3 days ago
Saturday, November 22, 2008
CHAPTER 13: FREAK SCENE: Cabaret Noir and Theatre of Cruelty in Postpunk San Francisco
Tuxedomoon. Residents. Chrome. Factrix. Monte Cazzazza. Subterranean. Flipper.
(Chapter 12 in the US edition)
"San Francisco… the world"
--Clem. NME 11/17/79. Ralph Records feature.
"What this city… in America”
Damon Edge: “If you can't relate artistically in San Francisco... you jump off the [Golden Gate] bridge."
“our own ‘Belle Epoque… state of grace”
--Reininger, from his sleevenotes to Tuxedomoon compilation Pinheads on the Move (Cramboy)
More from the sleevenotes: “There is a funny thing about San Francisco. Perhaps because it is such a beautiful city, or because of the history of that gold-rush town and its traditional tolerance for people who don’t seem to fit in anywhere else. Maybe it’s the climate… Whatever the cause, it seems that every ten years or so, a moment appears, one that changes forever anyone living it and fills them with a sense that they are living in a special time indeed…. The late fifties with North Beach ‘beatniks’ and poets, the late Sixties with its ‘Summer of Love’, and the late seventies with punks, neo-surrealists, even the ‘Art Police’--all of these were such moments, gone before you know it… I consider myself privileged to have in San Francisco during one such ‘moment’….”
>avoid full-time jobs
Bruce Lose, Flipper: “I had a big hotel room that was $25 a week, and I could get by doing night-time custodial work. Three hours work a week of work was my lowest point of intermingling the world of work with my punk world. I could do odd jobs and then go off on tours with Flipper.”
Peter Principle: “Also California was in its heyday as the great welfare state--Jerry Brown was governor then.”
>feel of an aftermath
Helios Creed, Chrome: “San Francisco before it got hep again with punk, it was really fucked up --full of disco and shit. It was really depressing. There was Grateful Dead and hippies keeping the psychedelic scene going on, but that was about it.”
Joseph Jacobs: “Monday nights were punk rock night at Café Flor on Market St and
14th . It was just a hotbed of exploding culture there. It was right across from Eureka Theatre, in the basement of a church, where they had excellent performing arts and theatre series.
Bond Bergland: “I used to hang out and work at Café Flor, which survived from the hippie days. The nascent punk scene was there,
Steve Brown: “Café Flor was where everyone went for good crepes and good coffee--still a rarity in those pre-Starbucks days! Here there was a mix of nearby Castro Street queens and punks and artists of all sorts”.
Bond Bergland: “The Art Institute had a lot to do with the creativity of the San Francisco scene. Many of the people who started bands were at the Institute. And it’s a really unique place, one of the only places in America where you can go and learn to be the artist you want to be, rather than be just taught a craft. And the Institute put on gigs there.”
Steve Brown: “Z’ev…Mark Pauline…NON…. Even Devo in the beginning with their Bruce Conner films.”
Cole Palme, Factrix: “I carried that big Susan Sontag-edited Artaud anthology, ripped off from my high school library, around with me for a few years! That line of Artaud’s "... being like victims burnt at the stake, signaling through the flames"--was my mantra.”
Bond Bergland: “There’s this video of a performance called Paradise Now, and the whole thing is just acid-drenched--businessmen taking off their clothes in the middle of the performance and running on stage and joining in…. The groundwork was laid down in the 60s… It was, like, ten years later, so time for something else. But at the same time it was, like, the same stupid fight as before, like it’s always been.”
Not quite in the same spectacular bag but he certainly kept company with the SF industrialists, was Boyd Rice, a/k/a Non: actually from San Diego but a frequent visitor to SF with his noise-generating boxes. Rice assaulted audiences with abstract noise played at ear-gouging volume, generated with devices like a shoe-polishing machine and a mutated guitar with an electric fan welded to the fretboard.
Also quite glammy-theatrical were the terrific synth-punk outfit Nervous Gender and a character called Patrick Miller a/k/a Minimal Man.
Real name Stefan Weisser. After his foray into rock with Ariel, Weisser moved into “concrete poetry” and then returned to music just in time for punk. The Z’ev persona was just one of numerous sonic alter-egos used by Weisser.
Bond Bergland: “This was way before video came in. You’d go see all these great old movies on the big screen as they were meant to be seen. A lot of films don't translate to TV, you need the full impact of the big screen to see what people like Pasolini were trying to say. I was really into Pasolini and Polanski. And the members of Factrix worked in the movie theatres, so we didn’t even need any money to go to the movies. It was just something you could do.“
Accordig to Joseph Jacobs, the cult favorites of the day included “the original, unintelligible Australian version of Road Warrior”.
>“A razor to the mind’s eye”
--Palme/Factrix. Slash, 10/ 1980, reprinted in CD booklet of Factrix anthology Artifact (Storm Records)
After working on Vileness for years, building their own sets, etc,
The Residents abandoned the project in 1976
>The Residents seem like a postpunk band
One of many shared hallmarks: a penchant for quirky toy-music sounds that paralleled the London Musicians Collective sensibility. The Residents did a whole EP, Goosebump, using children’s toy instruments to make creepily subverted versions of classic nursery rhymes.
The Residents version was first released in limited form in 1976 but it was rereleased in early 1978, around the same time as Devo’s
>an audience they’d never have found
Homer Flynn: “They were swept along with the Punk/New Wave of the late Seventies/early Eighties but they never considered themselves to be Punk or New Wave. That was a point in time when people were more open to new ideas and from that standpoint, The Residents did fit in.” (Seconds, 1997)
“The Residents sprang… scratched the surface”
--Fox. Mondo 2000, date unknown, at http://www.rzweb.org/app/articles/mondo2000.html
>wanted to take psychedelia further
Homer Flynn: “All of those bands - San Francisco Psychedelic-era bands - eventually found their formula. They were experimental and then about 1970, 1971 most of them found a formula that sold and they stuck to it…. The Residents felt the ideas of the Psychedelic era could stand to be progressed further, rather than left where they were.” (Seconds, 1997)
Beefheart fanatics, the Residents admired the way Don Van Vliet had forcibly schooled the Magic Band in a whole new way of playing their instruments
“Before they started… that faithfully”
>”a good path towards originality”
Homer Flynn: “People think of a band and think of several people who get together and work on a song, and then go into a recording studio and lay down the basic tracks and build from that. The Residents approach couldn't have been more opposite. Traditionally, they're non-musicians.”
Equally crucial in the quest for uncompromised art was eliminating in advance any distracting notions of popularity. Accordingly, in 1974 The Residents recorded the album Not Available in accordance with their guru N. Senada's "theory of obscurity": the idea that creating music in the understanding that it is never to be heard, is the only way to avoid subconsciously pandering to an audience. (The Cryptic Corporation eventually snuck out the record without the group’s permission).
>wonderfully angular melodies
Hardy Fox: “I always tell people that the whole success of the Residents is based on the fact that they're tone deaf.” (Mondo 2000)
Homer Flynn: "The idea of them being a slave to celebrity seemed horrible. They also hated the ego posturing so prevalent in rock music and wanted to avoid it by creating this total separation between their private and public lives."
>Grove street warehouse
Tuxedomoon were one of Ralph’s earliest local signings and Steve Brown remembers there also being Jay Clem’s office and a large storage room for records and back catalogue. “There was a huge garage-like space they used as a film studio…. That’s where we would eventually shoot the promo for Tuxedomoon’s single “Jinx” in 16mm, directed by Graham Whifler who did most of the early Ralph videos. I for one was more impressed by the Residents videos then their music.”
According to their ally Chris Cutler (ex-member of avant-prog outfit Henry Cow, founder of Recommended Records), who wrote about them in Sounds, The Residents “believed that pop, mass marketing and advertising offered highly productive means and materials for [making Art]”. They embraced “the fertile complex of… packaging, promotion, letterheads, group and corporate images…” (this is from his book File Under Pop).
The double irony, he further writes, is that this was both an artistic aspect of their work and a totally prosaic, for-real thing As Cutler writes, “the record label, publicity department, video, photo, art and recording studios, publishing house, print workshop, boardroom and accounts department… were staffed by the same four people, known (or rather unknown) as ‘The Residents’.”
>The Fab Four… experimental potential of psychedelia
Hardy Fox claimed that the Residents didn’t hate the Beatles as many believed , but honored them as “the first band to give up live performing and create within the studio.”
>samples… Third Reich… medley of defiled Sixties pop hits
The Residents are pioneers of a plunderphonic tradition that includes Negativland, Culturcide, and John Oswald’s Plunderphonic projects. Long before the digital sampler was invented, The Residents engaged in a form of proto-sampling that added the insult of parody to the injury of copyright infringement. “If you listen to their version of ‘Papa's Got A Brand New Bag’ on Third Reich 'n Roll, that's actually James Brown's horn section,” revealed Homer Flynn to Seconds in 1997. “What they did on that was lay down his original song as a template and played along with it.” On the sleevenote, the Cryptic Corp write “the riffs, words, and even sometime the arrangements found on the Third Reich ‘N Roll were shamelessly lifted from [the group’s] memory of Top Forty radio of the Sixties.”
But this wasn’t the first time they’d engaged in such bricolage, The sleevenotes to Meet The Residents, describes how they spent the Sixties scavenging sonic detritus: "cassettes of soldiers in Vietnam singing songs with impromptu instrumentation... reels from second handshops... sound effects and bird call collections from garage sales ... even a few bootleg tapes of well-known pop artists going avant-garde between takes". In addition to the plunderphonic et al tradition, this sort of sonic salvage and audio composting puts them in the hauntological continuum: Position Normal, Ghostbox, etc etc.
>A flurry of release in 77-78
Fingerprince, Duck Stab/Buster & Glen, Not Available.
Pseudo-ethnological sleevenotes detailed the disappearing Inuit customs, many of them quite hard to countenance even if you’re a committed cultural-relativist
--Residents. Sounds 9/20/78.
“Cooped up… towards the end… were around… they locked us… bay wharf”--Clem. Sounds 9/20/78.
>One and the same
This was something that anybody who had any direct dealings with Ralph figured out sooner rather than later.
Helios Creed, “We would all hang out at the Residents warehouse on 444 Grove Street, where they would make their videos and their music. The keyboard guy’s name was H and the lead singer’s name was Homer and then there was this other guy called John. The Residents had a southern accent-- lahk from the south’ was the way Homer talked. You could hear it in the lyrics sometimes, he couldn’t really cover it up. That’s what made them funny--that they were just normal guys.”
Peter Principle: “We eventually figured out that the guy doing the graphics and the engineer in the studio were in fact the Residents. They didn’t wear eyeballs to work so it wasn’t all that obvious at first!”
The label became something of a home for freaks
Damon Edge: “It was like finding some other green people on this island! That somebody else understood what you were doing…. I think it’s great that there ARE some bands out there getting into Rock for 1985…” (Search & Destroy #8)
>Angels of light
Offspring of the Cockettes, what Steve Brown calls “Sixties glitter gender-fuck theatre queens” who inspired Bowie and Elton John
Review of a documentary film about the Angels of Light and the Cockettes
Steve Brown: “We were living the Marcel Carne film “Les Enfants du Paradise”…
Every show required months of work--from writing of scenarios to musical scores, costumes, sets, dance numbers etc. My debut was standing on the stage of the San Francisco Civic Auditorium in front of a packed house dressed as a giant starfish (a costume I had made) playing a clarinet in a gorgeous underwater set.”
>Never charging a dime
Steve Brown: “They were very serious about art being free and nobody in the group was allowed to participate in any profit making ventures relating to theatre. The theatre of the Angels was a revelation.”
>electronic music class
Steve Brown: “This was before the days of polyphonic keyboard synths and the class was more like an electronics or physics class…voltage…oscillators.. square waves… We produced sounds by patching cables and turning knobs. Music concrete and Subotnik like bleeps were the order of the day.”
Bond Bergland: “Tommy Tadlock was actually from Baltimore originally--he came up with John Waters.”
Steve Brown: “Long before I ever met him I was always hearing about him from various Angels. In fact Tommy was extremely important to the AoL which prided itself on its original scores and songs performed live with each production. … Suffice to say I ended up moving in with him.”
>became Tuxedomoon’s mentor/guru
Brown on Tadlock: “Sometimes frighteningly demonic yet always there to keep prodding us when we got lazy or discouraged, he was blood--one of us.”
As with other postpunk groups e.g. Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Tuxedomoon sound assembled itself
through a mixture of contingency and aversion. Inspiration came from many fronts: Burroughs Philip Glass/Steve Reich, Eno/Roxy/Bowie, John Cage….
>Winston Tong/performance art
Winston Tong from Search & Destroy #9: “I have this basic feeling that art in museums is pretty dead. And I think that performances is necessary for vitality there, because life is--moving along, and this art hanging around the walls, sitting on the floors, is not indicative of what’s going on.”
>shows grew ever more multi-levelled
Peter Principle, “We put the keyboard on a baby bassinet and had cardboard cutout figures of cowboys and flight simulator guys onstage.”
In some ways Tuxedomoon’s closest counterpart in New York (where they went down very well with the Mudd Club crowd) was Klaus Nomi--same links to gay theatricalism (Club 57/New Wave Vaudeville in Nomi’s case), same Europeanism (opera in the German-born Nomi’s case), same utterly scripted and non-spontaneous performances.
Brainchild of an interestingly eccentric character called Richard Strange, who had been the frontman of the late-glam/proto-New Wave outfit Doctors of Madness. People like Richard Jobson of The Skids would read poetry at Cabaret Futura as part of a mixed-bag, “variety for a New Wave era” night of entertainment.
>Pink Military Stands Alone
Fronted by Jayne Casey, formerly of the glam-punk outfit Big In Japan, who were at the heart of the Liverpool punk scene. Pink Military was atypical in the Liverpool because its releases like the Blood and Lipstick four-track 12 inch EP were being more in line with the experimental postpunk going on elsewhere in the UK--elements of dub, disco, electronics--but it retained a theatrical element coming from Casey’s Bowie-girl/Roxy-fan past. In a January 12 1980 NME cover story, Casey talked about being influenced by Edith Piaf and Anthony Newley and declared "Cabaret, that's what we're working on at the moment, but with like heavier undertones," a direction hinted at by the track “I Cry” on “Blood and Lipstick”. But by the time Pink Military made its major label debut with Do Animals Believe in God? (Eric’s/Virgin, 1980) the attempt to find the missing link between Brian Eno and Liza Minelli produced results that veered uncomfortably close to--shudder--Hazel O’Connor. Pink Industry, her next group, veered back to the margins with a series of studio-weirded releases.
>Existensially angsted muzak
Blaine Reininger, NME, November 17th 1979 (a Michael Goldberg article on the San Francisco scene) talked about how "a number of our songs are based on certain intervals in music that are traditionally known to create tension and fear. There's this interval, the tritone, that was banned by the Church in the Middle Ages. It was considered the Devil's sound...”
The line “Seven years went by in one night”—reminds me a bit of those Eno circa Another Green World and Before and After Science, all those songs about immobility and being becalmed and stranded , except in his songs the slowing down of time creates a kind of dreamy bliss, whereas with Tuxedomoon it’s more like an insuperable ennui.
>greatest impact overseas
English electropop pioneer John Foxx, formerly of Ultravox, was a big fan and very nearly signed them to his label Metal Beat.
>engineers who could work with drum machines
Their second album Desire, in fact, ended up being recorded in the UK with Foxx’s studio engineer Gareth Jones.
It has been described as “a poor-man's Mellotron or Chamberlin.”
There’s a whole site dedicated to this strange instrument, http://www.optigan.com/
with most of the crucial information at http://www.optigan.com/quest.html
>Joseph’s tape recorder
Joseph Jacobs: “The tape recorder had two capabilities--multiple speeds, and ‘sound on sound’, a crude form of multitracking. Each of us spent a lot of time experimenting with playing things at different speeds. In some cases we would re-record the slowed down drum machine through an amplifier, through reverb and echo. And we'd slow that down again. So we were recording recordings of recordings.”
Monte Cazazza: “I've always been interested in science since I was a little kid…. The history of science, the history of medicine. Maybe I'm just a historian.”
>staged mixed media extravaganzas
Monte Cazazza: “The best thing was all those interrelationships and collaborations. Working on things, seeing the basic idea where you have one mind and then another mind and you end up with a third mind. Which Burroughs and Gysin talked a lot about. It actually does happen where 1 + 1 = 3.”
> Night of the Succubus
20th February 2006
Bond Bergland: “Mark Pauline got really into making machines using mummified animals, dried out dead animals, which he’d mount on mechanized frames.”
>Super deep dark humour
Bergland: “We thought it was all hysterically funny, but if people didn't really know that about us, they might just think ‘you’re so self-indulgent, so brooding, so serious’!”
>“We got all these… had a fever”
--Pauline. Quoted in
V. Vale’s Re/Search Industrial Culture Handbook. (see bibliography). P. 28.
>“scramble thought… syntax”
-Palme. Re/Search #1, 1980.
>“not quite right music”
--Damon Edge, Sounds 5/10/1980.
“what Joy Division… balls”--Carducci, in his Rock and the Pop Narcotic (see bibliography). P. 318
>All things morbid
Bergland: “Death is very interesting, you know! It’s funny that in some artistic mediums it’s still taboo. Every film is about death and murder mystery, but in a musical setting it’s considered odd. We were trying to explore things that weren’t really discussed in the medium of music. I think that's why so many postpunk musicians were interested in film and literature, because the musical ideas were not satisfying enough.”
Factrix called themselves “psychedelic inversionists” (c.f. Richard H. Kirk describing the Cabs live experience with the cut-up in terms of a bad trip, or TG as post-psychedelic trash)
>scramble thought patterns, break up the syntax
Cole Palme, from Research, issue unknown: “But it’s all unnecessary because any day now the collective unconscious will burst open. It’ll be a monster”
and Cole Palme, Slash, 1980: “I’m not sure where the words come from. I’m in a trance-like state when they materialize. I’ll later do some editing and rephrasing. I select words for their sound properties… their magnetic properties. Pregnant words. We’ll work and rework until the music and the words mesh… Elements of disturbing surprise, off-color juxtapositions which trigger pops and crackles.”
>the band’s musical genius
Steve Tupper: “A lot of the musical ideas came from Helios Creed rather than Damon Edge, frankly. In my business dealings with Chrome, I mostly dealt with Damon. But he was always out to scam this or that, so it was kind of a struggle. Damon was basically this very rich kid from LA, and he didn’t need to do the music. But he was always hustling these business deals.”
>migrated from his native Hawaii
Helios Creed: “The first guitarist I liked was Hendrix. I wanted to make a band like the Experience, so I dropped out of school and moved from Hawai to San Francisco.”
Helios Creed: “Damon was English but his mother had put him up for adoption and he was taken by two rich Americans in LA. I asked him what it was like being adopted and he said ‘very cold’. They weren’t real loving. I guess, but they were rich and took care of him.”
Damon Edge: “[At Cal Arts] I was studying with Allen [sic] Kaprow, the guy who invented Happenings.… I think the only thing I got out of that was that random element was valid.” (Search & Destroy #8)
More on Kaprow here http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Acropolis/5422/kaprow.html
>Harshly treated guitar
Creed: “We called ourselves tonalists--we were looking for different tones.
I kept looking for a new guitar sound, and probably overdoing it. Although Damon didn’t play guitar per se, he got the guitar sounding pretty cool with weird effects. We just kept wanting to get harder and heavier”.
Damon Edge(N ME, January 1980): "It's taken me ten years to develop the tones we use--it may sound like mud to the average person, but it's precise melody to me."
Steve Tupper: “Damon played this synth that hung around his neck and was shaped like a guitar. He had it configured so it sounded a bit like a guitar. But Helios was the real musician in Chrome, he could play extremely well.”
>science fiction lyrics
Damon Edge: "We put pictures in people's heads. It's information to trigger the imagination, therefore it's open to interpretation. We aren't a finished entity." (NME, Janunary 1980)
Edge: “You know that song by Grand Funk where ‘a rock & roll band’s gonna come to your town, gonna get down’…. That’s so linear--it has nothing visual about it, nothing 3-dimensional… It’s the same with filmmakers too---the films from Europe have a different depth of consciousness.” (Search and Destroy #8)
>Psychedelic johnny come latelys
Creed: “We were really inspired by Pink Floyd, from Syd Barrett all the way to Meddle, and by early Hawkwind. But we weren’t hippies. It was something else.”
Another element that came through when Creed himself sang was the influence of the post-psychedelic folk singer Shawn Philips, especially the albums Contribution and Second Contribution. You can hear it especially on the amazing tyrack “Pygmies in Zee Park”. Creed: “That’s left over from my folk days – that’s the way I used to sing. Shawn Philips was a big inspiration. He did a lot of lyrics for Donovan. He had the most incredible voice and the most incredible range, and me and my friends all tried to sing like him”
Helios Creed: “LSD was uncool at that time, but in a couple of years it got to be cool again”.
>Started his own label Siren
Damon Edge: “I didn’t want to ‘start a record company’. It was just the only reality there was left. Because a lot of the American labels said, ‘these guys are fucked UP”. They said we were Charles Manson music! Bad Doors music!” (Search & Destroy #8)
>more from movies than books
One book they did read though was the Good Book. Both Creed and Edge would pore through the Bible, with Revelations especially fueling the apocalyptic. Creed: “we wouldn’t understand it, but we’d read it!”
Joe Carducci believes Will Shatter “was the real artist in the band. He always looked straight. He was always wasted but he didn’t look like a punk rocker at all.”
Bruce Lose: “Will was a really weird character. When I first got to know him, he was like a jokester. He would always smile out of the corner of his eyes. He could be a downright asshole with people he didn't like--tell them completely false stories. But he was charming, he had this finesse. We had a great time--we’d hang out, snort lines of [crank] and drink tons of beer. Hang out in the ladies bathroom, pick up girls. When we got to working in the band together, we just clicked. We’d come to rehearsal--I would have a lyric and he would have a piece of music, or maybe the other way round. There were songs there, every time we got together. We easily wrote over 75 songs”.
>We want to experiment with the music without being an art band
Joe Carducci: “That comment shows how Flipper thought it was in the rock clubs that the things that mattered happened.” C.f. DNA, according to Arto Lindsay, preferring to play CBGB rather than the Kitchen.
Joe Carducci: “Their heads got turned in New York when they really got a buzz going there. Suddenly they’d be pissed off at the drummer Steve DePace ‘cos he couldn’t play a funk beat. As if they could play funk on the bass!”
Carducci: “But Will Shatter wouldn’t have known what PiL or Magazine was doing, he was probably more into the Velvets and The Stooges.”
Much older than the rest of the band, Ted Falconi was a Viet Vet who’d seen too much. “He was pretty damaged,” says Bruce Lose. “Ted had been in ‘Nam at a point when things weren't very safe, the North was definitely overrunning. I don't know exactly what he saw, he didn't talk about it much. But he was way way influenced--he wore military garb, for instance.”
Guitarist Michael Belfer: “Psychedelia is endemic to the area. I loved Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac… Fripp/Eno’s No Pussyfooting… We used to take a lot of speed and acid--the speed we got here was amazing.” (Jon Savage interview)
Carducci: “Steve was really just into documenting the scene. So in a way, like with Dischord in Washington DC, there’s great records on Subterranean and then a lot of middling stuff.”
>Tupper/Diggers/People’s Park/rent strike/food coooperatives
Tupper: “In the Sixties there was this little thing called Vietnam… I was opposed to it as early as 1965, as I was graduating from high school. I got involved in SDS [Students for A Democratic Society[. Then I participated in the Diggers, one of three different branches in the San Francisco area. My one operated a store where people brought things they didn’t need anymore and others took what they needed . I set up a desk in one corner and did draft counselling. Not long after this there was People’s Park in Berkeley… In 1970 we had a citywide rent strike. Then in the early Seventies I got involved in the Food Conspiracies--food coops organized by neighbourhood where we’d buy food directly from farmers.”
>Live At Target/Nervous Gender/Z’Ev
It’s just one of a number of bizarre compilations Subterranean pulled together in its most active early years. Red Spot featured electronic rocker Minimal Man plus Fried Abortions, Research Library, Woundz, Animal Things etc. Club Foot offered “neo beatnik meets modern jazz meets bizarroid pop meets twisted funk meets demented Stravinsky,” according to the Subterranean catalogue. As for Live At Target itself, in addition to Flipper and Factrix there was: Nervous Gender, an abrasive, crazy-funny synth-punk outfit whose album for Subterranean Music From Hell was “electronic music with testicles” (sez the catalogue) and indeed it does sound like Flipper’s spirit grafted into DAF’s physique; there was also Uns, an alter-ego for Z’Ev.
Tupper: “Nervous Gender were kind of similar to the Screamers in Los Angeles--they used synths rather than guitars, but were really loud and obnoxious and screaming, with this crazy sense of humour. Z’ev’s stuff on Live At Target was done as Uns--he had all these different performing personas, and the Uns personality was extremely nervous, neurotic, on the verge of going totally crazy. He would be doing all that and at the same time generating noise with the keyboards and tape machines and processors, and running his vocals through a megaphone that had this really tinny sound. It was quite something.”
Factrix/Tuxedomoon instrument-maker Tommy Tadlock also put out an odd little single “Body AD/Poker Keno” on Subterranean, and Bruce Lose also did a solo single for the label.
>moved to New York
In New York Bergland eventually formed the brilliant outfit Saqqara Dogs, which was an overtly cosmic rock band, and in that sense followed the same trajectory from industrial morbidity to hyperdelic ecstasy as Throbbing Gristle did when they turned into Psychic TV.
From Blissed Out:
“On their "World Crunch" and "Thirst" albums, Saqqara Dogs fused
primitive percussion and 'cosmic' guitar to create an ecstatic trance-rock that at times recalled Pink Floyd's 'Ummagumma'. A decade earlier, guitarist Bond Bergland had been involved in the 'industrial' aesthetic with his band
Factrix. 'A lot of people are still caught up in that, seven or eight years on. Noise is our natural state, sure, but to attain the supernatural state we have to go above and beyond noise, we need a new geometry and a new harmony. To reproduce that noise is reportage, journalism. And the difference
between journalism and music is that music is alchemy, turning lead into gold, noise into harmony. What happens with Saqqara Dogs is that the claustrophobia and dirt of the city drives us into these open spaces. The city gives us its energy, but we go somewhere else with it."
Interesting how Bergland here rejects the TG valorization of “journalism’/ reportage/collecting and dispassionately presenting “information”, in favour of alchemy/magick/re-enchantment of the world.
>a certain dilettantism
Carducci on San Francisco: “There’s a sense in which you’re there to live rather than to do something.“
Photos taken in the Bay area during this period, including Flipper and Throbbing Gristle at Kezar Pavilion
bonus transcript at the Totally Wired blog: Q/A with Steven Brown of Tuxedomoon
piece by on The Residents video/film retrospective at Moma for ArtReview
The Residents: Re-Viewed, October 19-22, the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
by Simon Reynolds
From the start, The Residents saw themselves as a sound and vision entity. Way ahead of punk’s indie label revolution, the San Francisco group set up not just their own record company, Ralph, but a do-it-all-yourself production facility, which included, alongside studios for recording music and graphic design, a huge sound-stage for making films.
Before they’d even released their debut album, 1973’s Meet the Residents, the band had embarked on a movie, Vileness Fats, intended to be the world’s first fourteen-hour musical-comedy-romance set in a world of one-armed midgets. The project was pursued fitfully for four years only to be abandoned in 1976. But the warehouse HQ on Grove Street did spew out a stream of innovative and derangingly strange music videos and short films, and these, along with footage from the aborted Vileness, are now being honored with a MOMA retrospective.
Mixed-media performance and audio-visual malarkey were the norm in San Francisco’s postpunk scene. Tuxedomoon, an electronic cabaret outfit who recorded for Ralph,
came out of Sixties underground theater, with one member having belonged to the
legendary all-gay troupe Angels of Light,, while SF industrial band Factrix staged mind-bending spectacles in collaboration with local performance artists like Monte Cazazza and Mark Pauline (the robot-builder and pyrotechnician behind Survival Research Laboratories). Punk certainly opened things up and created a new climate in which bands like the Residents and Devo could find an audience. But in truth the Residents were post-psychedelic rather than post-punk: the group had been in existence since the late Sixties and had arrived in San Francisco from their native Louisiana just as the high tide of acid rock was ebbing. According to Residents’ spokesman Hardy Fox (the group itself shuns interviews and has preserved its anonymity for over thirty years), the band “sprang from the fact that psychedelia dead-ended. The people who were doing experiments in that direction stopped when they had barely scratched the surface.” Those “people” included the Beatles, Frank Zappa, and Captain Beefheart. Undeterred by the fact that they could barely play instruments, The Residents wanted to pick up where their freak heroes had left off. And, whether onstage or in their videos, they wanted imagery as weird and wigged-out as their sounds.
The visual work does indeed closely mirror the arc of the Residents music,
(de)evolving from a lo-fi yet genuinely uncanny neo-Dada to a high-tech but increasingly sterile kookiness. The early “promos”--scare quotes because when they were made in the late Seventies there were hardly any places on American TV that showed videos and nobody, except maybe the cable TV fringe, would dare to show them--have a macabre whimsy and gorgeous grotesqueness that at various points brings to mind the Quay Bros, Eraserhead (a late-night movie-house fave with the San Francisco postpunk set) and the Anglo-surrealist children’s animations made by Postgate Films (The Clangers, Bagpuss, Pogle’s Wood). In Third Reich’n’Roll (1976) the Residents cavort in Ku Klux Klan-like head-dresses made from newspaper, pounding percussion as their mutant cover of Wilson Pickett’s “Land of a Thousand Dances” plays. The four One-Minute Movies for the sixty-second tracks off 1980’s Commercial Album are visual haikus as exquisitely eerie as the tunes, full of images that linger in the memory: a female corpse cocooned in cob-webs, a rheumy-eyed geezer watching TV on a bare mattress who suddenly levitates to the ceiling, a dead pig with roman candles stuck between its trotters. In several of these micro-movies, The Residents appear in their famous Fred Astaire meets Un Chien Andalou image: the elegance of top-hats, tails, and canes disrupted by the gigantic, veiny eyeballs that completely replace their heads. A fractured tale about a mis-shapen misfit with Zelig-like traits of recurrence and ubiquity, Hello Skinny (1980) pays homage to Chris Marker’s La Jetée with its black-and-white stills, the collaging of photographic and drawn material further recalling Terry Gilliam’s animations for Monty Python.
The Residents had a parasitical-cum-parodic relationship with mainstream pop culture, which they regarded as a new form of totalitarianism, evil because of its banality. Hence the love/hate for the Fab Four expressed in the cover of their debut album, a defacement of Meet the Beatles’s famous cover; hence Third Reich ‘n’Roll’s transformation of the entirety of Sixties pop into the soundtrack for Hitler’s Blitzkrieg. By the mid-Eighties, the group launched a massive project, the American Composers Series, 20 albums across 20 years that would honor-through-vandalisation the work of figures like George Gershwin and Hank Williams. (In the event, the series sputtered to a halt after just two records). It’s as this point that things start to go awry with the Residents output, sonically and visually: the irritatingly goofy cover of James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s World” is out-dulled only by the uninspired animations that accompany it, while The Residents’ video for their take on John Philip Sousa "Stars and Stripes” is a smug and clunky exercise in anti-militarism (World War III rendered as an amusement arcade shooting gallery designed by Lari Pitman and Disney: clown-face bombs, rabbits riding on top of intercontinental missles, and so forth). What the later Residents work, like the flat and strangely static 2000 video for “Constantinople”, shows is that 98 times out of 100, analog trumps digital. Computers can create the most superficially “fanstastical” images, but because you literally can’t believe your eyes, there’s no sense of the umheimlich, none of that “dreamed” quality possessed by the Residents’ early work, made when the group had to get by with hand-made props, stage sets, and costumes, with lighting and camera-work, and above with their own bodies.
all non-pictorial contents copyright Simon Reynolds unless otherwise indicated