Posts Tagged ‘zappa’

Inspiration From Some Old Dead Guys

December 1st, 2016

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Isn’t it a pity

Now isn’t it a shame

How we break each other’s hearts

And cause each other pain

How we take each other’s love

Without thinking anymore

Forgetting to give back

Isn’t it a pity

 

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Whoever we are, wherever we’re from

We shoulda noticed by now our behavior is dumb

And if our chances expect to improve

It’s gonna take a lot more than trying to remove

The other race or the other whatever from the face of the planet all together

 

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And we all shine on

Like the moon and the stars and the sun

Yeah, we all shine on

 

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I’m afraid of Americans

I’m afraid of the world

I’m afraid I can’t help it

 

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Hey you know something people

I’m not black but there’s whole lotsa times I wish I could say I’m not white

 

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Get up, stand up

Stand up for your right

Get up, stand up

Don’t give up the fight

 

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Because of their half-baked mistakes

We get ice cream, no cake

All lies, no truth

Is it fair to kill the youth?

 

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This is not America

 

UNSPECIFIED - CIRCA 1970: Photo of Curtis Mayfield Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Pardon me, brother, while you stand in your glory
I know you won’t mind if I tell the whole story
Pardon me, brother, I know we’ve come a long, long way
But let us not be so satisfied for tomorrow can be an
An even brighter day

Frank & Fred

November 24th, 2016

There’s a lot of women out there who love buying $70 yoga pants, right? That’s a top-of-the-line price for yoga pants, right? I assume so. I’m not an expert in the women’s yoga pants realm. But I know a lot about Frank Zappa, the late American composer. And I’m pretty sure that Frank Zappa does not have much of a female fanbase.

 

from Diva Zappa's twitter

from Diva Zappa’s twitter

 

That is Kat Dennings from 2 Broke Girls wearing a pair of yoga pants with the cover of “We’re Only In It For The Money” by the Mothers Of Invention.

 

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Should be on yoga pants, right? Right.

 

Some Zappa fans are outraged that Diva Zappa is selling yoga pants with her father’s image and iconography on it. I’m personally ehhh about it. Hey, go ahead. Sell some yoga pants if you can. I guess Diva is selling this to people who have money.

 

This has been a disaster of a year. A bunch of awesome musicians and Glenn Frey died. The Cubs won the World Series and then a week later we killed democracy. Now Frank Zappa’s face is all over a bunch of designer yoga pants which is another development in an aggressive-aggressive sibling feud. Lady Gaga bought the Zappa mansion. Kanye had a breakdown onstage. American Idol ended at some point. Now the Nazis are back. I’d be glad to take back American Idol if we could get rid of the Nazis.

 

I’m typing on Thanksgiving at three in the morning. November 24, 2016. It is the 25th anniversary of the death of Freddie Mercury.

 

When I was in high school, I took a lot of flack and got picked on regularly for being a major Queen fan. I admired the singer, performer and songwriter Freddie Mercury. The same man who I was told repeatedly by my classmates was a queer, a faggot, who died of AIDS. This was not somebody to be admired, not in their wanna-be-macho eyes.

 

I was defiant. I was right. What’s the old saying? First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win. I won because I stood up to the people who picked on me. I survived. And many of them had their personal favorite Queen songs but didn’t talk about it.

 

I am the person I am in part because of my high school years. Queen and later Frank Zappa were very important to me then and still are. It was music. Only music and yet it means so much. I learned about where the things I like come from.

 

Freddie died at 45. Frank was 52 when he went a few years later. Time is so precious.

 

Love In The End Times

September 23rd, 2016

Just listened to The Family version of “Nothing Compares 2 U” and started tearing up. Because I’m in love with somebody. I’m crazy about somebody. And that’s a road I’d rather not go down. Not right now.

 

Lady Gaga bought Frank Zappa’s house. I don’t know how I feel about that. I guess it could be worse. Tipper Gore could have bought it. Or Jared Leto. I hate Jared Leto so much and I don’t have any good reason but if the news reported tomorrow that Jared Leto was trampled to death during a race riot, I’d dance a happy jig.

 

The other night I was all set to gorge myself on about twelve hours of live Japanese wrestling. That didn’t last long as the city of Charlotte engulfed in protest over police shooting an unarmed black man. A protest that got out of hand, or a riot, depending on who you ask. It was a horrible scene. One dead, many injured. Everybody on Twitter an instant expert. It took me out of the mood to watch fake fighting.

 

We are a people who have not learned the lessons of the past. Twenty-five years ago, LAPD cops beat Rodney King so badly he needed to be hospitalized. If it had not been for the quick thinking of a neighbor who shot the incident with his video camera, the world would never have known how brutal police treated the man who went to hospital with a fractured facial bone, broken right ankle, and multiple lacerations and bruises.

 

Immediately, cop defenders (usually white people) would say that Rodney King should not have been driving drunk. That he should not evaded the police and led them on a high-speed chase. That he had already been convicted and served time for robbing a store in 1989. And all of this is fair and true. But BUT they really fucked him up. Come on. They didn’t rough him up. They beat him savagely. For a long time. And were videotaped doing it. And then were found not guilty on all charges.

 

So fuck it. The cops can be videotaped beating a black man with batons and not get in trouble for it. What do you do? No kidding there was a riot. As if before NWA’s “Fuck The Police” nobody ever thought that. As if calling cops “pig” was a new thing. As if cops didn’t have an intimidation factor that gives people, innocent or not, the shakes. But the blacks will be blamed by whites for destroying their own community and the whites will be blamed for not getting the fucking point.

 

There are so many fucking racist goddamn white people out there. Proud-to-be-racist stupid fuckers. And they act like it’s a numbers game. Because if the white people get outnumbered by the blacks and Latinos then they’ll start working out on the whites for a change. What a goddamn embarrassment. There are people who are actually afraid that the white race will be eradicated.

 

Here are some thoughts about that. First, I don’t care. Second, that’s such a dumbfuck thing to be afraid of. Goes to show you how embarassingly stupid the cowardly racist tends to be. Third, the entire human race is up for grabs for numerous reasons. If you believe that the Zika virus is a threat, and if you believe that we are running out of clean water, and if you believe that the gas supply is running out. Combine the melting ice caps and the possibility of President Trump who wonders why we can’t just fire nukes at countries that make us mad. We’re talking borrowed time, folks.

 

This is a horrible time to be in love.

 

 

 

50 Fuckin’ Years of “Freak Out!”

July 14th, 2016

Quick, what’s the greatest rock album of all time?

Nope, it’s not Sgt. Pepper’s. Or Pet Sounds. Nope. Or Blonde By Blonde. Nice try, though.

Don’t trust anyone who tells you emphatically what the best album of all time is. How do they know? Maybe it’s the best album as ranked by a like-minded group of writers and musicians in the same peer group who all grew up with the same music which is why you end up with a bunch of fifty-year old albums like the ones above in the top spot (hi, Rolling Stone).

 

I’m sure if you ask the right group of people, they’ll tell you that David Bowie’s fucking Tin Machine made the best al-

 

Frank Zappa and the Mothers Of Invention released “Freak Out!” fifty years ago this summer.

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I think about how well regarded “Pet Sounds” by the Beach Boys is now. Brian Wilson is fondly remembered as a brilliant songwriter and producer. He gets to live his winter years being venerated as a genius, a Kennedy Center honoree, touring for adoring fans. After decades of disrepair and mental torment, Brian Wilson is the victor.

 

“Freak Out!” was released the same year as “Pet Sounds”. Zappa would make records with various lineups under the name “Mothers of Invention” until 1975, and continued a solo career up until his passing in 1993. There hasn’t been a revival of Zappa music at least since 1995 when Rykodisc released CDs of every Zappa and Mothers album (over 60). Rykodisc released several approved compliations of his music, and found long-lost treasures like the soundtrack to 200 Motels, which had been out of print over 25 years and the never-released “Lather”.

 

Unfortunately, Frank isn’t here to celebrate with us. He passed away from prostate cancer in 1993. Three of the five Mothers on the cover of “Freak Out!” are dead and a fourth is in prison. You don’t know want to know why.

 

It’s a double-album, which was unheard of at the time. The only other artist to do it at that time was Bob Dylan who was at the apex of Bob Dylan God-hood. It took a lot of nerve for Frank to insist on this for his very first album but perhaps he thought it would be his “only” album so why not get the most out of it.

 

The sound of the album is indicative of 1960s California rock, complete with session musicians. Unlike “Pet Sounds”, the Mothers actually play their instruments on “Freak Out!” even when joined by orchestral accompaniment. The horns are replaced by the grating of kazoos. Either to save money or because it sounds appropriate. The first song is a garage rocker with anti-LBJ Great Society sentiment and bile to match in the lyrics. It’s dirty punk before punk is a thing. Zappa is barely singing, mostly sneering his lyrics. Ray Collins is carrying most of the melody vocally. Ray does such a great job as a singer and as a straight man to Frank’s wiseguy on the side.

 

“I Aint Got No Heart” is a vicious anti-love love song. Ray handles the lead and Frank lays back and harmonizes instead. They don’t play it for laughs which gives the song its’ power. There’s a hallucinatory cut right at the end that you don’t expect. “Who Are The Brain Police?” is when things turn for the strange. More hallucinatory cuts and a main tune that disturbs. This song is why distorted fuzz bass was invented. Also the song is asking you who are the fucking brain police.

 

“Motherly Love” is a song about how good the Mothers of Invention are at sex. “Wowie Zowie” is a nonsense with a nice marimba part that’s designed to make children happy even though there’s a line that says “I don’t even care if your dad’s [a cop]”.

 

The first disc on “Freak Out!” is a cynical take on 60’s culture and pop music skewed and bent totally out of shape with lyrics that reflect the band’s daily reality as a nighttime entertainment on the Los Angeles club circuit. “You’re Probably Wondering Why I’m Here” is the culmination of the bar-band musician’s nightmare and he completes that sentence with “and so am I, so am I”.

 

Disc two is where “Freak Out!” separates itself from any other album before or after it. “Trouble Every Day” is the last conventional song, a lengthy talking protest blues written by Frank after the Watts riot in ’65. It is unfortunately still timely today.

 

“Hey you know something people? I’m not black but there’s a whole lotsa times I wish I could say I’m not white!”

 

You know we got to sit around at home
And watch this thing begin
But I bet there won’t be many live
To see it really end
‘Cause the fire in the street
Ain’t like the fire in the heart
And in the eyes of all these people
Don’t you know that this could start
On any street in any town
In any state if any clown
Decides that now’s the time to fight
For some ideal he thinks is right
And if a million more agree
There ain’t no Great Society
As it applies to you and me
Our country isn’t free

 

From there, the album devolves or evolves into experimental music. First with the bizarre “Help I’m A Rock” which uses those hallucinatory cuts from “Who Are The Brain Police” to connect its’ parts. Smash cuts of gibberish over a one-note beat into multi-level stoned doo-wop about Kansas and swimming pools, all with the sinister refrain “it can’t happen here”.  In between, Frank complains about being a rock: “Wow, man, it’s a drag being a rock. I wish I was anything but a rock. Heck, I’d even like to be a policeman.”

 

 

The final track on “Freak Out!” is “Return Of The Son Of Monster Magnet”. It’s about twelve minutes long and is the sound of a room full of acid freaks banging on a bunch of rented percussion equipment. The only people not on acid during the recording were Frank (notoriously straight his whole life) and the recording engineer. The “song” is an edited but unfinished rhythm track (because the label would not let Frank spend more money to finish it) and sounds like a trip, either good or bad. Through the acid mist, there’s the mocking voice of Frank Zappa cutting in to say “America is wonderful! Wonderful wonderful wonderful! It really makes it!” before the track speeds up into absurdity and flies away forever.

 

A lot of bands tried to copy “Sgt. Pepper’s” after it came out but many more tried to copy “Freak Out!” right down to its’ end-of-album freak-out. Some albums become important retroactively but “Freak Out!” had an impact that was felt immediately. Every band had to try to do their own version of that album.

 

Frank didn’t know if he would ever get a shot like that again. He was twenty-five, which was old for rock ‘n roll at the time. The Mothers were not an attractive band but what they had were attitude and commitment to an ideal. They also had the chops to go against just about any other band but what did any of that mean career-wise? They were still struggling on the club circuit. If you only get one chance you want to make it the best you can and not save your better material for better circumstances. You have three days to make this album. The band is practically starving. Well-rehearsed but starving. What do you do?

 

You swing for the fucking fences? That’s what you do.

 

Frank made over sixty albums in his lifetime. Some of them are pretty good (“One Size Fits All”, “Joe’s Garage”), some of them are the dirt worst ever released (hi, “Thing-Fish”) but NONE of them would exist without the artistic success that was “Freak Out!” which is worth it all on its’ own.

Eat That Question

June 24th, 2016

We could really use Frank Zappa right now but we lost him twenty-three years ago.

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When a major news event breaks, I sometimes wonder what Frank would have had to say. After 9/11, or Hurricane Katrina or even now with the UK and its’ Brexit news. Frank died at the young age of fifty-two in ’93. It’s possible he could still be here if not for the cancer.

A new movie called “Eat That Question” compiles interview footage from Zappa’s entire career, from years before his ’60s fame until months before his death. He was an intelligent guy, outspoken and unafraid to state his opinion when asked. He fought for the First Amendment, the rights of creative people, and pushed the envelope in his own music. He fought governments, record companies, public views of what’s acceptable.

 

The world is a better place because Frank Zappa was in it. Frank Zappa stood for freedom and actually applied it instead of paying lip service to the idea of freedom. I would like it if somebody could do that now. Is it too hard now? To stand up for what you believe in wholeheartedly? To not compromise in your integrity or your art? To say what you want to say without fear of backlash? If it is then we’ll need another person to come along and show the way again. They needn’t have to compose music as incredible as “Peaches En Regalia” but it couldn’t hurt.

 

I want to see “Eat This Question” and am waiting for a screening somewhere near me. The nearest so far are in Indianapolis and Atlanta. I’m holding out for a Louisville or Nashville screening. I want to see this in a theatre. I want to see this with other people who want to see this. I want to take my best friends to see this and say “Here. Here is the guy I wanted to be when I grew up.”

I Ask You For $9 Million

March 8th, 2016

I know this is asking a lot but I’m gonna need you guys to give me $9 million.

 

Gee that’s an oddly specific number, Mike? Why not ten million while you’re at it? 

 

This is a good question. I’m “only” asking for nine million because that’s how much Frank Zappa’s house is being offered for on eBay.

 

Yes, Frank Zappa’s Hollywood Hills mansion is up for sale on eBay. Nine million dollars.

 

I’ve done some calculations and between my Facebook friends and Twitter followers, I can buy the house if everyone kicks in a little over $9000 apiece. Some people are both so they’ll have to double up to make this happen.

 

In the unlikely event that I am unable to purchase this $9 million dollar mansion, I will cry for a few seconds and then move on with my life.

 

This is a fantastic opportunity for me to tell you about Who The F*@% Is Frank Zappa?, a feature film to be directed by Alex Winter. He is raising money to produce the film on Kickstarter. I thoroughly recommend you check out the Kickstarter link and see what I mean.

 

I’ve spent most of my life as a Frank Zappa fan. We are an underserved, moaning lot of rapidly aging people who simply want our musical hero to get the recognition he deserves.

 

Frank Zappa is better than the Beatles because they were totally into his music but he didn’t care for them that much.

Frank Zappa is better than the Beach Boys because he was a better composer/producer than Brian Wilson while being kind of a dick at times but nowhere near Mike Love-level.

Frank Zappa is better than David Bowie because David Bowie tried to steal Adrian Belew from Zappa’s band and Zappa told him “Fuck you, Captain Tom.”

Frank Zappa is better than Brian Eno because he made music that has to be listened to instead of relegated to the background.

Frank Zappa is better than Bob Dylan because Bob asked him to produce his “Infidels” album and Zappa turned him down, suggesting Bob hire Giorgio Moroder (he didn’t).

Frank Zappa is better than Aerosmith because Aerosmith could totally write a song like “Dinah-Moe Humm” but could never write anything like “Inca Roads”.

Frank Zappa is better than Rush because Rush could totally write a song like “Inca Roads” but could never anything like “Dinah-Moe Humm”.

Frank Zappa is better than Steely Dan because “Aja” is like “Overnite Sensation” for timid people.

Frank Zappa is better than Kiss because everyone is.

Frank Zappa is better than Nirvana there is no Dave Grohl equivalent in the Zappa universe.

These are a few of the reasons why Zappa fans are so hated. We are obnoxious. We think our guy is better than everyone else. It’s easy to say Zappa > Bieber but to say Zappa > Tom Waits? Now you’re stepping on toes. Hipster toes. Music snob toes. Zappa fans are too isolated and broken inside to be snobs.

 

You’re Different, And That’s Okay

January 12th, 2016

When David Bowie’s death was announced, I didn’t believe it.

When I checked the official Bowie social media, I still didn’t believe it. The official Facebook and Twitter said he died after an 18-month battle with cancer. I thought it was a hoax. His son Duncan posted a tweet saying it was real and that’s what it took for me to believe even though I didn’t want to and still don’t want to.

 

If you get a chance, read Adrian Belew’s Facebook post about Bowie. He has a great story about David Bowie hiring him to play in his band even though Belew was currently in the middle of a tour (and a show) with Frank Zappa. Literally, Frank was doing a gig in Berlin and Bowie asked Belew to join his band while Belew had a moment to walk off stage.

 

A lot of people say that Bowie allowed the loner to be comfortable with their existence. Which is true for a lot of people. But then I think Frank Zappa did that, too. Only they weren’t “loners” or “outsiders”. Those kids in 1966 that Frank Zappa talked to were “freaks”.

 

And I think about it some more and I realize that it doesn’t matter. What we need are more positive reinforcements for the outsider. Lady Gaga went from singing about being “born this way” to accepting Golden Globe trophies like it’s the most important thing in the world. Kanye West wants to be an innovator but he kisses up to the fashion scene which is the most snobby clique. Who’s left for the little guy/gal?

 

Frank Zappa basically said “I’m different, and you’re different, and fuck everybody else.” David Bowie basically said “I’m different, and you’re different, and that is okay. It’s all the same. We separate and subdivide ourselves into little groups. Somehow we end up being the outsider among outsiders. We don’t have to be.

 

There will be a time when you can even take your clothes off when you dance. Give me your hands ’cause you’re wonderful.

Keep It Greasey

September 7th, 2015

This week in 1979, Frank Zappa released the first act of his Joe’s Garage. A three-record set, each record its own “act”. Acts two and three followed that November. I would like to take this opportunity to talk about it even though last year would have been more appropriate seeing as how the album was 35 years old and not 36. But we’re here and we might as well take the time.

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There once was a series of posts on this website called “Oh Zappa You Card”. The relationship between Frank Zappa (1940-1993) and the listening public was generally one of mutual avoidance. His most popular material and best selling work tended to be his least substantial (1974’s “Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow”, 1982’s duet with daughter Moon Unit “Valley Girl”). If his albums showed up on the Billboard Charts, they would be somewhere near the bottom. 1969’s Hot Rats, considered to be one of Zappa’s finest, largely failed in the United States (though it reached the Top Ten in England).

 

The general wisdom seems to be that Zappa’s defining moment was his first, 1966’s debut with The Mothers Of Invention Freak Out. A few years later he had another defining moment when The Mothers released We’re Only In It For The Money, the cover of which parodied that of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s. This tends to be the one thing they mention in brief before mentioning that he broke up The Mothers in 1969, released Hot Rats, then reformed The Mothers with Flo & Eddie from the Turtles, then got thrown off a stage in London in ’71 by a crazed fan. Then he released “Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow” and his career kept running along through various peaks and valleys until the mid-80s where he testified before a Congressional subcommittee, the late 80’s when he befriended Czech president Vaclav Havel before dying in 1993.

 

In five sentences I skimmed through over a quarter of a century’s events. The second half of a the life of a complicated, artistic, intelligent individual who more industrious writers have written whole books about. I did it the way an asshole music reviewer would do it because Frank Zappa had no time for those people and vice versa. And Joe’s Garage one of those albums that gets skimmed over in lieu of Zappa’s sixties work or that of Beatles, Beach Boys, Rolling Stones and his old friend and former schoolmate Captain Beefheart’s Troutmaskreplica. This detail about Beefheart and that Zappa produced Troutmaskreplica often gets mentioned in passing as well.

In the Rainbow orchestra pit, London, moments after nearly being killed.

In the Rainbow orchestra pit, London, moments after nearly being killed.

 

You don’t get to be considered a Great Artist ™ unless you have recorded a Career-Defining Masterpiece (also tm) which is the one thing all your subsequent work will be judged by. David Bowie and Scary Monsters. Prince and Sign O’ The Times. The problem with Zappa for many critics is his last C-DM was Hot Rats, a full 24 years before he died. If he had died in the ’71 stage assault in London, critics would have been kinder to the man. They would have taken more time to get inside his recordings, both solo and with The Mothers. Perhaps Uncle Meat would be right up there with Pet Sounds, Sgt. Pepper’s and Blonde On Blonde on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Rock Albums Of All Time ™. Perhaps original Mothers’ vocalist Ray Collins (1936-2012) would be on the list of Greatest Vocalists.

 

All because by 1971, Frank Zappa hadn’t written a song about music reviewers and journalists which said “I believe you is the government’s whore and keeping peoples dumb is where you’re coming from.” Or he hadn’t written it. . . yet. But he would for Joe’s Garage, in a song titled “Packard Goose”. By the end of “Packard Goose’s” eleven minutes, some of them probably wish he HAD been killed when thrown off the stage at the London Rainbow.

Impossible to put these album covers out now. Progress?

Impossible to put these album covers out now. Progress?

 

There are several things I want to say about this song, on an album I want to talk about but haven’t even gotten around to discussing in detail yet. “Packard Goose” is the second most important song on Joe’s Garage, which is an album that deserves as much consideration as a naive art rock record like Beefheart’s Troutmaskreplica even as it stands as a diametric opposite in how it was put together and presented. The same man produced both albums, even if he did it ten years apart.

 

This is the part where an asshole would write something like “by 1979, Zappa’s patented sneer had curdled into something more sinister. . . Joe’s Garage is an example of satire reduced to smutty diatribes in an over-long triple album long on guitar solos and short on ideas”. I’m quoting a review I made up but I feel like I’ve read it dozens of times. A strawman record reviewer. Which Zappa deals with on “Packard Goose”.

 

The basic story of Joe’s Garage is that in a world where music has been made illegal, a guy named Joe makes up imaginary guitar solos (“if they only coulda heard it” he sings on “Outside Now”). There are at least three songs on Joe’s Garage where Joe imagines a guitar solo. Joe eventually loses his mind and gets so carried away that he begins to imagine critics panning his imaginary guitar solos. He then imagines a whole song designed to tell those critics to fuck off. . . the imaginary ones, right? “Packard Goose” is that song.

 

Because even as Frank Zappa designs “Packard Goose” as a way of furthering a rapidly-disintegrating plot in the latter stages of a what turns out to be his most personal album, he takes this opportunity to get his own back after a decade-plus of bad reviews written by people who didn’t understand the material, the music going on under the lyrics they hated. Hiding behind the lead vocal of Ike Willis who played the titular character, Zappa’s”Packard Goose” stands as his most personal song. A song of venting anger and frustration, a song where the existential pointlessness is disheartening yet freeing.

 

Joe’s Garage came about at a time when Zappa could finally say damn near anything he wanted. On the heels of the incredibly successful Sheik Yerbouti album, which featured a radio hit in “Dancin’ Fool” and the incredibly graphic “Bobby Brown Goes Down” which topped the charts in Norway. The most infamous track on Sheik Yerbouti is “Jewish Princess”, in which Zappa sings about lusting for a girl “with titanic tits and sandblasted zits. . . who don’t know shit about cooking and is arrogant looking.” Jewish activist groups protested Zappa and the song but Zappa refused to apologize.

 

Zappa rode out the storm of criticism and Sheik Yerbouti became the best selling record of his entire career. Having released it on his own record label with CBS International handling the distribution, Zappa replied to “Jewish Princess” with an ode to “Catholic Girls”. “With a tongue like a cow, she could make you go wow. . . Catholic girls with a tiny little mustache” proved that Zappa held his own ethnicity and heritage in as little regard as anyone else’s. “Catholic Girls” is sort of how the story of the making of Joe’s Garage begins. Zappa was riding a wave of success after Sheik Yerbouti and never being one to shy from speaking his mind, he had one overriding message to the people who bought all three acts of Joe’s Garage in the autumn of 1979. . . and that was “ultimately, who gives a fuck anyway?”

 

Joe’s Garage is a mess, a masterpiece, an ugly outburst that hides the loneliness, isolation and sorrow in plain sight. For a man who didn’t write “personal” songs, this album certainly feels like a personal one, even as it hides behind subplots like a sexual appliance who shorts out after a golden shower and an sodomite prison guard with a penchant for mangling the English language. It’s a fatalistic fantasy that collapses for lack of a dynamite ending. It’s Eraserhead, Brazil, Forbidden Zone. To get to the point of the entire album and hear “Watermelon In Easter Hay”, one of the greatest songs the man ever recorded, Zappa made the listener wade through sodomy, sex toys, venereal disease and the joyless pursuit of happiness and fulfillment in modern life. Joe’s girlfriend objectifies herself (“Crew Slut”). Men objectify her in turn (“Fembot In A Wet T-Shirt”) and Zappa sarcastically asks “Aint this what life is really all about?” No one is innocent, nor are they satisfied.

 

And ultimately, who gives a fuck anyway?

Wrestling, Music and Love

June 7th, 2015

I would like to tell you a story about my friend. I met him sometime early in 2013, when he went on a date with my other friend Mary. It may have been their first date for all I know. He became Mary’s boyfriend and I became his friend as much as I was a friend to Mary.

 

For someone I only saw every few weeks at best, I felt like he knew me better than most. He respected my ability as a singer and songwriter and encouraged me to keep at it. I always felt like it was helpful to have someone believe in my work, and Jon and Mary were two such believers.

 

Mary and Jon. Two true believers.

Mary and Jon. Two true believers.

 

For Christmas ’13, I got him an Elvis Presley bootleg on vinyl that I had. He was a major Elvis fan, borderline expert. He had King-ly muttonchops, had just about any Elvis record he could dig up and even dressed like a denim-clad King. He loved the King, he loved Bob Dylan and had a Dylan-ish mop of curly hair. He hated to be considered a hipster. I understand. Hipsters want to look like they don’t care how they look, Jon cared VERY MUCH how he looked, and it showed.

 

Truth be told, he was a bit of a retro-hipster. I’m sorry, Jon. Please don’t get mad.

 

The summer of ’13, we went to a TNA Wrestling TV taping in Louisville. We sat through a sweaty show with a half-capacity crowd just to get a glimpse of Hulk Hogan. After the show, we drove downtown Louisville trying to figure out where Hogan’s hotel was. I can’t remember where we ended up but while Mary and I moped in the lobby, Jon caught a glimpse of Hogan eating in the lobby restaurant and we went in there to have a few drinks and muster the courage to go bother the Hulkster.

 

I heard Jon say something about Sprite to the bartender, and offered to get me one. I said yes, not knowing the Sprite was one-half of a drink. I nursed it and after about a half-hour we got the courage to go bother the Hulkster at his table in the corner, where he was sitting with his daughter Brooke and Wayne from “The Wonder Years” for some strange reason. We mumbled to him like starstruck ninnies and he took a picture with us.

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A few months later, Jon and I had an argument. I have no idea why. We had watched an episode of TNA Wrestling. The one where Hulk Hogan quit and Dixie Carter begged him to stay and clung to his leg like a child. It was so bad and we were in such a bad mood we turned on each other and had words. It was ugly. We made up and I later blamed TNA for being such a terrible show that it almost broke up our friendship.

 

I played him Jethro Tull. He hated it. He played me Bob Dylan. I still don’t know about Dylan. Maybe I’m the dickhead because I prefer Tull to Dylan. I like Tull but not as much as he liked Dylan.

 

 

We exchanged wrestling-related gifts over the next year. I got a pair of Stardust gloves and an autographed picture of Carlos Colon and Abdullah The Butcher battling each other in a Puerto Rican ring, both men covered in blood. I gave him a copy of insider newsletter The Wrestling Observer from his birth month and year (August ’83). I played him some of the songs I had worked on recently and he was always supportive. He always texted me while on the road with his client and friend, Shooter Jennings. Mary always traveled with him, selling merch and keeping her manager boyfriend sane. Long before she began traveling with them, I tried to get her to watch “Frank Zappa’s 200 Motels”, a silly movie with the motto “touring can make you crazy”. While the constant touring could be difficult and frustrating, they never let it break them. The world did not degenerate into a two-dimensional room filled with one-dimensional people like in Zappa’s movie.

 

Jon did not make me less ambivalent about Dylan but he turned me on an album called “Frisco Mabel Joy” by a songwriter called Mickey Newbury (d. 2002). If you’ve seen “The Big Lebowski” you will know a song he wrote for Kenny Rogers called “Just Walked In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)”. I could not get him to enjoy one second of Jethro Tull but I convinced him to give a listen to Alex Harvey (d. 1982) who was the leader of The Sensational Alex Harvey Band.

Jon passed away June 1st, 2015. Worst Monday ever. The funeral was Friday. I saw him in the casket. Mary could not look. I can’t say I blame her. He looked good in there. Even had his shades on. Typical Jon. His family closed the casket out of respect to Mary. After the service in Central City and the burial ceremony in nearby Greenville, the sky cried a long rain for a Muhlenberg boy who made good and left too soon.

 

Life is ridiculous and random and has no plan. If there is a God, then God’s plan is an eternal mystery to its’ followers no matter what meaning we may attach to events. No matter whether you are religious, spiritual, atheist, agnostic or in the music business, just know that we’re only here a short time and no matter what we say we end up taking the narrow view on things.

 

He’s gonna meet Frank Zappa and Freddie Mercury where he’s going and I’m jealous.

 

 

 

Oh Zappa, You… Were Right

May 20th, 2015

Q: Do you think it’s necessary to have a college education to survive in today’s society?

ZAPPA: It’s probably a detriment.

Q: For what reason?

ZAPPA: Well, the only real reason for going to college is maybe you can go there and marry somebody who’s got some money already. But if you want to go out and earn a living, the best thing you can do is get out of high school and get a goddamn job. Because all the degrees in the world aren’t really gonna help you. You got people with fucking degrees in all kinds of stuff who wind up working in professions that require little or no education and here they spent thousands of dollars on getting it. And how does our society reward them? With dogshit.

 

I would like to point out this was first printed in 1978. I have a Bachelor’s degree I never use and by no means am I alone. I somehow got lucky enough to not rack up tens of thousands of dollars in student loans that would take a half-life to repay. College is a business. My alma mater will get exactly zero of my dollars. It’s not like I have that many to begin with. High school teaches you to be a good little consumer and for most young Americans, their first big purchase is a college education. Supposedly, it’s an investment but I think not.