SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
November 11, 2018

In Memoriam, Hardy Fox

 

I’m trying for the life of me now to remember when I first met Hardy Fox in person. We’d spoken on the phone a few times since the early Nineties, we’d shared some emails, but I think the first time we met was when we had lunch at the now-defunct Life restaurant just off the northeast corner of Tompkins Square Park in the East Village. That would have been around 2002, I’m guessing. It was an overcast and chilly late fall day. The night before he’d bought something for his boyfriend Steve and left it in a bar. The bar wouldn’t open again for a few hours, but he was hoping someone had turned it in. (I later learned someone had, and all was well.) After lunch we walked down Tenth Street toward Lafayette, where he planned to stop in the avant-garde record store Other Music (also now defunct), one of his regular stops whenever he was in New York.

            Hardy was a big, burly guy with a trimmed blond beard, large glasses, and a delicate way of speaking. He’d been raised in Texas in the Fifties and early Sixties. He told me once that his family moved around a lot, and he learned the best way to get along in a new school was to be as gregarious as possible. He also learned the secret delight of taking on a whole new persona whenever he started at another new school. These two habits led to an interest in publicity and marketing. While studying art at Louisiana Tech, he began managing a local high school rock band called The Beaten Path. Hardy got rid of the front man, announced the organ player was the band’s new leader, got them to change their name to The Alliance, lined up shows all over Louisiana, and even helped them release an album. Not bad for a high school cover band.

            Growing up gay in the mid-century American South couldn’t have been easy, so in 1968 Fox and a few other adventurous and artistically-minded friends from college picked up and fled Louisiana, moving to the Bay Area, where they began experimenting with music, art, and drugs.

            Four of those old college friends went on to form the now legendary avant pop performance group The Residents, while Hardy and his former roommate Homer Flynn helped set up The Cryptic Corporation, which would handle the band’s management and business affairs. Some forty-five years worth of musical shenanigans and High Strangeness followed. Both The Residents and Cryptic are still around and productive as ever, though Hardy officially retired in 2016.

            Whenever business or a tour brought them to town, I would meet Homer for breakfast or lunch or drinks, and every now and again Hardy would come along. I recall another lunch at the (yes, now defunct) West Village Silver Spurs, and another time when we just chatted on a street corner for about an hour. Hardy was very smart, maybe a little smug, always forthright, an admitted control freak, and extremely protective of the fiercely reclusive Residents. Still, when it was just the three of us he always had some interesting behind-the-scenes stories to tell, along with some wicked gossip about some of the other artists they’d worked with. Now is not the time to share too much of what he had to say, but for starters—for those readers familiar with the band—he always got very upset when anyone referred to the late guitarist Philip “Snakefinger” Lithman as “the fifth Resident.” Maybe sometime down the line I’ll get around to publishing the interview I did with Hardy on the subject.

            In 2010, he contacted me out of the blue and asked if I might help him on a little promotional project he had in mind. At the time Residents albums and videos were being distributed by a company called MVD, which offered a massive catalog of music, videos and merchandise ranging from the most egregiously mainstream acts to filthy underground luminaries like G.G. Allin and Throbbing Gristle.

            Hardy’s plan, essentially just another way of promoting The Residents, was to pitch the idea of a thematic sub-store within MVD’s commercial website. He wanted to call it “The Id of Odd.” Here’s his preliminary description:

 

Meaning of title:  The elements of the sub-conscious that drive people to create non-populist art.

Style:       Dark,surreal, dream-like.

Products:     CD,DVD, clothing, collectables (potentially books, iBooks, apps)

Spokes model:    The Residents (The Residents present The Id of Odd?)

The idea is that “offering” the product is not enough. We will educate first and sell second.

 

            He went on to lay out a highly detailed proposal for what the site-within-a-site and store-within-a-store would involve, from a weekly focus on an obscure artist or theme, to podcasts, essays, interviews and reviews.

            He was hoping I might help him draft a pitch letter, scour the MVD catalog for artists who would fit the description, and write up a few sample essays to launch the Id of Odd store when the time came. That all sounded fine to me, so I set to work, listing all the products by Zappa, Sun Ra, Beefheart, Swans, and other such artists who could be found in the MVD warehouse.

            But MVD never got back to him on the idea, so that was that.

            Last time I talked to Hardy was in 2014, when I was working on a long oral history of The Residents’ early years. I spoke with six or seven people who were part of the scene in the late Sixties, and Hardy and I were on the phone for about two hours. He again told any number of stories (some of them what the kids would call “snarky”) that were new to me. He was also earnest and thoughtful and introspective about those early years of wild experimentation, when no one knew where anything was headed. It was a side of Hardy I’d never seen before.

            After the official interview part was over, he told me about his wine collection and an upcoming trip to France he and his longtime boyfriend Steven were taking. It was all very pleasant.

            As per an earlier agreement, I sent the first draft of the oral history to Homer and Hardy for their approval before pitching it to assorted publications. Given how protective he was of The Residents’ mythology, I was expecting a pretty harsh response from Hardy, but he sent along a very cordial note, while noting that I perhaps paid a bit too much attention to a few characters who were tangential at best. He also made a few clarifications, and noted a few places where I might push the story even further. Homer, meanwhile, noted three historical mistakes I’d made, but was likewise quite cordial about it. Still, I got the sense the story may have revealed a bit more of the actual truth than they were comfortable with. I made the requested changes, and the story, all eight thousand words of it, appeared in the final issue of Signal to Noise magazine. I guess I wasn’t too surprised when Hardy, who ran the Residents’ official website, didn’t see fit to give the article a single mention.

            Although he’d been talking about it for five or six years, Hardy’s retirement from The Cryptic Corporation and the entire Residents enterprise became official in 2017. Homer and I were actually having lunch at a (still extant) restaurant in the East Village on a Sunday afternoon when he received the text from Hardy, his friend and business partner for nearly half a century. Despite all his earlier talk, the definitive announcement of his retirement was still abrupt and unexpected.

             Hardy, to be fair, had been having health issues for some time, and had become reluctant at best to join the band on increasingly extensive world tours. His knees were shot, decades of chronic acid reflux had made a mess of his stomach and esophagus, and in the summer of 2018 he underwent open heart surgery.

            In September when Hardy began having trouble speaking and understanding language, those around him thought it was merely an aftereffect of the heart surgery. But when the symptoms only grew worse, he went to see a doctor who sent him for an MRI. That’s when they discovered the brain tumor and told him he had six weeks left. Precisely six weeks later, on October thirtieth, Hardy passed away.

            Although The Residents will continue without him, it’s impossible to overstate the importance of the role he played over the decades. In fact without Hardy, it’s entirely possible The Residents never would have happened in the first place. He may have stepped away toward the end, but he will always remain an indelible figure whose work as a manager and publicist transformed a bunch of stoned hippie weirdoes into one of history’s most influential underground acts.

 

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