teaching mark s a *LESSON* response one: ZAPPA

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Frank Zappa/Freak Out

proposed by Mr Diamond

OK, as ILX-ers probbly know, I?ve had a bad relationship with Zappa since forever. Not boredom, not indifference ? which are relative simple, straightforward, unarguable emotions ? but active raging hate: in other words, a complicated, not entirely controlled, semi-projective response. All efforts so far towards reconcilation; all crabwise entries from new angles have failed. When a friend sent me a blindfold tape which included Sy Borg, my reaction-review was the most uncontained spew of impassioned bonkers fury I?ve ever committed to paper. I included my friend in the swipe, like he?d dismembered my cat: actually he?d went it to me bcz he thought it wd amuse (and therefore convert) me. Grr arg etc.

So yes I know that in loathing this entire body of work in this demented way I am surely mainly revealing things I despise in my imagined self, things I need utterly to distance myself from blah blah blah: in the spirit of the LESSON project I shd maybe attempt to isolate those also.

(I shd blush a bit I guess for this being such a LONG response ?I don?t intend they all are: but unavoidably it?s also a response to b.wats0n?s vast, ground-breaking, exasperating, flawed, ridiculous, admirable book on FZ, ?Frank Zappa: the Negative Dialectics of P00dle Play", a tormented edifice ten years in the preparation, which I reviewed on the fly in 1994 for some stupid leftie mag, long before I had perspective on it ? anyway stuff from that still churns about inside me, in the way I think about music etc)

Freak Out wz the Zappa debut, 1966: double LP, fold-out sleeve, Mothers in nasty-coloured solarised pose, sneering and looming, torn from the off between the fun of being scary street thugs in look and knowing smartypants insiders as regards a better culture: "THEY ARE ALL MUSICIANS." concludes the Biographical Trivia paragraph.... And that infamous 184-name list of inspirations yes provides many many doors through to things the listener will love and learn from, but BOY does it scream "We know stuff you don?t know." I can?t begin to imagine it as it must have sounded arriving new: a cackling crack in the bland order of everything? Or just one context-of-abundance thrilling fish wriggle among dozens, in a 3-4 year rupture in pop culture, when just ANYTHING could flop threateningly and seductively through.

Exhibit A: "Writing about music is like dancing to architecture"
Exhibit B: "Definition of rock journalism: People who can?t write, doing interviews with people who can?t think, in order to prepare articles for people who can?t read."
See I might admire these notorious use-other-quotes-please apothegms more if I thought that either contained the possibility that it recognised these worked better as justifications than dismissals. It?s at the level of justification that Zappa always loses me.

See from my latecome punker perspective I distrusted from off the Pied-Piper-of-Hamlyn contract you seem to have to sign with Zappa: "I how you things you?d never otherwise see or hear, but this you must swear to foreswear and that you must swear to despise and NEVER FORGET THEY ARE ALL MUSICIANS!! We will show you the New Jerusalem but always remember we were there first." Etc. A revolution is only a success if no one afterwards remembers who its prior heroes were.

First line of first song (?Hungry Freaks, Daddy?): "Mr America walk on by your schools that do not teach": FZ?s an autodidact Principal Skinner disguising himself as cross-the-trax trailertrash Nelson Muntz. The outsider group defines itself against the insider group, but its flip-around superiority requires that the insider group ? by this dialectical switch turned from pop heroes to villains, avatars of shallow blandness ? continue in its present state: the status quo remains, it?s just that the lowest is become highest on the pocket honours board. And I think what I resent about this is that such a brilliant crossply keeps getting stutter-stopped at the next mutation in. The root of ALL scorn is uncertainty: why was Zappa *so* afraid to make work based on acknowledgment of this (vulnerable/unhappy/damaged) side of his coin?

The aggressive embrace-appropriation of an insult name brilliantly deflects attack amnd wronfoots the enemy BUT it?s always also a risky institutionalistion of self-hatred? (Leslie Fiedler = pioneer of this move/cf much later Nigga/Queer) (cf Fiedler?s 1978 Freaks: Myths and Images of the Secret Self, which links 60s self-embrace of the term "Freak" to a sociology of 20th-century circus freakdom, a literary study of teratology in medical AND literary literature and other stuff besides.

Ppl who worked this same good/bad turnaround far more deftly = the Shangri-Las. The sprawling twofer size of Freak Out and ? (COMMENT ABT ACTUAL MUSIC CONTENT ALERT) sluggish torpor of so many of the songs means that it constantly seems mired in a laboured joke.

Third song first side/Who are the Brain Police? Cf the electronic noises/phasing etc in Brain Police: QUATERMASS AND THE PIT (story: the genodical martians are US), where the music in the TV version was done by the BBC Radiophonic Worshop. The movie does this idea better than this song: it?s less stilted by self-knowledge.

fourth-to-sixth song first side/third song second side (etc): Go Cry on Somebody Else?s Shoulder/Motherly Love/How Could I Be Such a Fool/Any Way the Wind Blows. The mocked "parody" song ? Deep parodies work bcz of the parodist?s ambivalent LOVE for what he?s mimicking. Zappa mocking silly chartpop generally comes across like Competitive Dad in the Fast Show: "Look at me, I totally conquer all yr puny efforts at expression." "Yes Dad, cz yr a grown-up and I?m just 12." Babies are meant not to be wise the way geezers are wise. The Beatles (traces of mimicry all over these parodies: they were riding v.high stateside in 1966) were SO MUCH better at the retrospective inhabiting/exploration of apparently goofy and immature forms and language without selling them short/crushing them gracelessly from outside/that it?s just irritating. Zappa = ponderously explaining a joke everyone else long ago got? (His "comedy" is almost always funny stuff for ppl w/o a sense of humour ? the justification thing again, I think.) Frank if you *despise* this stuff so much why are you wasting our time with it? If you like it, why aren?t you *better* at it? (By the time we reach his disco parodies in the late 70s, the announcement THEY ARE ALL MUSICIANS also stops being actually true ? they are musicians unable to achieve even adequate disco, which also poked fun at itself much more clearheadedly than FZ ever found the craft to?.)

Any Way the Wind Blows is the only song I actually like on this record.

First song third side/Trouble Every Day: Dylan/Stones song (with Lou Reed-ish guitar!!): catches the compacted monotony dylan especially sent clear into chartland and pop language [but where dylan?s inhabiting of the edge between oblique and FUNNY songwriting and terrible hack poetry ? represents intuition as a highwire act over horrible failure, zappa?s lyric is always terribly careful, always looking over his shoulder at some phantom of 50s hipster political correctness [which is what he invokes to come to the rescue of the potential chaos-turmoil of rock: unlike jagger or iggy, say, zappa is NEVER in danger of being taken for an irredeemable bastard or an irredeemable idiot]

OK cut to the chase, I?m NOT going to do this track by track or we?ll be here all week.

SUZY CREEMCHEESE etc. Wats0n?s central ludicrous-great idea ? declared in his title ? is to reclaim Zappa from stupid compromised rock culture by reading him through the dense exiled academic prism of Adorno; less overtly (BW more more conventional at the conscious level here than the unconscious)*, he reclaims Adorno from "high" culture by reading him through the rude and grubby prism of Zappa-records. Trouble is, BW excuses this mapping mainly in terms of clunky lame-ass cliches from mainstream art self-justification: "conceptual continuity", "critique as refusal" sigh zzzz. A bit like both his beloved subjects, his instincts are better than the rationalisations thereof. Actual real negative dialectics would have taken beyond the lame self-justification they all share to a better, more damaged and interestingly frightened justification they evade


At the close of the book, the ahem "overintellectual" revolutionary socialist critic meets the artist (who is dying, in tremendous discomfort, of rectal cancer) and reads extracts of his work. This exchange is both moving and comical, since the artist (BW is scrupulously honest here) finds the extracts hilarious. At one point BW brings up the idea of "conceptual continuity", and Zappa, to his horror, says "Yes, I guess: like Tolkien?" BW detests Tolkien and tries to redirect. But Zappa has hit on something: there?s a loaded moue of self-knowledge in this connection, bcz the thing that links Adorno and Zappa most is something Tolkien (and Watson) share. That they?re working in an effective present-time language they use well without ever being quite comfortable or happy with or entirely attuned to, in order to redeem or rescue an aesthetic and or a morality that (as far as the effective present-time language goes) is nothing but a beached and square hipster attitude of times gone by, and best forgotten. Though beached and set aside by all, for the teenage Tolk/Adorno/Zappa, this sensibility was *everything* to them: their window into knowledge and freedom. To their credit: they refuse to be trapped in mere crusted nostalgia for it ? that wd be to betray it.

[interlude while mark s shows inner working, not directly relevant to Zappa, so v.condensed and ignore if u like? eg Tolkien channels english arts-and-crafts radicalism of the 1890s though wry chatty college smoking room humour of 1930s; Adorno channels pre-Mahler orchestral composition of the viennese sezession ? that lush, bourgeois, pre-avant garde, a lost "better" high class leisure industry ? through 20s bohemian bolshevism?]

Anyway, Zappa?s BELOVED but OBSCURE and SECRET "beached and square hipster attitude", essential to his growth yet useless and supplanted and set aside as a mode of possible present expression, was the undeluded cheerfully cynical Cool Jazz semi-beatnik anti-consumerism and witty risque urbanity of figures like Steve Allen, Stan Friedberg => in on a superior artistic language (cool jazz) which set these people above what then turned out to be the cataclysmic deluge which just swept this safe enlightened world to oblivion.

The "good" musicianship on a Zappa record ? the prissy alien care with which garage rock is PLAYED ? is the untroubable virgin-aunt core of what he does. Yes he declares himself the freak, the outsider, yet right at the heart he protects something, his clear-eared careful sneering confidence an impenetrable (and therefore in punk terms untrustworthy) armour against what?

You see there?s dozens of things there I would like to have taken flight: which all those many subsequent records also resisted (instead of enabling). The only way I think I can express it is this, kinda. I would so adore love admire this record if at its heart it admitted that SUZY CREEMCHEESE is the wholesome reserved aspect of himself that FZ despises in his imagined self, and must utterly distance himself from. Or if somehow in the future FZ had dealt with this, to tunnel through to the shouting heart of this record.

*BW has a tendency in print to be exceptionally defensive about his heroes, to go onto the attack when they?re mocked: this produces the worst of his writing, very reactionary and kneejerk Oasis-fan in manner. But at the next level down ? which he?s clearly aware of, though rarely so discursive about ? he knows his heroes aren?t of a piece: that you CAN?T uncritically admire zappa and adorno and joyce and prynne and lenin and boulez and marx and coltrane and jaworzyn and benjamin and freud and... without EITHER cherrypicking OR embracing contradiction OR => setting some vast cultural machinery going in yr readers? heads, where the thinking has to start: like the bullying teacher you hate most at the time but in after years realise you owe most to... (in the paperback edition of NegDiPoo, he admits the secret fact he?s circling circling circling in the original is that the key to the lure of the content of this life?s work is how much it allows a listener?s mind to range and invent and respond creatively and openly... to declare himself as zappa reader to be zappa?s equal, and ? by implication ? to declare us, as wats0n-readers, to be watson?s equal)

(which I think is true of everything)

mark s (mark s), Sunday, 25 May 2003 12:45 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

(ok blimey this is v.v.v. long and totally a mess and all: but that shd give zappa-niks plenty of scope to burrow in and find points of wrongness on my part... )

mark s (mark s), Sunday, 25 May 2003 12:47 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

the mere mention of steve allen in relation to zappa wins a prize from me. no wrongness on your part that i can tell. the salient 3 S's of zappa are accounted for:smarm,smirk,self-congrats.his legend has always been hollow cuz everything he ever did was done with more wit, grace, humour, joy, and sheer love of music by somebody else. compare we're only in it for the money with the turtles battle of the bands as one example.i give him credit for his record label. he often championed people who had the unscripted and exciting energy that he lacked.

scott seward, Sunday, 25 May 2003 15:42 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

there's something about contempt without any visible show of anger that leaves me cold.

scott seward, Sunday, 25 May 2003 15:57 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

I've never heard this record so i can't comment but i suppose you could do my beefheart cassette here too no? (if you heard it)

Julio Desouza (jdesouza), Sunday, 25 May 2003 16:05 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

(i'll do it on a separate thread julio) (i've been listening a lot: but i already knew it — i owned it years ago only i lost the tape)

mark s (mark s), Sunday, 25 May 2003 16:57 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

You (and Seward) hit on something U&K -- at Zappa's core there's something v. centrist about him, a conservative reserve that's never "steely" or "icy" enough to be interesting, never contemptuous enough to expose the ecstatic face of mania's two-headed cow. He wants to be R. Crumb and really he's just Howard Stern.

Jody Beth Rosen (Jody Beth Rosen), Sunday, 25 May 2003 20:05 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

(put all of that in the past tense if you need to be reminded that he's dead)

Jody Beth Rosen (Jody Beth Rosen), Sunday, 25 May 2003 20:07 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

mark- if you can, write on the extra track.

Julio Desouza (jdesouza), Sunday, 25 May 2003 20:08 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

I don't need to be reminded that he's dead, but it's always a welcome prompt. Actually, that is a bit mean just because I've always hated his music.

Martin Skidmore (Martin Skidmore), Sunday, 25 May 2003 20:26 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

I'm not so bothered abt the knowing smartypants insiderdom of THAT list (or by ditto on 'Chance Meeting...' by NWW) - half the fun of that kind of thing is the MYSTERY, the thrill of the chase, the chance to make yr own connections, and I can imagine that discovering it as a teenager harmlessly puffs up yr own sense of anti-insiderdom ("cool a list of things that will offend/freak off my parents/teachers hurrah") - the interweb has made all this too damm easy blahblah. In some ways I admire the dedication/effort it takes to be a TRUE Zappaologist - same as w/ Deadheads - but in this case, oh such time wasted!

Andrew L (Andrew L), Sunday, 25 May 2003 20:48 (fifteen years ago) Permalink


"Trouble Coming Every Day" tho - it doesn't fit most of the things that are so hateable about FZ - is that why you shied away from it here? It always seemed to me like FZ's road not taken. He pressed the laser of his self-righteousness into the service of something he couldn't quite define or deride in what became his usual slamming totality. The song is a story "ripped from the headlines" and amazingly he hadn't already immediately made up his mind about every single aspect of it, in fact he insists on the incommensurability of the usual snarky commentators ("some bozo with a Brownie") and even if it was just a borrowed costume of anger/sincerity he does really try it on for size. Also, as you note, his band plays a gruffly dirty and rhythm-based honest-to-goodness rock n roll with an untamed bluesy freedom - on ALL cylinders, not just for whomever has gotten the nod for the solo - that none of his bandmates apparently ever had again.

Anyhow, wonderful wonderful post (and I agree with what you say, too!)

Tracer Hand (tracerhand), Sunday, 25 May 2003 21:41 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

One thing needing to be said (although I pretty much agree with everything above): Zappa/Mothers were tremendously liberating to 13-15-year-olds at the time ('68-'71 or so). Especially if you were an angry and put-upon smartypants in a suburban think-alike ghetto, Z. was suddenly your action figure, pouring scorn on your enemies and geting his picture in Life. And then it faded, quickly, around age 16 or 1972, whichever came first. I suspect that his primary constituency continued to be 13-15-year-old boys (who might chronologically be 43 or whatever). And yes, Jody Beth wins the yellow rubber duck--he was really Howard Stern for kids who had earlier in life collected stamps.

Uncle (Methuselah), Monday, 26 May 2003 03:15 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Wow, hating 70s Zappa I can see, but excoriating _Freak Out_?

squirl plise (Squirrel_Police), Monday, 26 May 2003 03:25 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Any Way the Wind Blows is the only song I actually like on this record

this intrigues me. I think your Zappa hate is basically right-on and justified (and your piece is a LOT better than Ian Penman's "He was a jack-off of all trades" rant, which is so mean-spirited it manages to mirror some of FZ's own hateful condescension toward his audience) but: what do you like about this song?

the only Zappa songs I unreservedly like are "Peaches en Regalia" (it helps that he doesn't sing on it) and "Valley Girl" (maybe because Moon Unit's serenely confident self-parody takes the nastiness out of Frank's "satire")

Justyn Dillingham (Justyn Dillingham), Monday, 26 May 2003 07:28 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

'the prissy alien care with which garage rock is PLAYED'

dunno if you'd find it any more 'listenable' but I'm curious as to what your take would be on the later vershes of stuff like 'Brown Shoes' in which the original band's parts are recreated by Steve Vai etc

dave q, Monday, 26 May 2003 12:38 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

you know, howard stern does have his charm and talents -- and some of us think that the best part of his show is when he responds ad hoc to the news stories that robin reads. nor would frank zappa have necessarily found a comparison b/w him and stern insulting (since FZ was a fan of HS). but i digress.

anyway, one of the things that i find most interesting about ILX criticisms about zappa is how rockist the criticisms get. they really seem to boil down to (a) FZ was a phony; (b) FZ was into empty, fussy virtuoso-ism (as opposed to "gruffly dirty and rhythm-based honest-to-goodness rock n roll"); (c) FZ was either "self-centered" or "smarmy" or "smirky" or "self-guarded"; (d) FZ's appeal was almost exclusively to smug teenage boys (or "stamp collectors") -- in other words, "losers"; or some combination of the foregoing categories. all of which leads me to believe that part of the reason why Zappa -- and i emphasize Zappa more so than his music -- gets under the skin of some folks here is precisely because he was one of the most un-rockist famous late-20th century musicians. "rockism" is, of course, seen by many ILXors as something akin to a cardinal sin, but here i merely note my observation and wonder aloud about it.

Tad (llamasfur), Saturday, 31 May 2003 06:22 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

as for freak out! itself: strangely, it took me some time to really warm up to this one (as opposed to some of zappa's later records). partly because musically, it initially struck more as a historical curiosity piece -- the music that it parodies (sixties beatlesque/dylanesque pop, fifties doo-wop) is well before my prime, so i don't really have that much emotional attachment to the parodied music. now, i could certainly detect the satirical intent here -- and on zappa's other late-sixties albums -- as well as the skilled and skewed musicianship of the mothers (which really doesn't strike me as being that much more skilled or skewed than what the beatles, the stones, or dylan were doing roughly contemporaneously with freak out!). but since all that's pretty much before my time and i don't fetishize the music of the fifties and the sixties anyway, i have to take it on faith that everything from "hungry freaks daddy" through "you're probably wondering why i'm here" was a bombshell for 1966 listeners. anyway, it was the rest of freak out! -- "trouble every day" (which is, as tracer said, a curiosity in the Zappa catalogue), as well as the "help i'm a rock"/"it can't happen here"/"monster magnet" troika, that had the most immediate appeal when i first heard this record, because they sounded less, well, "sixties-ish" (for lack of a better way of saying it). but i did later come to like the first dozen or so songs -- partly from hearing later versions of them, and then listening to them again -- and realizing that, parodies or not and skewed arrangements & all, they were still pretty solid, sixties pop songs. i wonder if that is what gets under peoples' skin -- that, the lyrics notwithstanding, the songs themselves do work and (with a less snarky lyricist than zappa) might well have been indistinguishable from other pop songs of their time and place. which, i guess, gets back to the "rockism" issue -- had zappa lyrically played it straight, and was someone besides who he was, would they have gotten under people's skins?

Tad (llamasfur), Saturday, 31 May 2003 06:43 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

help i'm a rockist

mark s (mark s), Saturday, 31 May 2003 08:47 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

(i agree (i think) w.tad and dave q, in that on the whole i find zappa's much-later music much more likeable)

mark s (mark s), Saturday, 31 May 2003 09:36 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

*humming 'should i stay or should i go', goes and fetches freak out from 'nother room for this afternoon's uneasy listening*

t\'\'t (t\'\'t), Saturday, 31 May 2003 09:40 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Not a big fan of Zappa solo (though "I Am the Slime" is pretty terrific), and I despise the more cultish aspects of Zappaism which I remember just well enough to regret ("ah, dude, check out how he bends the notes in this solo...") [insert aroma of bad skunkweed here], but I think all the Mothers albums have great things on them, and (as Tad suggested) there's a wonderful pop sensibility on (non-Freak Out!) tracks like "Call Any Vegetable," "Flower Punk," "Let's Make the Water Turn Black," and "Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance" (the latter two in particular among my favourite late-60s pop songs ever). Freak Out is the most consistent of the early albums and the least laboured, and the unlistenable crap is kept to a minimum (don't know that I've ever made it through all of the "Monster Magnet" track). A few points I would make:

* The smugness inherent in some of the Mothers parody tracks (the doo-wops, garage rocks, et al.) strikes me as the roots in some ways of L.A. hardcore--the Germs and Black Flag in particular. (First time I heard the Germs I thought, "Flower Punk"!). I imagine Darby Crash and (early) Frank Zappa and would be about as pleasant to be around in the flesh (i.e., not at all), but musically, I think this repellant quality somehow works for both of them. (Oh, and they both hate hippies.)

* Taking sides: Velvets/NYC punk vs. Mothers/LA hardocre (Zappa vs. Reed being an actual '60s rivalry, from what I understand).

* (To belabor the punk point further) "I Ain't Got No Heart" as the musical version of Johnny Rotten's "Sex/love is just squishy sounds" quote (not actual). And yet, I also think it's possible that "I Ain't Got No Heart" was written by an actual 14-yr old FZ----its desperation doesn't seem forced (or like a ploy) to me at all. (Nice surf-rock undertow there, too.)

* Also, Zappa's obsession with "plastic" and "plastics" vs. Poly Styrene's (who I think did a lot more with it, actually, mainly because she made it funnier).

* Most of the doo-wop parodies work for me despite the words and the "knowingness": mainly because I still hear yearning and swooping in the voices. Also, some of those original doo-wop spoken word bits are indeed funny, Zappa was just rendering the humour in more explicit terms. The Stones's cover of the Coasters "Down Home Girl" seems to me in this vein also. (Never did get into Ruben and the Jets, though.)

* There are some amazing musical and vocal bits on Freak Out!: The tinkly piano rolls in "Wowie Zowie" (kids love this song when they hear it; my nephews did anyway); the shredded guitar tones in "Hungry Freaks, Daddy" (a sibling to some of Jimmy Page's Yardbirds stuff--i.e., "A Certain Girl"); the weird, stoned, reverbed-out beauty of "Who Are the Brain Police"; the melodicism of "You're Probably Wondering Why I'm Here"; the "motherly-otherly-brotherly" word play in "Motherly Love"; the thick, double-tracked vocals in "Trouble Every Day" and the similarity in the riff to PAul Revere & the Raiders' "Steppin' Out"; oh, and kazoos all over the place.

* Speaking of which, I just played a few tracks while making breakfast, and my wife and I laughed hard because our puppy perked up his ears and looked all confused everytime the kazoo part in "Hungry Freaks, Daddy" came up--almost as if on cue! (cf. Pet Sounds)

scott woods (s woods), Saturday, 31 May 2003 13:42 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Also, there's possibly nothing more dangerous or futile than trying to convert a Zappa-hater to the other side--I mean, I love some of Zappa's (the Mothers's) music, but I feel a lot more in step with the haters, for some reason.

scott woods (s woods), Saturday, 31 May 2003 14:14 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

well, i wasn't really trying to convert anyone. if mark or anyone else really doesn't like zappa and his music, that's their prerogative. i was just responding to the criticisms of same in this thread, and in the spirit in which the thread was created.

along with the "rockist or not?" angle, i also agree with the "punk" angle. not a few people have considered Zappa to have been one of the godfathers of punk, though less so with his music than his attitude. (since i'm not so up on my LA punk, the punk/new wave groups that immediately come to mind in a comparison with Zappa would be Devo and the Fall, both of whom always reminded me of the Mothers). which may be another reason why he got under the skins of later, punk-influenced listeners -- i.e., here's a guy who had a lot of similar attitudes, lyrical conceits, etc., as the punks, but didn't make "punk" music and in fact was openly hostile to it. Zappa isn't as easily embraceable a pre-punk musical figure as, say, Lou Reed.

Tad (llamasfur), Saturday, 31 May 2003 18:06 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

some biographical stuff, as to why some of the lyrics on freak out! might be a little more "direct" than was usually the case on a zappa record -- i think that FZ had divorced his first wife at or around the time of freak out! (and had yet to marry his second wife, now his widow). so the sentiments on stuff like "i ain't got no heart" or "how could i be such a fool" might have been a little more genuine -- or as "heart on his sleave" as a notoriously non-"heart on his sleave" lyricist like Zappa could get.

Tad (llamasfur), Saturday, 31 May 2003 18:09 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

yes tad, thx, i do want ppl to disagree w.me

mark s (mark s), Saturday, 31 May 2003 18:11 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Okay: you're talking crap! (To the small extent that I like Zappa even less than you do.)

Martin Skidmore (Martin Skidmore), Saturday, 31 May 2003 19:01 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

apropos to nothing, and re woiiftm and cruising with ruben and the jets: on their original cd versions, zappa scrapped large portions of those 2 recordings (i.e., the rhythm section) and overdubbed them with the instrumentals from his then-current band (Scott Thunes on bass and Chad Wackerman on drums, i think). zappa's rationale for doing so was, to put it mildly, pretty slippery -- at one point, he claimed that the original masters were unusable (though they managed to "reappear" when woiiftm was re-remastered in 1995). but another reason he gave -- and one closer to the truth, i think -- is that he wasn't pleased with the original sound, and that he wanted to "update" the sixties sound with one that was more "friendly" to the ears of mid-eighties listeners. seems odd now, esp. since one of the biggest rips on zappa's eighties recordings among zappa-niks is that they were colder and more sterile-sounding than his earlier, pre-Barking Pumpkins studio productions. it's still instructive, though for several reasons: (a) zappa seemed to be aware that maybe one of the things that made modern audiences wary of his sixties recordings was their sound -- that eighties production techniques had so conditioned listeners and their expectations as to what a CD should sound like that such expectations were a barrier to appreciating music recorded in less-technologically advanced times (and wasn't this view somewhat vindicated by the stones' recent reissuing their sixties back catalogue with a vastly different sound?); (b) however correct (a) might be, Zappa also badly underestimated how attached some had become to the original sound of the sixties recordings -- he called it "fetishization" (which may be right) and others might call such a reaction "rockist."

Tad (llamasfur), Saturday, 31 May 2003 19:37 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

*emerges fifteen (not too) freak-ed-out-sounding tracks later, not much the wiser, neither greatly illuminated nor singularly entertained. murmurs, sourly, 'period piece' & 'darn-dang-doodle' & 'has not aged well', and thinks of the time spent on "monster magnet", "help, i'm a rock" and "trouble every day" as of time spent miserably and uselessly. considers, tho, playing "go cry on somebody else's shoulder" or "wowie zowie" or "it can't happen here" in one of the future radio shows ...possibly. selects another album from 1966, wayne shorter's adam's apple, to be listened to next. makes coffee*

t\'\'t (t\'\'t), Saturday, 31 May 2003 21:40 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

I love some of Zappa's (the Mothers's) music, but I feel a lot more in step with the haters, for some reason.

I think I agree most with this viewpoint.

Dadaismus (Dada), Sunday, 1 June 2003 14:05 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

It took "Ruben and the Jets" for me to appreciate a lot of teh tracks on "Freak Out". Yet, that album remains a curiosity for me, since I don't really warm up to the garage-ish sound. The whole early Mothers sound gelled on "In it for the money", where the pop sensibility, the anti-hippie humour and the experimental leanings really merged.
"Uncle Meat" will always remain my favourite though..

Fabrice (Fabfunk), Monday, 2 June 2003 06:58 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Tad - what's your take on Lee Ving?

dave q, Monday, 2 June 2003 09:30 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

two years pass...
I'm currently doing an overnight gig at a community radio station, playing Zappa's "Lather" album in its entirety. Thought the comments here were interesting, and I may read some on the air as a way to add balance to the program. I won't argue for Zappa or against Zappa. I can see how he was a condescending prick in many ways, but nonetheless, he stimulates my mind and makes me think, by virtue simply of his extreme eccentricity. And his intelligence--you have to admit it. But an asshole too, there's no doubt about it. As Grace Slick put it, "the most intelligent asshole I ever met." All in all, an extremely interesting figure in music--let's face it, love him or hate him, here we are talking about him. He brings about strong feelings, and that's what art is all about. And what a guitarist!

Joseph Allen Russell, Thursday, 13 October 2005 10:51 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

Any Way the Wind Blows is the only song I actually like on this record

I think this song is the best thing he ever did! And i'm far from being a Zappahata.

Dadaismus (Dada), Thursday, 13 October 2005 11:38 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

T/S: Freak Out! version vs. Cruising with Ruben & the Jets version.

I admire FZ the person less and less, esp. after reading Barry Miles' bio, but I listen to the original Mothers' albums more and more.

William Paper Scissors (Rock Hardy), Thursday, 13 October 2005 12:07 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

random bump

Britain's Obtusest Shepherd (Alan), Friday, 14 October 2005 06:22 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

belated response to sinker's original stream (gad how did i miss this first time around?):

from pov of "cackling crack," my dad was there and assured me that even then it was viewed with carpetbagging suspicion, precisely because it landed right in the middle of possibly the most happily extended period of mainstream experimental weirdness/cohabitation in pop - in other words you had this whole STREAM of fuck-what's-going-on-here records arriving week after week, from revolver to pet sounds to aftermath to ammmusic to heliocentric to tauhid to globe unity to a quick one to blonde on blonde + the esp stuff was only just coming through to britain + lamonte y & reich was just starting to get noticed + etc. etc., thus freak out was subjected to the "anyone who says they're mad" isn't meme. whereas vu + nico seven months later was bought by nobody, but the nobodies who bought it (incl my dad) thought, ok this is crackerbarrel warholian carpetbagging, but of a higher order. obv it was unplayed on mainstream '66 uk radio but peel noticeably didn't bother with zappa/mothers much at all throughout his/their career/s though it must have got some late night pirate plays.

my pov on freak out now is that if mike love had gone diving instead of brian w this is how smile would have come out sounding - ostensibly "adventurous" but incredibly smug about it, as in hey chicks dig my weird record collection (this is also the differential between the 148 names on freak out and the names on NWW's chance meeting 'cos stapleton KNEW that only blokes were likely to buy the record, even though laura bought it back in '79 time ahem).

but then it becomes more complicated insofar as hot rats DID get to me when i was v young (7/8, maybe) and underwood's alto and sugarcane's violin freaking out on gumbo variations hit me (ditto ponty doing king kong as opposed to king kong on uncle meat) so that + peaches en regalia (greatest chatshow theme tune never) + beefheart's vox made it a truly guilty pleasure.

maybe he needed to get into the top 40 more. but perhaps the airsucked airs and graceless graces conspired against that (see also mark s' brilliant post on "subversion" in current brown wedge menu). that being said, i spent the summer of '82 in new york while valley girl was top 20, and predictably IT ALL SUDDENLY MADE SENSE, thus zappa falls into the same category as the police, viz. insufferable when out of the charts, indispensable when in them.

the tears of quiet rage in ben w woefully trying to convert derek b to the frank z cause in invisible jukebox are still a compelling magnet for the discernible reader.

Marcello Carlin (nostudium), Friday, 14 October 2005 07:00 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

my pov on freak out now is that if mike love had gone diving instead of brian w this is how smile would have come out sounding

couldn't have said it better!

i never cease to be impressed at mark's willingness to dig into his own likes and dislikes this way, espec since it yields such interesting and weird results.

J.D. (Justyn Dillingham), Friday, 14 October 2005 08:28 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

mark on bw v. related to latest round of dissensian threads!

Sterling Clover (s_clover), Friday, 14 October 2005 08:36 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

Well I wasn't going to mention that but I'm glad you did. Apparently according to Dissensus, ILx now lacks "an adequate sense of comradeship." In the original Stalinist sense, presumably.

Marcello Carlin (nostudium), Friday, 14 October 2005 08:47 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

oh ahha not like that. i meant the threads on dissensus and here alike w/r/t bw's piece on rip it up.

Sterling Clover (s_clover), Friday, 14 October 2005 10:42 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

well i got kicked off dissensus for agreeing with said bw piece so there's a correspondence there somewhere!

Marcello Carlin (nostudium), Friday, 14 October 2005 10:43 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

I read that BW piece on Rip It Up and thought he made a lot of good points!

Dadaismus (Dada), Friday, 14 October 2005 10:46 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

seven years pass...

Random bump... A lot of tremendous and compelling writing and thinking on this thread.

Clarke B., Sunday, 6 October 2013 00:04 (five years ago) Permalink

agreed. this thread prompted me to buy that ben watson book back in the day and make a mighty effort to get into zappa tho all that really stuck was hot rats, jazz from hell and bongo fury. when i romanticize "old ilm" i think of this instead of like, politely twee 100000 word disagreements about the manic street preachers.

adam, Sunday, 6 October 2013 00:47 (five years ago) Permalink

Totally... And the Dave Q "x versus y" threads. I'd buy a book that compiled all of his intro paragraphs for those threads.

Clarke B., Sunday, 6 October 2013 00:50 (five years ago) Permalink

And I find myself in this thread because I'm in the middle of an "intro to Zappa" phase myself, and am trying to work out my thus-far pretty complex response pattern to his works.

Clarke B., Sunday, 6 October 2013 00:51 (five years ago) Permalink

ultimately i couldn't hang with the zappa wacky.

adam, Sunday, 6 October 2013 01:17 (five years ago) Permalink

I'm having this weird repulsion/attraction thing where some of the stuff really puts me off but I can't help wanting to relisten to it. (Part of it is because it just SOUNDS so damn good--did you notice how beautifully and dynamically recorded his stuff is? At least on vinyl, which is how I've been gathering them.) My favorite stuff so far, probably unsurprisingly, is the really instrumental-based early-'70s fusion stuff: Hot Rats, Waka/Jawaka, Grand Wazoo. But I'm also loving One Size Fits All (this one might be The One for me), Uncle Meat, and Overnite Sensation. It's Zappa himself that I'm having the hardest time with--figuring out where he's coming from, what he likes about what he's doing, how sincere he is, etc. It's fascinating but a bit obtuse and difficult and not like many engagements with music I've ever had before. That's probably what keeps me digging and investigating.

Clarke B., Sunday, 6 October 2013 01:32 (five years ago) Permalink

Listening to FZ's work performed by non-Zappa chamber ensembles is a good way in to get a clear sense of the composer, past the mustache and the ego and the dumb comedy music and the baggage. Omnibus Wind Ensemble, Le Concert Impromptu, Ensemble Ambrosius, Ensemble Modern. Inventionis Mater has some really good duo arrangements for clarinet and guitar. I've played a couple of pieces by Le Concert Impromptu for someone who claimed to loathe Zappa's music. "I quite like this!" -- turns out they just hated FZ's rep, not his music.

cops on horse (WilliamC), Sunday, 6 October 2013 01:40 (five years ago) Permalink

i really enjoyed the real frank zappa book, his autobiography, even before i got into the music. it veers between scatology and paranoid defensiveness and self-righteous near-libertarian proselytizing in an oddly pleasant way, like the best of his music. i can't speak to the recording quality as all my zappa shit is budget-ass 90s rykodisc but i agree that the Problem of Zappa, so to speak, is to some degree his greatest appeal.

adam, Sunday, 6 October 2013 01:40 (five years ago) Permalink

William, I can appreciate that perspective, and in fact if I were trying to get some of my friends into Zappa I'd probably play them something like side two of Grand Wazoo, something entirely without his voice/persona. I'll definitely check out some of the chamber arrangements... Although, I do think as Adam states above that his persona is one of the most compelling things about his body of work.

Clarke B., Sunday, 6 October 2013 01:55 (five years ago) Permalink

I don't think anyone has to embrace the entire Zappa catalouge but just focusing on the late 60s-early 70s stuff gave me an apprecition of the man.

I got the glares, the mutterings, the snarls (President Keyes), Sunday, 6 October 2013 02:08 (five years ago) Permalink

when i romanticize "old ilm" i think of this instead of like [insert anything]

otm. hell of an op. makes me almost want to try to like zappa. again. almost.

pervilege as a meme (contenderizer), Sunday, 6 October 2013 02:16 (five years ago) Permalink

yeah I agree, mark s and dave q threads are amazing and awesome

see also "is _____ rock?"

outsider house rules (Drugs A. Money), Sunday, 6 October 2013 02:35 (five years ago) Permalink

i'm watching 200 motels right now! i like the music in 200 motels.

scott seward, Sunday, 6 October 2013 02:43 (five years ago) Permalink

Yes! 200 Motels is amazing. Really love the acid-rock Flo & Eddie-assisted jams on it. The plot is nonsense unless you watch it a dozen times and read about it and then it's still nonsense but at least you sort of understand the point behind the nonsense.

My favorite Zappa stuff I think is the 1st side of "We're Only In It For the Money". "Concentration Moon" is like a mix of '67 Flower Power folk hymns and weird angular Talking Heads-style spoken word pre-punk.

Emperor Cos Dashit (Adam Bruneau), Monday, 7 October 2013 20:54 (five years ago) Permalink

Just found out last night I've got a ticket for 200 Motels

Tommy McTommy (Tom D.), Tuesday, 8 October 2013 12:11 (five years ago) Permalink

Jealous. I may have posted this on some other FZ thread, but if you've never seen it, it's fun.


Low down bad refrigerator (Dan Peterson), Tuesday, 8 October 2013 13:56 (five years ago) Permalink

two weeks pass...

(xp) Having just seen the "200 Motels" film last night, as part of the Rest of Noise festival, I'm debating whether I should just give my ticket for the concert to some poor hapless ticketless Zappaphile, so abysmal was the movie. I'd seen it before but hadn't realised just how dire it was, however I did stay to the end, half the audience didn't!

Thomas K Amphong (Tom D.), Sunday, 27 October 2013 11:33 (four years ago) Permalink

help i'm a rockist
― mark s (mark s)

the late great, Sunday, 27 October 2013 19:40 (four years ago) Permalink

doesn't ringo make an appearance in that movie? what an odd film career he had.

(The Other) J.D. (J.D.), Monday, 28 October 2013 17:21 (four years ago) Permalink

An FZ fan for nearly 35 years and I still haven't seen 200 Motels. I really dislike the Flo & Eddie era.

Victor Immature (WilliamC), Monday, 28 October 2013 17:37 (four years ago) Permalink

Agree on the 200 Motels movie. I haven't seen it since it was on TV years ago (that long ago that I videotaped it, but never ever watched it again). I think it was Danny Baker that judged it "unwatchable", which is just about OTM.

Bloody Snail, Monday, 28 October 2013 21:32 (four years ago) Permalink

I have a VHS copy too, haven't watched in years but certain parts still resonate with me: the "Broth" segment above, the animation sequence ("Dental Hygiene Dilemma") and the finale, "Strictly Genteel." And "Magic Fingers" is a good rocker. It's an incoherent mess, but not without merits imo.

The sweet spot between bad and unpleasant (Dan Peterson), Monday, 28 October 2013 22:07 (four years ago) Permalink

The music's OK, esp. the rock stuff and I like Flo + Eddie's vocals (I prefer the Turtles though)

Thomas K Amphong (Tom D.), Tuesday, 29 October 2013 13:57 (four years ago) Permalink

So saw this last night and (eventually) enjoyed it but, Jesus, there's far too much of it - but that's Zappa for you, I suppose. The, uh, dramatic elements of the production were a bit amateurish (despite Jessica Hynes(!) being one of the pariticpants) but the singing was good and the orchestra fine. There's too much avant garde skweedly-skwonk - stuff I usually like but there didn't appeat to be enough variety in Zappa's skweedly-skwonk writing - but from "Penis Dimension" onwards, when it just becomes sort of bomabstic showtune/ rock opera music, it was great and genuinely stirring.

Thomas K Amphong (Tom D.), Wednesday, 30 October 2013 09:06 (four years ago) Permalink

I love all the sweaty 70s rock tunes from 200 Motels like "Mystery Roach", "Magic Fingers", and "Shove It Right In".

It's true that the movie is overly long, but there are tons of great moments throughout.

Moodles, Wednesday, 30 October 2013 13:49 (four years ago) Permalink

Didn't play any of the rock stuff @ the concert unfortunately.

Thomas K Amphong (Tom D.), Wednesday, 30 October 2013 13:58 (four years ago) Permalink

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