Thursday, July 22, 2010

My Frank Zappa Problem (And Yours)

One of these days I'm gonna post the Stereo Review interview I did with the head Mother in 1975. Let's just say that I've got issues with the guy, and he wasn't nuts about me either.

But -- and I understand that he's a genuinely important musical figure of the late 20th century blah blah blah -- if you want to know why he gets up my nose (and not just as a guitarist), this apparently popular live cover of Zep's "Stairway to Heaven" is exhibit A.


Mother of Invention - Stairway to Heaven .mp3
Found at bee mp3 search engine

Jeebus -- it's like a bad Holiday Inn band with an attitude.

44 comments:

Alex said...

I don't get Zappa. Never have.

People I respect insist it's not a case of the Emperor not wearing any clothes... but I don't see what they see.

M. Bouffant said...

bad Holiday Inn band with an attitude

Central to his point.

The Parlez said...

The world does not need a reggae version of this song. The cartoon style noises squashed between every phrase don't help matters much.

Not Zappa's finest hour.

steves said...

Point taken.

But I confess to kinda liking his cover of "I Am the Walrus."

Anonymous said...

Sounds like the Henry Kaiser Band, but not having as much fun as the Kaiser Band had with the classics.

Zappa frequently liked to have his cake and eat it too by staying above the fray with his superior attitude.

Gummo said...

I was surrounded by Zappaheads all thru my youth, and I never got it.

His 'eternally snotty adolescent' attitude just seemed so easy.

I prefer artists who aren't afraid to make fools of themselves with a little real passion.

steve simels said...

M. Bouffant said...

bad Holiday Inn band with an attitude

Central to his point.

Said point being, as far as I can tell, his immense superiority -- on every level, musical to moral -- to the schmucks that wrote and performed the original song.

As if, for all his talent, he could have written something as memorable as "Stairway." Or come up with guitar work as interesting as Page's on that song.

I'm not saying "Stairway" doesn't have some pomposity worth skewering, but Zappa's sneering contempt for it is totally unearned.

IMHO.

Sal Nunziato said...

I won't start in on why I love Zappa, though it is tempting to list about 20 Zappa tunes that are as memorable as "Stairway To Heaven."

But is no one amused--in a good way--by the fact that the classic rock song, performed by a man who can certainly play the guitar like a'ringing a bell, chose to have the most famous guitar solo of all time played by a horn section?

steve simels said...

Actually, the most famous guitar solo of all time is from "Louie Louie."

Another song Zappa liked to make fun of. As if he could have written it.


Sorry, I get a little annoying on the subject of Zappa sometimes...
:-)

Faze said...

I'd like to read that Stereo Review interview. My impression is that Zappa was a bossy control freak who simply wanted to replace other people's artistic pomposity with his own self-satisfied, non-entertaining whim-wham. (And I agree with you about the "Louie Louie" guitar break.)

Jerad said...

A friend of mine tried to interview Zappa once and all he got was a three hour session of Zappa reading some diatribe.

I appreciate a good joke but if you're just going to make fun of the interviewer why agree to the interview?

Anonymous said...

Don't you know he's a MUSICAL GENIUS???

WHAT-EVERRR

Liked some of his album covers (Weasel's Ripped My Flesh is one of my all time favorites) but his "music" has always eluded me. Reminds me of a slightly more talented Captain Beefheart.

mister muleboy said...

but Zappa's sneering contempt for it is totally unearned.

I think this sums up his approach to . . . everything.


During the early '80s, when he was celebrated for taking on Tipper Gore and the record-labeling dolts at the PMRC [and I use dolts for fun; it's pribably the kindest thing Zappa would ever have said], I found Zappa to be a humourless, indiscriminate buffoon whose opposition to their stand actually lent them credence -- he was more hamhanded and intolerant than Tipper Gore.

Someone who can't see that other misguided souls might not be both evil and stupid, but misguided, is a jackass.

And he was certainly a jackass. . . . his speech to the assembled aspiring musicians at NYC's 1984 New Music Seminar was a painful exercise in moral and artistic superiority and snobbishness disguised as a pro-music attack on the PMRC>

Jackass. . . .

Edward said...

Stairway to Gilligan's Island is still the ultimate takedown.

Gummo said...

Sometime in the 1970s, Lou Reed said (and though this is from memory, I'll swear it's almost exact): "Frank Zappa couldn't write a decent song if you gave him a million dollars and a year on a tropical island."

Lou Reed speaks for me.

Not to mention that Lou could out-sneer Zappa into a puddle of goo without even taking off his shades.

Dirk Gently said...

sorry dudes, i love zappa. strictly commercial is the most often played cd in my collection.

Anonymous said...

ima gonna let you talk, Steve, but everyone knows that Zappa and Mike Nesmith spoofing each other on The Monkees was one of the penultimate moments of the 60's.

fmcg said...

Steve, whenever the sound of crickets gets you down, all you ahve to do is post something about Frank Zappa!

TMink said...

Frank rocks my world. The arrogant putz!

Trey

Anonymous said...

Sometime in the 1970s, Lou Reed said...

...which is why Lou Reed gave the induction speech for Zappa to the R&R Hall of Fame to a chorus of boos. whatever it is, it's not samo.

steve simels said...

fmcg:

It seems you're right. Who knew?
:-)

Brooklyn Girl said...

Aw, c'mon, someone who would name his kids Moon Unit and Dweezil can't be all bad ... :-)

Seriously, I bought "Freak Out!" in 1966, sound unheard, off the rack from the Sam Goody at the Garden State Plaza simply because of the cover. I loved that record. "Suzy? Suzy Creamcheese?"

And her liner notes:

The Freak Out! back cover. The small text reads: "These Mothers are crazy. You can tell by their clothes. One guy wears beads and they all smell bad. We were gonna get them for a dance after the basketball game but my best pal warned me you can never tell how many will show up...sometimes the guy in the fur coat doesn't show up and sometimes he does show up only he brings a big bunch of crazy people with him and they dance all over the place. None of the kids at my school like these Mothers... specially since my teacher told us what the words to their songs meant.
Sincerely forever,
Suzy Creamcheese
Salt Lake City, Utah."


And that their manager would make them bigger than The Turtles.

That was funny shit back in 1966.

But, having said that, I never bought another one of their records, and lost interest.

Although I did see them at the Fillmore, and guess who two of their singers were?

steve simels said...

Sandler and Young?

Noam Sane said...

An arrogant rock star??!!

Zoot allures! Shocked, shocked, i say!

The world would have been a much, much duller place without Frank. Ace guitarist, brilliant songwriter, put together these great bands and whipped them into some kinda shape. One of the best producers rock has ever known. Funny as hell too.

Never met him, I assume he would have treated me with contempt as well. You know, I met Elvin Bishop once and he was a complete asshole to me. What are his credentials? Played guitar on a few songs, put out a few crappy blues albums? Frank was a monster, a musician's musician who inspired and influenced just about every player in his wake. You don't have to like him, but you cannot deny his genius.

dave™© said...

Any guy who played a bicycle on the Steve Allen show is OK by me.

dave™© said...

Also in Zappa's favor, in my book: he was smart enough to let Don Pardo do the announcer's part when he played "I Am the Slime" on SNL. That, indeed, was a stroke of genius!

steve simels said...

I don't doubt his genius. I just don't particularly enjoy it.

His guitar work, however, has never failed to reduce me to scowling fidgets. Absolutely don't get what it is that people like about him as a player...

Michael said...

re: "Frank was a monster, a musician's musician who inspired and influenced just about every player in his wake"

uh, no. not at all.
Had a crack in time erased Zappa from the history of rock and roll nothing would change.

dave™© said...

Gee, I never really had strong feelings about Zappa one way or the other, to be honest. Though I had a roommate in college who LOVED "Joe's Garage" and that was kind of annoying...

Elroy said...

Steve, if you ever need some comments over at your Hollywood blog, maybe you should bring Zappa up over there!

dave™© said...

Maybe a post on "200 Motels" - which I like, btw. One of the best of the "self-indulgent rock star movie directed by an unskilled rock star director" genre. Honest to God, I think it's pretty good!

steve simels said...

Elroy, you may be right. I had no idea that all I had to do is rag on Zappa and the world would beat a path to my door.

And Dave's right about 200 Motels. Actually it's a lot of fun...

TMink said...

Yeah, technique is not everything. What I like about his guitar playing and solos is how different and composerly they are. He had a great left hand, very active, and the solos did not sound like anybody elses. He could include the blues, but could go off on some Varese thing that I NEVER heard anywhere else.

But, Frank got no soul. Maybe that is the ultimate disconnect. His passion was most often ridicule and satire, and just how much of that do we need?

Trey

steve simels said...

Trey nails it, I think.

TMink said...

Well steve, I was thinking of your criticism of the thin white duke: All performance, no heartfelt feelings. He could act like he was singing the blues, play the part, but you could not hear the hurt in his heart.

And so it is with Frank.

Trey

billy b said...

Love Zappa. That is all.

Anonymous said...

Lou can say what he wants about Zappa (and he should!) but I bet Lou never played bicycle on the Mike Douglas Show:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y9P2V0_p6vE

AP

Noam Sane said...

Had a crack in time erased Zappa from the history of rock and roll nothing would change.

Hard to argue with that statement. Thanks for setting me straight!

To move on to the more non-asshole-ish points being made above, and just to choose one example, I consider "Sofa" to be an exceptionally thoughtful consideration of the concept of God...yes, couched in the usual wise-ass Zappa lyrical worldview. But underneath that is a reverence for the natural world and a longing for there really to be someone/something pulling the strings and making things right. Even if that something is an overstuffed maroon sofa that speaks German.

Deep down, the guy was a humanist, even if on the surface he was sort of a prick. (Not the first or last of that type, to be sure).

And yeah, he didn't do the Chuck Berry thing, it takes all kinds, you know? It's not powerpop, so I can see why his style doesn't appeal to many folks here...nor does, say, John Coltrane's approach to soloing, probably.

steve simels said...

I will have more on this subject next week, I suspect.
:-)

Michael said...

Well no trey, not at all. Bowie actually wrote and performed songs that affected peoples lives, and a whole slew of em have a good beat and you can dance to them.

Zappa made condescending albums in which he steered at his audience and his medium.

steve simels said...

Kids, kids...

This is supposed to be a happy occasion. Let's not bicker and argue over who killed who...
:-)

dSmith said...

What turned me off to Zappa was a stint he did as a guest vj on MTV. He and his son were going off on Jimmy Swaggart and Stryper. His idea of a joke was to repeat over and over that they were just trying to make a buck. It wasn't funny and showed no understanding of human nature. It was as sneeringly ignorant as Jimmy Swaggart himself.

TMink said...

Michael, I enjoy Bowie a lot! While I agree with Steve's point (I was paraphrasing something he had said) I have a lot of Bowie on the computer and iPod.

I have more Zappa though. Much more. But that is just me. Sorry if I stepped on your toes pal, that was not intended.

Trey

peter spencer said...

<>

Yes, I can. A hundred years from now Zappa will be a footnote to the career of Don Vliet.

I saw the original Mothers in Cleveland in 1969, an enjoyable show, but not because of FZ, who remains the most self-indulgent guitarist I've ever heard. As soon as he got musicians who could play his music "correctly" it became completely devoid of human feeling and about nothing more than how hard it was to play, sprinkled with naughty words as a marketing ploy.