Things I’m Supposed To Love, But Can’t Stand: Frank Zappa

Yeah, I know – Frank Zappa was a really great guitar player…:

…although I never really cared for him there, either.

Over the years, I’ve been told “the Mothers of Invention were the best band of the sixties!”

Which was, of course, rubbish; they were just another big, self-indulgent jam band, like the Grateful Dead without the pot-headed geniality but with all of the snide, smarter-than-thou precociousness that the world would soon call “Frank Zappa”.

Frank Zappa’s greatest trick was convincing the world that “shallow, smarter-than-thou aping of people with real talent” was “groundbreaking”.  If we accept that Frank Zappa was the love child of Jerry Garcia, Jello Biafra and Weird Al Yankovic, then ask yourselves these questions:

  1. Can three people have a love child?
  2. If those three people could have a love child, would it be a good idea?

Oh, no doubt about it; Zappa was a clever fellow.  “Sheik Yerbouti”, his disco parody album from the late seventies…

…was one of the best visual gag/puns of the decade.

But his music?

“But he was so clever!”

No, he wasn’t.

“But he was a groundbreaking innovator”.

No, he was a dyspeptic crank with a creative streak.

“But he was a musical genius”.

No, he was a musical footpad with a cult following.

“But he was funny…”

Yeah, I know – don’t eat yellow snow.  Got it.

From the day I checked The Mothers’ “Weasels Rip My Flesh” out from the Jamestown Library, to the day he passed away (lamentably young, I’ll add), I detested his music; I’d rather be forced to listen to early-period Pink Floyd than any of Zappa’s various incarnations.

But disliking music is a fairly ambient thing.  My visceral dislike for everything Zappa represented was cemented years after my ennui for his music was set in stone.

Back in 1980, Zappa appeared on the New Years’ Eve edition of ABC’s old SNL knockoff Fridays, doing a “Top Ten Albums” countdown.  Predictably, he hated every album on the top ten (except for the recently-murdered John Lennon’s dismal Double Fantasy, which he called “a testimony to the good taste of the American record-buying public”). 

Now, #5 for the year was Styx’s vacuous Paradise Theater, an album I personally had no time for.  I’d developed a cordial dislike for Styx by this point, especially anything involving Dennis DeYoung, inflamed by having had to play the sappy, treacly, unbearable megahit “Babe” about a million times at my radio job in the past year). 

But what did Zappa mention in his review?  DeYoung’s whiny “woe is me” over the travails of being a spoiled rock star?  The trite bombast of everythign DeYoung touched?  The conceit of doing a concept album about a theater at all?

No.  He said – and I remember it word for word, 28 years and change later: “Styx.  They grow wheat where these guys come from”, before flinging the album away. 

Yes, Frank F****ng Zappa.  They grow wheat where Eddie Cochrane came from, too.  And they grew cotton where Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash and Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry came from.  Bruce Springsteen comes from tomato country.  Jimmy Hendrix?  Apples.  Liverpool was big for oats and potatoes.  And Frank Zappa. who was not fit to carry any of their gig bags, obviously came from wherever they grow bumper crops of ass***es.

Frank Zappa – rest his soul – was a waste of musical time.   He bores me.  Of him, no more shall be said.

24 thoughts on “Things I’m Supposed To Love, But Can’t Stand: Frank Zappa

  1. So, you *eventually* got tired of Styx….but you knew Zappa was a hack the minute you heard him….got it.

    Well enough about what you were thinking back in the old, busted days, Mitch. Let’s get to your take on today’s new trendsetters…do you think it’s true that Kevin is just riding on Nick and Joe’s coattails?

  2. a dyspeptic crank with a creative streak.

    True. But he was more accessible than his buddy Captain Beefheart. You really want to clear a room, put Trout Mask Replica on sometime.

    Zappa at least helped Lowell George get started. That’s something.

  3. So, you *eventually* got tired of Styx

    Yeah. After about two weeks in seventh grade. Nothing before age 15 can be held against a guy, musically.

    No, I never cared much for Styx. But I have a tiny soft spot in my heart for them for one reason, and one only; “Come Sail Away” was the first song I ever figured out how to play on guitar purely by ear; I listened to it on the radio, figured out the chords, and – voila – I could play it. I used to sit doing my homework listening to the week’s “Torrid Twenty” countdown on KFYR in Bismark, and when I heard a song I wanted to learn, I’d grab my guitar and try to play along, and eventually learned hundreds and hundreds of songs – and CSA was the first. Beyond that, Styx was of no value to me.

    But he was more accessible than his buddy Captain Beefheart.

    “But other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?”

    You really want to clear a room, put Trout Mask Replica on sometime

    I’d sooner gargle hydrofloric acid.

  4. ““Come Sail Away” was the first song I ever figured out how to play on guitar purely by ear; I listened to it on the radio, figured out the chords, and – voila – I could play it. ”

    Yeah well, I could probably have tooted out “Born to run” on a pop bottle after one hearing, but I knew it was crap right away and decided not to bother.

    I’m tellin’ ya Mitch, it’s that bicycle thing……;-)

  5. I could probably have tooted out “Born to run” on a pop bottle after one hearing,

    That’d be the “Franky Goes To Hollywood” cover version.

    Swiftee Say “Relax”.

  6. “Nothing before age 15 can be held against a guy, musically.”

    Well, I still think Ernie singing Rubber Ducky is a great piece of music. I refure to renounce that.

  7. You’d change your tune about Babe and Come Sail Away if you had heard Ted Nugent playing and singing them at a Damn Yankees sound check with Tommy Shaw and Jack Blades. I did, and a fourth dimension unfolded before me. I could hear colors….

    I’ve also heard that he did a “Ted-a-fied” version of Lady as well. So disturbing.

    As Ted said of Motorhead’s cover of Cat Scratch Fever – it’s like putting a cat in a blender saying “that’s good kitty”…

    But then again, I frequently appreciate the macabre.

  8. By the way, I have the exact same Les Paul as Frank in photo, but with Chrome hardware instead of gold. After 28 years, the neck’s warped and the action is jacked, but still fun to plug in.

  9. My favorite Zappa Story:

    His kid Ammet was getting crap at school because of his unusual name. They took to calling him “Ammet The Vomit”. In tears, he told his Dad he wanted to change his name to ‘Rick’ in school.

    Soon the kids started calling him “Rick The D*ck”.

    So he changed his name back to Ammet.

    After that, the kids called him “Ammet The D*ck”.

  10. Ammet was hillarious on Conan years ago when he would “dance” like Tom Jones.

    I’ve never really heard much Zappa, but I’ll make the snap judgment of saying that Werid Al is better than Zappa.

    Al’s a genius and has the best cover band in the industry. Al IS funny… and self-depricating.

  11. Well, obviously, there’s no accounting for taste.

    I’ll happily stipulate that FZ was (let’s be generous here) a difficult human being with a middle-school sense of humor.

    But fuckit, FZ was smarter-than-the-vast-majority-of-thou; his guitar playing was killer (check out any of the various “Shut up n’ Play Yer Guitar” CDs) most incarnations of the Mothers were in fact some of the most accomplished players out there, their arrangements were as complex as they were tight, and as FZ showed in his later years, he could do it all himself with just a synclavier.

    His music covered everything from doo-wop (Reuben and the Jets) to modern “serious” music (The Chrome Shark), and most points in between. The mistake is perhaps to consider him purely through a rock prism.

    Personally, I’d enthrone him on Olympus simply for his production of Grand Funk Railroad’s attempt to be taken seriously. FZ guest soloed on one track, and blew Mark Farner out through the back door. Upside down. On fire.

    Mitch, I just hope you don’t disdain Frank because he mocked and ridiculed the self-styled hip as savagely as he did middle america.

    As to the Greatful Dead? THERE is an outfit one is supposed to love but no sensible person could possibly stand. There weren’t enough drugs in the 60’s to convince me they were anything more than a third rate bar band, and there dammsure aren’t enough now.

  12. Dat’s wut I’m talkin’ ’bout!

    At the MOB gathering, me an’ bubba ‘gonna sit at our own special table and sneer at all of you lesser human beings.

  13. Oddly enough, Sunday night I took “Strictly Commercial” out of the CD case in the car and popped it in and played “Yellow Snow” for teen girls. I am one cool dad.

    Seriously, it’s about once every two or three years, but there are some guitar riffs he does that make me go “whoa!” Muffin Man is certainly one, and It Certainly Ain’t the St. James Infirmary is another. And even now the Eskimo with a dog doo snow cone makes me smile.

    “You’re only young once, but you can be immature forever.” Lary Andersen, former major league pitcher.

  14. mnbubba – ditto!

    FZ had disdain for everyone, especially his LA buddies and lifestyle. Conventional, he was not. And don’t forget his fights with Tipper – don’t remember Bruce ever weighing in on her attempts to subvert First Amendment.

    And as far as music – check out his bands, hardly garage assembles, unless you want to call Aynsley Dunbar, Jean-Luc Ponti, Adrian Belew, Chester Thompson, Peter Wolf and Steve Vai among others – amateurs, no?

  15. On his deathbed he gave one of his kids $5 to go out and buy a sixpack of Coke because he wanted his family to have “a Coke and a smile”.
    Frank was outspoken in his anti-drug position, and he hated Ronald Reagan.
    Like him or hate him, the man was an artist.

  16. I don’t recall Al’s wife looking like that… she looked much better in something else, maybe their wedding photo.

    I also thought Al gave up his glasses for The Lasik.

    Regarding Zappa… I’ll take Knopfler any day of the week. And Buck Dharma.

  17. Everybody misses the point about Frank Zappa. The question isn’t whether or not he was a great musician or not. The question is, really: Frank Zappa – Great troll, or greatest troll?

  18. Oh come on? What’s not to love?Eccentricity is what makes the world great, as long as you don’t have the will to hurt others. Zappa’s creativity was unrivaled, and of course it was a response to the world around him. Being able to lampoon your own generation as well as that of your elders keeps you honed. Now how about Moby Grape? “He”, “Bitter Wind”, and anything where Jerry Miller plays, Bob Mosley sings, is pure loveliness. And Jerry Garcia and the Dead, and Ray Davies’ poetry and songs. Remember Richard Berry, look at his influences, and BB King, to mention a few. Music is the art that touches so many, in so many ways. And there’s so much to enjoy and share. Suggestions? There’s probably a lot I’ve missed, and/or had the narrow mind not to explore. Joan Manuel Serrat’s poems and songs in Spanish or in Catalan are worth every moment. Everybody plays the troll, sometimes!

  19. All of you mentioned something interesting. Beefheart is still sounding good; accessible, no, but neither is so much that’s good, in nature, in people, in music. I thought I was incredibly broad minded (don’t we all), and now I see how I’ve limited myself. Hey justplainangry, you’re on. His bands were amazing. I walk the 3 miles to work and back listening to them (and a lot more) and I’m always struck by something new I’d either taken for granted or had a new experience to make it live again.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.