Hit It, Zubin

By ?

Time, June 1, 1970

"Most rock groups could not do this sort of thing because they cannot read music," said Zubin Mehta confidently. "Frank Zappa, on the other hand, is one of the few rock musicians who knows my language." As conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Mehta is known not only for his willingness to step in where many Angelinos fear to tread but for his ability to get away with it musically. In the peerless leader of the Mothers of Invention however, Mehta was taking on a man whose main goal in life seems to be to zap the musical establishment.

The odd musical conjunction of the two men also involved 104 stunned members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic gathered for the world premiere of Zappa's 200 Motels, written for the Mothers and orchestra. What the concert, held before 11,000 rock fans at the U.C.L.A. basketball arena, mainly proved is that any marriage between rock and the classics is likely to be stormy indeed. As the Mothers' Bassist Jeff ("Swoovette") Simmons said tolerantly of the orchestra: "Those dudes are really out of it, man. It's like working with people from another planet.'

There were times when the orchestra players felt the same way about Zappa and his matriarchy. Attired in pony tail and yellow-striped pants, Zappa started things off himself: "All right, Zubin, hit it." That was a bit brazen and did not go over too well with the violins, who outnumber everybody else and use their weight to preserve a little decorum now and then. Nonetheless, when Zubin hit it, they hit it too. When the rest of the orchestra said "Bleep," the violins joined in. When they were required to do fey finger snaps over their heads, they complied. When asked to belch, literally, they drew the line and said "Blurp." When Percussionist William Kraft, dutifully following the score, fired a popgun, they played on unblinking. Meanwhile, platformed six feet above the orchestra, the Mothers were lullabying away at some of their "greatest hits," like Lumpy Gravy, Duke of Prunes and Who Needs the Peace Corps. Then, everyone in the orchestra suddenly screamed, one final frightening chord was heard, and with a giant blurp 200 Motels closed down for the night.

No complaints, however, were heard from the Philharmonic management, clearly overjoyed to have got its players into the same hall with that many young people and brought $33,000 into the box office. As for Mehta, if he did not have the last laugh, he at least had the last lash: despite Zappa's protests, he cut out the entire second part of 200 Motels. Just as well. Part 2 calls for a chorus to blow bubbles through straws and the soprano soloist to sing "Munchkins get me hot."

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