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The Residents are an avant garde music and visual arts group. They formed in 1972 and released their first record that year, a double-disc 45 RPM recording entitled Santa Dog. They have released nearly sixty albums, created numerous musical films, designed three CD-ROM projects, and undertaken six major world tours. They are still active and released a new CD-Internet project on June 13, 2006 entitled "The River of Crime" which is said to be modeled after the radio dramas of the 1940s. A new full length CD ("Tweedles") was released on October 31, 2006 on Mute Records.
They are known for their secrecy, singular art, and embrace of new technology.
Who are the Residents?
Much of the speculation about the members' true identities swirls around their management team, known as "The Cryptic Corporation." Cryptic was formed by Jay Clem (Born 1947), Homer Flynn (born April 1945), Hardy W. Fox (born 1945), and John Kennedy in 1976, all of whom denied having been band members. (Clem and Kennedy left the Corporation in 1982.) The Residents per se don't grant interviews, though Flynn and Fox have occasionally commented to the media. Nolan Cook, who has been working with the band recently, denied in an interview that Fox and Flynn are the Residents, saying that he has come across such rumors, and they are completely false.
William Poundstone, author of the Big Secrets books, claimed Flynn and possibly Fox are likely members of The Residents, probably the group leaders; this is probably the most widespread belief among the group's fans. A subset of that belief is that Flynn is the lyricist (a conclusion buttressed by the fact that his voice bears an uncanny resemblance to that of the Singing Resident) and that Fox writes the music. In addition BMI's online database of the performance rights organization [of which the Residents and their publishing company, Pale Pachyderm Publishing (Warner-Chappell), have been members for their entire careers], lists Flynn and Fox as the composers of all original Residents songs. This includes those songs written pre-1974 (the "Residents Unincorporated" years), the year Cryptic formed . However, many have pointed out that a songwriter can copyright a song under any name he/she chooses; the person named in the copyright assignment receives all royalties and legal requests and other information for the song, which, if Flynn and Fox are merely trusted managers who both handle the Residents' business and protect their identities, makes them the logical choice to be assigned the copyrights.
Cryptic openly admits the group's artwork is done by Flynn (among others), under various names that, put together, become Pornographics, but the pseudonym is rarely spelled the same way twice (examples: Porno Graphics, Pore No Graphix, Pore-Know Graphics); and that Fox is the "sound engineer" - meaning that he is the main producer, engineer, master, and editor of all their recordings. (Since 1976, the Residents' recordings have all listed their producer as "The Cryptic Corporation," presumably meaning Fox in particular.) Many other rumors have come and gone over the years, including the idea that the band members are physically disfigured; that 60s psychedelic band Cromagnon shared members with the band; and that the band members are in fact The Beatles in disguise.
Due to the obscurantist nature of the band, it is difficult to get an accurate history of The Residents. What follows is information from unauthorized accounts which may or may not be entirely reliable.
The Residents supposedly hail from Shreveport, Louisiana, where they met in high school in the 1960s. In 1966, members headed west to San Francisco, California. After their truck broke down in San Mateo, they decided to remain there. Like all information, this is provided by The Cryptic Corporation and is likely false. Newer information indicates they are probably from Slidell, Louisiana, and picked Shreveport as the "place to be from" since it is the city in Louisiana that was furthest from Slidell.
Whilst attempting to eke out a living they experimented with tape machines, photography, and anything remotely to do with "art" that they could get their hands on. Word of their experimentation spread and, in 1969, a British guitarist and multi-instrumentalist named Philip Lithman and the mysterious N. Senada (who Lithman had picked up in Bavaria where the aged avant-gardist was recording birds singing) paid them a visit, and decided to remain.
The two Europeans would become great influences on the band. Lithman's guitar playing technique earned him the nickname Snakefinger (upon seeing a picture of Lithman playing the violin, a Resident exclaimed that his little finger resembled a snake).
The group purchased crude recording equipment and instruments and began to make tapes, refusing to let an almost complete lack of musical proficiency stand in the way. One of their first public performances was in 1974 at Rather Ripped Records in Berkeley, California.
Also in 1969 the Residents began to make the first of their unreleased tapes. Rumors have surfaced of two of perhaps hundreds of unreleased reel-to-reel items entitled Rusty Coathangers for the Doctor and The Ballad of Stuffed Trigger. The titles may be in question (as is the idea that these were album-length recordings), but the first title has been confirmed by a former head of the now defunct Smelly Tongues fan club. Further evidence of pre-1970 recordings surfaced with the release of the song "I Hear You Got Religion", supposedly recorded in 1969, and released originally as a downloadable track from Ralph America in 1999. Cryptic says there are lots of tapes dating back decades, but they were all done before the people were officially "The Residents" so they don't count. They also say there is plenty of music that is actually by The Residents so it is unnecessary to make-up imaginary old recordings.
In 1971 the group sent a reel-to-reel tape to Hal Halverstadt at Warner Brothers, since he had worked with Captain Beefheart. Halverstadt was not overly impressed with "The Warner Bros. Album" (he describes it as "okay at best" in "Uncle Willie's Cryptic Guide to the Residents"), but awarded the tape an "A for Ariginality". Because the band had not included any name in the return address, the rejection slip was simply addressed to "The Residents". The members of the band unanimously decided to use that name ever since.
The first performance of the band using the "Residents" moniker was at the Boarding House in San Francisco in 1971. That same year another tape was completed called Baby Sex.
In 1972 they moved to San Francisco and formed Ralph Records. At that time The Cryptic Corporation was operating as a partnership and incorporated to take over the running of Ralph Records.