The Residents, “A Sight for SORE EYES vol.2”

Book Review

Melodic Virtue, photo taken 1990, Credit Henrik Kam

The Residents, “A Sight for SORE EYES vol.2” by music archivist Aaron Tanner.

I am a fan of the most eclectic band in America, San Francisco’s performance art collective known as “The Residents”. They formed over 50 years ago, and while managed by “The Cryptic Corporation” the band has been able to make some of the weirdest and most wonderfully unusual music, with each member of the band being anonymous. Only a part-time collaborator “Snake Finger” is known by his true identity.

I got to interview Homer Flynn, the President of The Cryptic Corporation 2 years ago, and I spent untold amounts of time diving into the music, the art, and the world that only the most extreme minds can pull ideas from. I also covered their show from SLC earlier this year. AS amazing as that “Bucket List” show was, this book took me days of reading, and going back to hit the images again and again, giving me a long-term dose of excitement, similar to what I experienced at the concert.

After countless albums and collaborations, films, and books about them, reading this book “A Sight for SORE EYES vol.2” has filled my world with such a great visual history of the band, and I was able to see who they influenced and how they inspired so much of the music I have enjoyed for the last 40 years. From all of this, I am no closer to their identities than I was when I first started listening to them, and all of this was the point.

Photo By Jackson Tanner

It is a limited edition print, much like everything else they have done, get it if you can.

The book tells the story of The Residents, but from the point of view of musicians, artists, producers, etc. through their history with them. It has quotes from so many musicians we know and love, and their experience with the music, their concerts, and the art on the whole.

The Residents collided with the earth like a meteor-killing the dinosaurs and creating the world anew. They led the charge for bands like DEVO, Talking Heads, Laurie Anderson, and countless others who were now licensed to pat a capital “A” in their art rock.”

Alex Winter

The book is a collage, of clippings, write-ups, and other people sharing a quick blurb. I had no idea they had so many fans, I knew they inspired The Butthole Surfers, The Pixies, Primus, and The Dead Milkmen, as I turned each page, and read the little statement from so many artists, I began to see how expansive they were. These artists might not taken any direct ideas from the Residents or their art, but they all pay tribute to the inspiration they got.

It’s not hyperbole to say that everything else we sold made some sort of sense when compared to the Residents. Were they aliens? Disembodied eyeballs? I loved being baffled.MOBY

I have watched plenty of The Residents live, but several people commented on this one video clip of them playing Teddy Bear on the debunked TV show “Night Flight” from the 80s. Several artists have mentioned this moment saying the outlandish story and performance was so over the top it sold them on The Residents instantly.

The book even had a sighed photo of Pee Wee Herman “I sure do love the Residents!” your pal Pee Wee Herman. Brought a tinge of sadness because when the book was sent to me, Pee Wee was still alive. I suddenly went back to watch a few episodes of Pee Wee’s Playhouse, realizing that even Pee Wee was a fan, and they influenced his art. I have considered myself a fan of theirs for a while now, but this book showed me how their influence has been in so much of what I grew up enjoying, a thousand times, just a step beyond what I loved, which was The Residents.

“They’re the kind of band that you either get, or you don’t. And I most definitely did at first listen. I was already on board when I first heard them, but then I saw how they dressed-the eyeballs, suits, and top hats-I was sold immediately. The juxtaposition couldn’t be any more perfect.

My musically deranged 11-year-old mind was now complete”.

Ray Mayorga, Ministry.

The graphics show a very detailed history of the band, and they have fliers for shows, that are in my mind wonderful historical artifacts. They also show you the painstaking details in the color schemes for the album covers. There are notes on mixing console settings, dates, setlists, and backstage photos of men in suits with eyeball helmets. It was in one of the notes I saw that they did a cameo in uniform in the “Laying It On The Line” video for Jefferson Starship. (Starship formed from the remnants of Jefferson Airplane, just a few years after The Residents, I have to say, The latter has had a much more successful run than the former). I did have to go back to watch the video to see them, YEP they were there.

I have collected a great deal of The Residents’s printed and produced work, including CDs and LPs and I even scored a cool poster. The Residents are one of those bands that if you are a collector, you could easily go broke trying to obtain the collection, and all the different pieces to it. This book shows so much that is out there, and even more of the back story of stencils, art scraps, and notes, you see how much effort went into creating the finished product that was available to fans. They are truly one of the hardest-working art collectives in music history.

In the mid-’80s, a co-worker turned me on to The Residents. They opened doors in my mind that I never knew existed. I didn’t know a band could be that brave and strange. And they continue to inspire me to this day.”

Thor Harris, SWANS

There is an entire chapter to the 1988 epic “God In Three Persons”, where I was beyond shocked to see the following.

The Residents are a truly inventive and hugely underrated band. Their eyeballs saw it first and understood the collision between surrealism, art, and music way before everyone else woke up. Unique, creative, and fearless are the most admirable credentials to have. Combine that with parody and satire, and you will end up on their street, which is a great place to visit.

Nick Rhodes, Duran Duran.

Seeing all of these artifacts, quotes, wonderful endorsements, and just memories people have shared around the history of this band, helped me make up for a lot of lost time, I found myself laughing repeatedly at some of the stories. I also felt like I missed so much just by not being at these concerts or other events. Aside from the FOMO I suffered, I felt entranced by so many of the different pieces of art, be it an album cover, or just a photo proof sheet of negatives, it all just unloaded a flurry of bizarre art. As most of the people explaining their experiences, we saw that The Residents are not in any position to explain themselves. Frank Zappa once explained his art that way, saying “I make music for people, and if they like it, then it was for them if they don’t like it, there is plenty of other music out there for them to like, I’m not making my music for them”. The Residents lived that philosophy.

I finally did meet The Residents in 1985 when they invited me to visit their mysterious compound in San Francisco. The first thing I saw when I entered was the four iconic eyeball heads lined up neatly on a shelf. Next to those were several large glass jars containing what appeared to be pickled human embryos! That night, I was fortunate enough to witness the 13th-anniversary show at Wolfgang’s,”

David J, *You all know who David J is

Through the course of the book, I also saw how much of their work evolved with technology. The Residents embraced and used the technology as it became available to enhance their theatrics, stage shows, music, and production on the whole. By the end, I understood clearly that there were no boundaries they wouldn’t push, break through and leave the previous paradigm behind. If you want to know more about the backstory, and just general wonder about “The Residents” this book is the story behind the music, none of it coming actually from the band in words, only the photos and art were from the band. Everything else in this volume was from fans, famous or not, no matter who reads this book (and enjoys the art and images) you get an amazing view into this eclectic history. (Cause it’s all about “Eyes” right?)

The book has so many easter eggs in it, and so many people have said “I have worked with them for years, and to this day, I still do not know who they are”, you might get some hints, but The Residents’s anonymity will remain in tact. Score this book if you can.

See links below, (it’s a wonderful and exciting rabbit hole I promise)

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