Zappa Pie And Motherhood
By Joseph McDonough
“If you turn the country up on its side, all of the nuts and bolls and loose ends will fall into California. ” an evaluation of the state of California as credited to many different people.
CALIFORNIA – is made up of every other state in the country, an amalgamation of failures and transients and neurotics. If there is something afflicting the minds of the people of the United States, it always seems to be more blatant in California. Californian neuroses are more visible and more obnoxious. They are petty and at the same time they are gargantuan. So with the Mothers of Invention.
1966 – was a year of “Like a Rolling Stone“ by Dylan and the beginnings of folk rock, the Beatles were making their second movie. “Help”. And “The Eve of Destruction”, acid and the Mothers of Invention. With “Freak Out!”, they became the anarchists of rock music, more talked-about than listened to, a category more than a collection of fine musicians all experimenting with a mood in music which had scarcely before been tapped.
THE MOTHERS OF INVENTION – knew where their music came from, they were aware of the omnipresent “roots” to their music. But they found new places to gather thoughts: Edgard Varèse and works such as his “Poème Électronique.“
“FREAK OUT!” – was a double album with two quite distinct records. The first began the Mothers’ marriage with 1950’s rock ’n roll, replete with schmaltzy lyrics, hack-up chorus and teenage romance. “You Didn’t Try to Call Me” is a song which sounds as had as its title. The rest of the record continues in this tradition.
THE SECOND RECORD consists of three cuts. The first should be dedicated to P. F. Sloan (who wrote “Eve of Destruction), it owes so much to his style of song. “Trouble Every Day” was written, according to the liner notes, during the Watts riot, and is atypical of the Mothers. It is too concerned, not cynical enough. The second cut, “Help, I’m a Rock”, is made up of three movements. The third is called “It Can’t Happen Here” and this, more typical of the Mothers’ attitude, has become somewhat of a trademark for the group.
plastic folks, you know
it won’t happen here
you’re safe mama, you’re safe baby
you just put the TV dinner in
and you make it up
THE MOTHERS – continued to make albums, all based more or less in the style of the second record on their first album. “Absolutely Free”, “Lumpy Gravy” continued in the Mothers’ now-famous tradition of everything-can-be-music. Suzy Creamcheese, a groupie, became a standard reference of the Mothers. With her, they were able to satirize the entire rock music cult, superstars and all. Along these lines, on the inside cover of “Lumpy Gravy” was a photo mocking the false seriousness of the “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band“ album cover. “Absolutely Free” offered to its buyers the complete libretto: clean American version, for the low price of one dollar.
SUBSEQUENT ALBUMS to “Freak Out“ continued the Mothers” experimentation with sounds and noise, as well as the obscene. On “Freak Out”, the word hell was not written out, but instead h---. Such contrivances were not used afterwards. “Brown Shoes Don’t Make It”, another of the most famous of the Mothers’ songs. includes at 13 year old girl doing “nestles” in bed with Mr. Suburbia. By the time the Mothers made “Reuben and the Jets”, obscenity was a real trademark.
“REUBEN AND THE JETS” – was a real step in the direction of obscene entertainment, existent only for its own sake. The songs are greasy rock in roll numbers which would be a credit to any 1950’s rock group, especially because of the lyrics. However, because of the lyrics, some of the songs would not be played on radio.
cheap thrills: all over the seat
cheap thrills: that kind of lovin’
can’t be beat
“UNCLE MEAT” – brought the Mothers back to “serious” music. The album was “Reuben and the Jets“ made superﬂuous any discussion about whether or not the Mothers enjoyed raunchy rock ’n roll, made up of “most of the music from the Mothers’ movie of the same name which we haven’t got enough money to finish yet.” Mainly an instrumental album, it was an opportunity for various members of the group to show off their skills. The same can be said for “Burnt Weenie Sandwich”, which was supposed to be a shorter version of the “Uncle Meat“ movie. After “Burnt Weenie Sandwich” the Mothers split up, because of the lack of serious attention that had been paid to their music. After four years in the recording business, the Mothers were still not the superstars that they might have been, had people seriously listened to their albums.
THE BOSTON TEA PARTY – concert by the Mothers on Sunday, October 18, was a display for the talents of whatever original Mothers are left in the group. Actually, of the Mothers of Invention from l966-67, only Frank Zappa, leader and guitarist, remains. Ian Underwood, who played saxophones and electric organ and piano on “Uncle Meat”, was also with the Mothers Sunday. And the bassist was Jeff Simmons, a compatriot of Zappa’s who has released two albums on Zappa’s record company, Bizarre Records. However, the other musicians were all new to the Mothers. The drummer was Ainsley Dunbar, who has played with John Mayall and for a time led the Ainsley Dunbar Retaliation, a blues group with very little imagination. On electric piano and trombone was an unidentified black musician, not known at all to those familiar with the Mothers. And the two lead singers were ex-members of, mirabile dictu, the Turtles.
ZAPPA – proved two things with the concert. One is that he is a line musician, an expert on lead guitar. His work on guitar was worthy of any of the “great” guitarists who are more popular today. The second point which was made by Zappa at the concert was that he is, without a doubt, a dictator of the Mothers. On each of the Mothers’ albums is a statement to the effect that “all selections were composed, arranged and conducted by Frank Zappa.” But until one has actually seen the Mothers perform, they cannot understand the degree to which this statement is true. Zappa conducts the group while on stage: it is he who decides when the organ should come in, when the singers should scream or chant.
TIMING – is the area where Zappa’s control is most apparent, and it is here where his true virtuosity as a musician shows itself. While most rock music is in 3/4 or 4/4 beat, Zappa performs in strange time signatures such as 11/8. In addition, Zappa makes changes in the rhythm, seemingly in the middle of one number. He directs this change by doing at Peter Townsend leap. But whereas Townsend does at times come down off beat in his leaps, Zappa’s leaps are always perfect, always timed to coincide with any structural changes in the music.
ZAPPA’S LEAPS – and his other musical manipulations prove that the group is, despite the real looseness of the Mothers within a number, very tight. Every move, every change has apparently been well-rehearsed so that there are just no slipups. Each member knows the next change, when it will occur, what song they will change to, et cetera.
ZAPPA – is the Mothers of Invention. He is the creator, the director and the reason for the group’s continued existence. Proof of this is in the fact that even though all members except Zappa have departed and the hand today is totally different from the hand of even 1968, the music they play is the same. Where the group will go next is, then, up to Zappa. But there is little likelihood that the Mothers of Invention will change from their tendencies towards raunchy rock ’n roll and complex improvisational rock, always forcing the listener to hear everything.
“I do not write experimental music. My experimenting is done before I make the music. Afterwards it is the listener who must experiment.”
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