By Noah Hubbell
By Kiernan Maletsky
By Tom Murphy
By Noah Hubbell
By Alex Distefano
By Darryl Smyers
By Jon Solomon
By Britt Chester
Dennis Flemion sounds irritable and flabbergasted for close to two hours -- a marathon by interview standards, especially since the founder of the Frogs prefers to keep to himself.
"Look, Prince never did interviews," Flemion says flatly. "I don't want to talk to anybody. I'm not getting anything, so I'm not gonna give anything back. I'm dumbfounded when I see others of lesser talent making it. I'm thinking God's asleep. Fucking dead asleep! He's gotta be in a coma at this point, with the crap that's succeeding. An absolute coma! This must be some joke. We keep saying all the time we're waiting for the punchline, but there is none!"
A beleaguered indie-rock veteran at 47, Flemion has plenty to get off his chest -- especially when it comes to the Frogs' overall legacy, which in its present state remains somewhere between legendary and an afterthought. Paying for the long distance call himself to avoid giving out his home number, the unsung hero of the home taper's underground launches into his own cultural state of the union address, offering plenty of scathing topical insights along the way: the French ("Let me have those assholes; I'm ready"), hip-hop ("The bragging thing should be outlawed -- especially for women"), pedophile priests ("They're bastards; they'll get theirs") and last February's Great White tragedy ("They deserve what they got. The crowd, too -- cheering with the fire, like it was part of the act.")
Still, Flemion recalls happier days.
"I did a show one time," he says. "'Cause they were such bastards, I did the first song 'Fuck Off,' you know? I did it five times in a row. It was beautiful. Like, 'Check this out, assholes. Want me to do it again?'" If not for the confrontational lyrics, the softly strummed melody of the otherwise soothing song might pass for a lullaby: "For all those who say/'Make me happy/Please me/Entertain me'/ I've only this to say/'Fuck off/Get out of my life/Fuck off/Get out of my sight/ 'Cause I don't need your BS tonight.'"
It wasn't the last time that Flemion would test the patience of an angry mob.
"The most famous show was in Chicago, where 5,000 people flipped me off," Flemion recalls. "That's one of my proudest moments. I wish I had a picture of that, 'cause it just looked righteous. A sea of arms up in the air, flipping me off. And they meant it!
"It sounds funny, but I'm thinking, 'I'm doing the right thing,'" he says. "I'm opening with 'Queen Boys' off It's Only Right and Natural, and I've got the pink sailor suit on, which has probably thrown them for a loop. And I'm in dark face, with a blond wig that's dyed pink, you know? And the opening lyrics are 'Start by kissing my ass/I'll start by rubbing your balls.' And I'm thinking, 'They're gonna go for this, you know? This is what they want.' And I get done with the first chorus, and there was a rain of boos. The whole place!
"I wasn't prepared for it," Flemion continues, laughing. "I mean, standing up to 5,000 people against you? I was dumbfounded. I was like, 'Why don't they like what I'm doing here?' And I jumped on them, like, 'What the hell?' Because they didn't know the journey I took to get to that point."
Hardly a tale by Horatio Alger, the Frogs' journey began in their parents' basement in Milwaukee during the dark hours of the Nixon administration. Flemion and Jimmy, his younger brother by five years, discovered mainstream FM radio, took up drums and guitar, respectively, and proceeded to knock out songs by the boatload.
"I started in 1970 -- not whole hog, but I had the dream since then," Flemion says. "I was a recording artist myself before being a singer-songwriter. Much in the same mold as James Taylor or whoever. Carly Simon. Todd Rundgren. Elton John. They aren't necessarily my heroes, but these are the people I wanted to emulate.
"To me, where it was really going on was like in the '60s in Greenwich Village with Dylan," Flemion continues. "Or in the late '50s in San Francisco with people like Lenny Bruce doing his comedy thing."
Nearly three decades into the game, the Flemion brothers have intermittently issued six full-length albums among an enormous backlog of funny, unreleased material and "made-up songs" available through mail order. (See www.thefrogs.net.) The band's first self-titled, self-released effort, in 1988, found them singing quirky, orchestrated, electric pop in the vein of Robyn Hitchcock. The tunes covered everything from deposed kings and suicidal gypsy girls to Persian cats and dry humping.
"I shopped it around to people at Electra or whoever, because we'd done it in a 'professional studio,'" Flemion says. "But they weren't interested. Right and Natural got put out a year later inadvertently, 'cause my friend happened to send a copy to Homestead. I didn't even offer it to them."
Praising homo-erotica with a crass, undying love for all of God's creatures (especially the ones that were male, sweaty, lean-muscled, four-legged or in the priesthood), the Frogs introduced something of a faux liberation manifesto with Right and Natural. Upon issuing their lo-fi underground classic, the pair even declared themselves gay supremacists. In the shadow of a growing AIDS epidemic, songs like "Hot Cock Annie" and "Sailors Board Me Now" blindsided political correctness by celebrating wild orgies in drug-blissed abandon. With a nod to Bowie's Hunky Dory and a tip of the hat to Bob Crane, the release spawned several glitzy stage tours, complete with pyrotechnics and costume changes -- including Jimmy's famed six-foot-wide sequined bat wings.