Frank Zappa: Classic or Dud?

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He's hardly ever been mentioned here, but in my humble opinion Frank Zappa was one of the towering figures in late-twentieth century American music. He was an impeccable, perfectionistic musician responsible for some of the most amazing and ahead-of-its-time music. From his first album ("Freak Out" in 1966) to his sadly-early death in 1993, he continually pushed the musical envelope throughout amazingly prolific career, combining elements of rock, jazz, avant-garde music concrete and even modern classical music (Varèse, Stravinsky, von Webern, etc.). Lyrically, Zappa was one of the most amazingly astute social commentators on American life (God, what a field day he would have had a _field day_ with the imbecile Chimp in the White House now!)

On the other hand, some contend that Zappa was a musical con-artist, a pretentious artiste peddling scatological, misanthropic lyrics. Or, as one of my friends put it, "Zappa fans are just pretentious Dead Heads."

So, what do you think?

Tadeusz Suchodolski, Monday, 14 May 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

I own a couple of albums and know some hardcore fans -- generally, though, I find him easier to regard than to enjoy. I won't doubt his compositional range, but even so.

Ned Raggett, Monday, 14 May 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

the fact that he would have a _field day_ with george w. just proves zappa's tendency for cheap, easy humour. that said, his music is often gleefully hilarious and i thoroughly love 'apostrophe' to the point that i'm just now regretting leaving it off my forty albums. every song on that is fantastic.

ethan, Monday, 14 May 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

Weird that this should come up because I've just been contemplating Zappa again after picking up used copies of You Are What You Is and One Size Fits All the other day. I'd have to say classic just because he release so much good stuff, mostly in the early days. One Size Fits All fits this, as do the aforementioned Apostrophe (though I preferred Overnite Sensation just a bit more, it's pretty close), Freak Out, Absolutely Free, Hot Rats, Lumpy Gravy and We're Only In it For the Money...virtually no filler on any of these.

On the other hand, stuff released in the late seventies and through the eighties was often fairly puzzling. Musically speaking, it was incredibly well-played, and the lyrics had a bitter sting to them that you couldn't help but admire a good chunk of the time. By this time, though, he got into a really nasty groove that went past obvious satire to the point where you weren't quite sure that he wasn't being serious anymore: how many times can you release an album filled to the gills with songs about big breasts, blow jobs, drugs, and various other degeneracies until any claims to satire are dismissed? In a lot of ways it became a one-note dirty joke, and while it remained clever it became redundant and increasingly transparent. Moments of brilliance were still there: Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch was actually quite solid if you jettisoned the novelty hit single. The Yellow Shark proved that the man knew how to compose music (though Jazz From Hell had already proved that, it was a bit on the sterile side). More than anything, this became a period where Zappa was more notable just for the sheer amount of product he cranked out. That's not enough to change my vote, though. Still classic.

Sean Carruthers, Tuesday, 15 May 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

You know, Zappa is a classic to me, but not as *holy crap* amazing as I once thought. People really give him too much credit for his weird music. To me, it seems natural to write that sort of crap. It comes from not being able to focus very well, or not wanting to bother, perhaps as a sort of gimmick! You'll notice his stripped down songs on "Zoot Allures", "Freak Out" and "Weasels Ripped My Flesh" are booooring. He's not very good at writing real (what most people would consider "normal") songs. "Cheapnis" is one exception, though it is full of weird changes and "humorous" subject matter, it does feel like a good rock song.

If you bother to learn how to write music, write a big, run-on sentence like Zappa did so you can just sit back and hire super-professional musicians to play it later, as a challenge to their virtuosity and a feather in all of your caps! And then mix and match your paragraphs, so you never have to start a new book (since it's such a mess to begin with) and have people call your entire body of work a brilliant intertwined "concept"!

Music that is composeurish is rather dull, unless it is actually goodlike Mozart, Vivaldi or Beethoven, when the orchestration is so good, you don't notice the minutia unless you concentrate and are then blown away on a whole different level. Zappa falls way short of that. Everything is "hey, listen to this little weird thing" *insert cowbell rattle followed by kazoo*. (This reminds me of Metallica, by the way; I can hear the metronome ticking in the background. That's bad music! Is that supposed to be emotion? Hmmm...)

I prefer the Grateful Dead to most Zappa, with the exception of "Apostrophe" & "Sheik Yerbouti". Some others that are okay, but by no means what the fans make it out to be, are "The Best Band You Never Heard In Your Life", "Yellow Shark", "Joe's Garage" and "You Are What You Is". I also have "Live At The Ritz" (or something?) that I never listen to. It is some of the most boring shit I own, except for the one track "I Am The Slime" which I don't have on any other recording... Which album has "Zombie Woof"? That'sa good one, actually.

Anyway, I think what I'm trying to say is that it's a lot harder to make a cohesive song that has some emotion rather than filling a music sheet with black dots and having Steve Vai and Anton Figg play it for you while you play composer genius. The main guy from Jethro Tull is like that, too, but I think he actually has a reason to be, since it's not 1/2 just free improvisation and studio overdubs.

Of course, if you are a fan of his music, you'll be ridiculously offended by the notion that he's nota super genius, even if you have no musical knowledge or skill yourself as a source to draw upon for judgement, and tell me to piss off or something for daring to compare my unfamous non-music-reading sensibilities to the god of avant garde. He definitely gets tons of points for being first. Who knows if I would be able to lay on a couch, imagining constantly changing music patterns if he hadn't shown me how (or did he)? I do it all the time, but it drives me nuts because songs that wander off into insanity are boring. Playing simple and well is difficult. I think Zappa released too much of too little value (except to those fanatics of course). But, I still think he's a classic for the good stuff he did put out and for trying to do something interesting (even if not really very funny at all, just weird and kinda perverted) with music.

, Tuesday, 15 May 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

'zomby woof' and 'i am the slime' are on the same album, 'overnite sensation', which is really great. buy it.

hey, nobody's mentioned 'hot rats' yet, perhaps his greatest album?

ethan, Tuesday, 15 May 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

I did! One of my faves of the early period.

Sean Carruthers, Tuesday, 15 May 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

There is (or was recently) an article on The Wire website by a writer who really hated Zappa, and I had never heard anybody who really hated him before. While I really like a lot of stuff like "Weasels Ripped My Flesh", "Uncle Meat", "Apostrophe", and even some parts of "Sheik Yerbouti", a lot of the criticisms hit home for me. He really did end up being a lot of the things he parodied. Too bad, really.

Oh, check out his autobiography. It's got some good laughs. Spoo!

Dave M., Tuesday, 15 May 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

I think Hot Rats is boring.

Interestingly I don't really feel qualified to respond to this thread any more, despite owning a load of Zappa. I haven't listened to any of it in more than a year.

I think my favorites used to be Apostrophe'/Overnite Sensation (esp. "Montana" - "I think I'll raise me up some DENNIL FLOSS"), the guitar box (esp. the track with the bouzouki), parts of Joe's Garage (mostly for the guitar sound, cf. 'Watermelon in Easter Hay', and because I get an enormous kick out of hearing the Ceeeeentral Scrooooaaaatinizer), One Size Fits All, much of Zoot Allures and Lather (I get an infantile kick out of the Stravinsky namedrop on "Titties 'n' Beer", but that's just a perk).

Josh, Tuesday, 15 May 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

Utter, utter, utter, utter...dud. One of the most overrated artists of all time. Penman's excellent hatchet-job in The Wire has already been mentioned, he's say it all, have nothing to add.

Omar, Tuesday, 15 May 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

Was it him who named his kid 'Moon Unit'? If so, dud.

DG, Tuesday, 15 May 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

Total DUD - "the single most untalented man in rock" or whatever it was Lou Reed once said (tho' I notice Louis kissed and made up once FZ was safely brown bread...) Ugly, unfunny lyrics, pointless musicianly grandstanding, total lack of quality control, etc. etc. Tiny bonus points for 'Trout Mask Replica', Wild Man Fischer, the alb cover to 'Weasels Ripped My Flesh', the first side of Hot Rats and the title 'Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbecue'. And that's it.

Andrew L, Tuesday, 15 May 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

IT'S THE BLIMP 2 -

- following the awesome tribute night to zappa and beefheart at THE CLUNY - where was the fuckin' WIRE ? - another night is planned on thursday 17th may at newcastle arts centre - featuring ex- zappa/beefheart drummer jimmy carl black and the muffin men, zoviet france, hounds of the hill and many others - zappa and beefheart classics fucked over bigstyle - like susan george in straw dogs !

geordie racer, Tuesday, 15 May 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

i'm not really into the idea of zappa. too much 'virtuosity' and 'cleverness'. and from the early 70s onwards, i'm imagining too many guitar twiddlybits?

but. having said that, Peaches In Regalia is very good, doesn't seem forced like a lot of his stuff (although the rest of Hot Rats is booring)

Absolutely Free is 'wacky' and 'clever' and 'over the top', but on that album it actually works very well, is a great album

everything else i'm kind of indifferent to.

what was the teddy & his patches thing, erm, Suzy Creamcheese? that was good.

gareth, Tuesday, 15 May 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

Actually, Moon Unit still happily calls herself Moon Unit — ditto Dweezil, ditto Achmed — which points up the absolutely least dud side of Zappa: his happy personal life, relationship with kids etc (compare/contrast Zowie Bowie = Joey Jones, or whatever). Plus she was central to the only FZ artefact I've unforcedly actually liked (as opposed to guardedly "appreciated"): the Valley Girl single.

Tadeusz says astute, but I've never thought FZ was over-and-above astute — just, y'know, run-of-the-mill astute. Never heard an FZ commentary that I hadn't already heard elsewhere (not nec. heard elsewhere in pop /rock, but in Letterman or Alex Cockburn, or just somewhere... ): I think the prob. is he NEVER turned his laser-eye on himself and the wackness of his dreams/fears. "Astute" somewhat excepted, all the good words TS uses are true — but (to me) so what. FZ is just too guarded, so that's how he makes me.

mark s, Tuesday, 15 May 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

Wow, this place moves fast. Set this thread up a week ago, and it's at the bottom of the heap already. Hmmm.

Anyway, my own thoughts: I tend to like Zappa's earlier stuff most (just about everything he did with the Mothers of Invention), plus a great deal of his late seventies/early eighties post-Mothers stuff. Faves would have to be Apostrophe (as someone upthread said, so gleeful), Freak Out!, Hot Rats, Joe's Garage, and Läther (because it's so over-the-top, has all of the best bits from Sheikh Yerbouti and Orchestral Favorites, and that cow on the cover with the Zappa goatee-and-beard). Guilty favorites would be Sheikh Yerbouti (great pop songs and awesome guitarwork mixed with pure wank and pointlessly stupid lyrics) and Thing Fish (mainly because it brings together everything that was good and was bad about Zappa). Largely agree that he tapered off towards the end, when he was releasing albums largely because he could (and because he'd gotten that damn Synclavier doing music by himself, without anyone or anything to keep him or his sketchier ideas in check).

As for the astuteness -- I guess some of that's from my having read a lot of his interviews as well as his autobiography. His lyrics are a grab-bag of the funny, the astute, the obscene and the flat-out stupid ... even he admitted that a lot of his lyrics and plots (esp. Joe's Garage) were stupid.

Tadeusz Suchodolski, Monday, 21 May 2001 00:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

one year passes...
Can I just say quickly that Zappa is cod weirdo pseudo-freak out obscurist balderdash for muso's with no soul to wank over whilst the rest of us bite our tongues whilst searching frantically for a tune or vibe to grip. Insincere rubbish written by someone who had a deep musical understanding but not the wit to realise it.

'Hot Rats' is good though, and is it 'Suzy Cream Cheese' (?). Actually, Zap ain't so bad. I mean the guy did twiddle the knobs on 'Troutmask' right? It's just he's so fucking odd; but for the sake of being odd, you know. Whereas with Loonheart, you know that he is genuinely fucking out there, Zappa is always trying so damn hard.

With this is mind: Dud.

Roger Fascist, Monday, 29 July 2002 00:00 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

how could you not like frank? he looks like a hippie. Classic for that.

JUlio Desouza, Monday, 29 July 2002 00:00 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Disclaimer: I have a very spotty knowledge of Frank Zappa's catalogue, and most of what I have heard has been heard over the radio or while visiting friends. I have a sense of frustration with Zappa. He seems to have all of this talent of some sort, but why does he choose to make so much awful music with it? His social commentary doesn't impress me too much, though I guess it meant more when I was in high school. The scatological stuff I've heard (e.g. Joe's Garage) bores me. Still, like many non-fans above, I have some favorite songs. I like "You Are What You Is," the song, quite a bit. I like some of what I have heard from Freakout. More dud than classic, to me, but I haven't heard enough to make a serious judgment. (I've heard enough to know that I'm not interested enough to want to spend money on any of his CDs though.)

DeRayMi, Monday, 29 July 2002 00:00 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

True story: about 12 years ago I exchanged a series of tapes with a work colleague / fellow music lover (like you do). At first, he couldn't get his head around rap at all, but the Public Enemy stuff clicked with him and he suddenly got really excited about hip hop. Turning to his own collection to try and find a parallel, he came up with ... a Zappa mixtape! (which I've still got)

Jeff W, Monday, 29 July 2002 00:00 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

I recently bought "Strictly Commerical: The Best of Frank Zappa" mostly because I've had "Let's Make The Water Turn Black" in my head since I first heard it. Quite disappointed with the rest of the album and the version of LMTWTB is different from the one I heard which was instrumental with trumpets replacing the singing and was impossibly ace. The rest of his stuff is hit and miss. I rode home stoned the other day with "Don't Eat the Yellow Snow" on my walkman and found myself laughing uncontrollably hard at the lyrics. Listneing back the next day, I found it hard to see why they were so funny at the time.

dog latin, Sunday, 4 August 2002 00:00 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

four years pass...

So... Nobody here has a sense of humor unless they're STONED??

All of you hate fun and sweet sweet guitar solos. REVIVE!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ssjVez9UA4w

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ew3Dq82Q1bQ

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCG4Caw7IIc

Andi Mags, Monday, 28 May 2007 04:34 (ten years ago) Permalink

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y_i_HVBD9ks

Alternate '73 version of Montana with better video quality but lower sound. KILLER solo.

Andi Mags, Monday, 28 May 2007 04:50 (ten years ago) Permalink

ahhhhh thanks

cutty, Monday, 28 May 2007 04:50 (ten years ago) Permalink

whoa i just clicked on that "last zappa interview" video--really sad

cutty, Monday, 28 May 2007 04:53 (ten years ago) Permalink

fuckin ian underwood!

cutty, Monday, 28 May 2007 04:57 (ten years ago) Permalink

I haven't brought myself to watch that yet, but there are 5 sections of the Zappa bio from BBC on there too, which I highly recommend.

Andi Mags, Monday, 28 May 2007 05:11 (ten years ago) Permalink

That video of "You are what you is" made the 8 year old me extremely nauseous when it originally aired.

Sparkle Motion, Monday, 28 May 2007 16:08 (ten years ago) Permalink

four years pass...

I just read about this morning--no recollection of it playing any festivals here, and I can't find a listing on IMDB.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7figLnhYZ44

clemenza, Sunday, 4 March 2012 13:48 (five years ago) Permalink

”both” is the answer to the this thread

the wild eyed boy from soundcloud (upper mississippi sh@kedown), Sunday, 4 March 2012 18:41 (five years ago) Permalink

haha, otm

Steamtable Willie (WmC), Sunday, 4 March 2012 19:49 (five years ago) Permalink

So much material that there are extremes of both.

c'est ne pas un car wash (snoball), Sunday, 4 March 2012 20:59 (five years ago) Permalink

three months pass...

Full catalogue to be reissued by Universal this year, apparently including some new mastering jobs. (By Joe Travers? No details given.)

My first question is whether Gail and the ZFT retains the right to keep on mining the extensive vaults and putting stuff out themselves.

Biff Wellington (WmC), Tuesday, 12 June 2012 21:30 (five years ago) Permalink

hmmm, i seem to recall that the mixes of a lot of those 90s reissues had been futzed w/ by Zappa? wonder if these are the "original" mixes or whatever.

tylerw, Tuesday, 12 June 2012 21:43 (five years ago) Permalink

RIP Rykodisc.

Electro-Shock Rory (C. Grisso/McCain), Tuesday, 12 June 2012 21:47 (five years ago) Permalink

I hope they're the "unfutzed" versions.

EZ Snappin, Tuesday, 12 June 2012 21:50 (five years ago) Permalink

I dunno - the original version of "We're Only In It For the Money" is pretty horrible, really

frogbs, Tuesday, 12 June 2012 21:53 (five years ago) Permalink

sonically, I mean

frogbs, Tuesday, 12 June 2012 21:54 (five years ago) Permalink

Would like somebody to explain me the difference between remixing and remastering in the context of this news. When FZ did the CD releases of Ruben and the Jets and WOIIFTM with new bass & drum tracks, it's safe to say he did new mixes. There are fairly radical differences in LP and CD mixes of Hot Rats. But I imagine that most of the CD catalogue consisted of digital transfer of the original vinyl masters, right, without much fiddling around?

Biff Wellington (WmC), Tuesday, 12 June 2012 22:06 (five years ago) Permalink

You have it right, Remastering is tracking down the best possible format of the final mixes of an album (in Zappa's case probably 1/2 or 1/4 inch analog tape reels and adding equalisation and/or compression & limiting to get the best overall sound and dynamics onto whichever format the recording is going to end up on. Of course the potential abuse of the process is a big issue in the digital age.

Remixing is loading the original unmixed master tapes onto whatever the relevant playback machine would be and repeating the process of mixing the album from scratch.

MaresNest, Tuesday, 12 June 2012 22:15 (five years ago) Permalink

The regular cds of Freak Out have a bunch of digital echo Frank added in the 80s. The reissue entitled MOFO has the og mix.

Electro-Shock Rory (C. Grisso/McCain), Tuesday, 12 June 2012 22:18 (five years ago) Permalink

I remember reading that he apparently dicked about with recordings other than Hot Rats and WOIIFTM too, that's where the UMRK Approved master tag came in.

MaresNest, Tuesday, 12 June 2012 22:19 (five years ago) Permalink

I dunno - the original version of "We're Only In It For the Money" is pretty horrible, really

the version on cd with added slap bass is a whole new level of awful though

zappi, Tuesday, 12 June 2012 22:38 (five years ago) Permalink

hmmm, i seem to recall that the mixes of a lot of those 90s reissues had been futzed w/ by Zappa? wonder if these are the "original" mixes or whatever.

"futzed" is putting it mildly.

Reissues

In 1984, Zappa prepared a remix of Cruising with Ruben & the Jets for its compact disc reissue and the vinyl box set The Old Masters I. The remix featured new rhythm tracks recorded by bassist Arthur Barrow and drummer Chad Wackerman, much as the 1984 remix of We're Only in It for the Money had featured. Zappa stated "The master tapes for Ruben and the Jets were in better shape, but since I liked the results on We're Only in it For the Money, I decided to do it on Ruben too. But those are the only two albums on which the original performances were replaced. I thought the important thing was the material itself."[2]

After the remixing was announced, a $13 million lawsuit was filed against Zappa by Jimmy Carl Black, Bunk Gardner and Don Preston, who were later joined by Ray Collins, Art Tripp and Motorhead Sherwood, increasing the claim to $16.4 million, stating that they had received no royalties from Zappa since 1969.[2]

In 2009, the original mix of the album was released as part of a compilation entitled Greasy Love Songs.[6]

Tarfumes The Escape Goat, Tuesday, 12 June 2012 22:40 (five years ago) Permalink

zappa was so nuts about that sort of thing, it seems. i remember reading something about the creation of "shut and play your guitar" (i think) where he would put guitar solos from, say, 1974 into a recording from 1981.

tylerw, Tuesday, 12 June 2012 22:43 (five years ago) Permalink

He would lift guitar tracks from live recordings and drop them into studio based stuff, he did a whole track by layering elements from different recordings, Tink Runs Amok? He called it Xenochrony iirc.

MaresNest, Tuesday, 12 June 2012 22:51 (five years ago) Permalink

XENOCHRONY! Exciting. Bands that never were.

tylerw, Tuesday, 12 June 2012 22:53 (five years ago) Permalink

"Rubber Shirt," from Sheik Yerbouti:

SPECIAL NOTE: The bass part is extracted from
a four track master of a performance from Goteborg,
Sweden 1974 which I had Patrick O"Hearn overdub on
a medium tempo guitar solo track in 4/4. The noted
chosen were more or less specified during the overdub
session, and so it was not completely an improvised
"bass solo." A year and a half later, the bass track was
peeled off the Swedish master and transferred to one
track of another studio 24 track master for a slow song
in 11/4. The result of this experimental re-synchronization
(the same technique was used on the Zoot Allures
album in "Friendly Little Finger") is the piece you are
listening to. All of the sensitive, interesting interplay
between the bass and drums never actually happened ...
also note, the guitar solo section of the song "Yo' Mama"
on side four was done the same way.

One of my favorite Sheik Yerbouti tracks.

Biff Wellington (WmC), Tuesday, 12 June 2012 22:59 (five years ago) Permalink

I was just to talking to a big Zappaphile firend of mine, and he mentioned that some of the other "futzing" was undoing vintage edit jobs done to fit lp time constraints. He cited these two (and was only partially wrong):

Wiki on Hot Rats:

In 1987 Zappa remixed Hot Rats for re-issue on Compact Disc. "Willie the Pimp" is edited differently during the introduction and guitar solo. "The Gumbo Variations" has 4 minutes of additional material including an introduction and guitar and saxophone solo sections which were cut from the vinyl LP version. Piano and flute which were buried the LP mix of "Little Umbrellas" are prominent on the CD. Other differences include significant changes to the overall ambiance and dynamic range. The original mix was reissued in 2009 as a limited edition audiophile LP by Classic Records.

Wiki on Weasels...:

The CD version of the album features different versions of "Didja Get Any Onya?" and "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Sexually Aroused Gas Mask", which featured music edited out of the LP versions. Some of this extra music was used (in a different studio recording) as the backing track for "The Blimp" on the Captain Beefheart album Trout Mask Replica, produced by Frank Zappa.

Electro-Shock Rory (C. Grisso/McCain), Wednesday, 13 June 2012 01:16 (five years ago) Permalink

the version on cd with added slap bass is a whole new level of awful though

― zappi

I was trying to youtube some songs off it a few years back, and the only versions that came up were from this, which I hadn't been aware of before, and I was seriously appalled. Especially since the original WOIIFTM is one of my all-time faves.

I wish to incorporate disco into my small business (chap), Wednesday, 13 June 2012 12:04 (five years ago) Permalink

xpost Sorry, improvising slowly on phone.

Josh in Chicago, Tuesday, 26 September 2017 01:47 (sixteen hours ago) Permalink

the Dan's cynicism is not rooted in contempt - they just have very dark senses of humor. but yeah as ums notes there's a profound sadness that runs through SD's stuff, a wistfulness, a sweetness. Zappa only gets wistful, at all, in the Ruben & the Jets music - and then makes sure the lyrics don't run along the same track

she carries a torch. two torches, actually (Joan Crawford Loves Chachi), Tuesday, 26 September 2017 01:48 (sixteen hours ago) Permalink

^ He's afraid to let his defenses down and reveal himself a fraud, imo. Or at least less than he makes himself out to be.

Josh in Chicago, Tuesday, 26 September 2017 01:52 (sixteen hours ago) Permalink

Contempt is the key word encapsulating Zappa.

Josh in Chicago, Tuesday, 26 September 2017 01:53 (sixteen hours ago) Permalink

apologies, i try not to say assholish shit like that. anyway the thing that makes zappa, or hicks, or any of the heroes of young white men who believe themselves to be oppressed, particularly tiresome in this day and age is his wholesale adoption of the paranoid style, the constant litany about how everybody is trying to screw him over. he has other bad qualities, but in the present moment this looks like his worst. it's not a quality the dan gave the impression of having much of. this, more than his supposed "contempt", is his most toxic quality- his barely disguised self-pity.

but i think most dan-loving, zappa-hating critics are all about the _literacy_. zappa didn't like books, didn't read books, and made no bones about it. saying zappa was lacking in "chops" or "knowledge", i just don't see that there's the evidence to back it up. there's lots he didn't know, but saying that his songwriting was amateurish compared to steely dan... no, i don't see the evidence for that.

i also don't think zappa was a "playing it safe" soloist. to me "playing it safe" is doing the gilmour thing of writing a solo and playing it every night. zappa's solos were genuinely improvised, and this is why he played so many generic blues licks, why it's so uneven, because of that risk-taking. he stacked the deck in his favor by hiring crack rhythm sections (having a great drummer makes one a better guitar player).

i agree that garcia's playing is wonderful... sometimes.

bob lefse (rushomancy), Tuesday, 26 September 2017 01:56 (sixteen hours ago) Permalink

xp

^ He's afraid to let his defenses down and reveal himself a fraud, imo. Or at least less than he makes himself out to be.

I think the issue's more personal, I don't think Zappa's a "fraud" - I think he's kinda fucked up, for lack of a better way to put it. he's constructed a sort of rationalist shell around himself for whatever reason, and it requires constant shoring-up -- over the course of his life, the maintenance of the shell takes precedence over more & more. I sorta get where a guy interested in music as a process might spend a fair bit of time thinking "look...the role of the emotions in all this has been vastly overstated" but in Zappa's case this position seems to stem from a general unwillingness to concede that *feeling things* is a worthwhile pursuit. and it's fair to hang this on him from a survey of his work, too. he did have some good affirmative values, per his family: of taking care of them, of being present. those aren't small things. but my impression of him -- and I say this as a fan of his good stuff; I think there's a fair bit of it, personally -- is that of a guy who would have preferred to quash any tenderness inside of himself, or to relegate it to occasional 32-bar outbursts during instrumental passages played onstage.

she carries a torch. two torches, actually (Joan Crawford Loves Chachi), Tuesday, 26 September 2017 02:00 (sixteen hours ago) Permalink

great post Joan. Zappa will always be classic to me for the "flower power sucks" line in "Absolutely Free". "Mom & Dad" also was a nice empathetic track. But these are outliers in his career it seems...

Week of Wonders (Ross), Tuesday, 26 September 2017 02:15 (sixteen hours ago) Permalink

xpost I don't think anyone's being assholey here, actually, especially considering the subject. Zappa love is a bit of an enigma to me, in part because he was so prolific that even many of his fans have huge hunks of his catalog they may despise. He's full of contradictions - beloved for things people hate in other acts, hated for things loved in other acts, that sort of thing. In the end, if his output was mostly instrumental I bet his music would have aged better, vampy or mediocre or not. It's the words that sink the S.S. Zappa.

Speaking of Steely Dan, I could totally imagine "The Fez" as a Zappa song and being sung in his smug speak-sing voice and hating it.

Josh in Chicago, Tuesday, 26 September 2017 02:20 (fifteen hours ago) Permalink

I don't know much about Zappa's upbringing. What were his parents like? Having just read that most recent Van Halen book and learning, at least in a cursory sense, about Mommy and Daddy Van Halen, I've got sins of the father on the mind.

Josh in Chicago, Tuesday, 26 September 2017 02:22 (fifteen hours ago) Permalink

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y9P2V0_p6vE

it's interesting how much of a conflict Zappa's love of the avant garde (Varese) was his initial impetus, but he approached it with seriousness and got laughs. Not sure how intentional the laughs were, but in some ways Zappa cheapened experimental music, he seems like someone who was very much in conflict with his desires.

Week of Wonders (Ross), Tuesday, 26 September 2017 02:32 (fifteen hours ago) Permalink

sorry that was poorly worded

Week of Wonders (Ross), Tuesday, 26 September 2017 02:34 (fifteen hours ago) Permalink

Do you mean that the way the host treated his ideas like a joke might have had some kind of formative impact, in that FZ might have become self-conscious or reserved about being earnest about experimental music?

No purposes. Sounds. (Sund4r), Tuesday, 26 September 2017 03:50 (fourteen hours ago) Permalink

Don't think necessarily that the host affected Frank's drive for experimental music going forward, just that Frank always had this unusual pull between serious music/jokes and I wonder where the contradictions began. Frank genuinely loved the avant-garde but I wonder what the audiences response made him feel - and whether it flared up his contempt of them. It's difficult to tell whether Frank expected audiences to get the experimental impulses, but I doubt he cared - he seemed to have a thing of being above others intellectually.

Week of Wonders (Ross), Tuesday, 26 September 2017 03:55 (fourteen hours ago) Permalink

Kind of interesting to compare it to this Cage TV appearance from three years earlier. Obv Cage is more generous/instructive (and openly 'welcomes laughter') but I feel like this is also facilitated by a much more respectful attitude from the host, even though he also finds the ideas strange. I wonder how Cage would have handled the Steve Allen show.

No purposes. Sounds. (Sund4r), Tuesday, 26 September 2017 04:03 (fourteen hours ago) Permalink

great post Sund4r. I feel like Zappa set himself up to be misunderstood - it was a self fulfilling prophecy, it's hard to imagine a world in which he was uniformly accepted.

Week of Wonders (Ross), Tuesday, 26 September 2017 04:05 (fourteen hours ago) Permalink

anyways that Cage youtube is great evidence that it took time for people to accept more ambiguous ways of expression (the laughter)

Week of Wonders (Ross), Tuesday, 26 September 2017 04:11 (fourteen hours ago) Permalink

these videos are insane

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VTdTvK_d9lQ

Week of Wonders (Ross), Tuesday, 26 September 2017 04:18 (fourteen hours ago) Permalink

anyways that Cage youtube is great evidence that it took time for people to accept more ambiguous ways of expression (the laughter)

... and here's John Cale on the same show.

The Doug Walters of Crime (Tom D.), Tuesday, 26 September 2017 08:20 (nine hours ago) Permalink

It is just a rock n' roll myth that Zappa spent some of his last years crying while listening to doowop records?

Robert Adam Gilmour, Tuesday, 26 September 2017 10:58 (seven hours ago) Permalink

Him and Lou Reed used to get together and have all day blubbing sessions.

The Doug Walters of Crime (Tom D.), Tuesday, 26 September 2017 11:00 (seven hours ago) Permalink

in some ways Zappa cheapened experimental music

lol sure

statements like this make me extra glad we had a Zappa

AdamVania (Adam Bruneau), Tuesday, 26 September 2017 11:16 (seven hours ago) Permalink

I don't know much about Zappa's upbringing. What were his parents like? Having just read that most recent Van Halen book and learning, at least in a cursory sense, about Mommy and Daddy Van Halen, I've got sins of the father on the mind.

― Josh in Chicago

there's one picture of him with his parents, taken by life magazine circa 1970. beyond that zappa didn't have much to say about his parents.

if we're going to play armchair psychoanalysis - a pretty strong temptation with zappa - i'd point to the incident in '64 or '65 where he was entrapped by some asshole cop and thrown in jail for ten days on "obscenity" charges, in the process losing his recording studio. i can't imagine something like that _not_ leaving a major mark on one's psyche, and it's hard for me not to view his subsequent strong advocacy of "offensive" speech in that light.

bob lefse (rushomancy), Tuesday, 26 September 2017 12:12 (six hours ago) Permalink

in some ways Zappa cheapened experimental music

― Week of Wonders (Ross)

hey now, experimental jazz was already free!

bob lefse (rushomancy), Tuesday, 26 September 2017 12:14 (six hours ago) Permalink

Ha, yeah, tbf, I don't even really know what it would mean to 'cheapen' experimental music.

No purposes. Sounds. (Sund4r), Tuesday, 26 September 2017 12:28 (five hours ago) Permalink

(Also, a lot of people still have trouble accepting it!)

No purposes. Sounds. (Sund4r), Tuesday, 26 September 2017 12:29 (five hours ago) Permalink

not to be that guy, but which things exactly are being called "experimental" here? cage's definition is something like: composition or creation deploying indeterminacy to reach endpoints that couldn't be predicted in detail from the outset -- and one-offs aside, i'm not sure anything zappa routinely does really falls into this category, he was always an intensely controlling* composer, albeit one at an unusual number of different levels (if that make sense)

(obviously fz's audience interraction games produced material that does -- all live performance has elements of unpredictability -- but as soon as he's in a studio quilting elements of it into concrète collages the "experimental" dimension is stripped straight back out)

*cage was also highly controlling in person but very much in service of the genuinely unpredicted

mark s, Tuesday, 26 September 2017 12:39 (five hours ago) Permalink

no idea what i was talking about there with that statement, my apologies.

Week of Wonders (Ross), Tuesday, 26 September 2017 12:43 (five hours ago) Permalink

mark, for what it's worth varese rejected the notion that his music was "experimental", saying something like "I experiment before writing my music!"

bob lefse (rushomancy), Tuesday, 26 September 2017 12:44 (five hours ago) Permalink

Unless I'm in an academic setting, I tend to assume that no one is using Cage's definition and "experimental" just means "avant-garde" or "unconventional".

No purposes. Sounds. (Sund4r), Tuesday, 26 September 2017 12:50 (five hours ago) Permalink

^ yeah

Week of Wonders (Ross), Tuesday, 26 September 2017 12:51 (five hours ago) Permalink

ah ok, fair enough -- it was more a question than a gotcha: on one hand (very proofing-editor voice) it seems a pity to blur away a usefully precise word; on the other, literally nothing is more boring than arguing abt definitions

i actually quite like the idea of compare-contrasting cage's affable demeanour as composerly major domo with zappa's -- as a device in line with or at odds with the larger project -- but that's partly bcz i think their projects only line up to a small degree, and this quasi-similarity is a handy way to pin down the nature of the overlap and the difference

mark s, Tuesday, 26 September 2017 13:02 (five hours ago) Permalink

those Nightmatch videos are something else. 10 years ago I would've proclaimed Zappa a hero for knocking down a church lady like that, especially one with such an encyclopedic knowledge of dirty Prince lyrics, what's going on in HER mind, har har har??? but that's a dumb opinion. Zappa comes off as affable and well-spoken but he's grandstanding about an argument that isn't actually happening. mentions too many times that he isn't a fan of the music in question, like we care what you think about Prince. at one point reads a supposedly "humorous" disclaimer off the back of one of his albums to dead silence. occasionally says something profound. he's right about a lot of things but the isn't the question less about censorship and more about Parental Advisory stickers? parents *should* know what their kids are listening to or watching. so what.

frogbs, Tuesday, 26 September 2017 13:36 (four hours ago) Permalink

In some ways Zappa cheapened experimental music

― Week of Wonders (Ross)

I suppose you could make the argument that Zappa cheapened experimental music by associating it with dumb puerile misogyny, deliberately or otherwise. Not that I think he did.

29 facepalms, Tuesday, 26 September 2017 13:52 (four hours ago) Permalink

great discussion, one that made me resolve to get through Joe's Garage and let me tell you it is hilarious to read very interesting debate about Zappa's in relation to Cage and the definition of experimental music while listening to "Why Does it Hurt When I Pee" doing some bullshit x rated cod Kansas song

Universal LULU Nation (upper mississippi sh@kedown), Tuesday, 26 September 2017 13:53 (four hours ago) Permalink

yeah i revoke that statement - i mean i LOVE early appearances of the Mothers on TV shows, just pure madness. Also Uncle Meat/Lumpy Gravy rule. I find his Serious artist vs. audience shtick pretty interesting overall, where it comes from etc

Week of Wonders (Ross), Tuesday, 26 September 2017 13:55 (four hours ago) Permalink

I could totally imagine "The Fez" as a Zappa song and being sung in his smug speak-sing voice and hating it.

Oh great, now I can hear this too. Way to ruin my morning.

"Celebration" encourages the listener to celebrate good times. (Dan Peterson), Tuesday, 26 September 2017 14:01 (four hours ago) Permalink

Lumpy Gravy is shite, whereas I quite like Why Does It Hurt When I Pee.

The Doug Walters of Crime (Tom D.), Tuesday, 26 September 2017 14:31 (three hours ago) Permalink

Cage hostile to improvisation, and always felt that Zappa was in some way too. I enjoy his jazz fusiony recs like Grand Wazoo - no singing! - but even the solos on them seem more like composition than spontaneous expression.

Gunpowder Julius (Ward Fowler), Tuesday, 26 September 2017 15:10 (three hours ago) Permalink

Waka/Jawaka and Grand Wazoo aren't necessarily my favorites to listen to on a regular basis but they are probably the most *impressive* thing he did, there are moments on those that are genuinely jaw dropping to me, just this hyper complex anal retentive modern classical/fusion jams (but not really jams at all). like i do get that thing you get from some prog or math rock where it's like "how did humans do this?"

Universal LULU Nation (upper mississippi sh@kedown), Tuesday, 26 September 2017 15:16 (three hours ago) Permalink

so I don't know exactly why you would need five full shows from the Baby Snakes concerts, they seem to have roughly the same set lists from show to show, but I do find the costume and add ins for this box set to be pretty funny.

http://www.zappa.com/news/halloween-77-box-set-celebrates-historic-concert-runs-40th-anniversary-october-20

Moodles, Tuesday, 26 September 2017 15:24 (two hours ago) Permalink

Those albums bored the tits off me, tbh.(xp)

The Doug Walters of Crime (Tom D.), Tuesday, 26 September 2017 15:30 (two hours ago) Permalink

yeah i dunno maybe zappa just sucks

honestly, he feels much less benign these days, because I really do feel like his whole worldview is pretty foundational to the whole angry nerd/Reddit atheist/gamergate/shitlord mindset that led to the alt right

Universal LULU Nation (upper mississippi sh@kedown), Tuesday, 26 September 2017 15:36 (two hours ago) Permalink

More by accident than intent but there's a thread there. Though if anything, as a couple of friends have noted, the line of descent to libertarian techbro might be even clearer.

Ned Raggett, Tuesday, 26 September 2017 15:40 (two hours ago) Permalink

^this. I dislike Zappa for the toxic self pity, but more than that, I dislike 20's me for thinking this stuff was good.

29 facepalms, Tuesday, 26 September 2017 15:41 (two hours ago) Permalink

I've always thought Zappa was mostly worthless so I guess I dislike 30s me for looking a bit like him

good art is orange; great art is teal (wins), Tuesday, 26 September 2017 15:44 (two hours ago) Permalink

Oddly enough, last year I did kick down for the first/only time for anything Zappa related, namely that documentary they're doing with all the archives. Honestly I was most interested in it precisely because I'm interested in any archival project in general, given my library work. I figure that might be all I need.

That said, my girlfriend has long had a framed poster of this photo in the kitchen -- namely due to the oven mitt:

http://www.afka.net/images/Articles/1984-16.gif

Ned Raggett, Tuesday, 26 September 2017 15:46 (two hours ago) Permalink

More by accident than intent but there's a thread there. Though if anything, as a couple of friends have noted, the line of descent to libertarian techbro might be even clearer.

― Ned Raggett, Tuesday, September 26, 2017 10:40 AM (five minutes ago) Bookmark Flag Post Permalink

yeah what else? Obviously Bill Hicks, Dennis Miller (so then maybe Chevy Chase on Weekend Update as a precursor?), Dennis Leary...

Universal LULU Nation (upper mississippi sh@kedown), Tuesday, 26 September 2017 15:47 (two hours ago) Permalink

oh well, I'll have plenty of time to ponder this while listening to "Sy Borg" which feels as though it will go on for the remainder of my life on Earth answering the unasked musical question "What if Spyro Gyra did a dirty sci fi comedy reggae album?"

Universal LULU Nation (upper mississippi sh@kedown), Tuesday, 26 September 2017 15:58 (two hours ago) Permalink

though i guess zappa is expanding his range from misogyny to include homophobia on this one

Universal LULU Nation (upper mississippi sh@kedown), Tuesday, 26 September 2017 15:59 (two hours ago) Permalink

though i guess zappa is expanding his range from misogyny to include homophobia on this one

Ah, you've never heard "Bobby Brown," I see.

grawlix (unperson), Tuesday, 26 September 2017 16:22 (one hour ago) Permalink


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