Friday, November 02, 2018

Charles Bobuck / Hardy Fox (1945 - 2018)

Charles Bobuck, a.k.a. Hardy Fox died recently.

He was a co-founder of The Residents and their primary composer for most of their existence. Amazon Prime is currently offering streaming of the documentary "The Theory of Obscurity", about The Residents. While The Residents intentionally keep nearly every aspect of their creative process secret, including who does what, Hardy Fox was clearly a significant contributor to every aspect of The Residents. He will be missed.

The Residents were deeply influential on my ideas about creativity, art, and music. Another in a series of "if they can do it, maybe I can, too" people. The Residents made music that was strange, outsider-y, and completely unique. They said "do what you want, how you want, do it now, and make it work. Audience is irrelevant. What matters is being interesting and following your Muse."

They could make things that were spectacularly ugly and things that were surprisingly beautiful. Their albums were charged with ideas and concepts, always driven by overarching themes and ambition, without regard for whether or not the results would be "catchy" or "cool", which of course makes them instantly cool and interesting.

The Residents also quickly realized that you needed some kind of business sense in order to keep making the art they wanted the way they wanted, and they managed to do it, arguably creating the template for nearly every subsequent indie label and act.

The Residents were making music videos before there were music videos. They made their own records, their own label. They made fascinating CD-ROMs, back when that was going to be a thing. They were always pushing the boundaries of musical art.

My brother and I "discovered" The Residents together in the 80s as part of our musical self-education and interests in the unusual. We picked up every album we could, and managed to catch them on the "Cube-E" tour. I marveled at how unique every one of their records was, and how rapidly they changed and evolved.

I used to play "Third Reich N' Roll" when I needed to drive my college roommate out. It never failed. I still think The Residents' version of "Satisfaction" is better than Devo's.

Even now, I am not sure I can say I love their music -- much of it is still "wrong", and jarring, and just shy of pretty. But that only makes me respect them more. I have no doubt after all this time, they could absolutely make whatever kind of music they want. The longer you work, the harder it is to stay unique and different.

They don't make them like Hardy Fox anymore. Thank you for the music, sir.

For those who haven't heard them before, here's a small selection:

"Perfect Love" from The Commercial Album. Arguably The Residents' best overall work, "The Commercial Album" was a layered and beautiful response to criticism of their work as "uncommercial". They made 40 1-minute long songs -- the length of a commercial. On the CD release, they told people that since pop songs were 3 minutes and usually consisted of the same stuff repeated, you could just repeat these songs 3 times each. And that the disc was great in "shuffle" play.

The Residents also made fantastic little movies for several of these songs.

"Hello Skinny" from Duck Stab. Perhaps the definitive "Residents" track from their best collection of songs, this creepy song was coupled to an even creepier video.

"It's A Man's Man's Man's World" is from an abbreviated series of releases The Residents did pairing American composers -- this was "James & George" -- James Brown and George Gershwin. A fine example of The Residents taking someone else's familiar music and rendering it strange and almost unrecognizable.

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