The Record Room / The Rubber Room / Archives / 07-08-2011 / Everything I Needed to Know, I Learned on Freak Out!

Topie: Everything I Needed to Know, I Learned on Freak Out! Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
November 18th, 2010 02:57 PM
Chris D. Some thoughts on my relationship with:


,

an album with two faces.



Though I’ve listened to my share of music, like anyone else here, I don’t think there’s a lot of music in my life that’s truly taught me. I think about music a lot, but there’s a difference between someone offering you a message and learning purely from observation. The two musical experiences I go to time and time again for knowledge are probably the Sex Pistols and Zappa.

Briefly, the Sex Pistols opened up my world, especially as a typically repressed suburban kid from a hyper-critical family of alcoholics (more on that as I get to Zappa). My copy of England’s Dreaming has dirt on the edge of every page and pages are falling out from constant reading in the past 13 years. I’m sure my copy of the England’s Dreaming Tapes will one day look the same. What I really like about that time in music is that you had a bunch of kids from bad backgrounds making the most of their lives. Self-expression is the key to happines. These people created meaning and that’s always been a lot cooler than me to the clothes or the noise.

That said, punk is also a bridge between my earliest musical taste and Frank Zappa. I became a full Beatles convert when the Anthology aired, getting both an electric guitar and Sgt. Pepper the Christmas after. I played Pepper a lot, enjoying the flagrant melodies as well as the unusual sounds (“Lovely Rita” being a favorite, obviously pointing toward my future adoration of Zappa and the Residents). The guitar was a good way to hide out from my parents and essentially beat on something while remaining constructive. I’d started to temporarily become disillusioned with comics, my first love and method for articulating the trouble inside.

Though I loved the Beatles and other bands, they essentially paved the way for my real musical and artistic loves. The Pistols were my band at 14, doing for me what N’Sync, or Bush, or God knows who else did for the other kids in my town. I was a Zappa-type freak without realizing it, not welcome into most friendships or social gatherings because other people simply didn’t know what is was I was into. If I’d had piercings or wore dark clothing, I’d fit right in, just like the fake drop outs Zappa ridicules on We’re Only in it for the Money.

It was that album that helped take my mind to another level, way past the Beatles’ easy world of pop emotion and into a denser version of the Pistols’ confrontation. I first heard Money at about 16. I was into Beefheart so a classmate leant me the 80s reworking of the album along with something else by Zappa. I can’t recall which album (possibly Freak Out!).

Money didn’t grab me at all, but it did make an impression. I was too naive to get the jokes, taking him seriously and not understanding why I should care about the hyper referentialism. Not an unusual response, it seems. In college I was a casual fan of Freak Out!, having a better grasp of the message, but it wasn’t until the months after graduation that I really dove in.

I’d essentially moved in with a girlfriend who was my mother. Not a good thing. You see, both my parents, like my grandmother, are functional alcoholics, just like the parents in “Mom and Dad,” a favorite Zappa track. My father, while physically present, is pretty absolute in being emotionally unavailable, always working 3rd shift and drinking himself into a coma on nights off. My mom, on the other hand, is overly needy, with an unhealthy attraction toward me that she deals with by telling me I’m gay or not a real man in front of everyone at family gatherings, because incest is wrong and standing up to the men in her life is too difficult. So the emotions have to go somewhere right? It is such a drag to have to love a plastic mom and dad. Shopping is her religion and alcohol is his. These are total Zappa characters.

This girlfriend possessed the same talent for hyper-criticism and little else, so as that relationship fell apart it was pretty easy to fall into the world of Money, where all the talent and innovation of the Beatles and Beach Boys (resurgent interests anticipating my Zappa appreciation) multiplied exponentially and the escapist self-discovery of tracks like “In My Room” or the Smile album suddenly appeared before me in a more realized, proactive formulation. This was the real deal. It’s been about four years, but I still play it at least every two months. With that album he did what most, especially me, have been too weak to do: articulate your personality as honestly as possible. It showed me what punk did, but Zappa carried through on his project. He spoke from the heart and because he was alone, there was no trend for the media to corrupt and destroy, like with punk.

Aside from the obvious, I suppose that’s why it’s so easy for me to connect Money with Pepper. Pepper is my childhood. I’m aware of the garbage around me, but acting oblivious because I’m still dependent on my family. Money is the awakening, similar in look and feel because it’s the same life I’m leading, but now everything is clearer. I was always trying to see the monsters and freaks in funny outfits, not the silly mustaches and rainbow brigade outfits. Now I do.

Consequently, I probably haven’t related to an album more. For all the talk about Zappa’s music being a big joke, I find this a million times more personal than the other pop greats. I know “Mom and Dad,” like a lot of kids do. And “Lonely Little Girl,” for its cartoon flavor, is the real thing. “She’s Leaving Home” is from the parents’ point of view, unable to ask themselves if they are the reason she left. “Lonely Little Girl” is what really happens to you. It sucks being alone in your desire to live. But other people’s lives sucking doesn’t mean yours has to. That’s the point of the album. Pepper works when you’re young because it’s surface is so intoxicating. But as you grow you need something deeper, you have bigger questions that need bigger answers. So there is We’re Only in it for the Money, whose title isn’t just about the Beatles, or the hippies, but about our society, where people are trained to see life only in material terms and to material ends. If you don’t see things that way, you get amputated. Society drops you out, not the other way around. This is why Zappa is still current and Woodstock is a joke, even if the media still wants to hold onto former trends instead of embracing a real thinker.

The album also asks questions. I find it comforting that Zappa wants me to think about why I like it, unlike say “All You Need is Love,” the musical equivalent of a TV dinner (goes down fine and destroys your insides). Zappa is always asking why you like him, or rock music, or music in general; why do you affiliate with what you affiliate with? He’s like your favorite teacher from high school, the only one who made four years of education have value.

And ultimately, he had a more positive message than the hippies. Listen to “Absolutely Free,” one of the most moving songs on the album, especially coming after “Lonely Little Girl.” It’s a children’s song for immature adults, never asking you to rebel blindly against a polluted system by initiating another one, but asking you to figure out what you actually are and accept that. Never follow someone who wants you to pay your way into Eden. The new world is inside. Coming from a bad family, it is surprisingly healthy and refreshing to look in the mirror and say, “Your mommy and your daddy don’t care.” Then you can be absolutely free.

Even some of the caricature songs, like “Idiot Bastard Son” and “Let’s Make the Water Turn Black” move me. These are the sideshow people you see in life, but the important lesson is that they also exist in you: “You’re the other people too.”

Through musical collage, and especially his grasp of TV, trends, and advertising (as Ian mentioned), Zappa actually makes a more understandable and substantial LP than his peers, who were all looking to fit into the hip thing of the moment merely by growing their hair or applying backward tapes to their usual songs. And unlike Sterling Morrison, I think every song here is better than every song on Pepper. This is the album of my lifetime, one I will always go to as a moral an ideological compass; the musical equivalent of my love for Jung, Sartre, or Socrates. It has helped me to start living, while other musical tastes were so easy to hide behind.
November 18th, 2010 03:28 PM
Leo K Chris, sincere thanks for that. That is as real as it gets.
November 18th, 2010 03:45 PM
halleluwah Damn, Chris. That was great. Perceptive and clear-eyed and brutally honest, just the way Frank would have liked it.
November 18th, 2010 04:08 PM
IanWagner Chronology 1963 Part 3

http://www.mediafire.com/?9cwl16ac4t6kdc0


Using the small proceeds from the licensing deal with Capitol's purchase of the Brian Lord & The Midnighters single, Frank Zappa was finally able to stage a public performance of his serious compositional work.
Given that this wad of cash only consisted of 300 dollars, this only covered one short rehearsal, a small orchestra and the rental of a large room at Mount St. Mary's College in Los Angeles.
Given the lack of rehearsal time, the pieces selected for the program, titled The Experimental Music Of Frank Zappa, leaned toward the more avant side of Zappa's work. This entailed improvisations from the player within set composed boundaries. There is a continuity with the concepts displayed during the recent Steve Allen television spot.
The performance was taped, and later broadcast on public radio station KPFA in Los Angeles. The version commonly circulating among collectors and included here contains the radio host's opening and closing commentary.
The program was also a low-budget multmedia extravaganza of sorts, as Zappa set up a projector, showing some of his experimental films and instructing the players of the piece Variables II For Orchestra to interpret the film on their instruments. This approach mirrors the "innovative" concept of Andy Warhol's Exploding Plastic Inevitable shows
of three years later. The audio tape begins with Zappa explaining this method. There appears to be around 30 audience members. During this, Zappa displays his wit, and is already a talented MC and charismatic personality.
Little is known as to the identity of most of the players, but it is known that Zappa himself played zither, and among the horn section, Malcolm McNab was on trumpet. He would later be a part of Zappa's large-group ensembles of 1972 and 1975.
Variables II sounds very much like the free-jazz recordings that Zappa had become hip to from his school library. An interesting note is that attendees' recollections of the films shown at this time match up with the home movies excerpted in the video for Zappa's Jazz From Hell track G-Spot Tornado (also seen in this video is unique footage from Pal Studios in 1963 of various recording activities).
After Variables, Frank describes how his home movies were made and then altered.
The main spotlighted piece of the night was Opus 5, but before this is played, the composer decides to highlight the isolated piano intervals of the composition.
Bringing up the string players, Zappa explains the concept of the next piece, Collage 1. This features different overlayed sections that resemble the work of Stravinsky in feeling and tone.
Prior to the intermission, Frank explains and then plays the prepared tapes that will be used in Opus 5, the same tapes heard as a backdrop on the Steve Allen show. These are the longest excerpts of these tapes available to the Zappa collector.
After the intermission, Zappa introduces the highly ambitious Opus 5. Again, he describes in a detailed fashion the motives and concepts behind the work, and the proscribed improvisational technique.
Opus 5 is a key example of the type of composition that Zappa would adapt into the Mothers Of Invention framework on the albums Burnt Weeny Sandwich and Weasels Ripped My Flesh later in the decade. In this method, the piece is "composed" through conducting, hand signals and movements setting in motion set patterns, in a wholly intuitive manner.
Zappa would abandon this approach in his future classical work, and abandon it entirely in the 1970's. Opus 5 is somewhat derivative in nature, highly influenced by his favourite contemporary experimental composers, such as Varese and Stravinsky. Nevertheless, it is quite engaging to hear, full of whimsy and invention. A small excerpt of Opus 5 has seen official release, under the title Mount St. Mary's Concert Excerpt, on The Lost Episodes collection.
Among the audience, the piece inspires an equal level of applause and laughter, as it surely was intended to. Following the work, the composer gives further explanation.
More music may have been performed at this point, but the tape then cuts to the closing question and answer session between Frank and the audience.
This early Zappa "interview" is very enlightening, as it already shows Zappa in a defensive, nearly combative mood at times due to the inanity of certain questions. He defends Opus 5 as a thought-out and considered work after an audience members describes it as "way out" and "hysterical". Perhaps the best defensive explanation of his own music that Zappa would ever give is the simple and direct statement: "The only thing I can say is that's the way I've always wanted music to sound". The derisive laughter followed by respectful applause that greets this comment is a neat microcosm of the response Zappa would, and still does, receive from listeners.
He also defends the concept of structured chaos as organised composition. An instructor from the school then defends Zappa's methods as similar to the respected work of John Cage.
Frank says he knows nothing of the accepted masters of the classical music form, and that his knowledge is strictly limited to 20th century composers. He then states that he loves R&B, rock and roll and folk but that he does not like Beethoven, "A WHOLE LOT!". He then states his love for Varese's work.
More explanation of the improvisational method of the compositions follows. Another one of the most important definitions of Zappa's controversial compositional methodology is provided: "All I'm trying to do with this group...is make them create a piece of music on the spot the way I would like to have it played". This both grants credit to his musicians and then takes it back from them, but nevertheless it is strangely accurate.
In the last response heard on the tape, Zappa talks about the sale to Capitol of The Big Surfer, that it will be heard on LA station KFWB "next Friday" and that "you can all go out and buy it".
This crucial recording is one of the more essential and interesting listens among unofficial Zappa recordings, as it is the clearest audio picture we have of his compositional work in this field before the electric improvisations of the late 60's with The Mothers Of Invention. It displays his confidence in the methodology of his music, and his already quite strong and distinctive personality.
Unfortunately, Zappa's talent would not receive this type of public focus for another couple of years, until he "compromised" his work to fit into a rock and roll band framework.
The next two years would be a hard road for Zappa, featuring a divorce, an arrest and domestic squalor, but it would provide some very interesting audio material as well. This would be the road that would lead Zappa to forming The Mothers Of Invention.
November 18th, 2010 04:14 PM
IanWagner
Quote:
Chris D. wrote:
Some thoughts on my relationship with:


,

an album with two faces.



Though I’ve listened to my share of music, like anyone else here, I don’t think there’s a lot of music in my life that’s truly taught me. I think about music a lot, but there’s a difference between someone offering you a message and learning purely from observation. The two musical experiences I go to time and time again for knowledge are probably the Sex Pistols and Zappa.

Briefly, the Sex Pistols opened up my world, especially as a typically repressed suburban kid from a hyper-critical family of alcoholics (more on that as I get to Zappa). My copy of England’s Dreaming has dirt on the edge of every page and pages are falling out from constant reading in the past 13 years. I’m sure my copy of the England’s Dreaming Tapes will one day look the same. What I really like about that time in music is that you had a bunch of kids from bad backgrounds making the most of their lives. Self-expression is the key to happines. These people created meaning and that’s always been a lot cooler than me to the clothes or the noise.

That said, punk is also a bridge between my earliest musical taste and Frank Zappa. I became a full Beatles convert when the Anthology aired, getting both an electric guitar and Sgt. Pepper the Christmas after. I played Pepper a lot, enjoying the flagrant melodies as well as the unusual sounds (“Lovely Rita” being a favorite, obviously pointing toward my future adoration of Zappa and the Residents). The guitar was a good way to hide out from my parents and essentially beat on something while remaining constructive. I’d started to temporarily become disillusioned with comics, my first love and method for articulating the trouble inside.

Though I loved the Beatles and other bands, they essentially paved the way for my real musical and artistic loves. The Pistols were my band at 14, doing for me what N’Sync, or Bush, or God knows who else did for the other kids in my town. I was a Zappa-type freak without realizing it, not welcome into most friendships or social gatherings because other people simply didn’t know what is was I was into. If I’d had piercings or wore dark clothing, I’d fit right in, just like the fake drop outs Zappa ridicules on We’re Only in it for the Money.

It was that album that helped take my mind to another level, way past the Beatles’ easy world of pop emotion and into a denser version of the Pistols’ confrontation. I first heard Money at about 16. I was into Beefheart so a classmate leant me the 80s reworking of the album along with something else by Zappa. I can’t recall which album (possibly Freak Out!).

Money didn’t grab me at all, but it did make an impression. I was too naive to get the jokes, taking him seriously and not understanding why I should care about the hyper referentialism. Not an unusual response, it seems. In college I was a casual fan of Freak Out!, having a better grasp of the message, but it wasn’t until the months after graduation that I really dove in.

I’d essentially moved in with a girlfriend who was my mother. Not a good thing. You see, both my parents, like my grandmother, are functional alcoholics, just like the parents in “Mom and Dad,” a favorite Zappa track. My father, while physically present, is pretty absolute in being emotionally unavailable, always working 3rd shift and drinking himself into a coma on nights off. My mom, on the other hand, is overly needy, with an unhealthy attraction toward me that she deals with by telling me I’m gay or not a real man in front of everyone at family gatherings, because incest is wrong and standing up to the men in her life is too difficult. So the emotions have to go somewhere right? It is such a drag to have to love a plastic mom and dad. Shopping is her religion and alcohol is his. These are total Zappa characters.

This girlfriend possessed the same talent for hyper-criticism and little else, so as that relationship fell apart it was pretty easy to fall into the world of Money, where all the talent and innovation of the Beatles and Beach Boys (resurgent interests anticipating my Zappa appreciation) multiplied exponentially and the escapist self-discovery of tracks like “In My Room” or the Smile album suddenly appeared before me in a more realized, proactive formulation. This was the real deal. It’s been about four years, but I still play it at least every two months. With that album he did what most, especially me, have been too weak to do: articulate your personality as honestly as possible. It showed me what punk did, but Zappa carried through on his project. He spoke from the heart and because he was alone, there was no trend for the media to corrupt and destroy, like with punk.

Aside from the obvious, I suppose that’s why it’s so easy for me to connect Money with Pepper. Pepper is my childhood. I’m aware of the garbage around me, but acting oblivious because I’m still dependent on my family. Money is the awakening, similar in look and feel because it’s the same life I’m leading, but now everything is clearer. I was always trying to see the monsters and freaks in funny outfits, not the silly mustaches and rainbow brigade outfits. Now I do.

Consequently, I probably haven’t related to an album more. For all the talk about Zappa’s music being a big joke, I find this a million times more personal than the other pop greats. I know “Mom and Dad,” like a lot of kids do. And “Lonely Little Girl,” for its cartoon flavor, is the real thing. “She’s Leaving Home” is from the parents’ point of view, unable to ask themselves if they are the reason she left. “Lonely Little Girl” is what really happens to you. It sucks being alone in your desire to live. But other people’s lives sucking doesn’t mean yours has to. That’s the point of the album. Pepper works when you’re young because it’s surface is so intoxicating. But as you grow you need something deeper, you have bigger questions that need bigger answers. So there is We’re Only in it for the Money, whose title isn’t just about the Beatles, or the hippies, but about our society, where people are trained to see life only in material terms and to material ends. If you don’t see things that way, you get amputated. Society drops you out, not the other way around. This is why Zappa is still current and Woodstock is a joke, even if the media still wants to hold onto former trends instead of embracing a real thinker.

The album also asks questions. I find it comforting that Zappa wants me to think about why I like it, unlike say “All You Need is Love,” the musical equivalent of a TV dinner (goes down fine and destroys your insides). Zappa is always asking why you like him, or rock music, or music in general; why do you affiliate with what you affiliate with? He’s like your favorite teacher from high school, the only one who made four years of education have value.

And ultimately, he had a more positive message than the hippies. Listen to “Absolutely Free,” one of the most moving songs on the album, especially coming after “Lonely Little Girl.” It’s a children’s song for immature adults, never asking you to rebel blindly against a polluted system by initiating another one, but asking you to figure out what you actually are and accept that. Never follow someone who wants you to pay your way into Eden. The new world is inside. Coming from a bad family, it is surprisingly healthy and refreshing to look in the mirror and say, “Your mommy and your daddy don’t care.” Then you can be absolutely free.

Even some of the caricature songs, like “Idiot Bastard Son” and “Let’s Make the Water Turn Black” move me. These are the sideshow people you see in life, but the important lesson is that they also exist in you: “You’re the other people too.”

Through musical collage, and especially his grasp of TV, trends, and advertising (as Ian mentioned), Zappa actually makes a more understandable and substantial LP than his peers, who were all looking to fit into the hip thing of the moment merely by growing their hair or applying backward tapes to their usual songs. And unlike Sterling Morrison, I think every song here is better than every song on Pepper. This is the album of my lifetime, one I will always go to as a moral an ideological compass; the musical equivalent of my love for Jung, Sartre, or Socrates. It has helped me to start living, while other musical tastes were so easy to hide behind.


That was your best, ever. Extremely moving. That is the highest type of word-expression that music can inspire.
I hope to complement your thoughts in the near future, especially on the Black-Son section, which I find among the most empathetic pieces of music I have ever heard.
November 18th, 2010 04:34 PM
IanWagner Alright, Chris, you threw down the gauntlet. Clint, I'll be Sondra Locke. My next post will be a personal reminiscence, then I'll continue with the other stuff.
November 18th, 2010 07:00 PM
the captain Love your post, Chris.
November 18th, 2010 10:29 PM
Beckner Amazing stuff going on in here, folks.
November 18th, 2010 10:38 PM
G2 Just had to fight back tears listening to Hey Nelda. Seriously.
November 18th, 2010 10:54 PM
IanWagner
Quote:
G2 wrote:
Just had to fight back tears listening to Hey Nelda. Seriously.


YES!
November 19th, 2010 12:57 AM
IanWagner Let's see. I had no choice but to become a Zappa fan by proxy, at least.
Where others had parents that fit the caricature of Zappa's songs, I had parents that fit the caricature of Zappa fans. Actually, from my experiences, I can say that, on the average, there were very, very few hiprock fans between the ages of 18 and 30 from any point between the releases of Freak Out and Joe's Garage (1966 through 1979) that did not own at least one of his albums.
The fact that his record sales were comparatively low seems to belie this, but that is because most rock fans were satisfied with one or two albums by Zappa, but they simply chose different albums. The only one I would say most fans, even casual fans, owned was Apostrophe.
Zappa usually commanded some form of respect from those in the know, at least grudgingly. And there was, and still is, an even splt among Zappa fans as to the time of his "golden age". About half proclaim the Mothers era, about half prefer anything but.
I remember Zappa's presence from my earliest memories. First, my folks had the 8 track of One Size Fits All. Then, there were his high profile appearances on Saturday Night Live, which were repeated frequently. And in those days, SNL was the "hip" TV bible. EVERYONE watched it, from suburban lame-o's to punk fans.
Then, of course, if you were from Los Angeles, it was a hometown thing. He would make annual visits to legendary DJ Dr. Demento's radio show, spinning his favourite records and talking.
To top it off, the very first show I was present at was his New Year's Eve show at UCLA in 1977.
A great memory of my childhood was one night in 1979, a Saturday. My folks dropped acid (I had no idea about drugs really at that age, just that they ate something that made them laugh a lot). My father had recently "borrowed" a copy of the Fillmore East June 1971 album, and they decided to play it that night. The sexual dialogue on the album carried no meaning for me, I just knew I liked the music.
For some reason, I began to read the titles of the songs off the back of the album, and then start all over again. This petrified the gathering with laughter to such a degree that they were rolling on the floor begging me to stop, which I did not.
Then, around 79, my father bought the In New York album, which always had the giggle factor, with Titties And Beer.
But, generally, Zappa's LA omnipresence caused me to take him for granted. He was just always around, doing what he did.
In 1982, the Valley Girl acetate was played on the station I and most others hip listened to in that era, KROQ, the tastemaker station for the rest of the USA. It was played so many times on that station for the next year or so that I became well and truly sick of it.
In 1985, his Senate testimony happened, and I remember respecting him for that. In the early VHS era, I remember my folks renting the Baby Snakes and Does Humor Belong In Music videos. There was consternation in the household regarding their aesthetic and social value.
Then, in 1987, Rolling Stone's 100 Best Albums Of The Last Twenty Years issue came out. I studied it religiously. I was surprised to see We're Only In It For The Money on there, an album I was not even aware of. I made a note to buy it if I ever came across a copy.
I didn't then, but I DID find a 50-cent copy of Absolutely Free at the local Goodwill. It absolutely blew my mind. It didn't sound at all similar to what I expected. It sounded so...60's! But yet, punk rock. And still recognisably Zappa.
Plastic People nailed me to the ground. "WATCH THE NAZIS RUN YOUR TOWN!".
The part that gassed me the most was the run of Status Back Baby/Uncle Bernie's Farm/Son Of Suzy Creamcheese on the second side. So tight, so pop art, so angry, so..beautiful.
I immediately wanted more early Mothers, but their albums were hard to come by. A couple years later I began working for an independent record label, and my boss had a large part of his record collection in the office where I worked.
He had an original We're Only In It For The Money. The GOLDMINE!
I brought in a cassette and taped it. It killed me, what can I say? I played that tape many, many times in 1990 and 1991. Shortly after that, I found a used copy of Freak Out and that tore me down too, like it does for everyone with taste.
Not too long after that, Zappa passed away. I had relegated him in my mind as someone who was one thing in the 1960's, a thing I loved, and then became someone else I didn't like as much in the later decades.
So it didn't carry enough weight or reality in my mind, it just seemed strange that he would be gone. Hard to relate to.
Through the rest of the 90's, various other Zappa classics would filter through: Hot Rats, Cruising With Ruben And The Jets, 200 Motels.
A bandmate of mine was a big fan of Frank's and through him, I began to listen again. He played me some things I hadn't heard before, chiefly among them Just Another Band From LA. My preconceptions started to fall away.
But I knew I'd have to really invest time and effort into the Zappa universe, and that opportunity didn't really come until 1999, when I managed to download the entirety of the discography to that point.
And, it all made sense. Now that I was older, and I really understood compromise, disappointment, the true worth of artistic achievement, the bullshit of the world, the bullshit of success, true beauty, true ugliness, that's the only point at which it clicked.
And I truly mourned my lack of serious attention to Zappa when he was alive, the value I hadn't given to his presence. Because, the thing was, you'd see him on talk shows, hear him on the radio, and at the time, his attitude seemed an unbreakable, tiresome suit of armour. I mean, why did he have to be so nasty ALL of the time?
Oh, but when I got the full measure of his artistic achievements, that's when I got the full measure of his loss. That's when I realised, the deal with Zappa's image and attitude was that it was not about considering him in isolation, as a figure unto himself, but as a part of the artistic world, the music world.
And against him, so much of what passes for musical invention, for attitude, for truth, comes up SORELY fuckin' lacking.
Zappa's worth as a public figure was as a deeply needed balancing act, against the weak, mealy-mouthed lameness that the supposed counterculture had become. And this came from someone who had originally defined himself as a pied piper of that same counterculture.
He saw the whole thing go bad from the inside, and told everyone what was happening, but the advice was roundly ignored.
I'll tell ya what I miss about Zappa: the opportunity to hear him tell it like it is. Even if one disagreed with what he was saying, the way he said it was admirable. He wasn't apologetic about his every statement. That type of phony Hollywood humility wasn't for him. And I relate. That type of thing made me puke, even as a kid.
I mean, fucking hell, I'd pay a mint to hear Zappa's opinions on the internet, on reality television, on Facebook, on 9/11, on George W. Bush, etc.. And the fact that I can't hear him say these things PISSES ME OFF. It is fucked, and I resent death for taking him from a world that desperately needs his voice.
The only thing that I can do in the face of the frustration I feel whenever I think about that is, in some small way, to place wisdom above all else, to not be apologetic about what I think, and to tell like it is, or at least how I damn well see it, cause I wasn't born yesterday, I've done a lot of living, a lot of learning, and I'm not a plastic person. That's what he did, right?
And he wrote some great music too, but that's another story for another time.
(Edited by IanWagner)
November 19th, 2010 02:18 AM
halleluwah Man, you guys are killing it in this thread. This is collectively some of the best writing we've had around here in a long damn time. Tell it like it is.
November 19th, 2010 02:47 AM
Leo K Ian, I needed to read that tonight, I can't explain why, but I did. Reminds me of the year when I first heard Charles Ives. Personally, with a lot of strange life stuff unravelling in different directions, I needed to read how you wrote about Frank. I wish I could explain, but there ya go. I feel I understand him more, and have an entry into his music and art. Thanks man.
November 19th, 2010 03:50 AM
MoogDroog Great posts, Ian and Chris. Just read the two big personal posts so far - very, very inspiring stuff.
November 19th, 2010 04:29 AM
cubist Downloading now, this thread is a joy!
November 19th, 2010 04:46 AM
cubist Ian your writing is superb, this should be in print.
November 19th, 2010 08:07 AM
cubist Chris & Ian - your personal reflections are very moving as well as evocative. And this Ian:

"I mean, fucking hell, I'd pay a mint to hear Zappa's opinions on the internet, on reality television, on Facebook, on 9/11, on George W. Bush, etc.. And the fact that I can't hear him say these things PISSES ME OFF. It is fucked, and I resent death for taking him from a world that desperately needs his voice."

Amen to that bro'
November 19th, 2010 09:16 AM
Jon That is some far-out amazing fucking writing. You had a very different growing up experience than just about everybody, Ian, I love reading about it and you write about it so eloquently. My friend Janey and you have a lot in common, actually, in terms of your parents. My parents were as square as square could possibly be and I can't tell whether that helped or harmed me, really.

One very LA-centric thing in your piece made me crack up:

Quote:
I DID find a 50-cent copy of Absolutely Free at the local Goodwill.


MAN, would that never happen in suburban Minnesota. Then as now, the same records in the Goodwill -- Firestone X-mas albums, Neil Diamond, Carole King. NEVER Zappa, ever ever ever in a billion years.
November 19th, 2010 10:41 AM
Leo K
Quote:
Jon wrote:
That is some far-out amazing fucking writing. You had a very different growing up experience than just about everybody, Ian, I love reading about it and you write about it so eloquently. My friend Janey and you have a lot in common, actually, in terms of your parents. My parents were as square as square could possibly be and I can't tell whether that helped or harmed me, really.

One very LA-centric thing in your piece made me crack up:



MAN, would that never happen in suburban Minnesota. Then as now, the same records in the Goodwill -- Firestone X-mas albums, Neil Diamond, Carole King. NEVER Zappa, ever ever ever in a billion years.


How true that is! I didn't even hear a note of Zappa until I was 22 years old or so. I did see him in the news in 1985, and saw his son a lot on Mtv, and of course I heard about his death. But thats it. I never saw his records at the Goodwill, or anywhere else I remember. Of course, I didn't know enough of him to know or seek.


November 19th, 2010 10:57 AM
Jon I've managed over the last TWENTY-FIVE YEARS to find vinyl copies of We're Only In It, Lumpy Gravy, Absolutely Free and a few others. It's literally taken me THAT LONG, though. And I still don't have Freak Out or Uncle Meat or Hot Rats.
November 19th, 2010 12:36 PM
Chris D. Thank you all for the praise :) I made a mistake, too: I meant to write "Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance" instead of "Absolutely Free" when referring to the songs.

Ian I too heard that Fillmore album as a kid. Forgot about that one. My dad, despite his Fox News allegiance, has always been a Zappa fan. So I remember the Fillmore album a bit, and he has Overnite Sensation and Bongo Fury.


Quote:
And against him, so much of what passes for musical invention, for attitude, for truth, comes up SORELY fuckin' lacking.


Extremely true. After Zappa, so much stuff just sounds boring. Too simple in conception and ideology. Once he clicked for me, it was like Zappa was as far ahead of Brian Wilson as Brian is ahead of the Beatles (not that he should only be compared to pop groups). And you can tell on those 60s albums especially that he knew he was better than all the hot shit at the moment. The abstract stuff on the early Mothers albums is him just pissing over all the jams and experiments put out by lesser bands. The opening of Money with the bad trip sound FX and Jaws-like melody is so fucking vibrant.

Brilliant posts, Ian. I love the memories along with Zappa history. I can't wait for you to get to the albums I'm more familiar with, and in the meantime I'll enjoy the downloads.
November 19th, 2010 01:09 PM
Jon Ud. Ud. Ud. Ud. Ud. Ud. Ud. Are you hung up. Outta sight. Outta sight. Listen, uh -- are you hung up? Ha ha ha ha. Outta sight. Outta sight. Listen, uh -- are you hung up? Are you strung up?

One of these days I'm going to erase every tape in the world. The world. Tomorrow I may do it. All the Frank Zappa masters into nothing. Blank. Empty Space. That's what they are now. Blank. Empty. Space. I can see him sitting in there, in the control room, listening to every word I say, but I really don't care. Mph. Hello Frank Zappa.

ERRRUH!

Hi, boys and girls, I'm Jimmy Carl Black, and I'm the indian of the group.

November 19th, 2010 01:29 PM
Jon I only post that because due to the number of times I listened to that record, I can recall every single word and note on that entire damn record.
November 19th, 2010 01:30 PM
Chris D.
Quote:
Jon wrote:
Ud. Ud. Ud. Ud. Ud. Ud. Ud. Are you hung up. Outta sight. Outta sight. Listen, uh -- are you hung up? Ha ha ha ha. Outta sight. Outta sight. Listen, uh -- are you hung up? Are you strung up?

One of these days I'm going to erase every tape in the world. The world. Tomorrow I may do it. All the Frank Zappa masters into nothing. Blank. Empty Space. That's what they are now. Blank. Empty. Space. I can see him sitting in there, in the control room, listening to every word I say, but I really don't care. Mph. Hello Frank Zappa.

ERRRUH!

Hi, boys and girls, I'm Jimmy Carl Black, and I'm the indian of the group.




Even reading it works.
November 19th, 2010 01:51 PM
IanWagner
Quote:
Chris D. wrote: I meant to write "Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance" instead of "Absolutely Free" when referring to the songs.
The opening of Money with the bad trip sound FX and Jaws-like melody is so fucking vibrant.


First thing there, for some reason I thought that was the case! And I agree. Very, very moving song, in some ways it is similar to Beefheart's When Big Joan Sets Up in that inclusive vision of freedom among misfits.
I so agree on Money's opening. One of the insane bits about that is him using the voice of Clapton, one of the avatars of the "heaviness" being sent up and one-upped on the album, to ask that opening question.
November 19th, 2010 02:00 PM
evenreven This thread is dynamite. You rule.

Stray thought... Recently I listened to the Iggy-sequenced sampler that came with Mojo a couple years back, and I couldn't help but think that "Help, I'm a Rock" was explosive in a way the other songs weren't. And the other songs were some of the best songs ever (like "Breathless" and "Surfin' Bird"). "Help, I'm a Rock" just bursts out.
November 19th, 2010 02:04 PM
halleluwah This is nowhere near as cool as Ian and Chris's posts, but here are just a few little vignettes from my own Zappa history....


I think the first Zappa I heard was "Directly From My Heart to You" on a Warners sampler called Alternatives my mom had...I remember wondering what all the fuss was about regarding him being so weird.

Then my dad got Sheik Yerbouti and Hot Rats on cassette at the same time (weird combination there). I was still just a kid; the instrumental stuff on Hot Rats didn't register much with me then (it's one of my favorite albums now, though), but the more overtly zany, "dirty" humor on Sheik made an impression on me. Why? I was 11 or 12. I don't even think Dad was aware of what kind of stuff was even on those two albums; he just knew that he remembered Zappa being cool when he was younger, and when he found that I was developing a bit of an interest in older music, he decided he'd introduce me to that. As far as I know, he just picked those two cassettes up randomly from the Zappa section. I remember this really funny moment when we were on a long car ride, and he decided to put on Sheik Yerbouti, starting to explain to me about how sophisticated Zappa was musically, and how brilliant he was with his social commentary and all. Then "Bobby Brown Goes Down" comes on, and he just sort of stares forward at the highway, clenching his jaw and trying not to let it register that he's embarrassed about listening to this song with an 11-year-old in the car.

Years later, I stole that cassette of Hot Rats and kept it in my first car for like three years, listening to it constantly. I think I've still got it.

As far as the first Zappa album I personally bought and became familiar with, I'm pretty sure it was Weasels Ripped My Flesh (my brother was in BMG, and they had that one on sale one month for like $1.99). I loved the way that it seemed to alternate between feeling like basically random noise and very meticulously arranged music. "Directly From My Heart to You" sounded much different on here; it made more and less sense to me simultaneously somehow. The whole record just felt like a sort of tapestry of ALL music, somehow. And just the fact that after all of this, the title track at the end just consists of 90 seconds of abrasive feedback noise, after which you hear Zappa politely say, "thank you for coming to our concert." That killed me. I don't know if Weasels features very highly on other people's Zappa lists or not, but it's always had a special place for me personally, because that's the moment when I sort of felt like it was something I could relate to on a musical level. I don't remember feeling the lyrics as much (there aren't many on the album anyway) except for "Oh No," which was really the first inkling I had that the Peace/Love generation I'd seen idealized in so many of the books and magazines I was already reading about 60s rock was not really all that it seemed. "And in your dreams you can see yourself as a prophet saving the world/The words from your lips; I just can't believe you are such a fool!" Then it segues immediately into a badass guitar solo track. That edit there is still one of my favorite Zappa moments.

I remember when I was 17, in Spanish class we had to create a video simulating about 10 minutes of a Spanish language TV news broadcast, complete with commercials. We did a fake tampon commercial in which some girls were pretending to play volleyball while talking about how free they felt in basic high school Spanish. I soundtracked it with "Toad of the Short Forest." (I think we also did a commercial for a Mexican restaurant, which I inexplicably soundtracked with the theme from SWAT, complete with breaking glass and screeching tire sound effects.) I didn't have many friends, needless to say.
November 19th, 2010 02:20 PM
Chris D.
Quote:
IanWagner wrote:


First thing there, for some reason I thought that was the case! And I agree. Very, very moving song, in some ways it is similar to Beefheart's When Big Joan Sets Up in that inclusive vision of freedom among misfits.
I so agree on Money's opening. One of the insane bits about that is him using the voice of Clapton, one of the avatars of the "heaviness" being sent up and one-upped on the album, to ask that opening question.


I always thought that was interesting. I take it he was friends with Clapton?

Jon, any thoughts on how Zappa's influenced your music over the years?
November 19th, 2010 02:29 PM
Jon It's weird -- much like with the Beach Boys, it virtually HASN'T. There are so many groups where I go "I could do that, and I could do better than that, so I'm going to try." With Zappa I don't even bother. No way in hell I will *ever* be able to do better than him. I wouldn't even begin to try to think about maybe even entertaining the possibility of doing a Zappa-influenced track/album these days. NOBODY is that good. NOBODY.
November 19th, 2010 02:42 PM
S Giacomelli
Quote:
Jon wrote:
It's weird -- much like with the Beach Boys, it virtually HASN'T. There are so many groups where I go "I could do that, and I could do better than that, so I'm going to try." With Zappa I don't even bother. No way in hell I will *ever* be able to do better than him. I wouldn't even begin to try to think about maybe even entertaining the possibility of doing a Zappa-influenced track/album these days. NOBODY is that good. NOBODY.


I dunno, I got a couple albums of material and a band outta the Uncle Frankie Show!

edit: also, Weird Al's Genius in France is...well, genius. But definitely slanted towards the 70's material.
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