Motherless Child's Latest Invention

By Art Quickenton

The Polytechnic, November 19, 1969

"The present day composer refuses to die!"

โ€” Edgar Varese

There are few among us with the guts to stand in front of some one and tell him that he is either detrimental or, at best, worthless to the furtherance of the human condition. There are still fewer who are willing to take on an entire nation, but from the "Freak Out" album in 1966 to the recent demise of the Mothers of Invention, that is what Frank Zappa did. That he failed to root out the mediocrity in American life is not surprising. That he made a living trying is surprising. The reason for the disbanding was Zappa's lack of desire to play for an unappreciative audience ("Those kids would not know music if it came up and bit 'em on the ass."). What set the Mothers apart from the rest of those who deprecate the Great Society, the middle class, and the American condition in general was their refusal to recognize its youth as America's salvation. Zappa knew that youth is not synonymous with individuality, excellence, truth, justice, and beauty, as many apparently suppose it to be. It is acceptable not to conform as long as one conforms to the brand of nonconformism that is currently in vogue (youth cult at present). No one, from the president to the Beatles, was spared in Zappa's crusade to awaken the dying American mind to its disease. This disease amounts to a social slavery which dictates that we act, dress, speak, feel and think within well defined and restrictive limits even among our more liberal and revolutionary groups.

Second try

Which brings us to "Hot Rats," a new album by Frank Zappa with which he turns his back on a hopeless case and pursues his own interests and directions, take it or leave it. The first thing noticed upon playing this album is the absence of vocals, with the exception of (me short section on "Willie the Pimp." The second is the relative lack of weirdness. This is Frank Zappa playing the type of music that underlaid his lyrics on the Mothers albums and that was ignored by an audience that neither understood it nor made an effort to understand it. They approached the Mothers In search of a few "in" laughs at the other guy or, in some cases, a little harmless self-flagellation.

A test for America

There are no social messages to be received. This is just music, love it or hate it, but this time for the right reasons โ€” not because the performers look weird, or because the lyrics are offensive, or because the message isn't what you want to hear. Put as much into listening to it and evaluating it as was put into composing and performing it. Now, America, it is just you and the music, nothing in between to distract you from the music and at the same time nothing to serve as an excuse for your ignorance. You can reject it on the basis of personal taste but you cannot reject it musically unless you know as much about music as the composer, in which case I doubt that you will.

I don't pretend to know in which direction modern music will eventually go, but I suspect that "serious" modern music will follow Frank Zappa rather than Lennon-McCartney et. al, if only for the reason that rock itself has borrowed from the works of "serious" composers and not vice versa. One example is the electronic music wave that swept rock beginning approximately with "Revolver" and which is subsiding now with a few isolated exceptions.

Rock treated electronics as icing on the cake and rarely delved into the substance of this music, dealing in superficialities, usually because its composers lacked the education and understanding necessary to go any further. The fairly recent attempts to integrate jazz and rock has, I think, found rock borrowing more from jazz, than jazz from rock, because jazz has more to offer. In the various unions between rock and other musical genres one usually finds rock offering its youth energy and commercial potential while the other forms contribute their music.

Man from the future

The music on "Hot Rats" is fairly difficult to define. It contains elements of jazz, rock, electronic and classical, yet their is much that is left undescribed by these terms and falls in the realm of the original. Zappa is a genuine, creative musical talent and as such will probably not achieve a success commensurate with his genius for many years.

Zappa's guitar work on the album is very fine and more extended and varied in these pieces than in the past. Ian Underwood, the clean cut Mother, is responsible for the woodwinds, piano and organ, and handles all with great facility. I am unfamiliar with the remainder of the performers (instruments include violin, bass and drums), but their work on this album is exemplary.

I would recommend that you run out and purchase this album but for the majority of you it would be a waste of time and money. Frank Zappa is one of the finest modern composers working today, but you don't understand and you don't care.

Back home

Round up of area concerts: Sly and the Family Stone never showed up so don't cry if you missed it.

Sonny and Cher were the victims of the RPI field house sound system and a terrible introductory group but managed to present an excellent and very professional show. I have rarely seen such personality and stage presence and they were thoroughly enjoyable.