How The Residents ruined my life (Song of the day 395)
This is one of the saddest songs I ever heard.
The following is drawn from the pages of The Stranger, 21 April 1999. (I actually wrote a far, far longer version of this essay several years earlier for Unknown Pleasures, a book given away free with Melody Maker, mid-90s. If anyone has a copy I would really appreciate if they could send me a transcription or scan or something.)
THE RESIDENTS RUINED MY LIFE.
Until the age of 16 I never liked popular music. Sure, I’d seen the odd Top of the Pops performance in the early ’70s from glam stars like Glitter and Bowie and the Sweet, sure I’d listened on, aghast, as my elder brother played all his crap Genesis and Yes and Who in the bedroom, sure I knew about my elder sister’s Elton John infatuation. But those bands didn’t exactly make me want to partake in youth culture. I was more into classical music–Mozart, Rossini, perhaps a little Vaughan Williams. All right, I’d taught myself how to play piano using a Beatles songbook–but I never heard the original songs, and on the odd occasion when I did, they sounded all wrong. They were nowhere near as warped, skewed, and deliciously free-form as my renditions.
At the age of 14 I started to buy U.S. underground comics, and shortly made some cruel, cool friends–fellow comic collectors (male, obviously). After a couple of years I began to realize that they all liked rock music, mostly this new “punk” movement which was happening in the U.K. (we’re talking ’76 here). I couldn’t stand punk. I was in complete agreement with my mother when my Genesis-loving brother brought the first Ramones album home: “But where are the tunes, Michael?” she cried. Fuck that shit. The Ramones had nothing on Beethoven, except some scary-looking leathers. Plus, they hung out in New York City, home of the decadent and wiry.
My cool, cruel friends wouldn’t let it lie, though. They dug the Ramones and the Stranglers and the Pistols and the Clash… and some stranger music besides. Devo, the Fall–and then they decided to play a mean trick on my young, impressionable ears.
“Listen to this, you big-nosed bastard!” they cried, thrusting copies of the Residents’ first two available albums my way–Meet the Residents and Third Reich’N’Roll.
So I listened.
And what I heard was a deliciously warped, skewed, and free distillation of the previous 30 years of rock culture boiled down to approximately 60 minutes of music… kind of like my bad Beatles piano renditions, if only I’d been post-modern enough to record them at the time. Floating voices dripping in and out of the mix, abrasive pointed guitars. Crazy rhythms, nursery-rhyme chants. Controversy. I was hooked–lock, stock, the whole fucking lot! So we formed a band–my cool, cruel friends and I–based on the Residents’ experimental sound.
I played recorder and wailed, my Ramones-loving brother shoved a drumstick through his guitar’s strings, Phil played silent bass, and Ian simply looked menacing. (He owned a pair of shades.) We plastered our name everywhere–on flyers, on tape covers, on the front of my school exercise book in six-inch-high letters, right next to where I quoted John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero” and the Residents’ “N-R-G (Crisis Blues).” I didn’t understand why my schoolmates started sniggering when they saw my book, and I especially didn’t understand why I was thrown into detention when a teacher caught sight of my book. The band’s name? Blowjob. My cool, cruel friends had told me it was because I blew down the recorder. Bastards.
Anyhow. The Residents ruined my life. Period. There was me–awkward, terminally socially inept, an incredibly sensitive soul whose only goal in life was to fit in. And there was my taste in music–the Residents and the Fall.
You think it helped me win the affections of the gorgeous Italian private school girl in ballroom dancing lessons when I told her of my love for the Residents’ revolutionary Eskimo LP (a concept album which took you through a day of an Eskimo’s life) and the “Duck Stab” EP? Right.
You think it helped me get through my one year at college (math), playing tapes of my Residents-influenced band and inviting my few friends along to Throbbing Gristle concerts? Right. All I ever wanted was acceptance, and to kiss a girl… you want to know why it took me 23 years to achieve even that fundamental rite of passage? Take a guess. The fucking Residents and their fucking alternative “view” of life. Yeah. Thanks a bunch. You bastards.