Founder member of the Residents

Born: March 29, 1945

Died: October 30, 2018

Hardy Fox, who has died aged 73, was an American artist, musician and filmmaker whose work throughout his life was deliberately undertaken in a pseudonymous manner. When he appeared in the press it was as a representative of ‘the Cryptic Corporation’, the managers and representatives of the mysterious, San Francisco-based avant garde rock group the Residents; however, what was somewhere between a rumour and an open secret among the most devout fans of the group was that Fox was actually a key member and driving force of the band.

As their 1974 debut album Meet the Residents! was a parody of the Beatles’ album Meet the Beatles! in title and cover art, there were initially some rumours that the group were a spoof side project for members of the Beatles themselves, and in the Residents’ music there was something of Lennon and McCartney’s most out-there and uncommercial sonic experiments.

They fused psychedelic rock, blues, free jazz and playful art-rock experimentation in the kind of manner fans of Captain Beefheart might have appreciated; in fact, in 1971 the Residents sent their demo album – impudently titled The Warner Bros Album – to Hal Halverstadt at Warner, who had signed Beefheart. He rejected the recording (although he wrote on the note that it deserved an “A for Ariganality”) and returned it to the address given. In the absence of a name for the band or its members, he addressed the envelope to ‘The Residents’, and the group had a name.

Although he was born in Texas, the finer elements of Fox’s biography remained largely unknown until his death, and as far as anyone discussed the band’s history, it was believed they had met either at high school or at university in Louisiana (where Fox attended both). Certainly, that’s where he met Homer Flynn, the other voice of the Cryptic Corporation and the Residents’ only other confirmed bandmate, who steered the group with him following the apparent departure of the other founder members by the early 1980s.

In the late 1960s, the group of friends moved to California and San Francisco, making a low-level name for themselves with their live performances and their artistic works. Throughout the 1970s they both flirted with and showed a casual disdain for the established tropes of rock music, releasing a singular cover of the Rolling Stones’ Satisfaction in 1976 and the cut-up The Residents Play the Beatles and the Beatles Play the Residents EP in 1977. Although they remained esoterically genreless, the punk movement claimed a certain affinity with the Residents.

Most widely familiar for their odd, eyeball-shaped helmets – one of many outlandish costumes they designed for themselves – the Residents were as prolific filmmakers as they were musicians, while their live shows (including 1983’s The Mole Show, hosted by future magician Penn Jillette) were pieces of immaculately designed performance art. They were credited with nearly 50 albums, as well as numerous film, video and later CD-ROM and DVD works.

Apparently leaving the Residents at the age of 70, in 2015, Fox wrote a heavily fictionalised account of their history entitled THIS, which is free to download from his website. Only since his death of glioblastoma – or “something in my brain that will last to a brief end”, as Fox put it in a Facebook post in September – have more details of his life came out, both with his husband Steven Kloman at home in California, and through the Residents’ own tribute to him as “the group’s producer, engineer, as well as a co-creator and collaborator on much of their material” who had “a keen ear and an exquisite love of the absurd."

David Pollock