Hardy Fox, of the Avant-Garde Band the Residents (Maybe), Dies at 73


Hardy Fox, a driving force behind the Residents, an avant-garde band that playfully subverted the conventions of rock music for decades while insisting on anonymity, which the group maintained by performing in outlandish costumes, died on Oct. 30 at his home in San Anselmo, Calif. He was 73.

His husband, Steven Kloman, said the cause was glioblastoma.

The Residents were more than a band: They were performance and visual artists, critics and deconstructors of pop culture, and music video pioneers. Their cacophonous, gleefully absurdist music presaged forms of punk, new wave and industrial music.

The band found a following even though its work could be difficult, if not outright annoying.

“Strangled-sounding vocals have long been characteristic of their recordings, along with crunching electronic drones that retain a homemade, low-tech quality,” the New York Times pop music critic Robert Palmer wrote in 1986.

Mr. Fox said the group’s sound was rooted in traditional rock ’n’ roll and meant to challenge what the music had become.

Though the Residents admired “bubble-gum music” for its “simplicity, its directness and its ability to affect the public,” he told The San Francisco Chronicle in 1997, the Residents sought something different: “Grating. Raw. Basically everything that rock ’n’ roll should be — and pop had ceased to be — with people banging on things and creating a tribal attack on these bubble-gum songs.”

Residents shows were phantasmagoric affairs, often incorporating video art, psychedelic sets and bizarre costumes. Band members covered their heads with masks that looked like enormous bloodshot eyeballs wearing top hats. The number of musicians onstage ranged from three to nine.

Heavy metal bands like Kiss and Gwar, electronica D.J.s like Deadmau5 and rappers like MF Doom have all performed in makeup, masks or costumes, but they came along well after the Residents, and the public knows their identities. That was never the case with the Residents.

Indeed, Mr. Fox always denied that he was in the group, though journalists and fans suspected otherwise. But even if he was not onstage, he was critical to the band’s success as a composer, producer and engineer.

In 1976, he and three friends created what they called the Cryptic Corporation to handle business, booking, distribution and public relations for the Residents. Mr. Fox and Homer Flynn became the company’s leaders after the two other founders departed in the early 1980s. Both denied being members of the band.

“We are not the Residents,” Mr. Fox told the Times music critic Jon Pareles in 1988. “But if we weren’t here to market them, they’d just be lone avant-gardists making music for themselves.”

The group chose its name after sending a demo tape, anonymously but with a return address, to Warner Bros. Records. It was rejected and returned, addressed to “Residents.”

Their first recording, released in 1972, was a Christmas record, of sorts, called “Santa Dog.” (Its title track featured the chorus “Santa dog’s a Jesus fetus.”)

Their first full album, in 1974, was “Meet the Residents,” its cover spoofing that of the early Beatles album “Meet the Beatles.” It opened with a quick, odd take on the Nancy Sinatra hit “These Boots Were Made for Walkin’ ” and, according to the band’s website, sold 40 copies its first year.

The Residents pressed on nonetheless, building a cult following and selling albums by mail. Mr. Flynn, in a telephone interview, said the band has released more than 40 studio albums. “By the time you figure in compilations and weird EPs and live albums, it’s probably 60 to 70,” he said.

They include “The Commercial Album” (1980), a collection of miniaturized pop songs, and “God in Three Persons” (1988), a rock opera about a man who becomes romantically obsessed with a conjoined twin, who, like the other twin, is a faith healer.

Mr. Flynn said the closest things the group had to crossover hits were a 1986 version of Hank Williams’s “Kaw-Liga,” which sampled Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” and which he said sold more than 100,000 copies, and a distorted, very loose interpretation of the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction,” which sold around 70,000 copies at the height of the punk era, in the late 1970s.

The Residents toured the United States, South America, Russia, Japan and Europe, and their music and videos became the basis for art shows, including one at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 2006.

The Residents recently released another album, “Intruders,” and are planning a European tour for early next year.

Mr. Fox summed up the band’s philosophy in an interview with the online magazine The Quietus in 2011: “There is no necessity to take music terribly seriously while you are being totally serious about it.”

Hardy Winfred Fox Jr. was born on March 29, 1945, in Longview, Tex. His father managed oil well leases, and his mother, Lillian (Armer) Fox, was a nurse.

After a peripatetic childhood, he graduated from Rayville High School in Rayville, La., in 1963. Mr. Flynn was his roommate at Louisiana Tech University, from which he graduated in 1967 with a major in art and a minor in business.

In addition to Mr. Kloman, whom he married in 2008 and with whom he had homes in San Anselmo and Forestville, Calif., Mr. Fox is survived by two sisters, Diane Pasel and Linda Perez.

Mr. Flynn said that Mr. Fox retired as president of the Cryptic Corporation in 2016.

The main reason the Residents insisted on remaining incognito, Mr. Fox said, was that they didn’t want celebrity to impede their creativity. He said of the group: “They claim they bare themselves completely on records, that to try to talk about their music would only detract from it.”

He added, “I’ve always felt part of the reason, too, is that the Residents’ music tends to attract some weirdos.”



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