Waving at the Fickle Future

By Ed Denson

Berkeley Barb, October 20, 1967

Like the Beach Boys the Mothers of Invention are from Los Angeles. They share a certain tendency to distort reality, the Mothers,  operating somewhat in reaction to the Beach Boys are uncompromisingly dedicated to the unpleasant.

Where the Beach Boys have a gentle Rousseau cover, the Mothers have a crude collage with advertising slogans, and a photograph of Frank Zappa, their creator. Inside the double fold lp is another Zappa face, with the slogan KILL UGLY RADIO. Radio announcers love it, it hangs by them as they continue to create ugly radio.

This contradiction is the Mothers basis for existing, and their sales which must be over 100,000 by now indicate that the contradiction is wide spread among the middle class whom they revile.

Their special targets on this lp are: Johnson, racial intolerance, pop music, the Los Angeles police force, high school aspirations, toy makers, and the sexual mores of the establishment. Anyone who attacks all that can't be all bad, I figure.

But the Mothers come close. They are so relentlessly heavy handed, sloppy, incoherent and shallow thru most of the record that the good parts are small gems floating in an hour of garbage. They are, after all a middle class band, and suffer from the same problems as those they attack.

Now, gentle reader, we are going to be faced with a evident contradiction in this review, just as in the last one. I like the Mothers record, in part. Some of it I don't like very much at all, some of it I like a whole lot. It is uneven. In general I like the music much more than the ideas expressed, for despite Zappa's limited rhymic conceptions he is able to brilliantly borrow and synthesize current music, and that is where I figure the wave of the future is at. Radio stations, like KPFA and KMPX expecially since they have cultural pretentions should play this record, a lot. They don't.

Side one is generally a loss. It opens with "Plastic People" a poorly conceived attack on Johnson, the L.A. Police, and the listener. It doesn't cohere, it is embarassingly naive, and ineptly done.

The rest of the side is concerned with a private feud the Mothers have with vegetables, evidently warning that attempts to establish relations with them will begin with taking them to church and end with sexual relations. I take this to be a comment on middle class race relations, but I may be mistaken. It is not very interesting.

Side two is a lot better. It opens with a drunk hotel pianist trying to get thru a mercifully short song, fading into "Status Back Baby" an attack on a high school athlete who loses confidence because he is slower at painting posters than the others. A minor statement on a par with Yellow Submarine or the W. Woodpecker Symphony, but pleasant, especially because of the inane cheerfulness of the music – a blend of fifties rock cliches which I like. "Uncle Bernie's Farm" is a reasonably inept attack on toy makers, and "Son of Suzy Creamcheese" is short.

Then comes the success. "Brown Shoe's Don't Make It" is a seven minute collage probably examining middle class life. The music is brilliant, the plot a little incoherent, the execution good. It opens with a brief scenario of an idiot wondering if he should quit school ("Do you want to grow a beard" shrieks a female voice ending with "Do you love it, do you hate it, there it is the way you made it, wow“).

The second part moves into the "world of hidden desires" involving a professional establishmenter's sexual fantasy of fucking a 13 year old while his wife is at an orchid show.

Then comes some sort of second thoughts. "Only 13 and she knows how to nasty" says a pleased voice; our drunk hotel pianist comes back and sings "do it again, and do it some more, its nasty for sure" and finally a dixie land band is singing about smothering his daughter in chocolate syrup and making her "do a nasty on the white house lawn”" but then he wakes from his reverie. "T.V. dinner by the pool, I'm so glad I finished school" says our idiot, and the piece ends.

So there it is, a mixture of some brilliant satire and some real crap. How, you ask does this mixture get out, isn't there someone whose job is to see that whatever a record company issues is at least moderately well done?

Well, yes there is, but this person no longer functions in the record industry. Instead we have what is called artistic freedom, coupled with the economic necessity of issuing whatever is recorded. As far as I know only Atlantic who has $25,000 invested in a Fugs master which they decided was unissuable, has stopped a project once it was begun.

Recording is no longer what it used to be, because there has been a slow escalation of multitracking, and editing techniques, which has brought the state of the art to the point where very few people know how to do it, and it is very expensive to find out how.

The record company man will come into the studio while the engineer is running a board that looks like a jet plane's panel of controls, and the musicians have their thousands of dollars worth of inexplicable machinery to play on. It costs a couple of hundred dollars an hour to run all that stuff, so the record company man just isn't about to ask that someone tell him what is happening.

Once the session is over, the expenses will be in the tens of thousands of dollars, and if anyone notices now that the material is bad, the artist, who has almost gone insane during the procedure of making the record, will scream censorship, and no good group will sign with the record company.

So no one says much, and this stuff comes out, however, it turned out during the session. I don't see any answer to the problem.

(Don't buy Homer and Jethro's Nashville Cats lp, it really stinks. They have lost the crude humour they once had, and have become sadly in-group. Their arranger is about as unimaginative as 40 minutes permits.) 

Next week, perhaps, the Beatles and the Fugs meet the demon reviewer.

Read by OCR software. If you spot errors, let me know afka (at) afka.net