Zappa Still Baffles His Fans

By Iain MacLeod

Montreal Gazette, December 26, 1973 [1]

TORONTO (CP) – “There are four things you need to know to understand my music," Frank Zappa said. “You have to know about rhythm 'n' blues. You have to have a working knowledge of all Western art music over the past 100 years. You have to have a complete working knowledge of all my albums since 1964. And you have to have seen at least one of my shows at least once a year.”

Ten years and 17 albums later. Frank Zappa and The Mothers are a legend. Over the years, their once virtually incomprehensible offerings of free-form rock and jazz music have mellowed into sophisticated, though still complicated, compositions. Zappa displayed his new dimension in rock music during a sellout two-concert stand here recently [2] and although devout sects of Zappa followers clearly appreciatecl the more logical structure of his music, many other listeners remained baffled by the mysterious musicians work.

Zappa looked upset when, at the close of the first movement of one of his compositions, many fans began to applaud. “You're not supposed to clap between movements,” Zappa groaned. But mis-timed applause has always been a problem and Zappa has grown accustomed to it.

“Over the years,” he said in an interview, “there has been an increase of maybe five or 10 per cent in the number of people who have any insight, but as far as most of the audiences are concerned, they haven't the faintest idea of what's going on.”

Even some of Zappa's musicians have found working with him difficult over long periods of time. Since The Mothers, formerly The Mothers of Invention, first appeared in 1964, 10 changes have been made in the lineup. But the present band, consisting of seven musicians, is, Zappa admits, the closest yet to what he wants.

“They're all monsters on their instruments,” he said. “I can easily find a musician who plays the notes technically without fault. But it's the execution of the notes in the proper spirit that is more important.”

Zappa's music further defies definition or explanation as he still encourages his musicians to play, in places, anything that comes to mind.

“I encourage the members of the band feel that there's no reason why they can't do anything on stage and no reason why it can't be appreciated,” he added.

On stage, Zappa himself plays only infrequently although his masterful guitar work is fast and intricate. Much of the time he stands motionless, showed in a multicolor light show, conducting The Mothers with his index finger.

At 32, he has lost some of his stage antics of the past, although a Zappa concert remains visually spectacular. But the dazzling frills now play only a supporting role to the music itself.

Zappa has carved his own legend in rock music by his innovations. One of his earlier albums, Absolutely Free, was the first to be recorded as a single piece of music. He was the first to incorporate a symphony orchestra into rock music.

Zappa admits he's always been ahead of his time. In the early days, he was composing music which was technically impossible to record as it was far beyond the resources of any recording studio operating at the time.

His success had to wait for the rock music world to catch up as it began to from 1968 onwards. Today, Zappa and The Mothers are no longer outrageous. Their innovations have been copied to the extreme. Musically, Zappa still is a leader although the aura surrounding him has suddenly become middle-of-the road.

But has he reached his potential? Even after 17 albums, several musicals and a film, Zappa's reply is instantaneous.


1. This syndicated article was printed in December 1973 under different titles in several Canadian newspapers -- Montreal Gazette, Ottawa Journal, Brandon Sun. We believe that the original interview quoted in this article was made by Peter Goddard, Toronto Star staff writer.

2. November 23, two shows in Massey Hall, Toronto, Canada,

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