Fillmore East

By Lester Bangs

Rolling Stone, September 30, 1971

Fillmore East
The Mothers
Bizarre MS-2042

It may seem a quaint notion now, but there actually was a time when Frank Zappa was considered one of the prime geniuses of rock. Somehow it just didn’t seem to matter all that much that those of his compositions which bore any relationship to rock ‘n’ roll form at all were either sarcastic exercises in calculated banality or self-indulgent parodies of Fifties group harmonies, and at the time we were still largely convinced that this perennial air of snot-mustached condescension was good for us: Uncle Frank as all-purpose conscience pointing out our lameness and simultaneously educating us to that great wide world of music out there beyond our punky ignorance, his pointer guiding us from track to track: “See, this is jazz, and now for a taste of Stravinsky, and notice how we’ve interwoven it all with a few Motown arrangements and fuzztones that all you stupid little ‘Louie Louie’ brained bastards can understand . . .”

It was 1967, we were ready to have our horizons widened, and as insufferable as all of the above might be to any listener with some self-respect, the fact remained that those early albums did contain some striking music and lyrics and were exceptionally well put together, solid collages of satiric vitriol and Mad magazine scatology zappin’ straight atacha with aim that was close enough to make the whole thing titillating.

As Zappa’s musical and sociological pertinence remained unchallenged for so long, however, his initial arrogance dilated until he reached the point where he could actually say that he and his band were leaving the set until the audience caught up with them! And this at a time when confrere Captain Beelheart was already making statements much more far-reaching than any of Zappa’s, and the people who sat still for seven minutes of “Invocation of the Young Pumpkin” in ‘67 were beginning to tune into the real thing via Coltrane and In a Silent Way.

It might have been diferent if Zappa’s later product had been as witty and technically fine as his early work, but the succession of albums beginning with Burn Weenie Sandwich has been marked with a steady downward curve in quality, and with Fillmore East we have finally reached a real nadir of sorts. The sometime ribaldry of the early albums has, finally been allowed to bloom like a Clearasil jackoff fantasy, resulting in two sides mostly filled with a lot of inanity about groupies and exotic fuck-preps. The Fugs did all this much better several years ago, and a comparison listening to their live Golden Filth album doesn’t say much for the Mothers’ creativity even as visionaries in the field of pube porn. Giggle or cackle, it’s the same infantilism, far short of the nightmarish incisions that an S. Clay Wilson is capable of. Most of this album was said much more convincingly and five times as concisely in “Motherly Love” Way back in the censored Sixties. On the other hand, if your idea of a real daring rock ‘n’ roll lyric is “My dick is a dagger,” then you just might find this album one of the, ah, shall we say squinkiest of the year.

But file it under Party Sides, with Redd Foxx and maybe Knockers Up – if you look for much music here you’re going to be sorely disappointed. There’s an opening spate of Zappa’s standard Tinkertoy-ballet classicism, and a few slap-happy dashes of his Fifties slop, along with a “jazz” encore that you’ve heard too many times already, but the only place the album even begins to take off is for just under three minutes at the end of Side One and 1:54 at the top of Two, when a rousing guitarro “Willie the Pimp” causes you to sit up straight briefly, only to slump back as it dissipates abruptly into seven more minutes of bad burlesque. In the end, the most pertinent thing to be said about Frank Zappa is probably that for all he knows about music, he lacks the talent to write a song like, oh, say “Louie Louie.”