It makes sense that after 50 years the Rolling Stones would be around since they're rolling stones, and objects in motion tend to stay in motion. The Residents' name, however, suggests objects at rest. Nevertheless, the quintessential outsider band remains busy and in motion four decades since it sprang forth from Shreveport, La.
The most underground of underground acts has kept busy with albums, performances and video projects. And the Residents are now celebrating 40 years since the band became a semi-official entity with the single "Santa Dog," though all these years later, nobody really knows what exactly that entity is. The group has done an admirable job of maintaining a certain mystery and anonymity.
As usual, the band's members claim to refuse to do interviews. But Homer Flynn - a member of the group's Cryptic Corporation management group, as well as its spokesman and art director - fielded some questions about the Residents' current doings. Officially, masked singer Randy, masked keyboardist Chuck and masked guitarist Bob comprise the Residents. Some reporting has revealed that music publisher BMI lists Flynn as a lyricist for the band.
Regardless, he continues to answer questions about "you" with references to "they," even though he seems to know quite a bit about the band.
The Residents will perform at Fitzgerald's Sunday. Flynn says he had some friends who worked at NASA, so he's visited a few times over the years, but he thinks the last Residents show in these parts was at Rice University in 1986. He also addressed the Residents' new box set, which features more than 100 Residents items, including every one of the band's albums on vinyl and CD, all its singles and videos and an enduring piece of the band's mythology: a giant eyeball/top-hat mask.
Q: So how have sales been for the new $100,000 box set?
A: At this point, we'll just say slow.
Q: If any band had the type of fan who'd pay that, I assume it'd be the Residents.
A: Yeah, well there have been a few inquiries, but nothing I would honestly characterize as serious at this point. There is one guy, a huge supporter. He's a very wealthy guy who's been a big supporter in the past. In some ways, I'm surprised he hasn't tossed his hat in on this. But he did get in touch yesterday, and he's coming to one of the shows in Chicago. So something could develop out of that.
Q: On the plus side, I guess you don't produce the sets until you get an order. It's not like you'd have a warehouse full of refrigerators full of Residents music just sitting around.
A: No, but it does occur to me what a cool photo that would be. And with Photoshop, it's not necessarily that hard a thing to do. Because you're not really going to find rooms full of refrigerators anywhere.
Q: Can you talk about what this tour will entail? Is it just Randy, Chuck and Bob? Any thematic thing going on?
A: Yes, it's Randy, Chuck and Bob again. It's the 40th anniversary of the Residents, so it's really a retrospective, but a retrospective in a Residents kind of way in that they're really playing more obscure material. And even then, those songs are drastically rearranged. So it's for somebody who wants to go in and feels like hearing new stuff. There's no "Constantinople," "Man's World" or "Hello Skinny," the things that are more popular. Some people may be unhappy because of that.
Q: I'd think if any band's fans would realize they aren't going to get a nostalgia trip, it'd be Residents fans.
A: You'd think that, wouldn't you?
Q: Sticking around 40 years, I suppose some nostalgia will arise.
A: (Chuckles.) The reality of it is you'll never please everybody. Even if you play the old songs, people will be pissed off because they wanted something different.
Q: So, 40 years in, what do the guys look into the crowd and see? Are you seeing fans' grandchildren?
A: Well, it's usually a surprisingly broad audience, the people the Residents appeal to. Obviously, there aren't huge numbers of fans, but it cuts across in a lot of ways: old fans, children of old fans. Young people who had no parental attachment to the band. You think, "How'd they end up here?" I remember going to a shoe store one time in California after we'd had a meeting with a label there. It was around the time of "The King and Eye" album. This middle-class-looking black guy noticed one of our people was wearing a Residents shirt, and he just flipped out. In no way did he look like a typical Residents fan. But that's the fun: You can't really predict who's a Residents fan.
Q: Is the band bemused that it's stuck around this long?
A: Well, as I'm sure you know, when they started, they really as individuals didn't have a lot of direction in life. They were just looking for something to do. And this something happened to be it, and they were happy to embrace that. I don't think at any point they looked far into the future.
Q: Shreveport has an interesting musical history. What do you think most informed the Residents' sound: Shreveport or the Bay Area?
A: Oh, sure, there's some Shreveport in there. They love to play around with Southern characters. Going back to the '50s and '60s when they were young, there were a lot of concerts there then. At this point, it seems harder to find culture in the middle. Everything's dominated by mass marketing and big corporations. But back then, it was different, and they embrace that. Shreveport, at this point, is closer to mall culture. It's not the Louisiana Hayride anymore.
Q: Were you responsible for the "Meet the Residents" cover? It remains a pretty iconic image.
A: I was kind of a consultant on that. I didn't officially come on board until Cryptic Corporation formed in 1976. I had known them before that, and I've been a graphic designer a long time. But yeah, in its own way, it was like an early form of graffiti. Though I don't think they were necessarily aware of that at the time.
Q: Did Marshall McLuhan's work circulate among the members? He seems he'd have been a sort of influential kindred spirit.
A: (Pause.) Yeah. I think actually they were all McLuhan fans. And that album, "The Medium Is the Massage," I'm pretty sure they would have played that a lot. They were very interested in media from the very beginning.
Q: So what's in the immediate future for the Residents?
A: Well, they're certainly looking at a lot of possibilities. At this point, there are a lot of conversations going on, but nothing concrete. The Academy of Sciences, which is like the natural history museum in Golden Gate Park, has initiated some interesting conversations about doing the "Eskimo" album as a special presentation in the planetarium dome there. That's an exciting idea. There are other theatrical things to be looked at. There are people in Germany wanting to collaborate with the Residents in almost a classical or avant-garde-classical kind of way. There are interesting things going on that will continue to develop. Some of it is trying to figure out if these ideas will work out financially.
Q: There'd be more wiggle room if you sold one of the refrigerator box sets.
When: 7 p.m. Sunday
Where: Fitzgerald's, 2706 White Oak
Tickets: $22; 713-862-3838 or www.fitzlivemusic.com