Mother Is A Mother
By Gene Youngblood
Frank Zappa makes music for the ugliest part of your body. He wants to beautify it. But you have to shovel a lot of manure to enrich a garden as barren as the conscience of contemporary America.
“I'm gonna tell you the way it is
And I'm not gonna be kind or easy
Your whole attitude stinks, I say
And the life you lead is completely empty
You paint your head
Your mind is dead
You don't even know what I just said...."
Realizing that no one will listen to what I'm saying about a genius who realizes that no one listens to what he sings, I offer two personal anecdotes:
1 – Discussing "serious" rock at a concert of the United States of America, I mentioned that rock has renewed my interest in classical music. "I've been listening to Buddy Holly," said a scenie-bopper acquaintance, "that's classical, man."
2 – I told a friend that Frank Zappa has become the new Lenny Bruce, inheriting Bruce's role as anarchist-social critic. "You're wrong," she said. "Lenny loved people. Zappa hates everyone."
Nietzsche: "Know that the noble man stands in everybody's way. The noble man stands in the way of the good too: and even if they call him one of the good, they thus want to do away with him. The noble man wants to create something new and a new virtue. The good want the old, and that the old be preserved. But this is not the danger of the noble man, that he might become one of the good, but a churl a mocker, a destroyer."
"We are the other people
We are the other people
You're the other people too
Found a way to get to you."
Nietzsche: "In a friend one should have one’s best enemy. You should be closest to him with your heart when you resist him. Have you ever seen your friend asleep? Were you not shocked that your friend looks like that? O my friend, man is something that must be overcome."
'We are the other people'
"We are the other people
We are the other people
You're the other people too
Found a way to get to you
Do you think that I love you
Stupid and blind?
Do you think that I dream through the night of holding you near me?"
In the liner notes of "We're Only In It For The Money" there is the information that "this whole monstrosity was conceiver and executed by Frank Zappa as a result of some unpleasant premonitions, August through October, 1967."
Aren't we all plagued with that same creeping premonition from time to time? And don't we all ignore it? The Cream said it this way:
"Please open your eyes
Try to realize
I found out today
We're going wrong
We're going wrong."
Zappa says it this way:
"Unbind your mind
There is no time
To lick your stamps
And paste them in
Discorporate and we'll begin
You'll be absolutely free
Only if you want to be."
Nietzsche: "Know that we envy the truth."
The "good" people envy and hate Frank Zappa because they know that he and all other liberated "freaks" have had the strength to live the truth. And the truth is absolute freedom.
But Frank believes
"There will come a time when everybody
Who is lonely will be free
There will come a time when every evil
That we know will be an evil that we can rise above..."
Are these the words of a man who hates everyone?
Thematically, therefore, Zappa is carrying on the tradition of Lenny Bruce, shocking and scandalizing a society which is unreachable through any other means, holding up a mirror to the naked underbelly of a flaccid ugly Wall Street toad to show him his cancer:
"Bow tie daddy dontcha blow your top
Everything's under control
Bow tie daddy dontcha blow your top
'Cause you think you're gettin' too old
Don't try to do no thinkin'
Just go on with your drinkin'
Just have your fun, you old son of a gun
Then drive home in your Lincoln."
The music of the Mothers is a sound collage...
Structurally, however, the Mothers of Invention are closer to cinema than any other art form, especially the cinema of Jean-Luc Godard. The music of the Mother's is a sound collage, just as the movies of Godard are sight-and-sound collages. And remember that a sound is an image.
The collage is the only viable "modern" art form, and the Mothers and Godard are the only popular artists of any pertinence who are utilizing it properly. The electronic age is a collage age. Our perspectives no longer are unilateral but kaleidoscopic. Our environment is more complex, more "total". We are being fed sensory and extrasensory information constantly from all sides and sources.
This is reflected in the arts: the slow progression of painting from the super-realism of Van Eyck and Vermeer (itself a form of abstraction) to the less representational modes of abstract impressionism and the non-objective splatter paintings of Jackson Pollock.
approaching asoundcollage form on a popular level
In the cinema, too, the pattern is the same: from simplicistic formula films of 1930's Hollywood to the disjointed French New Wave, to the impressionistic New American Cinema, and finally to the mixed-media multi-screen total environments of Expo '67.
So it is natural that music is approaching the collage form on a popular level. Far from confusing, we find these forms comfortable and interesting because they relate more to the world in which we live.
And "the world in which we live" brings up another trait shared by the Mothers and Godard: contemporary colloquialisms. Opponents of Godard often object to his tendency to "throw away" a pertinent point or idea, treating his works as though he had contempt for them In "Alphaville," for example, very serious social observations are given pop art comic book form and thus seem less "serious" than they would if couched in Hollywood's pompous pseudo-profound sobriety.
But that is exactly the point: we don't live yesterday, so why continue to use words and mannerisms of yesterday? Robert Bolt's "A Man For All Seasons" and Jean Anouilh's "Becket" are attempts at "seriousness" by cloaking small kernels of substance in Shakespearean ritual and embroidery. An unthinking audience simply accepts this form as being somehow inherently important. And thus our society is all the more schizophrenic.
It is the same in popular music: Simon and Garfunkel are superb musicians, arrangers and lyricists, but they are sham and they know it ("Fakin' It"). Paul Simon stitches his pretty little arabesque of sweet sounds and soft words and says nothing. That's right, Simon and Garfunkel have nothing to say that hasn't been said over and over again by artists of far greater importance. Remove the cute sarcasms and ultra-hip satires from "Mrs. Robinson" and what do you have: a song as empty as Mike Nichols' movie.
James Blue, Leonard Cohen, Tim Hardin, Joni Mitchell – all the so-called "poets" of contemporary folk-rock are poseurs and phonies who have become very adept at mimetic mastery. They have nothing to say; they just make you think they do with clever form.
To adopt a bit of McLuhanism, electronic media has made all of us artists-in-proxy. A year of concentrated TV-watching or radio-listening is equal to a course in the history of acting, a comprehensive lesson in folk music-writing, script-writing, gaga-telling, movie editing. We live in an age of hyper awareness because electronic media has extended our perception. But the result is emptiness: we are glib, we are attuned to the temper and tone of the times, but we can't see inside. We know effect, not cause.
'in it for the MONEY'
The Mothers and Jean-Luc Godard are important because they recognize this and do not succumb. In fact, they react. Listen to "The Beat Goes On" by the vanilla Fudge, "Of Cabbages and Kings" by Chad and Jeremy, "Days of Future passed" by the Moody Blues and "What Love" by the Collectors – and then compare them with Frank Zappa's "We're Only In It For The Money" and "Lumpy Gravy." I think you'll see what I mean.
All of the above sound-collages are loaded with ritual and energy expanded for nothing: "The Beat Goes On" is so bad it's embarrassing; "Of Cabbages and Kings" could have been made by anyone with access to Columbia Records' sound effects library. It says absolutely nothing except that
... editing not image but time ...
we've had a history, and that our history is full of wars and contradictions. But, my god, anyone who had 8th-grade Voltaire knows that "history is little else than a picture of human crimes and misfortunes." What new observations are Chad and Jeremy really making? And no one could say their sound collage is structurally inventive. They simply follow rules set down decades earlier by men of far greater genius.
But Frank Zappa has actually revolutionized the popular sound collage. He edits his pieces exactly as one would edit a movie: that is, editing not image or sound but time. Editing audio tape or movie film is the act of editing time. Few musicians or filmmakers understand this, and their work suffers accordingly.
Zappa's aural assemblages are tightly-paced and orchestrated. Like Godard, he "throws away" pertinent effects – all the more to emphasize them and and to demand that the listener really pay attention. Zappa's style actually can sharpen our perception, make us better listeners, rather than perpetuate the status-quo by anticipating and matching our pre-conditioned expectations.
And his use of colloquial language is inspired:
"Early in the morning Daddy Dinky went to work
Selling lamps & chairs to San Ber'dino squares
And I still remember Mama with her apron and her pad
Feeding all the boys at Ed's Cafe
Whizzing & pasting & pooting through the day ...
(Ronnie helping Kenny helping burn his poots away!)"
... Zappa has risen above his own roots in El Monte Legion Stadium ...
Earlier in this article I mentioned my friend's remark about the "classical" Buddy Holly because it is exactly this pseudo-chic attitude which Frank Zappa detests. Like Malcolm X, who lifted himself out of the mire of crime and drug addiction, Frank Zappa has risen above his own roots in El Monte Legion Stadium – and now he is angry at the world which threw that teenage punk into that environment.
Since most of us between 22 and 30 shared that environment, Zappa seems to be speaking personally for us – and by extension, cannot be understand by those on opposite ends of the generation gap. If you played spin-the-bottle to "Buick '59" by the Medallions, or smoked your first Pall Mall while be-popping to "Cop Shoop," then you know the world of which Zappa speaks. And there are damn few artists who embrace the world we REALLY live.
In no film, in no music, in no book or play can you find colloquial dialogue as genuine and as pertinent as the dialogue in Zappa's creations. Think of the "Are you hung up?" phone conversation at the beginning of "We're Only In It For The Money," or the pot-party dialogues about pigs with wings in "Lumpy Gravy." Ever really listen to speeches by public officials? Even Bobby Kennedy, considered with-it and youthful, felt compelled to qualify his use of "tell it like it is" by placing the phrase in rhetorical quote-marks. Frank Zappa is a living contradiction of that kind of hypocrisy. You either are going to tell it like is is or you're not, but there's no need to apologize or make a joke of it.
Why don't you use the UGLIEST part of your body?
"Who cares if you're so poor you can't afford
To buy a pair of Mod A Go-Go stretch-elastic pants...
There will come a time when you can even take your clothes off when you dance."
Edgard Varèse, 1921: "The present day composer refuses to die."
Frank Zappa, 1967:
"Lemme take a minute and tell you my plan
Lemme take a minute and tell who I am
If it doesn't show
Think you better know
I'm another person."
Current rock music not only has rekindled my interest in classical music, it has driven me back to it. The rock groups that always were good get better: The Beatles, Stones, Cream, Dylan and the Mothers. With a few exceptions, all others have always been mediocre and they just get worse. Why don't you use the ugliest part of your body and think about that for a while?
Read by OCR software. If you spot errors, let me know afka (at) afka.net