Dennis Flemion, who co-founded the cult indie-pop act The Frogs with his younger brother Jimmy in Milwaukee in 1980 and rose to minor alt-rock celebrity in the ’90s, is missing and presumed dead in a Wisconsin lake, Matador Records co-owner Gerard Cosloy announced on the label’s blog tonight.
According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Flemion, 57, was “was boating with family and friends Saturday afternoon when he went for a swim and did not resurface.” Divers continued their search Monday, but have not recovered a body, according to the newspaper. Low visibility and windy conditions have hampered the search, authorities told the paper.
The Flemion brothers made a name for themselves, and The Frogs, through highly theatrical, glam-like performances that saw Jimmy donning bat wings and the duo wearing wigs. In the late ’80s, Cosloy signed The Frogs to Homestead Records, which released the band’s second album, It’s Only Right and Natural, in 1989.
During the ’90s, The Frogs became a favorite of the alt-rock scene, with the brothers befriending Kurt Cobain, getting sampled on Beck’s “Where It’s At” and even having their cover of Pearl Jam’s “Rearviewmirror” released as a B-side on one of the Seattle rockers’ 1995 singles. The Frogs also toured with the Smashing Pumpkins, and when that band’s keyboard player, Jonathan Melvoin, died of a drug overdose in 1996, Dennis Flemion filled in for the rest of the tour.
On Twitter tonight, the Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan wrote, “I’m devastated by the loss of my friend Dennis Flemion. Words can’t explain the sorrow. A tragic loss. Please pray for his family.”
Tonight, on Matador’s blog, Cosloy remembered his longtime friend:
With their recordings for the Matador, Homestead, Four Alarm and Scratchie labels, but most importantly thru their exhaustive ‘Made Up Songs’ cassettes (and later compact discs), Dennis and brother Jimmy were one of the most crucial, if not one of the strangest American bands of the last quarter century. Though best known (and not universally beloved) for the explicit subject matter found on ‘It’s Only Right & Natural’, as well as for their associations with a number of celebrity patrons, the Frogs’ comedic gifts have occasionally (and I’d say unfairly) overshadowed their musical depth. Much as ‘It’s Only Right & Natural’ was a huge conceptual departure from their self-issued debut, subsequent works like 1997′s grunge-baiting ‘Star Job’ were a world away from from the DIY folk affectations of ‘IOR&N’. With the possible exception of Bob Pollard, it’s hard to think of anyone nearly as prolific as the Flemions, and you could certainly make a case for their catalog being every bit as impressive.
While I’d hate to put too much focus on just one part of the Frogs oeuvre, the initial ‘Made Up Songs’ cassettes (the first couple of which constituted the bulk of ‘It’s Only Right & Natural’ as well as the subsequent Matador LP, ‘My Daughter The Broad’) were probably played in my home, car, head, as much as any music recorded before or since. There was certainly a stretch of my life in the late 1980′s in which you were not leaving my apartment if you hadn’t heard “I’ve Done Drugs (Out Of The Mist)” at least once. I suspect there’s others who have similar stories. There are few “what the fuck was that?” moments in music that quite compare to someone’s reaction the first time you play them The Frogs.
Dennis was without question, one of the funniest persons I’ve ever encountered. Painfully so. It would not be an exaggeration to say there were several times in which his verbal evisceration chops were almost impossible to keep up with (those who’ve attended Frogs shows over the years know exactly what I’m talking about).
There’s a couple of new Frogs albums that came out last week on iTunes ; ‘Squirrel Bunny Juniper Deluxe’ and ‘Count Yer Blessingz’. The Dennis that we saw onstage would’ve recognized this tragic event as a huge opportunity to plug some new recordings. Sans wig, drum sticks, etc. he might’ve preferred I’d not even mention it. The fantastic output and fleeting moments of near-fame aside, I hope he’s remembered as a really sweet guy first, and a hugely talented artist second. Our thoughts go out to Jimmy, the rest of the Flemion family, their friends and everyone who was lucky enough to know Dennis. Simply saying, “he’ll be missed” doesn’t come close to covering it.