26th Anniversary Show will provide an answer.