Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Zappa Live

I recall an interviewer once asking Frank which he preferred – recording or playing live. Paraphrasing his answer, Frank said that while he had fun in the studio, it was live performance that he really liked. He has said that he very much enjoyed making the instant compositions of his guitar solos, and as we know, Frank was always one to interact with the audience on a very risky and spontaneous scale few other artists would attempt.

And yet at times Frank spoke almost disparagingly of touring, talking about playing "Muffin Man" over and over just to pay for his Synclavier explorations and symphonic events. I didn't necessarily like that characterization of the live shows being something mildly mercenary and a means to a different end. I thought that was our communion time with Frank. But maybe I read it wrong.

I go back and forth. When I hear some genius studio song (as one example, anything off "One Size Fits All"), I think that's best. But when I hear the guitar solo on "Pick Me, I'm Clean," or "Any Kind of Pain," I think that's the best. Call it situational ethics. Hey, it's all Frank; it's all good.

Frank's shows were mindbending in terms of the musicianship he and the boys would perpetrate, but also for the surprises – fresh interpretations of old material, plus new affronts. I heard "Broken Hearts Are For Assholes" for the first time at Stanford on Nov. 19, 1977, and Bozzio's impossibly brilliant drum solo that night. People were walking out of Maples Pavilion in a daze, and not all of them had utilized dope-fiend devices at the show.

Because the most amazing thing about Zappa shows was the way he took control of the situation. From the first notes, or even before them, you knew you were in Zappa's weird but perfectly internally logical space. It was a fun place to be. Sometimes, in the last few minutes before the show, his unmistakable guitar would peal off a flurry of naughty notes from backstage over the pre-show music as he tested the PA out. You might even hear a the chords of "Louie, Louie." It always got a rise of excited recognition from the audience. Then Frank would come onstage, redefine reality and you were off to the races.

One of the tunes that smothers me in Zappatude is "Variations on Sinister #3" on disc 2 of Guitar. I might have my guitar genius friend Mike McLaren explain to me what that bizarre harmonic climate is all about, the scales Frank is using, etc. All I know is that it's disturbing and embracing all at once – everything we love about Frank. It's its own reality, and it makes perfect sense.

So, I'll go ahead and play exclusively live material on the June 29, 2007 Zappa's Grubby Chamber. Just for fun. I'll also try and do the Jay Brown interview that was techno-stymied last week.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Arcata Muffler Brain Police

Well, I guess we can now answer Frank's question, "Who are the Brain Police?" They were the softball team for Arcata Muffler, circa 1976-80. So maybe we shouldn't worry so much.

No, on second thought, let's keep worrying. I suspect that these aren't the only Brain Police. And the others probably don't spend much time on softball.

I must say, just the term, "The Arcata Muffler Brain Police," is worth a blog post in and of itself. I'll bet Frank would have appreciated the internal oxymoronicality of it all. The muffler orientation sort of de-diabolicalizes the whole concept of brain police.

In the halcyon pre-Interwebs days, it used to be a big deal when you met up with a fellow Frank fan. I remember when I met a guy named Mike Bisordi in U.S. Air Force basic training. I think he was from New Hampshire. At night, when the other guys in the barracks went through their Cheech and Chong routines, we'd recite "Billy the Mountain," inducing ennui and puzzlement in our brothers-in-arms, or brothers-in-underwear as they were.

Of course, nowadays Frank fans can readily network online, so we aren't lone voices in the wilderness. And yet, it's still special when you happen upon someone in everyday life who "gets" Frank.

One such soul is Jay Brown, who I sort of know. He's an Arcata artist, and when I passed him in the hallway the other day he congratulated me for having the Zappa show on KHUM. It turns out that he's a fan, too. He's the one standing with his arms folded, third from the right in the back row of the AMBP team photo. And he drew the team logo, below.Jay says the other guys on the AMBP team sort of appreciated the concept, but didn't care about it all that much.

Anyway, on the June 22 Zappa's Grubby Chamber, I'll play whatever fits the mood until about 10:30 p.m., and then we'll have Jay on via phone to talk Frank. He can better relate the whole AMBP thing, and we'll play some of his fave FZ songs.

I want to start doing this more often - probing the minds of Frank Zappa fans live on the show. Let's call them Friends of Frank.

So, dial up KHUM Friday, June 22 at 10:30 p.m. Pacific time, and learn all there is to know about the Arcata Muffler Brain Police.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Strictly Commercial

First, howdy to anyone who wandered over from Kill Ugly Radio, a wonderfully well-evolved FZ blog and a great resource.

Last week's "Least-Loved Frank" show inspired the most feedback from listeners ever. There seems to be some general, though not universal, sense that some parts of "200 Motels," "Joe's Garage" and "Thing-Fish" lack the statistical density of wonderment usually found in Frank music. Between what I had planned and the listener suggestions, I didn't even get to all the least-loved songs. So that's grist for a future show.

This week, though, let's play some commercially acceptable music. Frank often came up with charming little ditties which might have been "hits" had there been any logic or justice in the radioscape. But no.

The graphics above are samples from the "Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch" press kit (click to enlarge). I love that big, boxed disclaimer at the top of the Buyways thing: "...personally written by FRANK ZAPPA whose unique humor we hope you enjoy." Translation: "The crazy man did this. Don't blame us. He's trying to be funny, but never mind, just buy the damn album." You can almost see the silk-jacket weasel record company executives scurrying for cover.

I also like Bennett Glotzer's appeal to radio programmers to "consider all other cuts." Oh right, I'm sure "I Come From Nowhere" got a lot of airplay amid the Olivia Newton-John and INXS or whatever was being foisted at the time.

So, for the next ZGC, we'll go for the gold, and play lots of Frank Zappa "hits" that never were. For the Least-Loved show, I played "Valley Girl," and since I can't stand to play that more than once a month or so, that's out. But I will play other catchy toe-tappers, like "No Not Now," "Be In My Video," "Daddy, Daddy, Daddy," "Status Back Baby," "Dancin' Fool" and more.

Any ideas? (707) 786-5486 or Or you could post a reply here, of course!


Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Least-Loved Frank

Isn't that the most craptastic Zappa illustration you ever saw? Frank and various forms of aquatic life – what a concept. It's from an old Guitar World magazine that Digital Dan stuck up on the wall at KHUM. The other side is a Limp Bizkit poster. (I'm standing by for the take-down notice from GW.)

That poster symbolizes a show concept I've had in the back of my mind since starting Zappa's Grubby Chamber – the FZ music I don't really like very much.

My enthusiasm for FZ music is not unalloyed. There are iterations of Frank that are singularly unappealing – songs of his that are dull and annoying, at least to my ears. That doesn't mean they may not be as great as the stuff I do like. Since he didn't waste his time, I'm sure Frank had his reasons. Apparently my brain just isn't wired to appreciate these particular tunes. I don't get 'em. And I've tried.

One of the FZ songs I've never cared for is one you probably adore – "Dinah-Moe Humm." There are some cute turns of phrase, and the playing is of course impeccable. But it's like a Cheech & Chong record. Once you've heard it a few times, the returns diminish below the interest threshold. For me. And that's unlike most of Frank's work, which is so enduringly amusing.

Last week someone requested "The Mammy Nuns" from Thing-Fish, and I kind of hoped I'd find something to like about it, playing it again after years. Alas, it was the same as I'd remembered it: good Frank music talked over by Ike doing his Amos 'n' Andy schtik. And the point is...?

"200 Years Old," "Bamboozled By Love," "The Dangerous Kitchen" and "I Don't Even Care" are all on my least-loved list, as are, shockingly, "Advance Romance" and "The Torture Never Stops." The latter two are one-joke affairs with uninteresting melodies, and interminable. It stands to reason that these would be songs Frank would put out multiple versions of.

And yet, he never even officially put out some of his best nuggets. I wish he'd done a YCDTOSA based on that wonderful Knebworth Festival show I have a bootleg of. And here's one: on some bootlegs, in that great middle section of "Wet T-Shirt Nite," there's a part where the melody is sort of parsed out and punctuated by wonderful Vinnie drum statements. It's brilliant, and yet Frank cut it for some reason. Seems like we could have heard that rather than yet another version of "Advance Romance."

Further, a lot of the stuff on his later albums seems sloppy and limned with excessive kibbitzing between band members, blowing lines and repeating inside jokes. I'm sure it was a lot of fun for the band, but that stuff doesn't wear well.

So, are there any FZ songs you don't like/get/ever listen to? Let me know, and we'll play them on Least-Loved Frank this week. Hell, maybe I'll have an epiphany and finally see the light of FZ genius in these songs after all these years.

Oh, and there's also a request left over from last week: Alice called asking for "Billy The Mountain." I'll play the full, half-hour Playground Psychotics version after the commercial break in the second hour.