One of the earliest published reference points to the history of The Residents, the essay was first printed in The Official W.E.I.R.D. Book of The Residents in 1979 (forming the core of that book), and was later reprinted in The Cryptic Guide to The Residents and Uncle Willie's Highly Opinionated Guide To The Residents in 1993.
The essay was available on the group's official website (in the "Historical" section) for a short time around 2015.
- 1 Foreword by Uncle Willie
- 2 The essay
- 2.1 The Parasitic Grip of the White Bloodsucker
- 2.2 Grunt Evasion, Early Strategies, and How The Residents Got Their Name
- 2.3 Early Manifestations of Ralph Mania
- 2.4 Cryptic Tears and Conceptual Lockjaw
- 2.5 The Great Dim Sum Riot of 1974
- 2.6 The Airtight Alibis of Men With Plastic Bags Over Their Heads
- 2.7 Rubber Baby Bug-Eyed Bouncers: or, How To Throw and Catch a Tantrum
- 2.8 Bark Dust: The Dust Dogs Ask by Name
- 3 See also
- 4 External links and references
Foreword by Uncle Willie
In 1979, Philip Culp and Mimi King were hard at work on a fan club labor of love called W.E.I.R.D.: “We Endorse Immediate Residents Deification.” They called upon their friend, Matt Groening, to write the “story" of The Residents for the fan publication, not only because he appreciated the music of the band, but also because he had shown through his writings and drawings that he had the imagination to fill in the enormous blank spots in The Residents’ history.
The decision to reprint Matt’s writing as it originally appeared in the The Official W.E.I.R.D. Book of The Residents is not based on its accuracy, but on its charm of mythical story-telling. In truth, we may never know the “real” story. Here is one person’s entertaining idea of how it might have been.
The True Story of The Residents
A Brief Summary of Known Facts, Top Secrets, Hazy Details, Veiled Hints, and Blatant Lies.
There is no true story of The Residents. You should know that right off. The secrets of The Residents will never be revealed by anyone but The Residents themselves, and so far they aren’t saying much. This report offers some insight into The Residents and their work, but their favorite breakfast cereals will remain a mystery. Part of what The Residents are about is their camouflage, and any understanding of them must take into account both their organized sounds and their organized silence. The best this report can do is note the various statements and point out the gaps. Our knowledge is still incomplete. Anything is possible.
The Parasitic Grip of the White Bloodsucker
Let your mind drift back to simpler, more pathetic times... to an age when American teenagers jitterbugged in plastic hula hoops to the savage jungle rhythm of payola’d rock ‘n’ roll, and spent their parents’ hard-earned pay on Kookie combs and Jughead comics... when Ozzie choked in the basement rumpus room on a piece of Harriet’s fudge, and Rick and Dave kicked at each other on the patio, pausing only for a healthful grape drink break... after which they would retreat to their rooms to masturbate with Tales From the Crypt while wearing cardboard 3-D glasses.
The Residents themselves grew up in all this, but their early memories are clouded by small-town Louisiana swamp gas, where they spent their formative years like normal average white American southern children on a diet of Jello, peanut butter, and Kool-Aid. They recall their youth only vaguely. One remembers listening to his parents’ ancient records, such as “Mississippi Mud”, a 1927 recording by the Rhythm Boys (with Bing Crosby). The rest just mumble unenthusiastically about nameless arteriosclerotic country and western.
The various crew didn't even discover each other until high school, where they giggled nervously about each other’s warped points of view. They told naughty jokes and made surreptitious fart noises to show their budding alienation, but somehow it wasn’t enough. They mostly managed to pull down barely respectable grades, and they shunned joining the few high school organizations which would accept them. They listened to the radio a lot, and said things like “Pass the drool cup” when attractive members of the opposite sex strolled by. They watched I Was A Teenage Werewolf as a true story and warning to us all, and after too many hours of Uncle `Miltie' on a circular black-and-white TV screen, they retreated to their secret clubhouse out on the bayou and played their crappy little 45’s over and over until they had memorized the scratches on all of them, They listened to the wheezes of the alligators floating languidly by the reeds, and read and re-read their “bible”: J.D. Salinger’s Catcher In The Rye. “Holden Caulfield is a Resident,” one of them says. And Salinger, interestingly enough, leads a reclusive, partially demented existence much like The Residents. It has even been rumored that J.D. Salinger performs on one of The Residents’ early records, but this cannot be verified.
Grunt Evasion, Early Strategies, and How The Residents Got Their Name
After high school, the gang (which numbered five) split up and went their various ways - college, grunt jobs, draft evasion. They kept in touch with each other’s progress, however, and soon found themselves hopping like rabid Rhesus monkeys to rhythm and blues–particularly James Brown and Bo Diddley. James Brown’s Live at the Apollo is an album which makes them quiver to this day. But they soon found that they needed each other, and re-grouped to plot strategy. They didn’t know what the hell they were doing, but they knew James Brown made their butts twitch, and some how it would all work out.
In 1966 or so, after a couple of them had made it almost all the way through college, they decided to escape the slimy Southern scourge of George Wallace. So they loaded up their truck and headed straight for San Francisco, where they had heard all the go-go mod action was goin’ down. As fate would have it, their truck broke down in a quiet suburban town called San Mateo, some 25 miles south of the big city. Behind them they left a few loyal, more balanced acquaintances who would later follow to start The Cryptic Corporation.
In California they saw the minds around them already beginning to break down. Youngsters everywhere were growing their hair out and joining the “bushhead” movement. Beach boys frolicked with trained wild seals on the sand, and local cretins began electrocuting themselves with guitars on-stage while thousands chanted, “You endorse our mindless lives,” in unified spontaneity. Charles Manson pierced his nipple with a Love button while on acid, and the Psychedelic Revolution was born. The Residents began licking their lips.
At this point the story breaks down. While living in sleepy San Mateo, some “trick of fate” – as they put it – gave them access to musical instruments and an impressive array of tape recording equipment at the same time, and they were on their way. “The tape recorders were more important than the instruments,” says a Resident. They did a lot of jamming, mainly to amuse themselves, and rumors began leaking to a small coterie of outsiders that something of possible interest was going on here.
In 1970 they began editing the tapes and playing them for skeptical friends at parties and fiestas. They sent one of these tapes to a dwindling group of pals in Louisiana, and got back four bubbling, enthusiastic replies, barely legible in their cacographic scrawls, but with enough exclamation points to let The Residents know that they had struck a nerve. “Let us manage you,” one of the letters said–the first overture of the impending Cryptic Corporation had begun.
At this time, our boys still had no name for themselves. They considered calling themselves the New Beatles for a while, but prudence told them this was not a wise choice. In the meantime, they shrugged their shoulders a lot and plotted how to break into the biz. They finally got their name, as the legend goes, from Hal Halverstadt, an exec at Warner Brothers Records. Halverstadt worked with Captain Beefheart, and the nameless quintet figured that anyone who could relate to Beefheart might possibly understand what they were up to. So off they mailed an album’s worth of material, replete with title – The Warner Bros. Album – cover art, and wacko liner notes. They signed no name, just a return address. Halverstadt mailed the tape back weeks later, addressed to “Residents” and thus began the most significant pop music ensemble of the 20th century.
Early Manifestations of Ralph Mania
Legend has it that around this time, a then unknown British musician by the name of Philip Lithman showed up at The Residents' door with the Mysterious N. Senada, an acquaintance whom he had met in Bavaria, while on an expedition there from Britain. What has since come to light, however, is just as remarkable.
It seems that Lithman had come from his home in England to California in search of the thriving musical renaissance that was supposedly taking place in and around San Francisco, when he bumped into N. Senada, who told him about these chaps who were involved in some interesting musical experimentation. Intrigued, Philip accompanied Senada on his quest to seek out these fellow Adventists, and the rest is history.
For The Residents, the result of this untimely meeting has been a close and prosperous relationship with Snakefinger, and a deep respect for Senada, who has since kicked The Residents in the right direction on numerous occasions.
It was at this point, when The Residents had firmed up their musical relationships with these two influential individuals, that the infamous, shocking Baby Sex was recorded, whose astounding sounds live up to its unsettling cover. The Residents – perhaps wisely – did not unleash it upon the public.
In 1971 Ralph Records was formed by The Residents to give themselves an outlet for their creative endeavors. “Ralph” was an in-house slang term for “dog”, as well as a verb from high school drinking days: “call ralph” meant “to vomit.” The significance of this is dubious, but sorta interesting to the smut-minded linguistic scholar.
Cryptic Tears and Conceptual Lockjaw
The Residents first actual living proof release was an Xmas card called Santa Dog, a brilliant four song, double 45 record set, of which several were mailed to such dignitaries as Frank Zappa and President Nixon. The Residents clapped their hands excitedly and raced each other to the mail box every day for the expected onslaught of postal bravos. But there was no response. Not one. Even Zappa’s copy was returned in the mail – the victim of a wrong address. A solitary tear fell from one of their cheeks, and on New Year’s Eve they trudged back to their makeshift studio, sadder but wiser. Santa Dog, the first Ralph Record to be pressed, remains the rarest of the once-available Residents recordings.
They had fallen into their stance of anonymity with a vengeance by this time, which gave them the confidence to continue offering their masterpieces to a hostile world. Their next project, Meet The Residents, was recorded in 1973 and released in early 1974, but they found it hard to unload any copies. The record was so good that none of the San Francisco record stores would touch it. It was “too weird,” “nutty,” “negative,” and the commercial outlets were afraid something might rub off and contaminate them. The Residents got a lot of encouragement from their artistic friends, however, and prodding by the art collective Ant Farm. They put a sampler flexi-disc into an issue of File, the Canadian “art” magazine, offering copies of their first album for little more than the cost of a Big Mac and fries. But the reaction was open-mouthed gaping and tiny invisible question marks forming above readers’ heads, so they cheered themselves on to their next project - the musical/video extravaganza, Vileness Fats.
In a windowless, box-like studio on Sycamore Street in San Francisco, The Residents built incredibly complex hand-painted sets. Their work space was so small that each set had to be dismantled before the next could be constructed. With cumbersome, bulky costumes they recorded the pixillated movements of themselves and chosen outside performers on 1/2 inch black and white video tape; the results suggested a dreamlike wonderworld not unlike the view of a squealing Boston terrier on acid flung into a barrel of live albino sand eels. Vileness Fats was sadly abandoned around Xmas, 1975 after three hard futile years of work. Luckily some of the footage is being edited into a 30-minute featurette (parental guidance suggested), which The Residents have hopes of exhibiting in the year 1980.
The Great Dim Sum Riot of 1974
The 1,000 Meet The Residents albums which were initially pressed slowly began to wake up several isolated weirdos across the country, and soon The Residents had gained a sought-after “sub-cult” status. But back in San Francisco tensions were mounting among these creative oddballs and in the summer of 1976 the group almost split up. The easily-irked Residents finally resolved their conflicts after a horribly embarrassing food fight in Chinatown by closeting themselves in the studio and recording Not Available. For the recording they came up with their famous Theory of Obscurity, which allowed them to be completely uninhibited about their problems and thus work them out. The Theory posited an obscure directive which said that Not Available could not be released until they had forgotten its very existence. Towards the end of the Not Available sessions, when tensions had eased and their creative juices had once again started to boil, The Residents began work on The Third Reich 'N' Roll, a project which became a landmark in American pop music.
Then, in September of ’76, The Residents condensed all that they had mustered for Third Reich 'N' Roll to make one pulsating, mind-throbbing 45: a cover version of the Rolling Stones’ classic, “Satisfaction”. The result was one of the most powerful records ever made. It featured the stunning twirl action guitar of Snakefinger, who had become a Residents associate ever since those early days in San Mateo.
At this time Ralph Records also released a little-known single by a fellow called Schwump, a mad percussionist from Portland, Oregon. Schwump had impressed The Residents and the Cryptics with his full-length frog opera, and his demented autoharp styling, so they backed him up on the quirky “Aphids in the Hall”. But Schwump proved a difficult guy to work with, and he eventually jettisoned himself from sight in a murky cloud of squid ink and hasn’t been heard from since. But he left behind his immortal portrayal of a midget Al Jolson in blackface singing “Mammy” in Vileness Fats.
The Airtight Alibis of Men With Plastic Bags Over Their Heads
The Residents rarely perform live. In fact, only three actual performances can be confirmed. The first took place on October 18, 1971, on Audition Night at the Boarding House in San Francisco when The Residents, accompanied by the Mysterious Nigel Senada and Snakefinger, stormed the stage in a blitzkrieg invasion and stunned the helplessly drunken audience with a half-hour performance. First Senada warmed up the audience with poetry and a wild saxophone solo, then on came The Residents, with Margaret Smik as Peggy Honeydew wailing away on inflamed vocals. It was all captured on videotape while the dumbfounded audience grew alarmed and sweaty.
On Halloween the same year they staged another mysterious impromptu performance at a celebration held in the small town of Arcata in northern California. Interestingly enough, some portions of this event were recorded and included on the Baby Sex album.
The final performance was in 1976 at an anniversary party for Rather Ripped Records, a record store in Berkeley which also happened to be the first store with the foresight to support The Residents and was for a long time the only outlet to stock their albums. Snakefinger, dressed as a giant artichoke, played an unrecognizable “Satisfaction”, while a couple of characters portraying Arf and Omega, the Siamese twin tag-team wrestlers from Vileness Fats, performed “Kick a Cat”, a selection featured on the original Santa Dog. The camera operator never showed up, but a security guard got part of the show on videotape, and perhaps someday it will be unveiled to the rest of us.
By 1976 The Residents were getting the international recognition that their four biggest fans had been confidently predicting for years. So after an invited visit, they gave into these chums from the homeland who had clamored to mold them from the beginning - Jay Clem, Homer Flynn, Hardy Fox, and John Kennedy. These four decided to call themselves The Cryptic Corporation, and their goal was to support and ultimately thrive on the music of The Residents after a moderate investment to get the business flowing. The Cryptics are uneasy about divulging facts about themselves – what The Residents have is apparently contagious – but they admit ominously to funding The Residents’ projects and themselves over the years with shrewd real estate deals and they will say no more.
Rubber Baby Bug-Eyed Bouncers: or, How To Throw and Catch a Tantrum
The first Cryptic-supervised album was Fingerprince, yet another brilliant record. It featured a shortened version of “Six Things To a Cycle”, a lengthy ballet originally planned for a performance at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The event was canceled when The Residents were rumored to be selling experimental monkey depressants to grade school children (the culprits turned out to be another musical group altogether, and The Residents got off scot-free).
By February 1, 1978, when Duck Stab was released, The Residents were getting mail from all over the world daily. Big-boy record companies began to sniff tentatively in their directions, and the Cryptics started salivating in return. Maybe maybe maybe this is our Big Chance, they said to themselves, and The Cryptic Corporation hastily re-released “Satisfaction” to cash in on the sudden attention.
But The Residents in their naïve and humble ways were horrified and affronted, and failed to show up on the day that Eskimo (which had been two years in the making) was to be mastered. They dropped all projects and refused to cooperate with the Cryptics further. Then suddenly, due to a particularly undiplomatic comment from The Cryptic Corporation, The Residents fled en masse with the Eskimo tapes. The Cryptic Corporation was in an uproar, especially when they finally figured out that The Residents had fled to England.
Once again the story bogs down in conflicting testimony, but it was reported in the music press that The Residents sought counsel with Chris Cutler, who had sat in with them on the Eskimo sessions. “Stay calm,” he told them. What a nut.
Meanwhile, back in the U.S., The Cryptic Corporation was frantic. Their empire was crumbling before their eyes, and it was the fault of four moody, ungrateful, arrogant, paranoid artists who had been nurtured along for years like premature infants who puked on mother’s milk. In desperation the Cryptics released Not Available in order to remain solvent. They eventually contacted Cutler, who served as a go-between for the warring bodies, and slowly the Cryptics somehow managed to regain The Residents’ trust. A few transatlantic phone calls later all was patched up. How and why and what are unknown, but in the end Jay Clem and John Kennedy, who had gone to England to find the missing persons, retrieved the tapes of Eskimo from Chris Cutler, and when The Residents returned, the Cryptics surprised them with a brand new recording studio. In celebration, The Residents went on a composing rampage, producing Buster and Glen. “Santa Dog ’78”, and further tinkering with Eskimo. The Residents were back, Not Available was available, the ball was rolling. It was a symbolic break with the past, Anything is possible, and now, anything could happen...
Bark Dust: The Dust Dogs Ask by Name
In an industrial market dominated by a musical product sold to human pets like dog food, The Residents have fulfilled the promise of the best popular music. Ambitious projects are announced in almost-weekly press releases by The Cryptic Corporation. Other groups, influenced by the work of The Residents, are emerging at a rapid rate. A few enlightened people are becoming aware of the absurdity and corruption of creative expression in our culture. And the ranks of the W.E.I.R.D. grow daily.
- Matt Groening
- The Official W.E.I.R.D. Book of The Residents
- The Cryptic Guide to The Residents
- Uncle Willie's Highly Opinionated Guide To The Residents
- "The True Story of The Residents" at The Residents Historical (archived July 18th 2015)
- Uncle Willie's Highly Opinionated Guide To The Residents by Uncle Willie
- We're told that Philip was eventually renamed Snakefinger by a Resident one fateful day when, as they were playing, he noticed that one of Philip's fingers had taken on the wild exaggerated movements of a tiny serpent tripping on LSD.