FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Resident Aliens: “The Brickeaters,” a Novel by The Residents

“No one to talk with, all by myself. No one to walk with, but I’m happy on the shelf.”

– Fats Waller

The Residents, those spectacular eyeballs in tux, always seemed to suss that the ‘underground’ was a subsurface fraud running just under the mainstream. In a series of inscrutable projects with names like Duck Stab, the Residents created a mirror world of late-era pop pap drenched in a kind of furious enervation. Their most telling autopsy, 1976s Third Reich & Roll, chewed up the damp cud of ditties like ‘Hey Jude’ and regurgitated them in long harrowing stretches of paranoid blips and howls that revealed the Top Ten’s dark Horst Wessel core. The Residents seemed to see the stupidity of the lyrics in pop music as a trick to hide its carceral arrangements and anthemic martial chords, as if popular music was like de Quincey’s famous nightmare building whose very structure was evil. Popular music was no longer even allowed the right to be corny – no more music-hall kick or punning, no unholy games; suddenly you could say or do almost anything, a situation which usually adds up to bankruptcy or medication (Glenn Gould made a similar point in his Pet Clark program). And thus, a great Caucasian pall fell in sitar overdubs or Baudelaire references over the half-crocked toe-tapper or dirty locomotive beast which once cut into the thrilling gaudiness of the American airwaves.

By the time they spat out The Commercial Album, a fake apology for earlier sins, and their anti-punk punk version of Satisfaction on 45 rpm, yesterday’s sell-out rockstars were pigeon commodities along with their counterparts in Watergate, Woodstock, and the People’s Temple. You can’t sell suicide, as John Cale once said. Yes we can. Nostalgia, false memory implants, good and evil… enemies arranged like store dummies with their old antagonisms in a fuzzy glow, a weepy crystal enclosure which promises public rehabilitation for monsters and movable units for the Yesteryear industry. Things like K-Tel ads seem cutesy and quaint now, once glimpsed between used car spots and F-Troop at 4 AM – so too Mai Lai,Tlatelolco, Mengele, Kopassus…

After a long series of variations on related subterranean themes like Antarctica and moles, the Residents have now produced their first book. You can also pay a million $ or so for their collected musical works housed in a fridge, but The Brickeaters is a lot cheaper, if chillier. It’s a combo of the cramped angles of Residents properties such as Hello Skinny, curdled Spillane cant, and the vacuum landscape frames of James Benning.  In other words, more of the Resident’s wily detective work, by other means. The plot, punctured by masturbatory fantasies and ruminations on the American 24p grainy, concerns a corpse in a gold Cadillac, a dead bankrobber, and a crazed survivalist who plans to spark a revolt by poisoning the LA Water supply. The hero is an alcoholic journalist with girl trouble and the non-action takes place in a Missouri haunted by fluorescence, microwave burritos and relentless tollways. Forget it Snakefinger, it’s Foxcom…

The Residents have also sussed the end of practical surveillance – objectless vanishing points, captured murders that no one bothers to download, and the alchemy of a vast blind spot in the endless pan of electric eyes. The occupants of the drama move from dying motel to motel, get hassled by bored butch cops, and are forced to watch most of the events on a laptop. This midget screen writ small points the way toward a new kind of remote locked-room mystery after Carr, as well as a double-exposure of Christie’s Peter Ackroyd and Orient Express. Although the language is low-toner Black Mask, this whocareswhodunnit is actually somewhat Victorian. Or Trans-Victorian.

The present pastiche culture is probably inescapable, at least as far as its official Anglophone currency goes. The most interesting points lie along the lines of The Brickeaters’ cynical crossed-out double entry and the omnivorous edit-loops of a Kanye West (both the man and the music), rather than the looted references to earlier real estate and cleverclogs smugness typical of granite cinema like The Master or the wussy cruelty of  TV’s True Detective. These self-conscious bags of tropes offer no critique beyond flabby winging and an ingratiating fascination with physical torture, a middle-brow ‘art’ that seems so utterly disinterested in its own motions it barely finishes its groove or makes its running time without being overcome by premature senility. The giddy nihilism of the Resident/West vortex manages to pick up some vigor from the frequency-hop and knows what it’s doing without constantly reminding you that it knows what it’s doing. The Brickeaters stuffs the empty sweeps envelope while squeezing the last glue from its ghost sign; the uncanny implication is that the sender and receiver may be one in the same (resident). It doesn’t do exhaustion and collapses like a collision between Spike Jones and Tati’s Playtime, rather than exasperated foreclosure.

One of the heroic schmucks in The Brickeaters is an internet content monitor which is probably the worst job on the planet, after being Chuck Schumer’s wife. The horrific images weeded out by these low-paid gatekeepers give them early graves, nervous breakdowns and the bitterest vision of humankind’s capacity for dumb viciousness. The last place for self-expression is the dissolution of all selves into bytes and bufferings, crisis actors without a crisis, pornography so weary that it usually doesn’t even care to monetize. Amateur filmmaking and performance art is outsourced by the Pentagon, which makes everyone an artist and everyone a drone. The potential for mass fame and eternity is here, at least in the banks of the servers. If this makes the Residents and their chemtrail art seem either dated or timeless, perhaps it is because they have secretly solved an old problem common to both anchorites and mad composers.

It is best to read The Brickeaters as travelogue of petrified exotica, like Burton’s old trips to Mecca and the Beagle voyages in upside-down reverse. Names linger here – Hendricks, Beasly and Blodgett – they are not even puns or word-plays anymore, more like the honorary street signs of forgotten judges and tycoons still visible in mapping screenshots. Just the phonemes, letters on dark web searches, connecting the highway to Creve Coeur with the highways in Latvia, tinkling Spectors or Herman’s Hermits coming from a transistor abandoned in the Joplin city Greyhound. Perhaps the Residents have finally caught a reflection of their bulbous, collective profile in the cancelled throng of these parading images. Like the corrected city of Constantinople, they have surrendered to immortality by being everywhere and nowhere in the heart. This manic collection of eavesdroppings is the latest evidence of a long plan of increasingly malicious compliance.

 

More articles by:

Martin Billheimer lives in Chicago.

March 19, 2019
Paul Street
Socialism Curiously Trumps Fascism in U.S. Political Threat Reporting
Jonah Raskin
Guy Standing on Anxiety, Anger and Alienation: an Interview About “The Precariat”
Patrick Cockburn
The Brutal Legacy of Bloody Sunday is a Powerful Warning to Those Hoping to Save Brexit
Robert Fisk
Turning Algeria Into a Necrocracy
John Steppling
Day of Wrath
Robin Philpot
Truth, Freedom and Peace Will Prevail in Rwanda
Victor Grossman
Women Marchers and Absentees
Binoy Kampmark
The Dangers of Values: Brenton Tarrant, Fraser Anning and the Christchurch Shootings
Jeff Sher
Let Big Pharma Build the Wall
Jimmy Centeno
Venezuela Beneath the Skin of Imperialism
Jeffrey Sommers – Christopher Fons
Scott Walker’s Failure, Progressive Wisconsin’s Win: Milwaukee’s 2020 Democratic Party Convention
Steve Early
Time for Change at NewsGuild?
March 18, 2019
Scott Poynting
Terrorism Has No Religion
Ipek S. Burnett
Black Lives on Trial
John Feffer
The World’s Most Dangerous Divide
Paul Cochrane
On the Ground in Venezuela vs. the Media Spectacle
Dean Baker
The Fed and the 3.8 Percent Unemployment Rate
Thomas Knapp
Social Media Companies “Struggle” to Help Censors Keep us in the Dark
Binoy Kampmark
Death in New Zealand: The Christchurch Shootings
Mark Weisbrot
The Reality Behind Trump’s Venezuela Regime Change Coalition
Weekend Edition
March 15, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
Is Ilhan Omar Wrong…About Anything?
Kenn Orphan
Grieving in the Anthropocene
Jeffrey Kaye
On the Death of Guantanamo Detainee 10028
Stan Cox – Paul Cox
In Salinas, Puerto Rico, Vulnerable Americans Are Still Trapped in the Ruins Left by Hurricane Maria
Ben Debney
Christchurch, the White Victim Complex and Savage Capitalism
Eric Draitser
Did Dallas Police and Local Media Collude to Cover Up Terrorist Threats against Journalist Barrett Brown?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Straighten Up and Fly Right
Jack Rasmus
Trump’s $34 Trillion Deficit and Debt Bomb
David Rosen
America’s Puppet: Meet Juan Guaidó
Jason Hirthler
Annexing the Stars: Walcott, Rhodes, and Venezuela
Samantha M. - Angelica Perkins
Our Green New Deal
Mel Gurtov
Trump’s Nightmare Budget
Steven Colatrella
The 18th Brumaire of Just About Everybody: the Rise of Authoritarian Strongmen and How to Prevent and Reverse It
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Riding the Wild Bull of Nuclear Power
Michael K. Smith
Thirty Years Gone: Remembering “Cactus Ed”
Dean Baker
In Praise of Budget Deficits
Howard Lisnoff
Want Your Kids to Make it Big in the World of Elite Education in the U.S.?
Brian Cloughley
Trump’s Foreign Policy is Based on Confrontation and Malevolence
John W. Whitehead
Pity the Nation: War Spending is Bankrupting America
Priti Gulati Cox
“Maria! Maria! It Was Maria That Destroyed Us!” The Human Story
Missy Comley Beattie
On Our Knees
Mike Garrity – Carole King
A Landscape Lewis and Clark Would Recognize is Under Threat
Robert Fantina
The Media-Created Front Runners
Tom Clifford
Bloody Sunday and the Charging of Soldier F
Ron Jacobs
All the Livelong Day      
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail