Monday, September 24, 2007

Chaos Theory

Our friend Frank really liked to make stuff up. I mean, on the spot. Improvisational segments were built into every concert, and sometimes within songs.

Frank made his bands learn dozens and dozens of songs – some of 'em really hard, too – and jumbled the order around from night to night. On top of that, he introduced sheer chaos into the mix, which few to no other rock or even art rock bands would ever risk. Audience participation, dance contests, quiltmaking... Frank reveled in the danger! And it bore wonderful results.

He made himself improvise, too. Of course there were the guitar solos, so majestic in their architecture. And then there was the all-time masterpiece, "Jazz Discharge Party Hats." In real time, Frank musically related a funny story about his road crew, gilding it with his personal lamentations. Mr. Vai then added his brilliantly executed note-for-note guitar matching of the improv vocal (he scored it, too – see above) , and we have an all-time Zappa classic. Yet another completely original, genius-hilarious FZ piece that's nothing at all like anything he ever did before or since.

Compounding the absurdity was amazing Mike Keneally, who took it upon himself to learn both the vocal and guitar for "Jazz Discharge Party Hats" and play both at once in concerts.

So on the Sept. 28 Zappa's Grubby Chamber, let's find as many examples of this pehenomenon as we can, and play them, and be happy! Songs, that is, which include real-time chaos. "Jazz Discharge Party Hats" (both versions), "Dummy Up," "Be-Bop Tango," "Panty Rap, "Titties & Beer," lots of things in the You Can't Do That On Stage Any More series... what else?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Wholesome Family Entertainment

Above is a tattered Sept. 24, 1971 LIFE magazine clipping brought unto me by an interested listener – thanks, interested listener! It's just as I remember it. Frank certainly looks svelte – and just think about the tunes that were stewing in his brain at the time. Not sure what the lead time was on his compositions, but it's possible that Grand Wazoo and even Apostrophe and Overnite Sensation material was being born.

All of which has nothing to do with the budget of the film, although it helps. No wait. What I meant, was, in honor of Frank's family values, let's play happy, wholesome, family-oriented FZ tunes on the Sept.21, 2007 Zappa's Grubby Chamber – yes, there are such things. To qualify, songs have to at least acknowledge the existence of relatives, or specific familial persons, places or things, naturally excluding tropical possessions.

"Motherly Love," "Uncle Bernie's Farm," "Mom & Dad" "Bow Tie Daddy" "The Idiot Bastard Son," "Lonely Little Girl," "Little House I Used to Live In," "My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama," "Little House I Used to Live In," "Daddy Daddy Daddy," "Son of Orange County," "San Ber'dino," Yo' Mama," "Joe's Garage," Teen-Age Wind," "Harder Than Your Husband," "Truck Driver Divorce," "Baby, Take Your Teeth Out," "Porn Wars" and possibly others. Call or write with suggestions Friday night.

I included Porn Wars because that's the song in which Sen. Paula Hawkins (R-Fla.) tried to snidely impugn Frank's parenthood – or maybe she was just reflecting the mass misperception of Frank as some sort of demented Ronald McDonald of the Nouveaux Abstruse who couldn't responsibly spawn and raise genetic artifacts:

Sen. Hawkins: I might be interested to see what toys your kids ever had

FZ: Why would you be interested?

Sen. Hawkins: Just as a point of interest in this ah...

Well, come on over to the house and I'll show them to you.

Sen. Hawkins: I, I might do that!

To the best of my knowledge, Paula never swang by to check out Frank's kids' toys. If only she woulda...

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Joy of Loaf

San Francisco Chronicle, July 14, 1993

If you get Frank Zappa, you get loaf. No, your new smash-flop FZ album doesn't come with a gooey loaf center, except in the abstract sense.

Frank had an unerring sense of the absurd details that make life worth enduring. What other "rock star" would use Confinement Loaf as a garnish to his music? Only Frank, and we who love his music, would understand the relevance of loaf.

Zappa's music is multi-layered. It fully has the onion-skin art thing going on with it, and repeated listenings invariably yield fresh delights and insights. Sometimes, when I make promos for the show, I sample portions of his tunes. Often I'm taken by how complete the individual bits are – they're perfect compositions unto themselves, even though they weren't necessarily intended to be consumed as bite-sized lumps.

I'm thinking, for example, of that dazzling figure Frank deploys in "Honey, Don't You Want A Man Like Me?" after the line, "...the band was tight" at :28 to :32 . And what the hell is that thing at 1:03 to 1:05 in "Inca Roads?" Whatever it is, it's so very, very wrong, and simply wonderful.

And what about that "Go Hawaiian" lick (1:13 to 1:15 in "Drowning Witch," and other songs)? That thing, which I well remember from the original Donny and Marie Hawaiian Punch ads, was destined to become a Zappa hook, for way obvious reasons. Not only is it musically delightful, but the whole concept of "going Hawaiian" is so amazingly cheesy, well, it had to become a Frank fixture. Again, Frank finds the nuggets o' wonder in the mundane, and extrapolates them for his use.

But the wonderment can be even more subtle. As just one example, at 4:19 in "Andy," at the very end of one of the last drum-breakey parts, before it goes into the final tirade, there's what sounds like someone rapping a pang cymbal with their knuckle, and it's just the perfect touch. Who else would bother with such a thing?

On the Sept. 14 Zappa's Grubby Chamber, I'll play my favorite clever weirdnesses embedded in Frank's music – the odd corners and extra-special genius touches, which, along with the brilliant music and funny biznis, so distinguish FZ from the usual morass of meaninglessness that dominates popular culture.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

ZPZ Berkeley 2007, Part 3

It's been fun replicating the set list of the ZPZ concert for the past two shows, and we'll wrap it up Friday night. Dweezil's choices took us down some interesting conceptual byways, and allowed all kinds of interesting versioning!

Yes, we "assumed a wide stance." And speaking of poor, repressed Sen. Craig, "Brown Shoes Don't Make It," which we played last week, includes this passage, ripped from today's headlines:

A world of secret hungers

Perverting the men who make your laws

Every desire is hidden away...

This week's graphic is of two artifacts from the concert. The panties which Dweezil signed for me, thus ensuring that they'll never be worn (or washed), and the matching pick he gave me, which says, "Gary Coleman" for reasons unclear.

That's it! See you on the radio this Friday.