BY THOMAS CONNER
© Tulsa World
If it weren't for all that great Aimee Mann music scoring the drawn-out angst of "Magnolia," the director should have used a song by the Frogs for the film's biblical climax.
It wouldn't have been the first time you've unwittingly listened to the band.
Milwaukee's flipped-out Frogs have been a crucial underpinning of most of the alt-rock you've grown to adore during the last decade and a half.
Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder habitually dropped their name in interviews. Both of their bands played the Frogs' wacky gay-power-folk debut "It's Only Right and Natural" on the PA before concerts. Pearl Jam even covered some Frogs songs live and shared a single with them ("Immortality" in '94).
Juliana Hatfield's Blake Babies named an EP after a song on the Frogs' debut ("Rosy Jack World"). The Smashing Pumpkins' Billy Corgan and James Iha regularly joined the Frogs onstage. Kelly Deal played bass for them. Beck sampled the Frogs in his hit single "Where It's At."
We could go on. And on.
Suffice to say: the examples above are artists who have kinky sides to them, and that's the side of everyone that the Frogs embrace.
"Kinky? Kinky? Can you even be kinky anymore?" asked Dennis Flemion, the more frenetic and breathless half of the duo with brother Jimmy. "The culture's gotten so scattered, so numbed, nobody even feels kinky anymore."
This from a band whose debut album is loaded with stark, naked, pro-gay anthems — written by two brothers who probably are not gay themselves. Flemion would not answer "the $64,000 question" during this week's interview.
But on all subjects, the Frogs are, er, unconventional.
Some sample song titles (at least ones that can be printed in a general newspaper): "(Thank God I Died In) The Car Crash," "I Don't Care If You Disrespect Me (Just So You Love Me)," "Raped," "I'm Sad the Goat Just Died Today" and "Which One of You gave My Daughter the Dope?"
They also perform wearing some crazy costumes. First, it was giant bat wings. Then, not surprisingly, frog outfits with protruding stuffed green arms. Lately, it's bunny suits.
That's not to imply that the band is all about humor and weirdness — they have some great straight material, too, so to speak, especially on the newest CD, "Hopscotch Lollipop Sunday Surprise" — but it's the wacky stuff that's gotten them attention.
Flemion, however, assured us that the wildly eclectic and bizarre music — connect the dots from Zappa to Captain Beefheart to the Frogs (and, perhaps, fellow Milwaukeeans the Violent Femmes) to Ween — is not recorded and released simply for the sake of using controversy to gain attention.
"No, no. That would be the easiest and cheapest trick in the book. 'Oh, let's see how controversial we can be!' What would be the point? Do you think Alice Cooper did that?" Flemion said.
"I don't necessarily have to be the thing I create."
And therein lies the heart of the Frogs' oddball genius. They truly deserve the label "art-rock," because they approach rock music as artists — using the medium to explore their human potential for all states of thought and feeling. The things they sing about might not describe who they are, but those things came from within them.
It's a heady concept, one jazz players might understand better than others. It springs from the practice of improvisation. The Flemion brothers often — and sometimes on stage — practice making up songs on the spot. The band's album "My Daughter the Broad" is a compilation of these improvs, and the results are alternately right-on and far-out.
"The songs we make up are often quite controversial and inflammatory," Flemion said. "I could say I'm putting a mirror out there, but that's (nonsense) really, because everybody writes about themselves. Whatever you're writing, it's coming out of you.
"Just last night, I finally figured out the meaning of a song I wrote in '87. It's so twisted, you would never understand it, but I realized in a flash, 'Oh my God, that's what I was writing about.' It's something very sad that I made funny, but it came from me. It ultimately always does.
"You have to let yourself get out of the way for things to come through, too. That stuff I made up was just me opening my mind and letting stuff fly out of me. That's what we do. We try to open ourselves up that way. The stuff that comes out, well, we can't be afraid of it."
The fact that his subconscious ditties shock the conservative and sometimes even the liberal is no surprise to Flemion. Nor is it a threat.
"We have to do that as human beings, don't we?" he said. "There's no sense or irreverence in the culture anymore. When I grew up in the '60s, that's the way it was, that's the way you thought. But look at us now. Aren't you bored with what's out there?"
Unfortunately, commercialism sells only the material that's inoffensive to focus groups. That's made the Frogs infrequent residents of record store shelves — this despite the duo's piles and piles of songs. They're the They Might Be Giants of the counterculture.
"But our records are always delayed," Flemion said. " 'Right Natural' was finished in '87 but didn't come out until '89. 'Racially Yours' finished in '92 and just came out a couple of years ago.
"The latest one ('Hopscotch Lollipop Sunday Surprise') was done in '97 and came out last year. The only ones that came out on time were the compilations, and most of that was dated material, anyway."
The duo has two new records currently in the works. One of them is — ahem — a spiritual album.
"Well, I mean, it's us doing spiritual stuff. One song is called 'Satan,' and it sounds like 'Uncle Ernie' from 'Tommy.' There's a serious one called 'Jesus Is the Answer,' and then there's 'Jesus Is My Buddy' and 'Pact With the Devil Blues.'
"It's stuff that actually is fairly universal in theme so that people might even embrace it. Color me surprised."
Comments are closed.
These online "clips" reproduce a self-selection of my journalism (music etc) during the last 20+ years. It's a lotta stuff, but it only scratches the surface. I do not currently possess the time or resources to digitize the whole body of work. These posts are simply a bunch of pretty great days at the office.