Vol. 3 No. 7
By Susin Shapiro, pp 32-35
A writer friend of mine is fond of saying: "If you fear something enough don't run scared, confront it directly." The idea being that no single thing is as terrifying as the fear itself, but you can't ever know that without doing some sampling. Armed with this tenuous consolation, I went to a recent Frank Zappa concert at the Felt Forum in New York. My memories of Zappa consisted of a few rococo fragments that had enlarged as time went by, like a pet nightmare. I had long ago lost touch with his point blank sense of humor, the indolent frescoes that permeated his atmosphere, his blend of classicism and absurdity. Dog Breath Variations and Burnt Weenie Sandwiches were not exactly integral elements of my press party repertoire. All I could conjure was this tall, barmy-eyed maniac who tore the limbs off dolls and engineered a lot of madly gyrating noise in assault upon my sweet pink ears.
Zappa has been one of culturama's perpetually generating talents; the inventor of the concept record, the first to use videotape in a film about rock and roll, the creator of such gluey epithets as "Suzy Creamcheese," and a business avatar who managed to maintain his artistic integrity when all the other rock folks were selling out.
Older and wiser than his current black counterpart, George Clinton, he bombards the Dresden of our collective imaginations, turning rigid and insensible societal rules into sawdust and chuckle. Zappa never allowed any distance between himself, his music, the audience and his environment; no safe shelter zone where we once nursed wounded illusions of what rock aura was really all about. While other groups were waxing serious about bubblegum. Zappa was gleefully foraging through piles of music history and technique in loving contempt of his contemporaries. In the pyramid of perspicacity, Zappa was as close to the apex as one could get, and still be understood.
"Frank Zappa's genius has yet to be recognized, much less appreciated," say Eddie, sophomore at Penn State who owns and has memorized every word of Zappa's 14 LPs. "I used to think he was this weird guy but after I listened a few times, I started to see the order in his chaos. Yeah, his smartness is scary." Eddie is pleased with Zoot Allures, Zappa's latest release; he finds it more accessible and less or an acquired taste than previous Zappa outings.
Though Zappa can waddle through a lyrical kindergarten when the mood strikes, his sophistication as a producer-performer is unequalled. Zoot lodges its more progressive music in a sandbox, then elevates the grittier images into crisp fusion instrumentals; sensual, effulgent. Any rock star who can cop licks and compositional techniques from Edgar Varèse is most likely onto something that most artists don't have the thumbs to grasp. Zappa's grip on the eclectic grab bag of musical influences is so refined and so secure that he can let go the most outrageous mockery and parody without degenerating his art into sham. (read more)