|Meet the Residents
The Residents are the bastard children of Frank Zappa. Don't
believe me? Check out a sample song lyric:
Once upon a time I played electric guitar,
And they said I was a rock and roll star.
Now my body calls me on the telephone,
So I sit and watch my TV all alone.
Maybe if I put a bullet in my brain,
They'd remember me like Kurt Cobain.
And the parasites on MTV
Would wipe their eyes and act like they knew me.
But I wouldn't be a hero, I'd be dead,
Just a corpse beside a note that read:
If you like to pretend that you never grow old,
You've got what it takes to rock and roll.
See what I mean?
The Residents are some sort of Vietnam-era spawn, or really the
spawn of the spawn, the revolt of a few cerebral brainiacs that
realized that popular music was being codified, marketed, spoon-fed
to the masses, and controlled into the ground. They are like netherworld
antiheroes, not the Iggy Pop kind (no one's throwing themselves
into glass on stage at their shows), but antiheroes nonetheless.
And they are all the while doing things that the general public
just finds confusing and probably, for a good cross-section of
society, even alarming. The Residents also refuse to let people
know who they are, not even willing to sell themselves to sell
the message, unlike every other poor bastard out there trying
to make a living while making art.
are the Residents? Who the hell knows? They appear in pictures
as giant eyeball heads dressed in white tie and tails, like some
evil urchins on their way to Satan's coming-out party. No one
has ever captured a picture of the Residents, and their names
have never been released. Here are the facts as they are known
by sheer historical fact, rumor, and innuendo: The Residents met
in high school in the sixties in Shreveport, Louisiana, and came
out west in 1966. There they met up with two European musicians,
Philip Lithman and N. Senada, and began to record. They recorded
'The Warner Brothers Album," which was wholeheartedly rejected
by Warner Bros. in 1971. They formed their own record label, Ralph
Records, and in 1972 released their first single, "Santa
Dog," which was followed by an album titled "Meet the
Residents," immediately taking a satirical potshot at those
rock-and-roll icons, the Beatles. Over the years, they have also
done some collaborations, usually with artists and groups with
purely underground followings such as John Cage, and the seriously
In work that has spanned almost three decades and a stunning
number of studio and live albums, satirizations of the vanities,
inanities, and potential evilness of society have been the one
consistency. Their pieces are darkly symphonic. There are no wailing
guitar solos, no songs with a hook. These are dark, stormy thoughts
and stories, and it is obvious that the Residents never intend
that it be easy for the listener.
With all that said, the Residents have oozed out their general
strangeness to encompass the then-newly expanding multimedia field,
producing three CD-ROM titles, one that is more interactive album
than anything and two that would certainly qualify as full-fledged
games, despite the ever-present performance art feel to them.
Based on a 1990 album, Freak Show is really a series of
works, some historical, some more along the lines of performance
art, and finally some stories embracing the style of underground
comix popularized by such comic art hash houses as the Rip Off
Press. The Residents call this their "Virtual Slideshow,"
and more accurately you could really call it a Disneyland of the
Freak Show features artwork by Jim Ludtke and a number
of other artists. It is set in a sideshow tent and in the living
quarters of the freaks that work the show. The player is allowed
to explore all of these places, including the trailers the freak
performers live in, each area telling the sordid story of some
sad creature's life. The game is not a ruinously dark affair,
however, and it is also chock-full of hidden treats and surprises,
albeit consistently disturbing ones.
In one tent area, there's a section called "Pickled Punks,"
which contains photographs and historical narrative of actual
circus freaks from the late 1800s and early 1900s. There are 90
biographies of performers largely forgotten as participants in
one of the seedier episodes in entertainment history. This whole
area of the game is highly evocative of Todd Browning's underground
1932 cult classic "Freaks."
The trailers the inhabitants live in feature the Residents' music
in abundance. One trailer contains a comic book, disingenuously
entitled "The Freak Show," with artwork done in a wonderful
replication of the old DC Comics "House of Secrets"
style of the 60s and 70s. Another trailer contains clips of the
Residents' stage performances, including bits from "The Mole
Show," the 1982 tour that featured Penn Gillette from Penn
and Teller as the narrator. The player is also treated to clips
from their myriad videos, as well as a discography.
Freak Show was performed in 1991 to an invitation-only
live audience in San Jose, and this videotaped concert culminated
in musician/producer Todd Rundgren editing a live video mix of
the performance on stage directly afterwards. The live mixes were
later released by Apple Computer in a limited edition CD-ROM.
It was also made into a touring show by the Residents in 1995,
which featured a full orchestra and singers hired to perform as
the circus freak characters found in the game.
The Gingerbread Man
The enigmatically titled The Gingerbread Man was billed
as an "extended album," and it is a series of stories
of characters told in song. These characters, let me just say
right up front, are really unpleasant people. Really. They are
not given proper names; rather, they are referred to by the dark
titles of the underbellies of people's livesthe Sold Out
Artist, the Ascetic, the Aging Musician, the Confused Transsexual,
the Old Woman.
It features eleven cuts in the Residents' avant garde style.
It's a visual theme album the Residents call an "interactive
musical study of nine characters." I don't know about all
that, but I do know the music stayed in my head long after the
CD was put away. And it didn't stay like some lyrical life-affirming
pop tune, but more like the Alka Seltzer ad droning at you just
before you turn off the TV and go to bed, one of those things
that doesn't easily slide away but instead kind of picks at you
as the night passes.
Navigation in The Gingerbread Man is done via something
called an "Enter Eye." Apparently the Residents refuse
to explain this to the user, but instead demand that she be smart
enough to just figure it out. The artwork for this was also done
by Jim Ludtke.
This is not to say The Gingerbread Man is not interactiveit
certainly is. You can click merrily away, all the while listening
to the Residents' throbbing, disturbing music.
Bad Day on the Midway
Bad Day on the Midway is really the title where the Residents
hit their stride in the medium, and it is the most ambitious gamewise.
It has a fleshed-out storyline, brought out by the player exploring
the midway and talking to the characters she finds, and of the
trio, Bad Day has more game-like qualities than the other
It is the story of a midway carnival and its denizens, told through
the course of an evening as the player wanders throughout the
midway and explores the rides and exhibits. Plenty of the Residents'
odd music and humor is present, as well as more dark characters,
pretty much the hallmark of a good Residents work.
The game gives the player only a certain amount of time to talk
to characters and explore before a disaster strikes the midway
or the player is done in by a crazed killer on the loose in the
midway. It's not designed in such a way that if something wrong
is done, you get a "you lose, loser" screen, but instead
the story wraps with a variety of deviations. There are better
paths through the night that do get you more of the story, and
details are fleshed out, but it is easy enough to go back in and
reexplore these points. The game is played in the first person,
and the player changes into the characters that are met throughout
The game continues on the carnival freaks theme, and it is full
of more comix-style art and lots of small films.
Bad Day was picked up and published (interestingly enough)
by Inscape, who also published two other really weird titles,
The Dark Eye, a great game based on the works of Edgar
Allan Poe, and Devo: Adventures of the Smart Patrol, one
that totally sucks. I just want to meet the ex-Inscape thumbs-up
guy, I'll tell you. How did those three games get picked out,
Bad Day is the best of the bunch and definitely a game
to be tried out.
The truth of it is, though, if you're a fan of anything twisted
or out of the norm, all three of the titles are going to be something
you'll want to get your hands on and check out.