On The Frogs

July 10, 2012

Across the Internet today, a number of tributes to Dennis Flemion have been penned. The founding member (with his younger brother Jimmy) of the independent rock band The Frogs was identified yesterday as the swimmer who disappeared on Wind Lake in Racine, Wisconsin on Saturday afternoon. All those other remembrances were written by people who knew Dennis better than I, and if you’re looking for a history of his band or his life you won’t find that here. Check out the blog at Matador, the official Fan Page on Facebook, or any of the dozens of reports that have been filed by music news sources today. Instead, I’ll just tell you about how I came to love the Frogs.

Actually, the story is pretty simple. Back in the early nineties (right around the time ‘Siamese Dream’ came out) I was obsessed with the Smashing Pumpkins. In 1994 the band released a VHS tape of live footage and shorts called ‘Vieuphoria’. One of the segments on the video was called “Meet The Frogs”, and for as many times as I watched that video I couldn’t keep from laughing at the clip of the song “Homos.” I knew nothing more about the band than what was offered on ‘Vieuphoria’. It was 1994 — it’s not like I could have said, “Huh. The Frogs. LET ME GOOGLE THAT!” Nobody could do that in 1995. Well, not many people could.

When I first saw the Smashing Pumpkins in 1996 at the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, Dennis had taken over keyboard duties for the recently deceased Jonathan Melvoin. In 1997 James Iha’s label Scratchie Records released a Frogs EP called ‘Starjob,’ which was the first album of theirs I ever owned. Almost immediately I began preaching the gospel Frogs where- and whenever I could. It was more than just a novelty act or a comedy act to me. It was just plain weird. Those of you who read this website know how I’m attracted to outsiders who make music, well…for a long time the Frogs were the epitome of weird American independent music. Even after hearing the songs hundreds of times, I could never keep a straight face when I’d play a tune for someone who had never heard them before. In my sophomore year of college, the first time my foreign-exchange roommate heard “Sailors Board Me Now” I thought he might drop everything he was doing and return to his homeland right then and there.

When I started collecting records in college I giddily purchased ‘It’s Only Right And Natural’ from L’Oblique in Montreal. January 6th was the date. I know because I keep a record of where I purchase each and every album in my collection. That’s not the point now. The point is that I was able to find pretty much all of their albums within the next few years (with the exception of the self-released first record), and a ton of privately issued CDrs that they would sell at shows when they toured.

It’s funny to think that the Frogs played a crucial role in my maturity from a kid who listened to mainstream radio stations and alternative rock to a guy who takes pride in delving deep into the margins to find loners and outsiders and voices of musicians who have struggled to have their messages heard. Before ‘Starjob’ what record did I own that was released by an independent label? Before ‘Starjob’ what outsider musicians did I listen to? To think that there is no connection between hearing the Frogs for the first time and championing artists or songs weird enough to make you laugh or cringe in equal measure. Dennis and Jimmy Flemion were instrumental in getting me into the bizarre side of music, and for that I will be eternally grateful. I’ll always have my memories of The Frogs. For now, though, I’m left to send my condolences and best wishes to the friends and families who are mourning their loss.

Rest in peace, Dennis.

The Frogs – Lord Grunge [MP3]

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