So I went to see The Residents last night at the Forum in Kentish Town and it was amazing. This was a big deal for me as The Residents were the first band I ever properly liked. And I mean first as in when I was about ten years old. I still have my first ever compilation tape with a couple of Residents songs on there - 'Never Known Questions' and my favourite 'Constantinople':
I tried to come up with an adequate explanation but failed so here's what Wikipedia says about them instead:
'The Residents is an American avant-garde music and visual arts group who have created over sixty albums, created numerous musical short films, designed three CD-ROM projects and ten DVDs, and undertaken seven major world tours. Throughout their career, spanning nearly four decades, they have successfully maintained complete anonymity.'
I honestly never thought I’d get to see them live. They still produce an album every few years, but with every tour there are rumours it will be their last and I’d missed them in London once before. I also had no idea what to expect – in my lifetime I’ve only met about two or three other people who’ve even heard of The Residents before. So I was quite surprised to see the audience made up of a really broad range of people – some younger than me, some older, most around the same age. It was also sold out and there was a queue running all the way down the road.
The band had been delayed getting into the country so it was a late start, but it meant they pretty much went straight into the show once we got inside. The show was part music, part video, and part theatrical performance and told the story of the Bunny Boy – a rabbit-obsessed man who’s lost his brother Harvey and tries to find him by posting videos on the internet. It was just as weird and brilliant as I wanted it to be, although I think I was so excited about actually seeing them they probably could’ve come out on stage, waved, and disappeared again and I still would’ve been happy. Anyway, I won’t keep raving on about how good the gig was – there are loads of videos of the Bunny Boy tour on YouTube if you’re interested. You can also watch the full Bunny Boy video story on their website where there is a series, currently up to 43 two-minute episodes. It's a cool story with some neat twists and even if you're not into the music it's worth watching the videos. Here's an example:
People who have been to my flat will know why I chose that one.
As well as the story of the Bunny Boy himself who may be crazy or may be the only person who can save the world, there is an interesting subplot about modern communication and the internet. If taken as a story about a man going through a mental and emotion breakdown, it's certainly a very public one. At one point he gets an e-mail suggesting he make the videos more entertaining and puts on a rabbit suit to oblige, even though he objects to the idea. Later he dreams of a vast room lined with thousands of mirrored balls with a dead rabbit in the centre. I wondered if perhaps the mirrors represent all the people on the internet watching his breakdown on YouTube, but typical of The Residents there is no final answer, no real resolution to the story. But it opens up some interesting ideas about the internet and the nature of information and made me think, which is what all good art should do.
The amazing thing about The Residents is how they've kept up the mystery all these years – not even the internet has managed to cut through their identities. There are no scandalous stories, no manifestos or declarations of brilliance, there is only what they’ve chosen to put out there. Not only that, they've embraced the internet and used it to heighten the mystery even more. I think that’s maybe something we’re missing these days. It's like I was saying about Slipknot a few posts back. As soon as they started talking and taking their masks off, which they did after about six months of being famous, the mystery was gone.
But it's not just about masked bands. I remember the days before the internet where you’d have to do serious research if you wanted to find out about the origins of something. That’s what kept me interested in The Residents all these years. It was the same with films too – I had this one VHS of early Clive Barker short films and I used to watch the interviews at the end over and over because it was the only clue I had to where all his stuff came from. I used to hear about books and films that were banned or lost or even just rare and still scour the shops of Hanley looking for stuff like that. Now it’s all just a few clicks away. And mostly that’s good – I like that I can hear about something cool and have it come through my door a couple of days later. But it’s maybe a little too easy. I have a shelf full of films and books that I once thought impossible to track down - most of them I haven't had time to watch/read yet.
I also think there’s something to be said for The Residents refusing to do interviews. We know too much about everyone these days. I’m a huge fan of director’s commentaries and DVD special features but I also appreciate the filmmakers and musicians who try to avoid giving away all their secrets. I’m also a great believer in blogs, but sometimes I wonder - do we actually need to be this close to the artists we admire? The other night Amanda Palmer did a live webcast from Neil Gaiman’s house. So it was 1am and suddenly I'm looking into Neil Gaiman’s kitchen where lots of cool people are making dinner. And I had something of an existential crisis that reality TV fans probably got over long ago – it’s 1am and I’m watching people do something I do every day. For an hour. Only they’re not just people like us, they’re Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman – do I want Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman to be real people?
I can’t imagine The Residents as real people. I can’t picture them making dinner, or sitting watching TV or waiting for the bus. Even after seeing them live, they’re still as weird and mysterious as they ever were – maybe even more so. And I like that. I'm not saying that non-disclosure is better than full disclosure, I'm just saying it's a rare alternative.
So here I am writing my blog and at the moment I'm obviously on the side of full disclosure, or as full as it can be without getting me into trouble. Even at this stage, with my limited audience, I can relate to the Bunny Boy putting on his bunny suit when he thinks he’s not entertaining enough. And maybe one day, when there's a bit more material out there and what little this blog does to help promote my writing is no longer required, maybe I’ll consider hitting that big, shiny delete button on the settings page. There should be more mysteries in the world.