By Ben Arzate
Dedicated to Hardy Fox 1945 – 2018
Despite the premature demise of their American Composers Series project and the death of their good friend and long-time collaborator Snakefinger, the Residents continued to work on new projects. In 1988, the Residents released what is, in my opinion, their best album, God in Three Persons.
While the spread of CDs as a format was a contributing factor in closing the American Composers Series, as it was planned with the format of vinyl records in mind, they embraced it with God in Three Persons to make it their longest album up to that point.
The album tells the story of Mr. X, a greedy huckster who meets a pair of conjoined twins with magical healing powers. He becomes their manager and takes them on the road, eventually falling in love with the female twin. He later learns that the twins are not fixed as male or female, but able to change their genders. Confused by his intense feelings for them, he eventually comes up with a plan to separate them.
The album is sung in a talking blues style by the main singing Resident with guest singer Laurie Amat acting as the Greek chorus and singing the opening credits. It used the organ riff from “Double Shot of My Baby’s Love” by the Swingin’ Medallions as a musical motif and marked a departure in their sound due to virtuoso guitarist Snakefinger passing before he could record his parts for it.
From the ashes of the Mole Saga and the American Composers Series, the Residents next developed and began performing a three-act musical show called Cube-E in. Each of the acts, titled “Black Barry,” “Buckaroo Blues,” and “The King & Eye” traced the development of rock and roll through song covers. Act one covered soul and gospel songs, act two covered country songs, and act three covered Elvis Presley. The covers from the third act were recorded as an album of the same name in 1989.
Ever adapting to new technologies, the Residents spent the first half of the 90’s developing three CD-Rom projects. The first one, Freak Show, was a multimedia project that involved a concept album released in 1990 where each song talked about a circus freak and a CD-ROM released in 1994 with interactive pictures and animations of each character.
Gingerbread Man, their first actual foray into computer multimedia art, released in 1994, had a similar concept. The story of the album followed the Gingerbread Man of the fairy tale as he met various curious characters on his run. The album was released as an enhanced CD that included pictures and animations of each of the album’s characters like Freak Show.
In 1995, they released a full-fledged game called Bad Day on the Midway. Like the prior CD-ROM projects, it involved a character-driven story, this time about the various people at the midway of a fair. The player could switch between the characters to learn more about their story and solve various puzzles. It received praise from the gaming press and a TV show adaptation to be directed by David Lynch was optioned but never made. The soundtrack was released as a stand-alone album as well under the title Have A Bad Day.
Technology changes continued to be both a friend and enemy to the Residents as CD-ROMs soon became obsolete with the rise of the internet and computers upgrading to the point of no longer being able to play older ones. Another CD-ROM was in the works called I Murdered Mommy!, but it was eventually scrapped with the music for it being released in 2004.
For a time, the Residents turned back to music and performance. In 1998, they released Wormwood, an album of songs based on strange stories from the Bible such as the beheading of John the Baptist and the murder of Abel by Cain. The project was controversial due the Resident’s humor and irreverent lyrics of subjects considered by many to be holy.
The disclaimer that they had no intention of trashing the Bible but to get a better understanding of it at the beginning of the shows for the album’s tour didn’t prevent a backlash which culminated in one of the members being pelted in the head by a rock during a show in Greece.
In 2002, the Residents released Demons Dance Alone. A response to 9/11, this proved to be one of their darkest and most depressing albums. In my opinion, it’s also one of their best, second only to God in Three Persons. None of the songs make direct reference to 9/11, but all of them are about grief, loss, and regret.
Its linear notes contain a note saying, “The Residents have left the building.” It goes on to say that since no one claims themselves to be a Resident, as they are an anonymous band, then all people have the potential to be a Resident. They would explore this idea more thoroughly later.
The 2005 follow-up to Demons Dance Alone was Animal Lover. Another downbeat album, the songs on this one are also a set of stories about various sad characters. The linear notes contain an accompanying written story for each song re-telling the songs from the perspective of a different animal. Sometimes a companion, other times simply a bystander.
Exploring yet another new medium, the Residents released a five-episode podcast series, later released as an album, called The River of Crime. In the tradition of radio plays, the podcast told a series of hard-boiled stories about a young boy fascinated with crime as it seems to follow him everywhere. The album version came with the instrumental only backings of the podcasts as a bonus.
They would continue in this storytelling vein for the albums Tweedles!, The Voice of Midnight, and Bunny Boy, released between 2006 to 2008. Tweedles! tells the story of a sex addict whose flings often hurt his partners and lead to regret.
The Voice of Midnight is an adaptation of a short story by ETA Hoffmann about a man with a deep fear of the mythical character Sandman. Bunny Boy is both an album and an ARG. The ARG had the titular Bunny Boy in a Youtube series where he asked his viewers to email him so they could help locate his brother who had disappeared on the island of Patmos in Greece.
In 2010, the Residents still continued with their storytelling with The Talking Light tour, but with a major change. The band was now presenting themselves as a trio rather than a quartet with individual names where before they had none. The singer called himself Randy Rose, the keyboard player Charles “Chuck” Bobuck, and the guitarist Bob. Randy claimed the fourth member, Carlos, had quit to take care of his mother in Mexico. The Talking Light, rather than being a tour to support a new album, had the Residents performing new renditions of older songs in between ghost stories told by Randy and other guests.
The new individual identities also saw Randy and Chuck trying their hands at solo projects. In 2012, Randy presented Sam’s Enchanted Evening. This one-man show was about an old man from Louisiana recalling his life and singing the various songs he remembers fondly. Chuck released his first solo album called Codgers on the Moon, a collection of spacey, gamelan inspired instrumentals.
The Residents also released what would be their last studio album for five years, Coochie Brake. This was a more ambient album inspired by a Louisiana swamp of the same name. Carlos returned briefly to do Spanish vocals for the album.
The major release of their 40th anniversary in 2012, however, was The Residents’ Ultimate Box Set. This was a set with every album, EP,and single the Residents released up until that date as well as several other items, including one of their original eyeball masks, all housed in a large refrigerator.
They also offered a “mystery item” in addition for $5 million. Ten were available, but because of its very steep price of $100,00, only one of them sold with another one being donated to the Museum of Modern Art. The mystery item was never bought and what it was remains unknown.
Chuck would retire from touring in 2016 and, shortly thereafter, from the Residents altogether. He continued to release solo albums, however, and did work on their 2017 album The Ghost of Hope. This first new album after the five-year gap was a collection of songs which each told the story of various train disasters. While this album was being promoted, Randy himself also retired from performing as the singer and a new quartet of Residents began to tour.
At the end of 2017, Hardy Fox, a manager of the Cryptic Corporation, came out and admitted to being Chuck Bobuck and the primary composer of the Residents since the beginning of the band. Tragically, Hardy Fox passed away Oct. 30th of this year from brain cancer.
It’s been an open secret among many fans of the band that the Cryptic Corporation managers and the Residents are one and the same. This is especially true of “Randy Rose” and Homer Flynn who have the same voice and look very similar but for the mask and wig Randy wears. Though Homer has yet to confirm he is Randy, it’s likely he’ll do so in the very near future.
Despite that, does losing the “original members” mean we lose the Residents? One of the projects they released this year is I Am A Resident! which consisted of seven remixes by the Residents and twenty-four covers submitted by fans. They took the idea that everyone had the potential to be a Resident to heart. Four wannabe hippies from Louisiana have created something far too big to contain just them.
It seems less appropriate at this point to ask what the future holds for the Residents and more who are the Residents, really?
Well, one of them just might be you someday.