Greatest Mother Of Them All

By Kent Matheson

Rat Subterranean News, March 4, 1968


"The present day composer refuses to die"--Edgar Varese, 1921.

 

      Is Frank Zappa alive, hiding in an L.A. high school locker room? Eating soggy french fries at the local Root Beer stand? An apparition of American cultures sulking in Laurel Canyon? Topical material withstanding, Frank Zappa, lead freak-composer-arranger-conductor of the Mothers (Of Invention) is alive and still freaking on the high-adolescent scene in L.A.

      Musically, the search begins above the smog level where the business of artistic evolution and revolution, death and rebirth hardly concerns itself with the politics of adolescentia. Here the coordinates are far more elusive and involved for the where-its-at cartographer.

      Not that the L.A. vignettes aren't useful. In fact, the Mothers two works offer the best social commentary since early Dylan and Ochs, but the quality of experience rapped about the Southern California car scene etc. – renders them esoteric to many.

      This raises the question of why this subject has been chosen and why J it plays such a dominant role in the Mothers cosmology.

      First, the putdown of high school scenes is pervasive. A good deal of humor comes from lines like "I gave you my high school ring at the, Root Beer stand, it was really so grand." Carrying the attack beyond the school yard and drive-in The Mothers strike out at the flabby overculture with: "If your children ever find out how lame you really are, they'll murder you in your sleep." (Their closing message to tourists at the Hollywood Whiskey A-Go-Go.)

      Unconfined to these easy targets, The Mothers perform their most admirable service – selected outrages inside the temple. With lines and words they send torrents of invective to skewer the listeners with bits and rusty fragments of their own collective history" Again and again they expose current hip parlance such as "Oh Wow!" "Groovy, cool man," etc. for what it is – the exterior expression of much of the hip subculture's paucity and plasticity.

      It is in this failure to really go beyond the level of '39 Chevys, fuzzy dice, high school rings, etc., and even more humiliating, the will to transcend the vast plastic American culture at large – "Liquor store supreme," ''T.V. dinners by the pool" – that Zappa finds such a fecund target for his studied art of offensiveness. Anecdotes abound, testifying to Zappa/s expertise in this diversion. Exemplary is Zappa confronted by legions of stony-eyed followers basking in their own apparent coolness, the product of nothing more than being stoned. Zappa rasps: "People that take drugs drag me!" These assaults are in a spirit of edifying kindness compared to America's infinite capacity to degrade, defile and co-opt-witness image exploitation by Mad Ave. – 'psychedelic revolutionary"

      A second notion has it that Zappa's whole L.A. teen freak trip is just bad karma he accumulated while going through that scene. Ten years later is a long time removed to be still hung-up on any scene regardless of whether it's the quintessential vision of American Culture. In any case, the level and depth of the satire isn't matched by any contemporary group, possible excepting The Fugs, but The Fugs are on a different trip not readily comparable to the Mothers.'

      When Zappa chose to go outside the teen scene for contemporary cultural run-downs he gives us some of the best social commentary ever delivered through the pop music medium. 'Trouble Coming Every Day' (on Freak Out, their first album) is perhaps the finest analysis of the urban insurrection scene, in any informational media. Written during the Watts rebellion, it brilliantly exposes the T.V. exploitation of the situation; the insanity unleashed by the eruption, and finally the soberly accurate prophecy that this is simply the inception of violent revolution in America. The first song on the album, 'Hungry, Freaks, Daddy' is even more to the point. His comments about this song are illustrative his vision of America: "Drop out of school before your mind rots from exposure to our educational system. Forget about the Senior Prom and go to the library and educate yourself if you've got any guts. Some of you like pep rallies and plastic robots who tell you what to read. Forget I mentioned it. This song has no message. Rise for the flag salute ... "Again the morass of trying to address the high school mind, but this mission is of importance, and again the haunting possibility that this is really where America is at.

      Zappa as composer is another matter. His lack of recognition as a serious composer is a fair indicator of where pop audiences are at. The inability of people to realize the things he does with his music lends a great deal of credence to his contention that for most listening audiences, the highest level of possible involvement will never go much beyond "neo-greaser rock." Until the present, much of the verbal content of his work has been simply to assure financial success. Statements by the Beatles that they have been deeply influenced by Karlheinz Stockhausen and other serious composers and that this influence affected works such as "Strawberry Fields Forever" can be dismissed as so much pop prattle. Zappa remains the only pop musician seriously exploring new areas in music made accessible by Stravinsky, Varese (the two modern composers most influential in Zappa's work) Webern and Cage.

      Scoring, arranging, and conducting all of his own material, he has achieved a repertory of bizarre synthesis embracing diverse elements from 1950s rhythm and blues to much of the literature bf 20th century art music and from Bulgarian choral music to contemporary developments in rock. Not just a synthesizer, Zappa strikes out on his own using his own works and recording session spontaneity. A taste of what he's into at present should be heard in his forthcoming movie, "Uncle Meat." Also planned is a collection of three recordings of the movie sound track to be released soon.

      Zappa acknowledges the greatest debt to early 50's R&B for the group's inspiration and direction. This is obviously a weird combination with his professed interest and dedication to 20th century classical music. However, he is able to achieve a volatile resolution of these elements and others, creating for himself a role' as chief purveyor of musically induced psychophallic experience – complete mindfuck, giving listeners a glance at the directions in which Frank Zappa and the Mothers are freaking.

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