Sunday, November 4, 2018
THE ADVENTURES OF BILL IN RESIDENTSLAND
From Facebook, by William Reinhardt
SAN FRANCISCO VACATION AND MEETING RESIDENTS, UNINC.:
Part of my job as KBOO-FM Radio, Program Director was to audition and catalogue all the new promotional records. One morning (I remember it was bitter cold, in late '72) the post delivered an odd-sized '45 inch' record jacket that fell out of the usual delivery of large, LP packaging. I took time to examine a hand-made, 2 disk EP titled 'Santa Dog'. I was pleasantly surprised by hearing "Kick a cat, today" and "Santa Dog’s a Jesus fetus" and all the other cryptic, irreverent lyrics. I loved that sort of crudeness and originality. (Certainly, it was no more offensive than my readings of 'Naked Lunch' and live sex hosted by a PSU professor). I decided it was weird enough to include with the new, obscure music I played on 'The Radio Lab'. Curiously, there was some interest in knowing more about Residents, Unic., There was also a lot of resistance and criticism!
I was housesitting during the month of July '73 for a KBOO board member in Bernal Heights, a bohemian hood south of downtown. After three years of stressful work managing KBOO programming, I was anxious to get away! I wanted to explore new urban sights like BART and revisit the 'hippie' haunts of my stay during the 'summer of love' in '68. I also planned to meet media collectives I had associated with through our Pacifica network station, KPFA. There was much to do and see: the Ant Farm, Residents Uninc. and several other progressive, art and media groups. I noticed on a map that 18 Sycamore St. was on Mission Blvd, barely a mile from where I was staying. I decided to meet Residents Uninc. first and see if they would enjoy hearing the feedback I was getting about Santa Dog (I had no idea they were only getting sparse attention for their work in San Francisco). After all, this was home to the most innovative radio anywhere, especially KSAN, the progressive radio with a hip, broadcast format I admired and emulated.
NOTE: the date of my SF vacation is memorable for the shocking news of Bruce Lee's death on the cover of 'Time' the morning of July 20, as I was leaving my apartment to visit Residents Uninc.
It was an easy walk to the Residents’ address, so I arrived and cautiously knocked on the door (this was not the best neighborhood). A slender, blond haired man about my age answered. His name was H (Hardy was known only as 'H' to his friends and family). After introducing me as a DJ from Portland, his face went from suspicion to amusement as I told him about the 'Santa Dog' airplay on my radio show. Raising his voice in barely contained excitement, he grabbed me by the shoulders and said, "We have to talk!" He dragged me up the long staircase to the upper living area, yelling for a guy named Homer.
I was initially uncomfortable, not knowing what to expect, but gradually put at ease by their polite, endearing personalities. Soft spoken, and obviously well-educated, they were the 'classic' southern gentlemen (they had graduated as arts majors from NLSU; oil paintings were on display throughout the building). Studying me with rapt attention, they listened respectfully as I explained my work at KBOO. I noticed they maintained a relaxed temperament and a thoughtful, confident manner as they questioned me about playing Santa Dog. It was early in the afternoon and they were the only ones home. Two other members of the group, J and John, were away at work. They had a system that enabled some of them to have jobs for income while others would stay home, collect unemployment and continue Residents Uninc. projects. Hardy and Jay were in hospital admin positions at the UC Medical Center. John Kennedy was an ardent outdoor sportsman, frequently away on camping and river outings. Homer's girlfriend, Diane, had a great job with Pacific Bell as a lineman. (They joked that she had the best income of anyone in the family).
That evening, when everyone was home, there was considerable buzz over my unexpected appearance. They were incredulous when I described my broadcasts and found it hard to believe that they had finally achieved radio exposure. KBOO was officially the first radio station to play Residents recordings! They treated me as a family member, like a new, long-lost friend. Our camaraderie was galvanized by our love for esoteric material and similar tastes in music. My regular staple of artists on KBOO were ones they admired such as Sun Ra, Beefheart, Walter Carlos, Harry Partch, Stockhausen, Tangerine Dream and many other edgy, non-commercial 'outer national' performers. They were impressed with my interviews of their hero, iconic Frank Zappa and the outrageous 'Firesign Theater'. I considered myself unique in my exclusive knowledge of non-mainstream music, but they were up on many artists because of their lust for combing through record stores and thrifts. I still retained a few performers in my queue that they were anxious to hear (I thought 'Schwump', a fellow DJ at KBOO, was another eclectic musician they would welcome). Each summer I previewed new music for them, and they loved hearing all the stuff I had access to through promo releases. We continued to exchange knowledge about abstract film and music, fostering an inspirational influence on each other for several years.
I was overwhelmed as they eagerly presented all their music, art and performance material. I was given gifts of all their previous, unreleased musical experiments: original tapes of 'Warner Brothers Album, Stuffed Trigger, Rusty Coathangers, Baby Sex and a box full of flyers, posters and artwork by 'Pornographics'. I watched videos of sporadic, experimental shows at the local 'Boarding House' where an appreciative audience of their weird brand of music was their only public venue. It was the perfect forum for Homer's eccentric, forceful imagination. His poems and stories were bold and entertaining, as he conjured up myths and characters such as the 'Mysterious Ensenada'.
They were anxious to unveil their first official album, 'Meet the Residents', and played rough tracks of their newest foray into sonic weirdness. It was clear to me that Homer was the director and front man for most of the writing and vocals, with H acting as engineer and cowriter/musician. Since none of them had any formal training as musicians, an accomplished English guitar player known as 'Snakefinger' was interested in recording with them and helping with plans for signing him and other bands to 'Ralph Records' (their new label). 'Vileness Fats' was a very ambitious, but troubled, project featuring large sets, lights and cables everywhere in the basement. Vileness Fats was a focus of much-discussion and fascination (late one night, a bit high, I broke a lamp post falling off the Vileness Fats bridge, one of the girls and I patched it up before any of the boys discovered the damage). All in all, I was encouraged and intimidated by the shear amount of projects they were juggling! I was also blessed and humbled by the hospitality, trust and generosity they reserved for me in those early years.
NOTE: I only met Snakefinger once during my association with The Residents. Summer of '77 was the time period of my last visit with them at their new office on Grove St. (a far cry from the bohemian digs at Sycamore St.). They were remodeling a reception area as I entered the building, abuzz with activity. I felt a little uncomfortable with the more formal, business-like atmosphere. Now, they had assistants to do some of the work! I was disappointed by the change in The Residents’ demeanor; it was a subtle lack of enthusiasm upon seeing me again. Jay took me into a makeshift lounge with a few overstuffed chairs and a couch against the wall. Snake was sitting with a couple of other people as Jay introduced me, with a brief mention of my promotion for them. He looked up with a cockney "Hello, mate" and quickly returned to his conversation with the others. I detected a subtle note of arrogance and suddenly I felt much less important as Jay continued the tour to his new, private office. He proudly sat behind a large desk almost obscured with Bicentennial memorabilia. He eagerly pointed out how, for the past year, he had been collecting everything he could find with a Bi logo (I'm sure it’s quite valuable now). At that point, things became very different. We didn't talk much about Residents business, and I was eager to visit a girlfriend who had moved to San Francisco. She was still very fond of me and also had some weed, so without seeing the others, I left for the day. I didn't see Snake again until, coincidentally, in the 80's when he played in Portland, where I worked at LaBamba Club.
Note: Having been an arrogant, pushy New Yorker myself, I was reminded of my own callous, sometimes offensive nature. This is what 20/20 hindsight means!
Personally, I found Hardy and Jay to be the most gregarious. Homer was polite and conversational, but more reticent and private as time went by (I’m sure he was already thinking about implementing his 'obscurity' principles). John was rarely around and I only saw him briefly a few times. H took particular interest in me and was delighted to lead me on long, out of the way tours. Confusing to the tourist, he explained in detail how the trolley and BART systems worked. We window shopped all the famous book and record stores, shared our love of Ferlengetti, and talked excitedly about our rock influences. We walked past the 'Grateful Dead' house and struggled up Knob Hill. One of his favorite pastimes was hiking the trails through Golden Gate Park. He led me to where a rutted, unused path wound steeply down to the base of the gigantic bridge. Here, in the shadows of this awesome monument, he joyfully revealed a spot near the shore where, in the weeds, old broken bridge bolts had fallen. H was very proud of his rare collection of these large, barnacled and rusted artifacts (I still have one somewhere… another rare gift). They all loved to collect bric-à-bra and spent considerable time shopping local thrifts and yard sales. The Sycamore St. home was stuffed with every kind of odd, found object and knickknack. They were especially fond of masks.
I was the 'Cat's Pajamas' (as they called me in correspondence). My enthusiasm and professional position in the radio industry was a boost to their desire for wider acceptance. I went to the Sycamore home several more times during my stay in San Francisco that summer. My brother Paul and his wife drove up from Los Angeles to meet them and help celebrate with my new friends. The festive atmosphere lasted through the rest of my vacation. My new association with the most creative group of people I had ever met kept me from seeing most of the others on my list of planned visits. I did manage to meet the staff at KPFA in Berkeley. They had never heard of the Residents!
NOTE ON PART 2:
I was more prepared by the next summer's visit (1974). I arrived with two pretty girls I met from France, air tapes from my show, home movies and a stash of blotter LSD! The Residents were very productive during the previous year so there was much to share and celebrate from the fruits of their labor. The Residents’ recognition was expanding, a few college stations had played them and a record store in Pasadena called Poo Bah was selling their stuff.
-- I took the title of this post from a comment that Scott made on Facebook...