Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Sleep sound, Hardy Fox

I've got a story to tell—a story about a man who was a key part of telling so many stories to so many people. I think it's OK for me to tell it now.

It was October, 2006. a publicist from the Museum of Modern Art got in touch with me. The museum was adding the video works of theResidents to the permanent collection and he wanted me to write something to help promote the occasion. I jokingly responded that I would do so only if he could get me an interview with the band. To my surprise, he said he'd see what he could do.

I didn't expect anything to happen, not really. The guy sounded (understandably enough) more like a publicist than a fan, and I suspected he didn’t know that the band members’ identities were a closely guarded secret and that they didn’t do interviews. They left the talking to their management, the so-called “Cryptic Corporation.” My initial surprise was goosed a couple of weeks later when he called me and said the band was at the museum and if I could get there immediately, he’d introduce me.

I didn’t ask any questions. I ran outside and got a cab. When I got to the museum, however, he stammered and apologized and explained to me that he’d misunderstood, and that it was representatives of the band who were available. He introduced me to Hardy Fox and I promptly got the game. Standing before me was a Resident.

We sat in the museum’s screening room where a selection of the band’s landmark videos would be shown that night and chatted at length. He was pleasant and easy going. I asked him everything I could think to ask, all the while trying to keep my scalp from blowing off and wondering what I was going to do with this prized information, at that time still not known to most fans.

And that’s when I got the game at a deeper level. There was no reason to reveal that Hardy was a Resident. It was like, I reasoned, how in the ’70s all the rock mags had photos of the members of KISS (masked contemporaries of the Residents, oddly enough) without their makeup on but none would run them. What would be the point? Why ruin the game? So instead I held on to my little secret.

A couple of years later—again in October, as it happens—I got the chance to interview Fox again, this time on WFMU. I asked him questions about the band and he answered graciously and at length. I knew we were talking about him, not his clients, and I suspect he knew that I knew, but why say anything? When you’re in the chocolate factory, you respect Mr. Wonka’s rules.

Mr. Fox was responsible for most of the sounds of the band’s many iconoclastic records, increasingly so as time marched on. He helped to forge a conception of mutant pop that inspired countless others. With the Residents, he crafted a mutant meta-rock, pillaging and wreaking havoc upon beloved hits of the ’60s. The band was often at the forefront of new technologies, and evolved into one of the most unusual and enigmatic storytelling troupes in the history of audio recording technology. But over the span of five decades, they stayed true to their vision. Had they only released a few singles—a cover of Hank Williams’ “Kaw-Liga,” for example, or Elvis Presley’s “Don’t Be Cruel,” or Ray Charles' "Hit the Road Jack," or James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World,” or the Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” or the Beatles’ “Flying”—and disappeared, they would have been a clever novelty. But instead, they deeply mined an aesthetic, and continue to do so. They didn’t just make an artistic statement, they stomped one out.

Fox quit the band a few years ago and subsequently outed himself as both gay and a Resident. He wrote stories and continued to make music. And then, on September 22, his website and Facebook profile were updated to read “1945-2018.” In keeping with his and the band’s macabre humor, it didn’t mean that he’d died, but that he expected to before 2019. He had brain cancer, it turned out, and had just weeks to live.

And on the day before Halloween, it was announced that he was gone, first in an email coming from his account and then in an official announcement from the Cryptic Corporation. Because why die on Halloween? The Residents always managed to stop short of the obvious.  

Thanks for all the weirdness, Hardy. 

 Crying eyeball graphic by Monika Weiss.