I Thought This Was a Strange Arrangement (Wonder of Weird)

It's Christmas in Hell, all the children scream.The Residents have produced a new show as Randy, Chuck, and Bob, though now we know a tiny bit more about them.  (There’s actually quite a bit more we know, because although this CD has just been released, there is already a third show – Shadowland –  but all things in due time.)   Randy is Randy R. Rose, Chuck is Charles Bobuck, and Bob is Lionel.  We know this from online extensions of the concept, specifically the blogs of the first two.

And that’s the first weirdness we are to wonder at:  Residents with personalities, real lives, friends and family.  It appeared to be a joke when first presented, but the continuation forces us to look more critically.  They almost seem like the rest of us, though perhaps a distorted mirror image of what we are.  Randy’s life is clearly exaggerated, but probably holds a seed of truth.  As for Charles, very little of what he writes feels out of the ordinary, so indeed it’s possible that it’s all a lie.  Regardless of the veracity of the events they describe, I believe the expressed inner thoughts and temperaments are genuine.

Despite this more open nature, the new show does take one step to further distance the audience.  With The Talking Light, we were invited into their living room for an evening of stories, but we must view Wonder of Weird from the front lawn, among the various Christmas decorations, and the stories are reduced to a single teller and subject.  This may be an indication that the audience has grown so big that they can no longer fit inside, but the result is the same: the intimacy has been reduced.

Musically this show is a continuation: old songs with new arrangements, so different in fact that they should probably be considered new songs.  On that front The Residents present a rather interesting inversion of what’s become a standard practice.  Often, extreme arrangements are done as a postmodern joke: “ha ha, you’ve turned that pop song into a dirge,” or “ha ha, that heavy metal song is now a chamber choir piece.”  But the only response one can make to these songs is “wow, this is new.”  So indeed they get to have it both ways: play the hits the audience wants to hear, but continue creating new material.  And this is not unique in the world of music.  I think the best example is Eric Clapton’s rewrite of “Layla,” which drastically altered the mood, and thus meaning, of the song.  But I can think of no recent example that isn’t in some part played for that novelty aspect.

The through line of this show is an oral history of the band (quite suitable since this is billed as a 40th anniversary show), interrupted by a personal tragedy in Randy’s life.  This basic model of a planned story getting unexpectedly overturned was used as far back as the Mole Show, and has served them well on many occasions since.  I miss the selection of short videos from Talking Light – I felt they showcased a very strong side of the group – storytelling – but in bite size pieces better suited for a rock show environment.

But Randy’s narration turns into a very intimate moment –  a man’s need to love and be loved, be it through a string of wives or a pet cat.  Maurice the cat has been featured on Randy’s blog, so while prior reading is not necessary for this show, it certainly adds another layer of detail.  What other group provides such intertextuality with their work?  The Residents reward the loyal fans by giving this nod, making it feel okay and not at all silly to follow the blog of a possibly fictional person.

And that’s really the message of the show, and of The Residents in general: it’s okay to be weird.  There should be no shame in being different, in having your own style or opinion.  Life is too precious to squander by trying to please everybody.