Scorching Blast Of Fresh Air

By Peter Goddard

Toronto Telegram, February 24, 1969

Every Son's Mother, a vignette inspired by, if not based on the Mother of Invention's performance – if that is the word ... last night at the Rock Pile. [1]

Scene: The corner of Davenport and Yonge. Late last night. As some of the 3,600 kids who were at the two concert pass, an older critic makes Notes on gilded paper. He’s waiting for his chauffeur to come around. In the shadows, watching him scribble, a young hippie scratches his stomach, burps. Both look suspiciously at one another. Young Hippie burps again. Old Critic writes more, laughing to himself.

Old Critic: (reading out loud): That’s it! The Mothers of Invention, and their leader, mentor, agitator, spokesman, and resident guru, Frank Zappa, once again have conjured up authentic parody.

Hippie burps again, mutters a short, recognizable noun. Critic, ignoring him, reads on:

Their music, and, at times, anti-music, was played with a grin from sneer to sneer. In doing so, the Mothers became the worthy descendants of other middle-class satirists, the Renaissance Commedia dell ‘arte, to John Gay …

Young Hippie: (getting quite agitated, shouting): Satirists, schmatirists! The Mothers are just a gas. And Frank Zappa! (burp) That greasy black moustache makes him look like the complete cast of a midnight horror movie. And he’s a great guitar player, and …

O.C.: (irritated himself): Now listen here. I too, uh, dig Zappa and the Mothers. But for more solid reasons than you. To you everybody is a great guitar player, to you it’s enough that everything last night became super-loud and bizarre. If that’s all there was to the Mothers, nothing would ever happen.

Y.H.: Nothing is always starting to happen.

O.C.: You see? You don’t care that there is a great play of musical ideas just beneath the surface noise. That Zappa’s music owes more to Bach than rock, and more yet to old scratchy 78s than to modern stereo. That the Mothers’ improvisations come in-part from Edgard Varèse.

Y.H.: What group does he sing with?

O.C.: (now looking urgently for his car): Sure, play it that way. But Zappa knows where you’re at. (Looking through his notes for a quote.) Here it is. “You have to understand that most people have to perceive satire in what I do,” Zappa said. “I mean that they aren’t really into music. They’re listening to a comedy routine and they want to listen to it that way because, unfortunately, a lot of people aren’t really equipped to evaluate any other kind of artistic structure.” (A look of triumph spreads across his face.)

Y.H.: That’s what he says. What he does is a different thing altogether. I know that when they sang OOOH, In the Sky, like all those creepy groups of the fifties it was a put-on. Everybody knows that. But those other ten guys, the guitars, the two drummers, the trumpet, they gave it a good beat. It was rock, in spite of everything.

O.C.: Or because of everything. The Mother’s music last night was a subtle biopsy of styles, from out-and-out rock, to pointillistic effects like Webern.

Y.H.: (sighing): Ah. All revolutionary art suffers because of its followers. It’s thinkers.

O.C.: (going out): In that 40 minute piece last night it sounded like they mixed John Cage, Miles Davis, Messiaen and the Beatles together. And when played at being a typical fifties’ rock band, Ruben and the Jets, singing “greasy love songs”, their horn line going down on their knees, singers squealing in falsetto? That wasn’t satire?

Y.H.: Oh, don’t stop. You’re boring me.

O.C.: (forgetting everything, now writing feverishly): The Mothers, eleven – times less – musicians from Los Angeles, breathed fresh life into stale air. Compare: At the Electric Circus the same night, soul singers Sam (Moore) and Dave (Prater) annoyed the crowd by showing up late. They were preceded by the The Finchley Boys. This quartet’s music was average, their impact slightly more so. But this was only because the Finchlay’s coup de theatre involved a six-and-a-half-foot boa constrictor carried by lead singer George Faber. The snake seemed slightly bored. But then, so was the crowd.

Y.H.: You’re still boring me.

O.C.: Not enough. You’re laughing.

Y.H.: Sure, why not? That’s what the Mothers want you to do. Laugh and Dance. (burp) Period. Simple, eh?

O.C.: But the Fugs do that. And comparing the Mothers of Invention to the Fugs is like comparing the Berlin Philharmonic to Flatt and Scruggs. Sure, they’re humorous. But everything’s pointed.

Y.H.: (starting to leave): You gotta realize that the Mothers’ music isn’t anything in particular. It just is. You could say that the subject of their art, their “satire”, is art.

O.C.: (just getting interested): Say, that’s good. Now what rock criticism needs …

Y.H.: Is about two dozen good funerals.

1. The Mothers had on February 23 two concerts in Rockpile, Toronto. The early show was taped and setlist is known. The late show's setlist is unknown. 

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