The Mothers Of Invention

By Bo Emerson

Counterpoint, February 25, 1969

Once upon a time Rock ‘n roll came to be. Dubbed “jazz’s bastard,” it swept the country mortifying the middle-class ethic and capturing the STP sticker, training bra, and grape bubble-gum set. Rock gave rise to bobbysoxers and ultimately to the all-American yummy yummy, chewy chewy, bouffant, body odor, from rubber dice on the rear-view mirror teeny bopper.

Not everyone was happy. Frank Zappa, ex-advertising man, experimenter with abstract music, and songwriter since age 14, finally got a bellyful of top-40 radio and decided it was time for an alternative. Applying motivational research principles, Zappa created a musical group unlike anything the world had ever seen.

The Mothers of Invention are probably the most exciting, outrageous, and ambitious rock group anywhere in the universe. Their music is a polyglot of pop sounds, symphonic music, satire, 1950’s vomit, and social commentary. Sometimes you can even dance to it. What’s it all about? Big Mother Zappa tells it like it is:

“Our aim is to kill top-40 radio. Certain concessions must be ready before a record is playable on the air. I am not in the business to compete with the makers of ‘Hanky Panky.’ That record can be played because it won’t hurt anybody. It won’t move them either. I’m not writing music like that.

“Top 40 radio is unethical, unmusical, and it stinks. Classical music stations aren’t much better. They all have very rigid, limited programming.

“The Mothers were created to fill most of the gap that exists between so-called serious music and the mass public. Really good music with advanced tendencies has been kept from the public at large. This includes classical and popular music. A filtering system of little old ladies selects the music played by symphony orchestras and on radio stations.

“Once some people get to the position where they own a nightclub or control the going-on in a concert hall, they become critics and tastemakers.

“The public knows nothing of what’s really going on in the outer limits of music. There are kids writing music who think they’ve just made up the most fantastic things. They don’t know that the best they can write today was already written and performed in 1912.

“A piece like Ameriques by Edgar Varese, written in 1912, would scare the average teenager to death. Really scare him. Varese lived and died in New York. The average American doesn’t even know he existed, yet what he wrote has virtually changed the shape of all the music of the other composers who have heard it.”

One of the composers affected was Frank Zappa. He marries carefully written lyrics to the electronic liberties he’s taken with his music. Then, brandishing this two-edged musical claymore, he leads the Mothers charging headlong into what they perceive to be the stench of the human condition.

When the Mothers point a finger at you, there is no thinking it’s pointed at the next guy. Respecting no sacred cows, the Mothers attack phony morals:

What is the ugliest part of your body?
Some say it’s your nose,
Some say it’s your toes,
I say it’s your mind

… The American parent:

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.

And even some of the inhabitants of San Francisco:

I’m hippy and I’m trippy
I’m a gypsy on mu own
I’ll stay a week and got the crabs and
Take a bus back home
I’m really just a phony
But forgive me
‘Cause I’m stoned.

The Mothers are disturbing and bitter. When they spit in your face you can’t wipe it off. Their music is their message. They offer intelligence without pseudo-intellectual drivel. They’re saying that you can’t love without hating, that there are no answers in flowers, and that innocence is a poor excuse for experience.

What will follow is anybody’s guess. Zappa says he wants to stage a Broadway musical science fiction horror story based on the Lenny Bruce trials. He’d also like to conduct an 84-piece rock and roll orchestra at Carnegie Hall and hypnotise the audience with his music.

If you want to keep up with music, you’d best tune the Mothers in, and soon. They’re not waiting for you.