December 18 – FZ and some BS

Gotta get away from all the politics and get this blog back to music.

Eat To The Beat have brought out a second Frank Zappa volume of Transmission Impossible. Probably meant as a replacement for the first, as it reprised those scratchy-sounding audience-recorded tracks from the first Central Park show of ’68. and doesn’t even acknowledge their source this time. (If you can live with the audio, it’s a good show, worthy of a CD to itself – so why didn’t they…?). It also contains the Ray Agee collaboration Leave Me Alone as a bonus track on the third disc. Other than these, this new Transmission consists of

1 genuine radio show – the Stockholm ’67 one recently reissued on a standalone disc as Go Ape (see elsewhere on this blog)

1 “stage tape”, recorded by either Don Preston or Jimmy Carl Black’s anonymous friend – the first Toronto Rockpile show of ’69, well-known to fans, and which has also been released as a standalone disc.  Grrr! Still they won’t separate the thirty-two minute event into its two constituent parts! namely, The String Quartet Medley (complete with inaudibly off-mic harmonica solo!) and Charles Ives (the latter being the highlight of the entire show).

1 soundtrack to an unreleased film – the second Fillmore West show of ’70. Well-known to collectors, from the pieces used in the VRPO documentary, and from the audiotape which has been circulated illicitly for years. Dominated by comedic stuff featuring Volman, Kaylan and Simmonds. It would have been better if they included the first Fillmore West show (the one with King Kong in it – that version of King Kong has an especially striking solo from George Duke…it may be on YouTube, in fact at the time of writing it is.

On a different note.

Like so many people my age I was swept up in the second wave of Bruce Springsteen hype, approx ten years after the first (i.e: “I saw rock and roll’s future”). The novelty soon wore off and I began to view Bruce as a symbol of everything that was wrong with American rock.

Politically: This is music by and for working-class right-wingers. (Forget his pro-union and ostensibly-pro-freedom-of-expression stances, that’s all just a facade. If you support the automotive industry so enthusiastically, then you’re right-wing, which is to say “a nihilstically-destructive incurably-ecologically-ignorant perversion of humanity”. Then there’s the 9/11 record The Rising – though drenched in pseudo-libertarian BS from BS, the reality remains: if it’s American and sounds jingoistic, it probably is jingoistic. See also Neil Young’s Let’s Roll – and then explode with rage).

Artistically: A byword for self-repetition and extremely limited musical ability, just like Van Morrison (one of his sources of inspiration). And definitely not the Bob Dylan he so often seems to want to be. (His baffling “what does that mean?” lyrical passages do not intrigue or fire the imagination, they just sound like uncorrected mistakes).

His mind is forever stuck in an imaginary 1960s in which Dylan, Morrisons V and J, Motown, Stax/Atlantic, the Four Seasons. trad-rock a la Gary US Bonds/Mitch Ryder, and the movie of West SIde Story –

(which seems to haunt him just as much as it haunts his most dreadful peer – no, not John Mellencamp, Jim fucking Steinman), –

all happened – but psychedelia, prog and proto-metal all didn’t.

But by the time I’d seen Bruce for what he was, I’d bought and absorbed Greetings…, The Wild…, Born To Rune (as Pratchett would have it), Born In The USA and Live 75-85…and I’d also heard absorbed parts of Darkness… and Tunnel…

Listening again to the Live album – the most hyped release of 1987 (yes, 1987, the year of Strangeways Here We Come amongst other things)…I wonder what idiocy guided the track selection. About a quarter of the material is just plain badly-performed. Where his vocals used to be “confusing” because they were slurred, here they’re all-too-often incomprehensible due to incompetence. Meaning – he’s so sore-throated he can hardly enunciate one word clearly.  “Singing in tune” isn’t really an issue where the five-song sequence from The River, or the five-song-sequence mostly-from-Darkness, are concerned…but projecting the words is, and he can’t even do that.

Elsewhere, you have to contend with the showbizzy vocal displays of over-enthusiasm, with audience-interaction to match (let’s give those bits names: “d’you think this is a free ride?…”, “I ain’t sure, but I think…”, and “do I have to say his name?”). And when he’s trying to be serious (the anti-draft preamble to the cover of War, or the monolog about his late-teenage life, fighting with his dad and only just escaping the Vietnam-era draft) you hear him seemingly tripping over his words and/or straying into an anecdotal blind-alley.

Does any of that five-part album stand the test of time? Yes, the acoustic side – that’s one-tenth. Which, so far as I can make out, makes the box – proportionally speaking – a microcosm of his entire catalogue.

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