Another Zappa post – useless facts #1

A month or two ago I sent a series of e-mails to allmusic, correcting and commenting upon Francois Couture’s “song comments” for FZ. I have had no feedback for these e-mails, and none of the new details have been appended to the website either, so I thought I’d put some up here – just to while aeay time. (Because I’m unemployed, and angry, again – I must update the blog of the same name sometime soon).

Go Cry on Somebody Else’s Shoulder – after 1966, the song remained in the repertoire for the rest of the ’60s, though it was rarely performed. The only versions we know about pre-1978 are from gigs in Detroit and New York Central Park (both in 1968).
The song of course is intentionally “meaningless”, the lyrics full of self-contradictions. Who’s cheating on whom, is he rejecting her now or does he want her back, have they even had a relationship in the first place…? It may have been inspired by Ray and Frank comparing notes on their ex-wives (Ray coined the title during one such conversation), but in the end its real subject is the cliches of love songs.
Motherly Love/Wowie Zowie – performed live in 1966, see MOFO Project Object
You Didnt Try To Call Me – though prompted by a tale told by Pamela Zarubica, it devolved into another meaningless mock-love-song (see above)
Any Way The Wind Blows – though prompted by memories of FZ’s divorce it obviously underwent the familiar devolution into cliche collage (this time the question is: does the new girl exist, is he just threatening his longtime partner, and – given the context – does he have a partner to leave in the first place?) It was in the repertoire almost throughout 1971.
I’m Not Satisfied – It may be that this was partly inspired by FZ’s first divorce and his near-destitution/near-starvation whilst living in Studio Z: for once the despair sounds real, especially in the simplified Ruben & The Jets arrangement (which, unlike FC, I appreciate).
I Aint Got No Heart / Who Are The Brain Police / Help I’m A Rock – Your guess is as good as mine as to what really connects the songs (other than that blast of screaming and guitar-noise that appears in each). The only live performances of Brain Police we know about stem from 1970-71 (this being the “boogie version” captured on the Disconnected Synapses and Carnegie Hall albums). Frank described composing the songs in terms that Gail Zappa interpreted as a hallucinated ghostly-visitation. He probably “dreamt” the song in a sleep-paralysis-like state, on the borders of consciousness (hence his sensation of a threatening stranger at his shoulder dictating the song to him). Help I’m A Rock came into its own as a live vehicle for vocal and instreumental improvisation (after all, early in ’68 it gave birth to Transylvania Boogie – see Road Tapes 1 and Ahead Of Their Time). In fact it was It Can’t Happen Here which was released as a single with How Can I Be Such A Fool (in the UK it became the a-side!) The sequel to Rock is of course, It Can’t Happen Here, which was “busked” onstage on a few occasions in 1967-71 before briefly entering the core repertoire on the Spring ’74 tour. The dialog with Suzy Creamcheese took on its sexual tone as a result of some meddling from MGM – the original line (preserved in the Mothermania and MOFO alternate-edits) was “your development since you first took the shots
Return of The Son Of Monster Magnet – precisely what FZ meant to do with this material will never be known: evidently he envisaged a more elaborate “sound collage”, one which he could not realise due to studio-budget issues.

Duke Of Prunes
– Ray Collins co-wrote the words but did not fight for a share of the royalties. The music originates in FZ’s score for the film Run Home Slow. No live performances are documented pre-1970 (during the very brief “MOI reunion” it was performed both vocally and instrumentally, as part of a medley). In 1972, during the so-called Petite Wazoo tour, it reached its final form, as an instrumental.
Call Any Vegetable – the arrangement began evolving into ist more familiar form (a la Just Another Band From LA/Freaks and Motherfuckers) as early as 1969. It is to be hoped take 1 of the solo section (Invocation…) is rediscovered – Bunk Gardner maintains he played better first time around.
Why Don’cha Do Me Right – this dates back to the Studio Z era: a much looser version with some entertaining adlibs can be found on Joe’s X-Masage
Big Leg Emma – the title was borrowed from a blues song (possibly by Big Joe Williams?)
Status Back Baby – the final performances of this were on the spring ’71 tour. Interestingly the original Mothers alternated between playing the song in 4/4 and (less frequently) in 12/8 as per the recording.
Son Of Suzy Creamcheese – FC could have mentioned that this is one of FZ’s many “Louie Louie” rewrites, or as someone once said, “yet another squeezing of the Richard berry!”
Brown Shoes Don’t Make It – It’s my beliefe that this controversial song has been misread by both pro- and anti- camps. FZ emphasized, as well he might, the theme that “so many politicians are sexually maladjusted – dirty old men have no business being in City Hall”. But the song also defends adolescent sexuality – the thirteen-year-old girl is not really presented as a “corrupted” victim of abuse, but rather as a self-empowered sexual freedom fighter. This message is especially “unfashionable” at the time of writing, and therefore especially necessary.
America Drinks And Goes Home – Arguably the later arrangement (performed by Jean Luc Ponty and by the “Petite Wazoo”) is more “carictaured”: deleting the vocals (and the “drunken” vocal comedy) but adding new musical elements that are just as “cartoonish” in their own way.

So that’s just the first two albums. I could fill a short book with this – and maybe I will.


I’m still here

Writing “proper” reviews isn’t on the agenda, but I just thought I’d check in:

1) Some more Zappa – at the time of writing the 1973 Tour Tapes are still available to download at “The Clock Went Backwards Again”. The Bologna and Rome shows are worth having for their “Dupree”s and their elongated, more-improvisatory-than-before “Oblivion”s. Pittsburgh has an incredible Ponty-dominated improvisation (and Sal Marquez is still there brightening the tone of the band). Wetzikon (Zurich) has another interesting improv where Frank at one point does his Derek Bailey noise-guitar routine. And there’s the Sydney June 26th show with the firework incident. None of these shows are in sparkling sound quality, but most people reading this are long past the point of worrying about that!
2) I finally got around to hearing Fiona Apple’s The Idler Wheel. Connoisseurs of seriously skilful lyric writing need to hear it if they haven’t already. The arrangements aren’t as dense as the suppressed “Brion mix” of Extraordinary Machine – but her singing is just as out-there.
3) Every once in a while you read, watch, or hear something that’s obviously trying to offend as many people as possible, but which only succeeds in…being hilarious – because it’s so spectacularly stupid! Have a good self-righteous laugh at this:
The page with the list of famous “Satanists” and the “retardations” inflicted upon them as “divine punishments” is funny. But there’s more – every time you think it can’t get any more stupid, it does. They claim to hate the perversions of BDSM and anality- but I bet you can’t guess how they suggest you “de-goth your child (i.e teenager)” ?! And “God hates women” – I bet you can’t guess why, and what they propose to do about those hateful women ?!

Zappa update #1

Let’s all be grateful for the fact that the ZFT have seen fit to mostly leave YouTube alone in their quest to silence all “unauthorised” conversation about/study of the late legend’s musical career.
A number of terrific underground live recordings have surfaced on this page recently (and some not so terrific ones), and those who know how can convert them.
First and foremost:
Hamilton Ontario 1975 – the ’75-76 combo is not universally loved, but there are those of us who feel Napoleon Murphy Brock and Andre Lewis were among Frank’s most unique soloists as well as vocalists. And this show doesn’t just feature them on fine form – Eddie Jobson and Norma Bell both make guest appearances, most notably on a marvellous “Filthy Habits” with an arrangement that’s quite unlike the familiar version, and solos that from EJ and NB that make most of Frank’s efforts look a bit pathetic in comparison. And it’s a very good quality audience tape (comparable to the Montreux ’71 recording in its clarity and balance of music and ambience).
Stockholm 1988 – a restored version of this well-known classic “secret word” show, with the missing bits patched in. It’s a secret word show where everyone can get the jokes. Frank had written a spoof heavy metal song called “Dragonmaster” and so references to dragons and medieval mythology, and attendant jokes (“keep it crispy…”, “tremblin’ like a medieval villager”) pop up throughout the first half of the show. Then they turn their attentions to Tom Petty, “the butt-ugliest human being” who becomes the subject of “The Torture Never Stops”. And then when the joking stops, Mats Oberg & Morgan Agren come on for a tremendous “Big Swifty”, with Oberg doing his uncanny Tommy Mars impression, and throwing in a very-slightly-fumbled “T’Mershi Duween” for good measure. And on top of that, Dweezil comes on to jam at the very end. All this is in mostly-soundboard quality.
From another source I’ve finally got to hear the Copenhagen show from ’88 recently. The highlight there is another “Big Swifty” which aspires to be the biggest Swifty of them all. It’s not as long as the Genoa one, but it’s denser, reminiscent of some of the better ones fron early in the tour in that there’s mini-solos from virtually everyone, and Frank sticks to conducting and operating the synclavier. The Fowler brothers, and the percussion section, still end up dominating the piece, but the highlight is a very weird section where Frank plays an unfamiliar chamber music piece on the synclavier, and the band have to figure out how to accompany it. Scott adds some absurdism by playing “My Sharona” against the chamber music, but the solos from Bruce, Albert and (momentarily) Paul are really no joke. Another odd moment occurs earlier, when the horns join in with the familiar bit of pre-programmed “crossover” music which appears in most of this band’s improvisations. Obviously Frank didn’t like that – he gets his revenge by playing it again in an unlikely context. Most of the Copenhagen show though is dominated by vocal joking-around – they’re in an unhinged mood tonight, recapping a little of everything that’s made them laugh lately: Johnny Cash impressions, John Smothers impressions, Quaalude-addict voices, the word “airhose” (a pun on Aarhus?) and even a little Thing-Fish (during “Florentine Pogen” of all songs).
And I finally got to hear Road Tapes Volume 1 – a rare example of an official release that’s worth having. They picked a good gig this time: the original MOI from the post-Ray/pre-Lowell part of 1968. Best bit is Bunk’s soprano solo on “Transylvania Boogie” – long and severely intelligent.

Frank Zappa: Hamburg May 6 1988

Not available in the shops, but possibly available from you-know-what.  This is one of the best-sounding recordings of the 1988 tour, with the horn section and tuned percussion beautifully caught, and the keyboards not too high in the mix.

It begins with Frank receiving a surprising array of “love offerings” from his devoted fans – and fending off a request for “Titties and Beer” – before the familiar “new age arrangement” of “The Black Page” launches us into a program consisting entirely of pre-1980s material.

Highlights: a “Black Napkins” in which, after the usual sweet opening solo from Walt Fowler, Kurt McGettrick gets a rare opportunity to solo – and the result is relatively brief but it still blows the roof off the CCH Halle.  This man did for the baritone sax what Dolphy did for the bass clarinet.  (Or finished what John Surman started – however you prefer it).  A “Big Swifty” in which solos from Bruce, Ed, Mike (on keyboards. sounding very Tommy Mars-like) and Frank are separated by multiple breakdowns, featuring more of those pre-programmed bits of Synclavier music that are glimpsed in “When Yuppies Go To Hell” and the Barcelona broadcast.  And the best “Let’s Move to Cleveland” I’ve heard from this tour – Frank’s solo is long, investigative and yet tasteful – he uses his neo-acoustic tone.  And this version has a proper ending, unlike the officially released ’88 take.