For the last 39 years, The Residents have been producing underground art, music, and videos that have puzzled many -- and that created a rabid fan base.
The identities of the band members have been a closely guarded secret since 1972, when a few hundred copies of their first record were sent to everyone from the President of the United States to local radio stations.
Since then, a few have emerged from “Cryptic Corporation” to put somewhat of a face on the band known largely for appearing in giant top hat-wearing eyeball masks.
San Franciscan Homer Flynn has been A Corporate Director for Cryptic Corporation since its inception in 1976, and one of his roles has been as Graphic Designer of The Residents, with his company Porno Graphics. (A previous version of this story referred to Flynn as co-founder. He is the art director for The Residents.)
Flynn currently has a one-man art show up at Johansson Projects gallery in Oakland that covers bits of the bands history, artistically, from album designs, to photographs to stage props. The opening reception is Friday, May 6th.
A few weeks after The Residents played two nights at Bimbo’s in San Francisco to wrap up their Talking Light tour, I sat down with Flynn to pepper him with a few questions about his art show, and the future of The Residents.
NBC Bay Area: How did this solo art show come about?
Homer Flynn: This is a gallery called Johansson Projects that my oldest daughter Jana has shown at several times. So, Kimberly Johansson and I made friends, as I’ve been over there several times with Jana, and we’ve been talking about this for a couple of years and it has mainly just been a matter of scheduling a time that worked for everybody.
NBC: Is this the first show like this in the US?
HF: Yeah, it is. I had one in the Czech Republic last October, but this is the first one in the States. I’ve exhibited a few things here and there, but never anything nearly as complete, or a solo show.
NBC: What’s it like to be in the gallery and to see all of this stuff up on display?
HF: It’s actually a great feeling because this stuff has been sitting in filing cabinets and drawers in my basement for decades now and it feels really great to get it up in front of people and not just have it sitting down there getting moldy and deteriorating. It can deteriorate in front of people.
NBC: Was it a big process to get it all of the works organized and categorized?
HF: It was a huge process and one of the really great things about the Czech Republic show was that over there they have a different attitude towards art and art exhibitions and he [Czech gallery owner] was able to get a lot of Government support for this, kind of like cultural exchange. So he was able to give me some money so that I could hire Jana, my daughter, for two weeks so then the two of us could go through the file cabinets and drawers and archive everything, catalogue it, photograph it, and that’s what really made this show possible. Otherwise it would have been just insurmountable, too much to deal with. We had 425 pieces or something like that catalogued and there’s even more of it that we couldn’t get to.
NBC: Are these pieces all for sale and have many of them been selling at these shows?
HF: They are mostly for sale. There were not really any sales in the Czech Republic. The economy is very different there, and I think the prices were too high for them over there. Kimberly [Johansson] running the gallery here is certainly going to be trying to sell some of these pieces. Once again, it’s like, I’ve got hundreds of these things in my basement and I would much rather get a little bit of money for them and have them in the hands of people who really want them and will take care of them, then just have them go back into drawers and filing cabinets in my basement.
NBC: 2010 was a year of touring for The Residents with Talking Light, a retrospective or Greatest Hits type of set-list. How was that?
HF: Well, it’s been a very successful year for Randy, Chuck and Bob. They’ve done 70 performances of this show, and I think this may be the most performances they’ve ever done of any tour. Personally, I think the show just got stronger and stronger as it went along. It felt very fragmented to me in the very beginning, but as it went along it seemed to gain more strength and unity as a piece, as opposed to just being a bunch of fragments.
NBC: Are there any plans for the future for the band?
HF: They are taking off, after touring a lot over 14 or 15 months, I think everybody is looking forward to not doing very much. This has been successful enough that there are definitely plans to do another one, which in a lot of ways will be patterned after this one. I don’t know if they’ll call it Talking Light 2, but it will be structured along the lines of this one. The structure of this is that there are all of these stories, and these are like ghost stories. In between the ghost stories are songs from The Residents’ catalogue that compliment that theme. So the idea is that they’ll do a new series of stories, and then choose new songs from their catalogue that complement that theme. They definitely have some ideas to what the theme will be next time, but they’re not really committing to anything yet.
NBC: For the last 39 years, The Residents have been a band of mystery and misdirection, what’s it like for them in this era of digital immediacy?
HF: I don’t know, I think it’s made it better in some ways and worse in others. The kind of mystery that they’ve always enjoyed is certainly not as easy in the digital age. But on the other hand, the tools for creation are more accessible and easier to use than ever. There are very sophisticated tools used to make the videos in these shows, and some of those tools, like the little camcorder used to shoot most of the talking heads in these stories, and it cost like $150. It’s just amazing that those kinds of tools are available these days. It’s going to be interesting to see how things continue to change and develop.