The music of Frank Zappa strikes again!
Ahead of our upcoming season concert Cage & Zappa self-confessed Zappa-phile Jeannie Marsh shares highlights from one her favourite books about her favourite composers.
Written by Jeannie Marsh
Zappa describing an incident from his first tour with his band Mothers of Invention in 1966:
In Detroit we did a television show where we were asked to do something perverted: “lip-sync our hit”. We didn’t have a “hit”, but the producer said, “Lip-sync your hit – or else”. So I asked, “Do you have a prop department here?” Fortunately, there was one.
From it, I gathered an assortment of random objects and built a set. We had been asked to pretend to play either “How Could I Be such a Fool?” or “Who Are the Brain Police?” so I suggested that each member of the group choose a repeatable physical action, not necessarily in sync with (or even related to) the lyrics, and do it over and over until our spot on the show was concluded – Detroit’s first whiff of homemade prime-time Dada.
(extract from The Real Frank Zappa Book page 80)
There are a number of things about this quote that I loved when I first read them as a young musician 25 years ago, and that I still love today:
- Lip-syncing on TV variety shows has been standard practice for a long time, but Zappa seems to have immediately seen it as dishonest/phoney/ridiculous/offensive, and called it out in the strongest terms – he calls it perverted. This is a man who doesn’t hold back, who clearly has strong ideas about what artists should and shouldn’t be asked to do, and what audiences should and shouldn’t be asked to put up with.
- And not just any old perverted, but perverted in bold – his vivid personality and responses just jump right off the page! One of the joys of reading The Real Frank Zappa Book is the way he uses every strategy available on the printed page to make it come alive, as though he were sitting right there in front of you, talking animatedly about stories, ideas, things that are important to him. Underlining, bold, italics, and CAPITALS capture the emphasis and rhythm of his speech and thoughts.
- But surely the most delicious aspect of the story is the way he quickly finds a way to subvert the task they have been given. Naming it as “homemade, primetime Dada” is the icing on the cake in this story – typical of the humour and artistic insight found throughout the book.
There are so many other aspects of the book that make it one of my all-time favourite books about life as an artist, for example the drawings and cartoons scattered liberally throughout every chapter – a giraffe looking longingly at a quivering plate of Jell-O (page 254); drunken trumpeters from the London Symphony Orchestra during a recording session for his orchestral music (page 155); “hot rats” (from his 1970 album of the same name), clowns, and Zappa in a wheelchair (page 108); and so on… you will need to get hold of a copy of the book to enjoy the story behind each of these unlikely images!
Zappa was obsessed, driven by his music (a pretty familiar state for people at ANAM). He had his own unique aesthetic vision, and he pursued his vision with integrity, boundless energy and an astonishing work ethic – and audiences went with him. He did not sanitise his vision to suit the prevailing fashions of his time – he TOTALLY went for it. You’ve just gotta love the guy!
Get the book, read it, laugh, be exasperated, be inspired:
The Real Frank Zappa Book by Frank Zappa with Peter Occhiogrosso, Poseidon Press, 1989
Experience the music of Zappa and more at ANAM on Saturday 12 August.
PLUS we serve up something a little different in the 1hour dinner break – a live podcast and dinner boxes by Goldilocks Lunchbox*!
CAGE & ZAPPA
SAT 12 AUGUST 7PM
CAGE Sonatas and Interludes – selections
FRANCESCO ZAPPA Trio Sonata no. 3
ZAPPA Ruth is Sleeping
ZAPPA The Black Page
HARVEY 48 Fugues for Frank – selections
ZAPPA G-Spot Tornado
Michael Kieran Harvey piano
Timothy Young piano
Peter Neville percussion
*Pre-ordering a dinner box highly recommended. Limited boxes available on the night.