No Commercial Potential

By Dave Eberhardt

Win, February 19734

The saga of Frank Zappa & the Mothers of Invention
David Walley
Outerbidge & Lazard, Inc.

Efforts by Zappa through his managers' brother, lawyer Martin Cohen, to block publication of this book were unsuccessful. One wonders why they tried. There are views in the book that dissent from any extreme Zappa worship, as from close friends "Suzy Creamcheese" or "Capt. Beefheart," but generally Z is presented admiringly – as the freak and culture general he is.

The book is a chronologically arranged biography, with sociologial notes on the 60s interspersed. Walley has researched Z and his freaky LA surroundings and friends well. The book has a complete discography, an index of Zappa articles and references, and photos – mainly of the Mothers of Invention, Zappas' band.

It deals with the music, as does Zappa?, almost incidentally. You may be drawn to the book by the memory of some of Zappas' other skills – his lyrics, or the zany, surreal stage performances he arranged on tour with the Mothers. Even though their music is not tuneful, it has an undeniable freedom and the power of music to highlight a certain lyric or performer is enough to make a book like this very tantalizing. An aside here:

What relation has music to peace? It cannot "say" good things about peace – it's not a verbal language. When it is quiet and melodic it seems to be a peace movement all its own. Or if it's driving it gives off a supreme, ecstatic enery available to anybody whether they're right or left or violent or less violent. And yet some, and Zappa is one, have set out to write "political", revolutionary music. Does it work?

"TV dinner by the pool, I'm so glad I went to school." Zappa satirizes, puts on, worries the American vanguard society of southern Calif. where he grew up: "Be a jerk and go to work ... life's a ball – TV tonight. Do you love it? Do you hate it? There it is the wayde it. Wow." Or: "Plastic people oh baby you're such a drag." He does this chiefly by such questioning or menacing titles as "Who are the Brain Police," "My Guitar Wants to Kill your Mama," "Hungry Freaks, Daddy," "Who Needs the Peace Corps?" or more obscure jibes like "What's the Ugliest Part of your Body?", "The Duke of Prunes," "Lonesome Electric Turkey," "Toads of the Short Forest," etc. and similar lyrics.

Zappa sets the mood in which important questions of a straight, plastic society will be asked. He asks them himself. But provides few answers. At best, his music reflects his view that "It's really tragic when people get serious about stuff. It's such an absurdity to take anything really serious ... life's so wierd."

The music by itself makes satiric statements, parodies and mocks, although it takes such lyrics as "Do you like my new car?" insultingly presented to drive the point home. Z's music matches his words successfully; it is generally annoying – full of quick changes, key changes and digressions, quotes of other more banal music and such satiric noises as Kazoos, raspberries, splurts, farts, etc. Z feels a great debt to modern classical composers, Varèse, in particular. It is only because Z works in the popular medium of rock and roll and with an electric guitar that keeps him from crossing over into territories of more " heavy" avant garde music like thit of Schonberg or Cage so much of which suggests the emotions of dissonance and chance – despair, terror, – which emotions are very true to the events of this century (and all the others?}. Given the times, such constant irony and sarcasm is an honest reaction. Yet how is it possible to live so negatively?

The Mothers' music does not have the sexiness (or sexism?) of a Stones or Chuck Berry nor the melodic drive of a Beatles or Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young but it is inventive. Whether you are more politically or peacefully motivated by that as opposed to some specific lyric of Lennons' or more oblique lyric of Dylans' or some phrase like "Carry On" out of Crosby, Stills & Nash is another question.

Zappa has articulated re counter culture politics: "I would like to propose the Interested Party. Posters, pins, a platform that was a little more logical ... a platform that stood for the re-evaluation of everything in light of, in terms of, the Constitution as it stands not as it has been diluted. OK and temper that with certain advancements in modern technology and certain advancements in sociological fields, take into consideration where we're really at in terms of the sexual revolution and just look at everything the way it actually is today and set it up all over again. That's your only chance to make it work." Or: "They (the revolutionaries) don't know what they want. But if they went out and conducted a revolution like they envision it, a little extravaganza in the street ... and they win – then what do they do? They have no better plan ... what are you going to do about your mother and father or the rest of the old schmucks who've been lousing everything up, are you going to kill them? .... They aren't ready to make a better society and not only that, their methodology is so primitive that fortunately I don't think its going to succeed." Or : "The only way you have of improving the world is by taking advantage of the technology which is fucking it up. In the States, the problems are a combination of organized religion, television, poor education, military industrial complex and the government which I think is extremely corrupt on all levels and the easiest way to attack that is through the medium which caused it. They have to straighten it out from the inside. It's very difficult to attack these things externally, there's virtually no hope of ripping it all down. I don't even think it's advisable."

If Z gives the establishment the finger, he gives it to the counter culture as well: "Walked past the wig store, danced at the Fillmore, I'm completely stoned. I'm a hippy and I'm trippy, I'm a gypsy on my own. I'll stay a week and get the crabs and take the bus back home, I'm really just a phony but forgive me cause I'm stoned." It is easier to knock it than to propose solutions ... but is art required to provide solutions? More than most artists, Zappa has tried.

Besides why should Z worry, he has his. I don't mean he has his money – he has his work. "Why should that amaze you (that I work hard?) If you like what you do ... I'm not a person that goes to work. I am my work. I'm in there. I'm in the middle of whole thing. That's what I do. I'm not a separate entity." Not only is he in it, he is successful at it. He has achieved that American commodity of success. What are the finances of it all? What is his wife's work? What do some of the previous Mothers feel about it, what are they doing? These are some of the questions Walley might have pursued.

As it is he goes deep. Finding the work that is you – isn't that a problem central to America? Other central problems are considered in the book – ambitions, motives, who uses whom. The book is intimate and thoughtful. The author closes looking to the future in a rather hopeful way. Which perhaps leaves politics and more timely concerns out of it. Zappa himself says, "Listen, now that I'm 30 years old, now that I'm over the hill, I don't really give a shit. I don't care." Another put on.

- Dave Eberhardt