September 20, 2010

"The spirit of Frank Zappa is alive and well in Baltimore."

It was Frank Zappa Day in the city of his birth — not that he spent much time there. His family uprooted him and replanted him in L.A. when he was 10.

Imagine Zappa without all the California in him. Imagine Baltimore Zappa.


shoutingthomas said...

Zappa was funny as hell.

Along with Cheech and Chong, he mocked the pretensions of hipsterism and self-important rock "artists."

But, his music is mostly experimental and jokey.

Not much to listen to there over the long haul.

Robert Cook said...

After he disbanded his original MOTHERS OF INVENTION band, he never again made a record worth listening to.

His vaunted humor was sophomoric and had to do primarily with queasiness about bodily functions, and his own vocals oozed with the self-impressed smarm of a 15 year old asshole endlessly delighted with himself.

Sixty Grit said...

I saw him at Johns Hopkins, in Baltimore, in '67. Interesting show, and, as noted, he mainly made terrible music. But he was very hostile.

shoutingthomas said...

Shit Cookie!

We agree on something.

At least a little bit.

I wouldn't be quite so hard on Zappa. His sophomoric humor was funny, and what is rock music if not sophomoric?

former law student said...

His family uprooted him and replanted him in L.A. when he was 10.

Actually Monterey, when his dad taught at the Naval Postgraduate School, over three hundred miles away -- roughly the distance from Madison to Indianapolis. The closest the young Frank got to living in LA was when Frank Sr worked for Convair in Pomona, in the so-called Inland Empire.

Triangle Man said...

Did Tipper stop by?

The Crack Emcee said...

I think y'all have got it all wrong:

Have you ever considered that maybe - just maybe - you're not bright enough to appreciate "Rock and roll's sharpest musical mind"?

shoutingthomas said...

Have you ever considered that maybe - just maybe - you're not bright enough to appreciate "Rock and roll's sharpest musical mind"?

Gotta partly agree with you.

Intellectually, Zappa was right on the edge.

Trouble is, traditional music (and rock is built on traditional music) has a very thin layer available for creativity.

The craft of a traditional songwriter is to evoke the tradition completely, while still adding a new dimension.

For instance, every line of a blues song should be directly connected to a 100 year history of line from the library of the blues idiom. You've got to make your point within a very rigid framework.

For most of us, Zappa is too far out there. He's not lyrical and he doesn't tap into the tradition.

But he was always intellectually challenging.

The question is: Is that what gets you off when you listen to music.

For me, the answer is no.

Robert Cook said...

"Have you ever considered that maybe - just maybe - you're not bright enough to appreciate 'Rock and roll's sharpest musical mind'"?

That's certainly possible; when you find "rock and roll's sharpest musical mind," tell me who it is so I can see what I think.

shoutingthomas said...

And, Crack, back to your comments about rap.

I'm not a fan, but I do know my musical history.

Rap isn't a new phenomenon. It's, in fact, a return to the oldest form of story telling.

The Greeks were doing it 2,000 years ago. The spoken word backed by rhythm instruments is the first song form.

There's always a thin line to be walked in story telling and song writing. If you move too far away from the traditions, as Zappa did, you risk becoming incoherent. If you don't elaborate and change the tradition, you're just a bore.

Oligonicella said...

shoutingthomas --

"mostly experimental and jokey"

Peaches in Regalia. Still studied by very serious musicians.

The Crack Emcee said...

Shouting Thomas,

The man who suggested parents, who don't want their children listening to sex-obsessed crap like "Sugar Walls", should play Classical around the house was "right on the edge"?

The man who fused, merged, and deconstructed everything from Stravinsky to Punk - and proved himself a virtuoso at all of them - was "traditional"?

The man who wrote "Everything that we have is American Made, it's a little bit cheesy but nicely displayed" didn't show lyrical ability?

I sincerely think you and the others - like so many others - missed the point of the man's life and work. A guy who played "serious music" should have to be serious himself? Even in a cultural scene (60s-80s) that he considered a joke? In an empty culture, where huge sellers are the likes of "Sugar Walls", he's being dissed for making (appropriate) poo-poo-ca-ca jokes about it - and being called "hostile" to boot? Are you kidding me? It reminds me of the criticisms - including being "incoherent" - being thrown at the Tea Party for, rightly, calling out tax-and-spend politics:

They are so angry about a wrong-headedness that seems normal by now!

And, finally, the man who said, when the battle is man against the world, "bet on the world" was expected to try and change anything? Why? So y'all could have a bigger target to throw rocks at? That would be intellectually "incoherent".

I do agree with you about the roots of Rap, but it also reinforces my point about Zappa:

When Rap came along, the great leaders of popular culture - excepting black music-loving Zappa - declared it wasn't even music.

Here was the most innovative form (turning the lowly, utilitarian turntable into a mind-blowing instrument; the invention of the 808 drum - even the total re-thinking of how AutoTune is used) brought into the world since Jazz - by blacks - and the cultural gatekeepers didn't allow it any freedom until Blondie's Debbie Harry did her best Pat Boon imitation for them. As Public Enemy later said, to the sneers of the wise ones, "It takes a nation of millions to hold me back!" And - just like with Rock 'N' Roll - they still failed.

As Patrick Monyahan (sp?) famously said, the conventional wisdom is usually wrong, and that statement couldn't be more true than when assessing the work and life of Frank Zappa.

former law student said...

Don't forget the vocal stylings of the great Captain Beefheart:

I'm a little pimp with my hair gassed back
Pair a khaki pants with my shoe shined black

Got a little lady . . . walk the street
Tellin' all the boys that she cain't be beat

Twenny dollah bill (I can set you straight)
Meet me onna corner boy 'n don't be late

Man in a suit with a bow-tie neck
Wanna buy a grunt with a third party check

Standin' onna porch of the Lido Hotel
Floozies in the lobby love the way I sell:

The Crack Emcee said...

Actually, it may have been Arthur Schlesinger (sp?) who made the conventional wisdom quip.

shoutingthomas said...


To me the guy who is really under-rated and under-appreciated is George Clinton.

I lived in Fort Greene Park in Brooklyn back in the early 70s when P-Funk was just going crazy.

I'd walk down the street past the brownstones in the summer and you'd hear a different P-Funk song blaring out of every open window.

Clinton employed the kind of rag assed humor that Zappa used, but I think he had a better beat.

The Crack Emcee said...

Robert Cook,

"After he disbanded his original MOTHERS OF INVENTION band, he never again made a record worth listening to."

Yea, Sheik Yerbuti was such a piece of crap - and the Grammy he won for "Valley Girl"? What were they thinking?

"His vaunted humor was sophomoric and had to do primarily with queasiness about bodily functions,...

Spoken like a man who couldn't recognize social criticism if it was Paris Hilton biting him on the ass:

Hey there, people, I'm Bobby Brown
They say I'm the cutest boy in town
My car is fast, my teeth are shiny
I tell all the girls they can kiss my heinie

Here I am at a famous school
I'm dressin sharp and I'm actin' cool
I got a cheerleader here wants to help with my paper
Let her do all the work and maybe later I'll rape her

Oh God I am the american dream
I do not think I'm too extreme
and I'm a handsome sonofabitch
I'm gonna get a good job and be real rich

Get a good
Get a good
Get a good
Get a good job

Womens liberation
Came creepin' all across the nation
I tell you people I was not ready
When I fucked this dyke by the name of Freddie

She made a little speech then,
Aw, she tried to make me say "when"
She had my balls in a vice, but she left the dick
I guess it's still hooked on, but now it shoots too quick

Oh God I am the american dream
But now I smell like vaseline
An I'm a miserable sonofabitch
Am I a boy or a lady? I don't know which

I wonder wonder wonder wonder

So I went out and bought me a leisure suit
I jingle my chains, but I'm still kinda cute
Got a job doin' radio promos
And none of the jocks can even tell I'm a homo

Eventually me and a friend
Sorta drifted along into S&M
I can take about an hour on the tower of power
Long as I gets a little golden shower

Oh God I am the american dream
With a spindle up my butt till it makes me scream
An I'll do anything to get ahead
I lay awake nights sayin' "Thank you, Fred!"

Oh god, oh god, I'm so fantastic!
Thanks to Freddie, I'm a sexual spastic
And my name is Bobby Brown
Watch me now, I'm goin down,
And my name is Bobby Brown
Watch me now, I'm goin down.

Joe said...

(The Crypto Jew)

Going with Crack on this one....funny, irreveraent, trend-setting.

1) The smartest rocker, by a long ways, didn't agree with his extreme libertarian streak in opposing Tipper, but always knew he'd thought about it.
2) Second smartest, Alice Cooper, because he is smart enugh to tell you that Rock Stars aren't very bright when it comes to politics,and that only a fool would get their political opinions from one.

I miss Zappa. I still use, "Is that a Sears poncho or a REAL poncho?" And, "Be a crew slut" just trips off the tongue...

Joe said...

(The Crypto Jew)

Lastly listen to "Trouble Every Day" and tell me it isn't timeless.

The Crack Emcee said...

I'll now leave you with the final lyrics from the most difficult Zappa Pop song to play - "A Little Green Rosetta" - because it sums up the Zappa ethos so well. Of course, he only played with the most amazing artists of his time (most going on to major careers of their own in Rock, Jazz, Funk, and New Wave) so please note the irony here:

They're pretty good musicians

They're pretty good musicians

They're pretty good musicians

(The singer's not too good, but the musicians are pretty good)

They're pretty good musicians

They're pretty good musicians

They're pretty good musicians

They're pretty good musicians

But it don't make no difference if they're good musicians, because anybody who would buy this record doesn't give a fuck if there's good musicians on it, because this is a stupid song


Long live Frank Zappa.

The Crack Emcee said...

Joe (The Crypto Jew),

I miss Frank Zappa, too - and I have for a long, long time.

Quayle said...

It is indisputable that Zappa played with the best.

The full list is impressive:

Some highlights:

George Duke
Terry Bozzio
Vinny Colaiuta
Steven Vai
The Brecker Brothers
Chester Thompson
Chad Wackerman

The Crack Emcee said...

Shouting Thomas,

"To me the guy who is really under-rated and under-appreciated is George Clinton."

One of my best friends works as one of his sound men on tour. He's a nutty crackhead, but his 70s-80s work was brilliant. I agree - he doesn't get the credit he deserves - but the accolades still come pretty heavy, unlike with FZ. If you want to find an underrated/underappreciated Clinton album, find a copy of one of my favorites - The Brides of Doctor Funkenstein - it's probably his most consistent concept album, as well as his most Pop.

"Clinton employed the kind of rag assed humor that Zappa used, but I think he had a better beat."

Dude, that has to be the understatement of the day. Clinton's musicians were the Young Turk "Black Power" guys stolen from James Brown, so the funk was deep (check out the outstanding African guitar on "One Nation Under A Groove") but, also, so fixed on the future they practically wrote it themselves:

It doesn't take a genius to see "One Nation Under A Groove" was the precursor to Africa Bambaataa's "Planet Rock" and, later, "Looking For The Perfect Beat" in Rap.

Rock 'N' Roll has been (insecurely) trying to regain it's footing ever since - though it never had to - because Zepplin's John Bonham had already delivered on that score: almost everything he played, no matter what the rest of the band was doing, was the textbook "Boom-Bap" Rap beat. ("Kashmir" was one of the first Rock songs repeatedly sampled by Rap producers.) Grab a Zepplin album and listen:

Bonham was waaay ahead of his time.

BTW - Brad, the guy who mastered my tracks yesterday, has a young white kid, named Jason, who's got the Bonham impulse - that "Big Beat" sound now excellently worked-to-death by Fatboy Slim and The Chemical Brothers. I'm hoping to corral him into doing something soon.

A good drummer makes all the difference.

The Crack Emcee said...


"It is indisputable that Zappa played with the best."

Yea, because "the best" are into playing "terrible music" that's "not much to listen to,...over the long haul", written by an "asshole endlessly delighted with himself" because he "doesn't tap into the tradition". Talk about misunderstood:

He had the first fully-integrated band - both racially and sexually - and his music has repeatedly been held up as a source of inspiration for the freedom struggle of many colonies of the former Soviet Union.

And, though he could easily out-weird (and out-write and out-play) his contemporaries, he didn't do drugs for inspiration like they did.

He was a true hardcore rocker - during it's "anything goes" heyday - who maintained a devoted nuclear family.

He started his own label - Barking Pumpkin - long before it became fashionable, or the idea of artists receiving "vanity labels" from the record companies (and pretending to run them) was in vogue.

He was using electronic instruments (the Synclavier) and MIDI technology, for composing, before most.

He was one of the first artists to do an entire "live" show using only recorded backing tracks - without the audience suspecting a thing.

He was - without a doubt - a genius.

shoutingthomas said...

OK Crack,

It's been a long time since I listened to Zappa.

I'll go back and listen.

I'll let you know what I think.

It's been a while since I heard anything that really got to me.

shoutingthomas said...

What's the name of the tune where he says: "And the band played some of the terrible-est shit ever known?"

D. B. Light said...

I can very well imagine a Baltimore Zappa. Just two years ago Rolling Stone named Baltimore as having the best local music scene in the country. There is no better place to hear alternative music. I can't access the cover story directly, but here is a blog post on the subject:

The Crack Emcee said...


Go with Sheik Yurbuti or (if you have the time) Joe's Garage. He was really at the top of his (recording) game there, mixing the live stuff with studio overdubs seamlessly (another innovation!) and fleshing out the concepts, sonically, like few before or after.

BTW - I'm sure you know, artist to artist, my disagreeing with you doesn't mean anything. I respect your musical knowledge and your regular defense of the form. I sincerely wish more were as knowledgeable as you.

Methadras said...

Without Frank, I never would have enjoyed the cavalcades of Moon Unit and Dweezle.

khematite said...

"Imagine Zappa without all the California in him. Imagine Baltimore Zappa."

Sure. Maybe something like a musical John Waters.

Rajhoul said...

It's pretty obvious that no one here has listened to Frank Zappa's music nor have they bothered to watch many of his interview on Youtube, otherwise they would know the lyrics of Trouble Every Day, I'm The Slime or Dumb All Over.

Nor do they know about his great guitar work as heard in Shut Up N' Play Yer Guitar, never mind Watermelon In Easter Hay.