Mothers End In Flames

By Urban Gwerder

Door, January 13, 1972

Urban Gwerder, Schoffelgasse 10, 8001 Zurich, Switzerland

It all happened at the Casino Montreux, the “Swiss Fillmore,” right in front of the Igor Stravinsky Street, afternoon, December 4, 1971. Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention did their first concert in Switzerland. With half of the Mothers’ European tour already behind them, they enjoyed themselves in the snowy mountains with cheese and all that Swiss stuff – then they came down to do the concert in that unbelievably over-decorated old-fashioned big, crazy building that was packed with a nice audience from all over Switzerland, Italy and other places.

As usual, it was a great and funny performance with some interesting European variants in it. By the end of the show, alchemist, Don Preston, went into a mini-moog solo and suddenly part of the audience started to turn their heads in a direction not visible for all the people in there (since the room had sort of an S-form). The Mothers looked into that corner too. Almost immediately the music died and Frank pointed over and said with a very clear cool voice “Fire.” The place was burning (due to an arcing contact). Calmly the audience stood up, started looking, and walked around. The Mothers stayed on stage for a long time and Frank, like a captain of a sinking ship, said “Don’t panic ... don’t panic ... walk out slowly.”

And so it went: absolutely no panic, people cooly walking out, some looking around if any help was needed, others smashing windows to let the smoke and more people out. After a few minutes the whole place was empty and in flames from one end to the other. The entire building burned down to the ground, including all of the Mothers’ special monster-equipment and instruments. Now the show was going on in the streets, audience and Mothers watching that real amazing fire ... 50 yards of flames up to the sky and smoke clouds like out of a volcano.

Frank pointed up to the mountains where the sun was coloring all the snowtops with red ... what a great movie ... and then slightly amused, he announced, “And here comes the Swiss fire-brigade!” But it was already too late to save any of the stuff inside or even the building itself. New surprise: now the fire alarm clock started to ring in the middle of that hellfire. The entire crowd burst out laughing. It was worth the expensive tickets they’d all paid and it sure was a dignified finale to the Mothers Concert. Some people then went to see the other great movie two hours later: 200 Motels. Some insisted that they had seen Frank returning into the burning house. He took his cap off and two little horns appeared ... then he opened a trapdoor on the burning stage and disappeared with a sneer. Remember: the Mothers also did the closing concert for another Pop-Mecca, the Fillmore.

The only truly sad thing about that Historical Event is that the Mothers’ personal instruments and the not-easy-to-refund equipment had gone and also that the rest of the continental concerts had to be cancelled. In terms of symbolism, it clearly showed that it is time for a new music, new conscience and new concept of awareness, of ART – that of the Mothers.