‘Faceless Eternally’: The Residents hit the highway for his or her fiftieth anniversary!

THEM! courtesy of the Cryptic Corporation

When everyone lives in the future, the present is au revoir.
—Delta Nudes

Last Christmas marked the fiftieth anniversary of the Residents’ first release, “Santa Dog.” Ralph Records gave away most of the initial pressing as a free gift, mailing copies of the double seven-inch record, which presented itself as a compilation of songs by four groovy groups, to friends, tastemakers, and prominent figures.

If the White House had not refused its complimentary copy of “Santa Dog,” President Nixon, his wife Pat, and their daughters, Tricia and Julie, would not have been deprived of the chance to spin it a few times on the Blue Room hi-fi as the Yule log crackled in the fireplace and the bombs of Operation Linebacker II pulverized North Vietnam. Though side one, “Fire,” credited to Ivory and the Brain Eaters, would have been the Nixons’ likely favorite, the First Family would have read in the sleeve notes that side four, “Aircraft Damage” (B Barnes–C America), credited to Arf and Omega featuring the Singing Lawn Chairs, was “FROM THE RALPH FILM ‘VILENESS FATS’ COMING SOON TO A THEATER NEAR YOU.”

Fifty years is a long time. Today, Dick and Pat are buried in the cold ground, original copies of “Santa Dog” fetch as much as a Pontiac Grand Prix, and you can tell Tricia and Julie that Vileness Fats really is coming to a theater near them! Sort of: every date of the imminent “Faceless Forever” U.S. tour will open with a screening of Triple Trouble, the Residents’ new feature film, which revisits their abandoned movie project of the early seventies and incorporates some of its footage into a brain-syruping psychodrama about Randy Rose, Jr., a lapsed priest harried by fungus in his encore career as a plumber.

Like the new Residents encyclopedia by Jim Knipfel and Brian Poole (also titled Faceless Forever), the Triple Trouble screenings and live shows are part of the Residents’ fiftieth anniversary festivities. I caught up with the group’s spokesperson, Cryptic Corporation President Homer Flynn, who once again graciously fielded my questions about the Residents’ diet, wardrobe, hair products, LaserDisc easter eggs and CD-ROM cheat codes.

In the atomic shopping carts, 1974 (courtesy of the Cryptic Corporation)

What can you tell me about the tour?

Well, you know, it’s a fiftieth anniversary tour, so it’s really retrospective. I mean, the selection of material for this tour, you know, came about in a kind of almost random, haphazard way. I mean, this is the third time it’s been scheduled. So it started out two, three years ago as a “Dog Stab” tour with the idea at that time that we were mainly interested in having them promote the Metal, Meat & Bone album, which was new at that point. But then we added a good chunk of Duck Stab! material to that. Kind of trying to come up with a balance between what was new and we wanted to promote and what the band wanted to play and then what the fans were interested in. And then that tour got cancelled, and then rescheduled and slightly jiggered around a little bit, and then that one got cancelled.

Well, by the time that happened, we were looking at the fiftieth anniversary and Metal, Meat & Bone, while everybody likes the album, it’s still not as relevant from a marketing and promo point of view. So ultimately, we left a good chunk of Metal, Meat & Bone in there, left a good chunk of Duck Stab! And then ultimately, they filled in with a lot of other classic Residents material. And I think it’s a good set. [Laughs] It’s not the way anybody would have chosen to put it together, but the last three years have been crazy. What can you say?

At the Golden Gate Bridge, 1979 (courtesy of the Cryptic Corporation)

I’m still kicking myself for missing the Duck Stab! shows. There was a Third Reich ‘n Roll encore?

There was indeed. Yeah, and you know they had a lot of fun with that. I mean, you know interestingly, there is a guy, [Scott Colburn], an audio engineer in Seattle, who has been doing a lot of the remastering of the back catalog series that Cherry Red has been putting out, and he’s a huge fan. He’s a great guy. And basically, he volunteered to go back and digitize all of the old multitrack original tapes. So all of a sudden, you know, you could take all of the original tracks from Duck Stab! and put them into Logic if you wanted to. And then all of a sudden that material was accessible again, and they got very excited about that idea.

They only did, that was kind of like, I call it the “California mini-tour.” It was the tour a year and a half ago that then ultimately, most of it was canceled other than four or five, three or four California shows. So they never really got to the point with the Third Reich ‘n Roll material where they were super comfortable with it, because part of what’s happening is stuff is coming from the original tapes, and then part of it is being played, and it’s all pretty loose. And I think everybody would agree that some of it works better than others.

But I think they have in mind going back and revisiting that again. I mean, you know, they could do a suite from Eskimo if they wanted to. There’s a lot of possibilities with that material.

Since you mentioned it, there was a plan for an Eskimo opera or stage show at one time, right? But I don’t think that’s ever been a live show.

No, there never has. I mean, interestingly, this is my favorite story about that: there is a guy who was a programmer at the South Bank Center in London, a guy named Glenn Max. And Glenn was a big Residents fan. He booked them for a few different festivals and events while he was there. And there was a period, I don’t know, ten or twelve years ago, something like that, when the South Bank Center was shut down for remodeling, and he had it in his mind, he was looking for other venues around London in order to try to do different shows. One of his ideas was to do a version of Eskimo on ice.

That’s wonderful!

I was so enamored with that idea. But like, you know, it’s the Residents’ world. A lot of ideas have floated around that have never really taken root.

Portrait of a Resident, 1982 (courtesy of the Cryptic Corporation

I saw a screener of Triple Trouble yesterday, and I was wondering if there was a similar process for the soundtrack, because it does seem like there’s bits of Vileness Fats music and some kind of gamelan-sounding, maybe late- or mid-seventies Residents stuff kind of worked into that.

In a way, Triple Trouble is Vileness Fats brought forward, and so there is definitely nods to Vileness Fats within it and there are places where that soundtrack music was used. I mean, as far as the gamelan stuff goes, it makes me kind of curious as to what specifically you heard that you thought that about, ‘cause there’s no other—I’m trying to think—I don’t think there’s any other legacy material than Vileness Fats in there. I think all the rest of it was composed new.

I was probably using my imagination.

Well, the Residents love that. I mean, anytime they can enable somebody’s imagination, that’s a win.

I sort of thought of Al and Ollie Gump as maybe a reflection of Arf and Omega Berry, in terms of nods to Vileness Fats.

Yeah, yeah, well that’s definitely there. And you know, there was a whole script. You know, Triple Trouble is Triple Trouble because what happened was that, you know, filmmaker Don Hardy made a documentary on the Residents, Theory of Obscurity, in 2015. And he was in the process of gathering up as much Residents visual material as he could as he edited the film. And he became so intrigued with the original Vileness Fats material that ultimately that inspired the Residents, not so much to want to finish it, but really to kind of go back and revisit it, and they wrote the Double Trouble screenplay. The Double Trouble screenplay is where the protagonist of that has just found a footlocker full of all the original Vileness Fats material. He becomes obsessed with it and realizes that, or he fantasizes that, his own life is paralleling the life of the protagonist of Vileness Fats. And so that’s the reason why, you know, Al and Ollie are echoing Arf and Omega from Vileness Fats.

And interestingly, that idea for the protagonist whose life is echoing the life of a character in a fictitious world, ultimately, that came from a movie, I think it was 1946? Ronald Colman, and it was called A Double Life. I think that movie either won an Academy Award or Ronald Colman won an Academy Award for Best Actor for that. In that movie, Ronald Colman is playing Othello, I think, and starts feeling like his life is paralleling the life of Othello. It’s a very interesting movie. That’s kind of where they lifted that idea for the parallel lives. We were in the process of raising money for that film when the lockdown came along, bam!

At that point, we had raised some money, but nobody would contribute money. Things were so completely uncertain, it was impossible to raise more money. So the idea came up of, okay, let’s just see what we can do with the money that we’ve raised, wrote a new screenplay, and that became Triple Trouble. It’s a long and winding path.

Celebrating their 30th anniversary at the Golden Gate, 2002 (courtesy of the Cryptic Corporation)

Sutro Tower [which features prominently in Triple Trouble] was a big deal when the Residents came to San Francisco, I imagine, right? Wasn’t that a big local political issue?

It was, and that was right around that time. I forget exactly when Sutro Tower [went up], but I think it was ‘70, ‘71, ‘72, and ‘72 is when they started shooting Vileness Fats. So they were definitely overlapping there, and it was a big deal. I mean, you know, you always wonder how politicians pull stuff off, and it was like Sutro Tower just kind of appeared overnight [laughs]. And, you know, in some ways, it’s a monstrosity. In other ways, you know, it’s become kind of an interesting landmark over time. But I think if people had been given a choice as to whether that was going to go up or not, they would have definitely been thumbs down.

I guess it’s probably part of necessity and the fact that COVID lockdowns were going on. But watching the movie, often, when I think of San Francisco these days, I think of how much it’s changed over the last 30 or 40 years. But seeing these locations without any people in the background, I don’t know, it made me think that San Francisco maybe hadn’t changed all that much.

Well, I mean, you know, it’s kind of yes and no. I mean, people talk about how much it’s changed. You know, I moved here in 1969 and, you know, at that time and early, mid seventies and stuff, there were people that were telling me how much it had changed!


How great it was back in the fifties and stuff. San Francisco is a lovely city. I really enjoy living here. And there’s definitely a homeless problem, for sure. But I guess it’s worse than it had—it’s always been there. But I guess it’s worse. There certainly weren’t people sleeping in tents on sidewalks twenty years ago.

I mean, I tell people, and I think I find this fairly unique: San Francisco has become a kind of a magnet for young people twice over the course of my lifetime. The first time, it was the hippie era. And I was attracted to that magnet. That’s part of what got me out here. But then ten years ago, twelve, fifteen years ago, it was the tech industry. And there’s still a lot of young people flocking here because of that. But the interesting thing is how different the motivation for those young people were. The whole hippie thing was perhaps misguided, but very extremely idealistic. You know, where the tech thing, there may be some idealism in there, but a lot of it is more financially motivated.

‘Santa Dog ‘78’ (courtesy of the Cryptic Corporation)

Can you tell me anything about the genesis of the encyclopedia, how that came about?

Well, honestly, Richard [Anderson] is the one who kind of motivated that and honestly, I have to say, I was kind of skeptical at the time. You know, it seemed like an awful lot of work. You know, personally, I had too much, I was terrified [laughing] that they were gonna try to pull me into it, because I had too much stuff going on already. And then you know, [encyclopedia co-author] Jim Knipfel, I’m good friends with, and I can remember Jim reporting to me once or twice going, “Oh, God, this thing, it’s horrible. It’s just not coming together. Writing’s not very good, and blah, blah, blah.” And I’m going, ugh.

But then ultimately over time, Jim became convinced. And in all honesty, I have seen the book, I haven’t gone through it page by page, but I’ve actually been quite impressed with what I’ve seen.

Faceless Forever is the name of both the tour and the book. Is there any connection between those names?

No, not really.

Or maybe the better question is where the title came from.

It just kind of popped up in a conversation between me and some of the Residents. And they’ve been referred to any number of times by me and other people as “the Faceless Four,” kind of a nice, catchy alliteration. And there was just some point that the phrase “faceless forever” popped up. And I kind of went, oh, hmm, I have to go back and revisit that. And ultimately, it just more or less evolved into a branding term for the fiftieth anniversary.

I guess I like it in part ‘cause it points to the future. Faceless then, faceless now, faceless tomorrow.

Yeah, well, and I like that too. It makes it open-ended.

‘Metal, Meat & Bone,’ 2020 (courtesy of the Cryptic Corporation)

How long have they been working with Eric Drew Feldman?

You know, they’ve worked off and on with Eric. You know, Eric was Snakefinger’s band leader.


As an interesting aside, when Philip [“Snakefinger” Lithman] had his heart attack in Austria and died, they had just played at a club that night. And the club actually had a few rooms that they let bands stay in. And Eric was the one who found Philip’s body the next morning.

Oh, wow.

Yeah. But so the connection with Eric goes back that far. Now, he played with them… oh, I think it was the Demons Dance Alone tour that he played on. But had never been closely associated, more of a colleague, friend. But what happened, Hardy Fox was my partner in crime, whatever, managing, running, dealing with the Residents for well over forty years, and he died in 2018. Well, Hardy was really the architect of the Residents’ sound. And for them to continue, we needed somebody that could fill that role. And I wasn’t even aware of what an incredibly accomplished producer Eric is. And so ultimately people started talking to him. He was expressing interest, and the transition in my mind was almost seamless, much, much more so than than I had expected.

You know, it’s kind of—I know Eric pretty well. I can’t say I know him super well. And you know, the whole thing with a producer, a producer is kind of a chameleon, to some extent. You know, in other words, it’s their job to go in and get inside of an artist’s head and then fashion a sound-world around them that is, you know, complementary to that artist’s vision and aesthetics. And then the next time they go to a different artist and they do the same thing, and it may be similar, it may be really different. I mean, if they’re doing their job well, they should be coming up with a different set of values. And Eric did such a good job of recreating a lot of Hardy’s values, that my initial reaction was, “Wow, I had no idea that they overlapped so much.” And then later I thought about it and I went, “Well, how much do they overlap and how much is Eric being a really good chameleon?” And I still don’t know the answer. Personally, I think it’s a little bit of both.

‘Duck Stab! Alive!’ 2021 (courtesy of the Cryptic Corporation)

Anything on the horizon, any recording projects coming out or anything the Residents are working on this year that you can tell me about?

Well, they are working on a new project. And they’ve already recorded about ninety minutes worth of new music. And this is actually for a project—it will certainly be their next album. Now, what they would like to do—they were extremely happy with the God in Three Persons production. The only real problem with that is that it’s an expensive show. It takes 14 or 15 people to do it, and they haven’t been able to get it out as much as they wanted. I mean, they’re still—they haven’t gotten it to Europe. I think it’s a show that could virtually play forever in Europe. So ultimately, though, the new thing that they’re writing, in a way, the hope is that it would ultimately be more of a theatrical thing if it goes on to a stage production beyond the album. And they have recently made contact with a classical composer who is a huge Residents fan, and so the whole idea is to get the album done and then see what they can do with him in terms of making a stage production out of it. But that would be two, three, four years down the line. And hopefully [the album] will get finished sometime this year.

Well, that would be the first time they’ve done that kind of a collaboration, right? I’m trying to think if there’s been a collaboration like that with a composer.

He’s really a conductor. If I said composer, that was wrong. Although, I mean, I’m sure he does compose, but he’s primarily a classical conductor. And so he would probably bring players in to do parts, as the album starts coming together. And then he’s very connected in that world in terms of hoping to find interest in terms of turning it into a theater piece.

The Residents’ tour kicks off this Thursday, March 16, at the Wonder Ballroom in Portland, Oregon. Visit for tour dates and ticket links.

Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Residential: Homer Flynn on the Residents’ ambitious ‘God in Three Persons’ show at MoMA
‘Wormwood’: The Bible according to the Residents
‘23rd Century Giants,’ the incredible true story of Renaldo & The Loaf!
New ‘visual history’ book celebrates 50 years of the Residents! Sneak peek and exclusive premiere!

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