Mothers Day With The Mothers

By Dick Lupoff

Crawdaddy, May, 1971


The first question is, What are the Mothers into, and the answer (don't laugh) is, Music.

I mean, that should be pretty obvious, but I'm not talking about Mantovani or Wayne King the Waltz King or others who are into – what else? – music, if you can call their brand of stuff music, and you really ought not to be too fast about denying their stuff the label: what do they call ours?

The Mothers of Invention have been into satire, social comment, showmen's shticks, dance ...

Last year after they swung through the Fillmore East, there was word that the Mothers were disbanding. A number of reasons were given but mainly that Zappa was disgusted with audiences, and after the performance of the one last Friday at the Fillmore I have to concede that he has something there.

But more about that later, and not particularly in regard to the Mothers.

Records kept coming. Hot Rats isn't specifically a Mothers record – in fact it's performed by a fantastic great pick-up group – but it's Zappa music and Zappa and Ian Underwood are on the record, and in that chaotic jumble of 33's in my cellar I try to keep it nearer the Mothers records than say Waring's Pennsylvanians.

 And Burnt Weeny Sandwich is definitely the Mothers, and has some of their best stuff on it.

So here they are resurrected and touring again, some personnel changes: Ian Underwood, Motorhead Sherwood, Don Preston, Billy Mundi, Ray Collins, Jeff Simmons. The new drummer is Ansley Dunbar, late of AD Retaliation. He's very good.

Roy Estrada, Jimmy Carl Black, Bunk Gardner and Artie Tripp are gone.

And after two other groups (both worth comment, which I will do in a while, be patient) the Mothers. Zappa raps a little, as usual for him, and as usual he puts down the audience, and he says no more fooling around on stage, they're just going to play music, and they do.

Well, they fooled around a little, but not much.

But mainly, really, the Mothers are into music. Which is, I don't know, a good or a bad thing: Zappa is some kind of genius and the Mothers, first – impressions to the contrary, are one of the tightest, most disciplined, and most capable groups of musicians going.

They're not exactly for the masses, you have to admit that. The Fillmore wasn't sold out when I was there, and that is a rarity.

But every Mother is a talented, trained, together musician, and they are worth hearing – always.

On the other hand, they kid around nicely too. Like the night a Mother – was it that Indian? – filled a smoked whitefish with whipped cream.

Or when Motorhead does the Bug.

But right now, just music.

I remember the first time I ever heard the Mothers. Our house was just getting into a lot of rock; we'd been into the Beatles, naturally, since A Hard Day's Night in, hm, I guess 1964, but we were a little slow in broadening our taste. The Stones, okay, and one or two other groups but ...

So I'm sitting there doing something else and Pat had put on a couple of new records she'd bought and I wasn't paying too much attention and suddenly I'm roused from an alcoholic fugue (this was years ago) by what I hear and I say, "What the hell is that garbage you're playing and will you get it off the turntable immediately!" and she did (this was before Women's Lib, too) and told me it was Freak Out.

It was my fault, I didn't understand what the Mothers were doing, it just sounded like a lot of pimple-cream music to me which I could do without, thank you.

There's a lot of 50's rock and roll going down these days, and I think it falls into, hmm, three categories. A group like Sha-na-na does "Teen Angel" with a kind of dedicated literalness that's kind of fun and nostalgic (if you remember the 50's) but it's basically a pretty thin joke and I have a feeling that if they don't find something new to do they're going to find themselves turning back into the Columbia University Glee Club again.

Guys like Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, they do 50's rock because they were 50's rock, and the difference between Sha-na-na and Berry or Lewis is the whole difference between a latter-day re-creation and the thing being copied. They – Lewis, Berry – are the real authentic accept-no-substitutes thing. Which is fun too.

But when the Mothers do 50's rock - original material, perfect pastiche, which is a tough art form - it's something different from either. It's comment, it's a living picture of the 1950s in this country, it's Ruben Sano's 1953 Nash painted with four gallons of gray primer; Dick Nixon was Vice President of the United States, Martin Luther King was an obscure Baptist minister and any day now we were going to unleash Chiang Kai-shek.

Yeh.

But see the Mothers do so many things besides 50's rock and roll. You have to listen to the words, for one thing, which is not always the easiest thing to do successfully; better get their records and familiarize yourself, Mothers music is complex, well worth hearing many times. Then when you see them in concert you'll know what's coming off.

One thing about the revived Mothers: for the first couple of numbers I had the feeling that they were too tight. After their layoff, and with the personnel changes, it was almost like a new band, and everybody was working very hard to make sure that they hit all the right notes and didn't miss any signals and it was okay, they did hit the right notes and they didn't miss the signals, at least that I could tell, but they weren't really into what was happening, they were too busy with their instruments.

After a while that pretty much went away, and after a few more gigs, I'm sure it will go away completely.

The music was a Mothers retrospective, all the way from Freak Out to Uncle Meat to Burnt Weeny Sandwich. I think some of their stuff was trivial though amusing – "Call Any Vegetable." Most of it was not trivial, was excellent music, although certainly intellectual – "Holiday in Berlin," "Igor's Boogie." And that may be why the Mothers are a special taste. So much of rock and roll is strictly visceral, the tempos, the emphatic rhythm, the huge volume; or purely sensual, the acid groups; which is not to put them down either. But music that you have to listen to with your intellect – not everybody is capable of that, and not everybody wants to even if they are able.

And on top of that there's the cynicism that pervades much of the Mothers' music and certainly Zappa's own attitude. There's so often that little thread of mockery woven through their numbers. I don't mean the open kidding of Ruben and the Jets, I mean the laughing behind the hand of Hot Rats and other Zappa productions

The Mothers hold their audiences at arm's length, not by being mechanical and uninvolved like Creedence but by always keeping something back, some "mental reservation" as they say in the army induction oath. If you said "Frank Zappa, I love you," he'd probably say back "Whatsamatter, you queer?"

They're always ready to hand you that whitefish full of whipped cream if you try to open up too much, get too close.

But Christ, Frank Zappa, I sure do admire you, I like your band, I enjoy your music and I think I understand most of it.

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