Tomorrow night, in what could be the most inspired booking of the year, San Francisco’s avant-garde performance troupe the Residents perform at the ornately refurbished Scottish Rite Theater.
Best known as the musicians behind the giant eye ball masks in top hats, they celebrate their 40th year with the “sort of” retrospective Wonder of Weird tour and something called the Ultimate Box Set (UBS).
Packaged in a 28-cubic-foot stainless steel refrigerator containing releases spanning the group’s career, the UBS holds well over 100 items including original pressings. In typically outrageous fashion there are only 10 available and they cost $100,000.
To preserve their anonymity, the band never gives interviews. I did, however, speak with co-manager Homer Flynn about the UBS, the tour, and the pains and joys of remaining anonymous.
Geezerville: Have you sold any of the box sets?
Homer Flynn: No, we haven’t sold any yet. There have been several inquiries, but when it gets around to paying the deposit, they seem less interested. Let’s put it that way.
G: Do you think you’re going to sell any?
HF: To tell you the truth I don’t really know. There’s one guy in particular who’s a huge Residents fan and has a lot of money. He’s invested money into projects in the past, so I’m a little surprised I haven’t heard anything from him at this point. I’m still thinking he might buy one.
We also have a really great connection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The woman who’s our connection there, the media curator, is trying to drum up support for them to buy one, which would be really fantastic. I haven’t talked to her for a while, so I’m not sure if she’s made any progress or not.
G: Being in a refrigerator would make it hard to ship, wouldn’t it?
HF: It all depends on how you look at it. It’s being created as its own art piece. If you want to possess the art piece as something that appreciates over time, you want the original thing. We’ll also sell the contents without the refrigerator, if you want that. That’s at a discount of $1,000. The refrigerator costs a couple of thousand. We’re telling people they have to pay for shipping and handling regardless.
G: It includes original pressings of some hard to find releases. I’m amazed that 10 of some of those even exist.
HF: In all honesty, the first question when the idea came up was how many to offer. As we started checking archives there were 10 of everything. Maybe one or two of the band has to go into their personal collection, but the stuff’s there.
G: Part of the attraction of the band is that it was always adventurous, doing the unexpected. This box set fits with that. Now the tour celebrates 40 years of the band. Will it be a retrospective?
HF: Yes, but let’s put it this way: the Residents aren’t your standard band, so it won’t be your standard retrospective. There will be people disappointed that the band’s not doing “Constantinople” and “Man’s World,” or things that were more popular from a singles point of view. A lot of what they’re doing is fairly obscure. But if you look at it in the context of the Residents, it’s a true retrospective. It’s very valid for them.
G: Has the bandmembers remaining anonymous hindered the group or caused problems in any way? Has it had any effect at all?
HF: In some ways it may have hindered things at times. If you look at the way the entertainment business works in this country, it’s really about the cult of personality. So when there aren’t personalities per se, it becomes more difficult to sell things. The trade-off for that has been a level of freedom, because nobody’s being pinned down to being the cute or the smart one.
A lot of the idea originally was that when credit came down it would be over the blanker identity of the Residents. Then that credit would filter down organically beneath that. That facade creates a lot of freedom. That’s been great. It’s what’s allowed them to maintain such a changeable path over the decades.
G: Within the past few years, the bandmembers were given names. What was the genesis of that?
HF: I think the Residents were feeling the completely, totally faceless facade they created was starting to feel dated – in the culture and to them. The way I see this is the Residents have always been quick to embrace new technologies or new media as they came along.
I think the whole idea of Randy, Chuck, and Bob – with Randy having a Tumblr blog and Chuck having a Facebook presence and his own blog – is that this is them experimenting with yet another medium. It’s more of them staying up with the times, rather than latching onto ideas they had 20, 30, 40 years ago.
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