Zappa: Bard of the bizarre

By Michael Young

The Lantern, November 21, 1974

Explaining Frank Zappa to someone unfamiliar with absurdity is like trying to convince a foreigner McDonald's is not another branch of our federal government.

You don't just "go" to a Zappa concert in the traditional sense of the word. It's more like spending an evening with a musical encounter group acting as a curative agent to rid your psyche of weasels, wazoos and other societal beasties.

ZAPPA IS weirdness personified, playing music, but not necessarily following the format conjured by his predecessors. If, however, you listen real hard, it may strike a chord. What Albee does to drama, Warhol to art, Firesign Theater to radio and the Marx brothers to cinema, Zappa does to music.

This bizarre, demonic-looking, extremely literate and uncannily sharp humanoid has somehow been cast as resident shrink of misplaced American morals, norms and priorities.

SUCH HALLOWED American strongholds as Howard Johnsons, dental floss, doubleknit slacks and, of course, sex, find revered places on Zappa's musical couch. No one escapes. Not hippies, not rock musicians, not the Mothers ... not even Zappa.

He makes people laugh at themselves and at the little quirks their society has created.

A lot of people laughed Tuesday night at Veteran's Memorial Auditorium. [1] Not only did the concert sell out, but people milled, hoping someone would sell a ticket.

AND YES, even these people laughed at themselves. During a song break, the only one lasting more than 30 seconds, the old impatient, unisoned clap ... clap ... clap started.

"People that clap like that are the same people that get into elevators and push all the buttons."

Laughter. End of clapping. But not the end of applause. Throughout the three-hour concert which, incidentally started on time, Zappa continually bombarded the audience with bawdy stories, highly visual "miseen scene" and excellent musicianship.

THE PRODUCTION, now with more emphasis on Zappa's jazz-like, tight, well-rehearsed musical format, nonetheless included much of the comic, socially devastating material that has earned him his "naughty" image.

He especially tapped his "Apostrophe" album, doing "Montana," a song about a person going to that state to become a dental floss magnate and "Dinah Moe Humm," about the perils of sibling voyeurism.

HOWEVER, what you can't get on an album is the drama, movements and visuals of living Mothers. Zappa and cohort saxaphonist Napoleon Murphy Brock enhanced the music with perfectly timed movements and gestures which captivated both the visual and aural.

And Zappa rids himself of guitar to act out a scene where he creates two bed partners and proceeds to dive on them ... all in perfectly synchronized pantomime.

AND ZAPPA sits with legs crossed eating a sandwich while drummer Chester Thompson rolls through a deafening drum solo with lighting thought possible only on film.

And Zappa attempts the ultimate in audience participation ... a rock and roll orgasm, the intended effect to be felt "all over Ohio."

 And there seems to be no end to Zappa. After 10 years of outlasting Vietnam, college riots and Richard Nixon, it seems society's "conscience" is here to stay.

1. Concert in November 19, 1974, in Columbus, Ohio, as a part of "Roxy & Elsewhere tour". There is no circulating recording of this concert and exact setlist is not known.

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