Posted Tuesday, July 10, 2012, at 11:05 AM
Dennis Flemion, far left, performing with, from left to right, Eddie Vedder, Brian Hill, and Jimmy Flemion, in 1994
Rescue divers are still searching for Dennis Flemion—co-founder, with his brother Jimmy, of Milwaukee’s lo-fi weirdo rock outfit The Frogs—after the musician went for a swim while boating with family and friends over the weekend and apparently drowned. Though his body has not yet been found, Flemion is presumed dead.
This news will surely prompt some to ask, Who are The Frogs? But for many others, this is a significant blow to the underground musical community.
I discovered the Frogs the way many people discovered them: through a more famous musical act. I was listening to Beck’s “Where It’s At” one day with a friend, himself a musician, when he corrected my assumption that the wobbly self-aware lyric “that was a good drum break” was from Beck himself. As many know, it’s actually a sample from a song by The Frogs—a subtle nod that, despite its brevity, still caught something of the band’s funny, strange, and surprisingly catchy essence.
Beck wasn’t the only rock star who loved the band. The wig-wearing, bat-winged stage presences of Dennis and Jimmy impressed Billy Corgan so much he asked them to open for the Smashing Pumpkins at the height of his own band’s fame. (Dennis became a temporary member of Corgan’s band after the death of keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin.) Kurt Cobain was reportedly a fan, as was Eddie Vedder. Kelley Deal, of The Breeders, briefly performed with the Frogs. The interest of these people gave the band some almost-breaks, but nothing that put The Frogs in the mainstream.
So they continued to put out tiny lo-fi opuses that pushed the envelope of comic songwriting. Delving into homoeroticism and writing songs like “Sorry I’m White,” no matter what your real message or motive, is likely to narrow your potential record-buying audience. But a lot of The Frogs material is good. Some of it is great.
No doubt the band’s unabashed weirdness doomed them to be a liner note in the broader musical culture, despite the efforts of a few labels and celebrity superfans. If that’s the band’s fate, I’ll gladly take it—and I’ll buy that complete box set of their songs whenever someone decides to put it out. You should, too.