Music » Music Feature

The Residents: In the eye of the beholder

How avant-garde rock icon the Residents changed pop music, and singer Molly Harvey's life, forever

by

5 comments

Page 4 of 4

BUMMING AROUND IN A BATHROBE: Randy Rose on stage at Variety Playhouse during the Talking Light Tour in February 2010.
  • Perry Julien
  • BUMMING AROUND IN A BATHROBE: Randy Rose on stage at Variety Playhouse during the Talking Light Tour in February 2010.

Since the rise of the Internet, the concept of anonymity, at least from the Residents' perspective, has been abused. But rather than lament the technological dilemma, the group has adapted its façade to fit the times. When the Residents appeared on stage during their 2010-11 Talking Light Tour, something had clearly changed. There wasn't a single one of the group's trademark eyeballs present, and its members, now stripped down to three, had outed themselves as Randy, Bob, and Chuck. They were three costumed characters presented as though you should already know them — or at least Randy. Bob and Chuck flanked Randy on either side of the stage, lingering in the shadows, hunched over keyboards and guitars and dressed in matching insect-like costumes. The stage set was an invitation into Randy's living room, where, dressed in his bathrobe, he was comfortable enough to share a series of ghost stories with the audience. He masqueraded around the stage, acting as though the veil of anonymity had been lifted. In its place, the group had switched gears to welcome the aesthetics of complete familiarity, albeit in a manner just as convoluted as anything else the group had ever done.

Fox insists that the Residents have never been any more anonymous than anyone else who performs with a stage name. "Names reveal nothing about a person, and very few show folks use their real name, anyway," Fox says. "We live in a world of Lady Gagas and Bob Dylans, and people in show business surgically remodel their face on a whim. The whole anonymous fascination is much more of a thing to the outside world."

It's a valid point: Everyone from indie rock icon Bonnie "Prince" Billy to Miley Cyrus as Hannah Montana disguises his or her identity to varying degrees. But what sets the Residents apart, even as Randy, Bob, and Chuck, is a fundamental void. It is human nature to ascribe value to facial recognition and familiarity. Regardless of how contrived that sense of recognition may be, it is a core element of celebrity culture, pop music, and social media. Most performers give you a face and a name behind the act. It's in defying this formula that the Residents have given themselves a face-lift while staying true to the group's original mission.

But creating Randy, Bob, and Chuck personalizes the Residents, adding a new and modern layer to their presentation. "In all honesty, they had been trying to get away from the eyeball and top hat thing for years, but for one reason or another they would have to re-create it for promotion or for some other reason because it was so successful," Flynn says. "But underneath that, they had been chomping at the bit for change."

Fox is more cynical with his take on the transformation. "If I say that one of the Residents is Charles Bobuck, you would say, 'Never heard of him,'" Fox says. "It really means nothing, so in time you can't be a person. No one is interested in such boredom as a 'Bobuck.' The Residents are stuck being the Residents or being nobody at all."

Still, Charles "Chuck" Bobuck is on Facebook, and he regularly posts bits of fiction and observations via his Codgers on the Moon blog, stating outright that he is the "primary composer and arranger for the Residents." Likewise, Randy Rose appears in an infomercial advertising the Residents' limited edition (just 10) Ultimate Box Set, which is actually a refrigerator packed with all of the group's major releases and an original eyeball mask that sells for the low price of $100,000.

Randy also has a Tumblr, called Maurice and Me, where he mixes Residents history lessons with answering questions from fans. He also uses his Tumblr as an outlet for ruminating on obtuse topics such as his sexual exploits, his 11 failed marriages, and his cat Maurice — whom he's claimed as his life partner. Fabricated or not, it's an impressive, Residents-style take on social media, riffing on the absurdly juicy details that drive celebrity culture. It's also the same playful sense of humor that was on display 40 years ago when the group defaced the cover of Meet the Beatles for its own debut, Meet the Residents, and identified its members as Paul McCrawfish, John Crawfish, George Crawfish, and Ringo Starfish.

Just as the members of the Residents have found a new direction while redefining the group, Harvey's life has taken on a new direction. She's now raising her son, Flynn, and working as a substitute teacher. Life has carried her far away from the derelict SoMa streets of the early '90s, where she first made the acquaintance of Homer Flynn and, through him, the Residents. These days she takes the stage with them any time the group passes through town to play a show, and she's still interested in doing voice work; always keeping an ear to the ground.

Ironically, it's when reflecting on the years and her experiences with the Residents a decade later that she realizes it was only by becoming a part of the group's twisted worldview that she was able to find the direction in life that she needed. "I was at such a transitional point in my life when I met them, and the experiences that I carry with me from the years I spent with them are how I learned to be a normal person in society. That's where I found the balance of being able to make something crazy, but still be a happy, healthy person — to be normal and have a family," she says. "For me, meeting the Residents was an absolute lifesaver."

Comments (5)

Showing 1-5 of 5

Add a comment
 

Add a comment