Frankly Brilliant

 

I painted this seven feet high

I didn’t “get” Frank Zappa for a long time. My friend Slow Uncle, did, and tried to interest me. I eventually bought We’re Only In It For The Money, largely for the hilarious send up of Sgt Pepper’s album cover, but I didn’t think the songs were very good. I mentioned a couple posts back being exposed to “The Mudshark” from Live at Fillmore East, June 1971, and my parents disapproval, but I wasn’t really ready for it. I liked the toilet humor and everything, but I hated jazz and the music was over my head.

Still cracks me up

When I moved into my dorm room at San Diego State in the fall of 1976, we were encouraged to paint our rooms or if we felt like it, murals outside our rooms. Sounds crazy, but this was the ’70’s. Even though I wasn’t a fan of his music I always admired his irreverence, that’s why I painted his likeness from We’re Only In It For The Money next to the door outside my room. I don’t have a picture of it, but to the right is what I copied, including Frank’s wondering, “Is This Phase One Of Lumpy Gravy?”

I was no longer living in the dorm in the Spring of 1978 when he played the amphitheatre on campus where I witnessed a phenomenal performance. After the last song the audience stood and began clapping and yelling for what seemed to be 30 minutes or more.
Eventually Frank came onstage and said, “You people are crazy. We can hear you all the way in the dressing room”, at which the band came back out and proceeded to play another hour and a half.  Interesting detail:  There was a guy in Frank’s band I never heard of  that played guitar and did a dead-on Dylan impersonation.  His name was Adrian Belew.   A month or three later I went to see David Bowie at the San Diego Sports Arena and there he was again! I thought he was great until he started singing on King Crimson records.

A couple months ago, Q, drummer in Foglizard, where I am a member of the rhythm section, said he planned to spend the summer listening to Frank, and did I own anything he could borrow?  I had Fillmore East June 1971, and Ahead Of Their Time.  I did some research and managed to acquire 17 FZ releases for personal review.
I tend to prefer the work of the original Mothers of Invention. Maybe because they were a band he joined and took over. After he fired them in 1969, he hired ever more amazing musicians, but with a diminishing amount of soul.

In around 1991, I bought a cd copy of Cruisin With Ruben And The Jets, an album I remembered as being a fun parody/tribute to old R&B and Doo Wop. There was something terribly wrong with it, which turned out to be that Frank had rerecorded the original drum and bass parts for reasons only understood by him. I got rid of it right away. Turns out He also ruined We’re Only In It For The Money in a similar fashion. Fan’s outcry against this was so strong he eventually restored We’re Only In It For The Money, but not before referring to them as “fetishists”. He never got around to Ruben before his death, so I found an original vinyl rip of the lp. It’s a mystery why he thought those bass and drum tracks needed replacement. It’s kind of like Paul McCartney replacing John Lennon with Mark Knopfler.
If you buy the Zappa Family Trust’s Lumpy Money, you’ll be treated to the horrible remix of WOIIFTM as a “Bone us” disc.

"A last ditch effort by the Mothers to get their crummy music on the radio"

I encourage you to read the whole Zappa/Mothers story on Wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Zappa

If you don’t have the time or inclination here is an interesting tidbit:

During his childhood Zappa was often sick, suffering from asthma, earaches and sinus problems. A doctor treated the latter by inserting a pellet of radium into each of Zappa’s nostrils; little was known at the time about the potential dangers of being subjected to even small amounts of therapeutic radiation. Nasal imagery and references appear both in his music and lyrics, as well as in the collage album covers created by his long-time visual collaborator, Cal Schenkel.

Long Out Of Print

Anyway I’ve compiled a fun disc worth of music by the original Mothers. There are some songs from Mothermania, a long out of print “best of” compiled by Frank in 1968, containing substantially different mixes from the original albums. Also are some cuts from Cruisin With Ruben And The Jets, which is kind of the spiritual center of my comp which I call Motherama. All these tracks come from rips of the original vinyl releases. The rest are from Freak Out, Absolutely Free, Uncle Meat, Burnt Weeny Sandwich, and Weasels Ripped My Flesh.

I also included a passage from Playground Psychotics (1992) which has Jeff Simmons quitting the group a few days before shooting 200 Motels. He was replaced by Ringo Starr’s chauffer at the last minute. This is followed by two tunes from Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up, an out of print 1970 album by Jeff Simmons produced by Frank under the pseudonym of Lamar Bruister. “Lucille” and “Wonderful Wino” are about the only songs in Frank’s catalog that credit a co-writer. Frank plays guitar and Ian Underwood is featured. Both tunes turn up later in Frank’s discography in less interesting versions.

For your immediate listening pleasure I’ve included a rare “live” version of “Plastic People”. I read that before real music was written for it they played it over “Louie, Louie”. This must be that.

I think this stuff has aged really well.  Frank’s social commentary was/is right on the money.

I am now a fan.

Plastic People

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9 thoughts on “Frankly Brilliant

  1. Thanks, Alan. FZ is an artist I haven’t been able to connect to yet. Thanks for the album recommendations, that will make it so much easier to navigate his extensive catalogue.

  2. I find it entirely possible that if one missed the boat and got into Frank and the M.O.I. anytime after “Roxy And Elsewhere”, it would be easy to sort of dismiss him as some kind of joke…I was lucky and deranged enough in High School to get to see them live in the 1970’s several times. Frank was a regular on New Years Eve for years. Being a long time record freak, it was great to see him bring back songs like More Trouble Every Day from Freak Out. That guy was also the most phenomenal guitar player I’ve ever seen. “It’s God, God, I see God!”….”Hot Rats” and “The Grand Wazoo” are pivotal points. His lyrical commentary is all very relevant to this world we still get to live in. Frank wrote informed by Phantasm and The Ugly Truth. Which don’t seem that far apart to me at this point in my life. Even though Frank claims to never have taken drugs, I think I need to go roll a joint with my High School Diploma.

  3. My first exposure was in 1973 when big brother brought home Just Another Band from L.A.—we were, after all, just another suburban family from L.A. and Frank rewarded our hometown loyalties with many LA cultural/media references on this live album recorded at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion. JABFLA was strange, musically adventurous, bawdy and hilarious: I was immediately hooked. I only came to realize that much of Frank’s music was JAZZ after it was too late and I had voraciously consumed everything available on vinyl, beginning with his “new” record The Grand Wazoo —I still go out and buy every holy relic which the Zappa Family Trust sees fit to bless us with…

  4. That was the album you first played me. I can still remember staring at the cover. I liked “Eddie Are Ya Kiddin'” right off, because it was funny and had some really good riffs at the top.

  5. I was reading my daughter’s text-book for some lit course the other day; the subject was Classical Greek comedy & tragedy——Daniel Boornstein riffing on the profundity and significance of comedy and it’s critical powers really made me start thinking about Frank’s schtick in a whole new light…I was never really one to wish Frank would just shut up’n play his guitar anyway; just one more reason not to have to apologize for what, to some people, looks puerile. To put it another way, Zappa’s music seems even less to me like a ‘vice’ now! Time to go listen to The Adventures of Greggery Peccary and Joe’s Garage!! I can honestly say that the only Zappa record which I find unpleasant to listen to is Thing-Fish

  6. Great post. Just like I got into FZ later, I just found this today whilst doing further research on Ruben and the Jets, a copy of which I just found at a record shop here in town. I just wanted to chime in that the Flo and Eddy lineup is one of my favorites. Especially noteworthy (besides Fillmore East, Chunga’s Revenge, and 200 Motels) is Just Another Band from LA, featuring the opus “Billy the Mountain” and a superior version of “Call any Vegetable.”

  7. You said “record store”. Is your copy of “Ruben And The Jets” a cd or vinyl copy? The cd version is inferior due to the overdubbed drums and bass.
    The restored cd version is entitled, “Greasy Love Songs”, for some reason. It doesn’t matter why, as it sounds great.
    Hopefully you got a vinyl copy. That’s the shit.
    Frank was an interesting guy.

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