Robert Shelton – “Frank Zappa: Son of Suzy Creamcheese” (1966)

November 26, 2008 at 9:58 pm (Frank Zappa, Reviews & Articles)

Written for The New York Times, Christmas Day, 1966, The Mothers of Invention were still a new band at this point and had only just come out with their debut album Freak Out! in June. Most people did not know what to make of Zappa & his band of weirdos when they first exploded onto the scene. This was one of the first major articles written about Zappa…


The most original new group to simmer out of the steaming rock’n’roll underground in the last hour and one-half is an audacious crew from the West Coast called The Mothers of Invention. The eight-member group will be appearing through New Year’s Eve at the Balloon Farm, the new haven for young hippies at 23 St. Mark’s Place, atop the Dom.
The Mothers of Invention are primarily musical satirists. Beyond that, they are perhaps the first pop group to successfully amalgamate rock’n’roll with the serious music of Stravinsky and others. Both in their material and in their looks, they are also furthering some of the more outrageous elements of anti-convention, thus contributing to a new style that might be called “shock rock.”
Compared to the Mothers of Invention, such earlier big-beat groups as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones emerge as Boy Scouts with electric guitars. The hairier-than-thou personnel of The Mothers, include at this writing (“everyone in the band has quit three times”) performers on harmonica, tambourine, percussion and timpani, electric bassoon, soprano saxophone, tenor sax, flute, gongs, electric clavichord and “mouth.” There is a lot of alternation of instruments among the band members. No one knows for sure who plays drums. The father (or Dada) of The Mothers of Invention is 26-year-old Frank Zappa, spindly-framed, sharp-nosed gamester whose appearance suggests some of the more sinister aspects of Edgar Allen Poe, John Carradine and Rasputin. In truth, Mr. Zappa is no more sinister than a cultural revolutionary bent on overthrowing every rule in the music book.
On arriving here, Mr. Zappa took a moment off from worrying about when the plane carrying the bands 18 boxes of equipment would be found by the airline, loosened his pink-on-pink tie from his Carnaby Street collar and explained to a visitor just what he is up to: “I am trying to use the weapons of a disoriented and unhappy society against itself. The Mothers of Invention are designed to come in the back door and kill you while you’re sleeping.” A smile crept through the undergrowth of mustache and goatee, and he continued: “One of our main, short-range objectives is to do away with the top-40 broadcasting format because it is basically wrong, unethical and unmusical . . . Sure, we’re satirists, and we are out to satirize everything. Most of the guys in the band feel that we’re going to do something to help.”
Mr. Zappa was not explicit about how he was going to lead his crusade against the pop and serious music Establishments, other than to get his band’s work more widely heard. Audiences at the Balloon Farm have been listening to variations on Mr. Zappa’s themes with considerable delight. They have heard such Zappa originals as “Help, I’m a Rock” (“. . . dedicated to Elvis Presley. Note the intersting formal structure and the stunning four-part barbershop harmony toward the end. Note the obvious lack of commercial potential. Ho hum”), “Motown Waltz,” “Who Are the Brain Police?” “Wowie Zowie” (“. . . carefully designed to suck the 12-year-old listener into our camp”) and “The Return of the Son of Monster Magnet.” Other works are entitled “The Mother’s American Pageant,” “The Duke of Prunes,” “Plastic People,” and “Son of Suzy Creamcheese.”
If all of this sounds even a bit outlandish, Mr. Zappa has apparently hit his mark, for he thinks that “freaking out” is an important method of expression and effecting change. He defines “freaking out” as “a process whereby an individual casts off outmoded and restrictive thinking, dress and social etiquette in order to express creatively his relationship to his immediate environment and the social structure as a whole.” Not the least of the fascinations of hearing The Mothers at work are the incidental uses of classical or serious music in rock arrangements. Besides Stravinsky, Mr. Zappa has scored rock adaptations of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40, Holst’s The Planets and a touch or two of Edgar Varese.
Mr. Zappa began serious composition at the age of 14. “At 15 I gave it up and decided to become a plumber. How long did I stay in plumbing? I’m still a plumber . . .” The Baltimore-born, West-Coast-reared musician has had a turn at nearly every form of music extant. He has written “serious” works for string quartet, chamber orchestra, scores for the films World’s Greatest Sinner and Run Home Slow. He describes the latter as the only known cowboy picture using electronic music, in which the good guys presumably head off the bad guys at the oscillator. Mr. Zappa had almost despaired of “making it” in serious American music, but admits that he might make it through the back door of rock’n’roll. But “rock is not just a stepping-stone,” he cautions. “Rock is tha only living music in America today. It’s alive. I’m bringin music music [serious or classical concepts] to our rock arrangements. Stravinsky in rock is like a get-acquainted offer, a loss-leader. It’s a gradual progression to bring in my own ‘serious’ music.”
Listening to The Mothers of Invention is an adventure, in which the auditor is warned to expect veering curves and sudden changes. Some of it is psychedelic sound (without the drugs), some is a marvelous spoof on the late-1950’s teen-scene nonsense, some of it is social comment on the hypocrisies of contemporary life, and some of it is just, to use Mr. Zappa’s phrase, “music music.”
Mr. Zappa urges that every lover of pop music run out and buy the Vanguard recording of Varese’s futuristic “Ameriques.” “It blows my mind. It’s my favorite top-40 record.”

Robert Shelton

Permalink 1 Comment

Frank Zappa – “Lumpy Gravy” (1967)

November 26, 2008 at 9:41 pm (Frank Zappa, Reviews & Articles)

Sometimes referred to as his “favorite album,” this perplexing but always fascinating album (technically his first “solo” album) came out briefly in 1967 on Capital Records in 4-track cartridge tape form. Zappa’s label at the time, MGM, threatened legal action and it was pulled. The 4-track cartridge system was an early competitor to the more successful 8-track tape format. According to Zappa himself, the Capitol 4-track of Lumpy Gravy is one of the rarest official Zappa releases – if not the rarest. Capitol had also begun preparation of the vinyl LP record as well as a 7″ single from the album (“Sink Trap” b/w “Gypsy Airs”) but these did not get past the test pressing stage.
The MGM/Verve version of the album was released on LP record and 4-track cartridge in May 1968 and later in an 8-track cartridge version also.
This review comes from issue #13 of
Rolling Stone (June 22, 1968) by Jim Miller. This album, then as now, has always divided listeners.
I just read that Frank’s widow Gail said a 40-year anniversary deluxe edition is supposed to come out very soon… 


Lumpy Gravy is the most curious album Frank Zappa has been involved in to date, and in many ways the music just doesn’t make it; as it says on the cover, “a curiously inconsistent piece which started out to be a ballet but probably didn’t make it.” The record was recorded in February of 1967, and Zappa conducts the “Abnuceals Emuukha Electric Symphony Orchestra and Chorus,” which is made of stray Mothers and some of Hollywood’s top studio musicians. On the back of the album we are asked by Zappa, “Is this phase 2 of We’re Only In It for the Money?” but Lumpy Gravy is hardly a sequel in quality or kind to Money, although it does share some thematic material with the later Mothers’ group.

Lumpy Gravy carries to an extreme the protean, fragmented musical approach that Zappa favors, but on the whole the work is rather inert. The composition is liberally garnished with dialogues about everything from living in drums to pigs with wings, but most of these spoken sections seem rather artificially forced. There are several jabs at surfing music, and the record closes with an instrumental version of “Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance” that could have been arranged by the Ventures. In contrast some sections of Lumpy Gravy are so extremely chromatic that they verge on “atonality;” these passages are usually scored for strings and/or woodwinds, although towards the end of the second side an atonal passage for wind instruments is incongruously accompanied by a studio drummer.

Parts of Lumpy Gravy break down into cliched lush string writing, while other parts abound in burps and bits of electronic music not unlike sections of “The Chrome Plated Megaphone of Destiny.”

Yet in spite of its varied tricks, Lumpy Gravy does not come to life; it is a strangely sterile recording, as though all the studio musicians reading their music could not do what a batch of well-rehearsed Mothers can do. Missing are the songs and the energy of the Mothers, with all their casually tossed off mistakes vocally and brilliance instrumentally; furthermore what Zappa has lost by not using the smaller Mothers he has not really gained back by using a huge orchestra. The texture of the music (and the scoring of the instruments, for that matter) is surprisingly conventional and even boring, especially if one is familiar with Zappa’s love of burps, aimless dialogue and certain kinds of electronic music.

Nevertheless Lumpy Gravy is an important album, if only because Frank Zappa is one of rock’s foremost minds. This album, recorded well over a year ago, demonstrates the problems that serious rock as a whole faces, as well as the compositional limitations (as of a year and a half ago) of one of serious rock’s leading voices. Lumpy Gravy can hardly be called successful, yet it points the way towards more integrated, formal protean compositions such as Zappa’s masterpiece We’re Only In It for the Money. It might be said that Zappa makes mistakes other rock composers would be proud to call their own best music; Lumpy Gravy is an idiosyncratic musical faux pas that is worth listening to for that reason alone. 


Jim Miller

Permalink Leave a Comment

Tangerine Dream – “Alpha Centauri” (1971)

November 26, 2008 at 9:16 pm (Krautrock, Reviews & Articles, Tangerine Dream)

Written by someone named stereomachine, this was written for the Head Heritage/Unsung website (to which I have contributed pieces over the years), Feb. 5, 2005. Link to this site is in the blogroll section…
The first Tangerine Dream album, called Electronic Meditation did not contain any synthesizer, which makes it an anomaly in the band’s catalog, who’s made reputation by using all the cutting edge synth technology in past three or four decades. Rather, it was a jam session made by a psychedelic rock band interested in improvisation and unusual unconventional sound experimentation, which was marred by being a bit too unfocused. The line-up consisted of, besides guitarist Edgar Froese, multi-instrumentalist Conrad Schnitzler and drummer Klaus Schulze, both of whom became solo artists using mainly electronics, just as would Tangerine Dream subsequently. After Electronic Meditation, changes would come: exit Shnitzler and Schulze, enter Christopher Franke and Steve Schroyder, the latter being an organist who was however kicked out of the band after recording the second album, the former being a multi-talented young 17-year old drummer also having interest in the works of Stockhausen and Ligeti, and who had acquired a VCS-3 synthesizer. Not only did the line-up change drastically, but the music was about to change as well. Exit (most of the) rock influences, enter synthesizer experimentation and space themes.
Recorded in January 1971, this album consists of three pieces. Original Side 1 had two shorter songs, which were one foot stuck in the original Pink Floyd-ish psychedelic space rock influences, and other foot stepping to the furthest reaches of unworldly cosmos in its avant-garde electronics, whereas side 2 would embrace the latter paradigm fully. “Sunrise in the Third System” opens up with delicate plucking of a harp-like instrument which gives way for church like organ playing a meandering pseudo-classical chord progression in the minor A key, which resembles the final part of Pink Floyd’s “A Saucerful Of Secrets” with Edgar Froese’s eerie ghost-like moaning glissando guitar taking the centre-stage in the composition. This 4-minute track also sets the whole mood for the album; dark, desolate, “abandon-all-hope” type of gloom and sense of tragedy mixed with far out trippy spaciousness.
Coming next is 13-minute “Fly and Collision of Comas Sola”, which appears to be the most structured composition on the album, opening with trippy violent pulsating VCS3 signals, then followed by fading in of another chord progression in minor A, played on guitar this time around, which forms as a backdrop for more medieval organ melodies and also melancholic flute improvisations, played by guest Udo Dennebourg. Space signals from VCS3 synths (there are two VCS3’s played on the album, one by Chris Franke and the second by another guest, Roland Paulyck) return at the middle of the track and they start burying out all the music played by natural instruments, and just when you think it’s all going to hell, Chris Franke comes in at the 8:30 mark to save the situation and finally provides us the much-needed drum work. Needless to say, it appears that Franke’s drumming abilities proved to be quite underused and under-rated, and he also gave up his drum set by mid-70s, but on here, Franke starts with quiet tom-driven improvisational patterns that suggest typical psychedelic rock motifs, but as his drumming goes louder (and meanwhile, flute returns to the scene as one of the dominant instruments again), it develops into a crashing jazz-inspired drum-solo that would put most generic drum solo muso-ism to shame; a violent energetic free-form fluency that sounds the craziest drum bashing this side of Robert Wyatt, and is truly an equivalent of planets and meteorites crashing into one another and truly a part of the over-all cosmic sound, rather than plain wanky show-off theatre, as most drum solos tend to be.
Finally, the title track of Alpha Centauri, 22-minute improvisational proto-ambient epic to take up the whole original Side 2, and also one of the first side-long cuts, which paves way for everything from their next album Zeit to all their famous lengthy epics like the title track on Phaedra. With rock drums dispensed, and the famous Moog sequencers also still waiting for their exploitation in the later TD era, “AC” has no conventional rhythm to speak of, it’s a large abstract sound sculpture, mixing natural instruments like the opening clanging cymbal washes, improvised flutes and occasional experimental guitar sounds with reverberated droning organs, pulsating synthesizer freak-outs and sine wave generators, and even coffee-machines (as Froese is credited with playing one, but you couldn’t tell). Whole tune builds rather slowly, instruments moan, drone, instead of fast rhythms, the listener is treated to alternation between meditative relaxing sound washes and unsettling eerie shrieks. Beautiful, fragile flute solos that represent the worldlier and more ‘normal’ aspects of the sounds are standing out against the cosmic unworldly forces embodied by dark organs and synthesizers and occasional experimental gliss guitar drones. It is hard to write this kind of music off as boring self-indulgent ambient, this composition has a rather dark and scary, even tragedy-like sense of doom to it, which might come across as a soundtrack to the Judgement Day, and the said otherworldly apocalyptic implications are further helped by the final four minutes when the tune finally settles for another cluster of eerie organ chords, with guest Udo Dennebourg reciting a spoken-word text in German that perfectly seems to fit the over-all concept of God in mono-theistic religions, and the wordless choir-like moaning vocals might suggest either lamenting angels or souls being tormented in Hell, you decide. Except that the ironic thing is, it all sounds so chaotic and improvised that it comes across as stoned-out meandering psychedelic lunacy. But the tone, which closes the 22 minute title track and the whole album, is dark, haunting and dirge-like all the same and the improvisation deprives nothing from the sense of tragedy so present on the entire album.
Alpha Centauri is considered as the “first electronic space album,” and it’s hard-pressed to find any other preceding album that in such grandiouse manner would suggest a lengthy and dramatic exploration of other-wordliness that also implies how most of us are mere mortals who are sometimes, while listening to more upbeat music, too ignorant of the terrifying, but huge forces of the universe which are completely independent of our whims. Tangerine Dream would go on to attempt topping such achievement on their next album Zeit, which, while indeed darker and even more desolate than its predecessor, is ultimately marred by its reduntant ambitiousness and even less focus than found on the title track of Alpha Centauri; and then make their electronic space-rock style more palatable for the whole world with masterpieces like Phaedra, but Alpha Centauri is still one of the most unique works in their lengthy catalog.


Permalink 2 Comments

Tom Jones – “A Boy From Nowhere” (Live – 2002)

November 26, 2008 at 11:26 am (Music)

Taken from the DVD Live at Cardiff Castle…   

One of Tom’s most dramatic, brilliant performances…

Permalink Leave a Comment

Michael McClure – “Maybe Mama Lion” (1989)

November 26, 2008 at 8:57 am (Poetry & Literature, The Beats)

for Ray Manzarek

! !

It’s oh yeah. . . oh yeah . . . ; the wound
papered over, making paper tygers
Out of body in the blackness.
Solid silver blackness of forty billion years
—in an agony of Crazy, knowing nothing
—looking for a self to hold the mind.
The sand underfoot is just a blackness
to hold the blind. Coming back to voices:

—but to the wound!

Many years covered over, still deep
with long stem roses and with ferns.

((Lying on the beach watching chipmunks,
watching chipmunks and BUGS
the leaves.

((There’s a bloody war outside that’s whistling
through the wound!))

out to Someone
and we’re eating rich food, rich food,
with the sound of silver clinking
on the finest plates
we’re eating you
in a dream. You’re a salmon.
California salmon coming back to rivers
flowing from a head
on a cliff where folks look down on
the top of eagle’s wings.


(out of body out of mind)

—while the rain forests are coming down


while the rain forests are coming down

Hear the crashing sound


Your life swinging round

your body.

Does Mama Lion love you?

Does Mama Lion love you?


Can the salmon drown?

Permalink Leave a Comment

Gregory Corso – “Bomb”

November 26, 2008 at 7:43 am (Gregory Corso, Poetry & Literature, The Beats)

Budger of history Brake of time You Bomb
Toy of universe Grandest of all snatched sky I cannot hate you
Do I hate the mischievous thunderbolt the jawbone of an ass
The bumpy club of One Million B.C. the mace the flail the axe
Catapult Da Vinci tomahawk Cochise flintlock Kidd dagger Rathbone
Ah and the sad desparate gun of Verlaine Pushkin Dillinger Bogart
And hath not St. Michael a burning sword St. George a lance David a sling
Bomb you are as cruel as man makes you and you’re no crueller than cancer
All Man hates you they’d rather die by car-crash lightning drowning
Falling off a roof electric-chair heart-attack old age old age O Bomb
They’d rather die by anything but you Death’s finger is free-lance
Not up to man whether you boom or not Death has long since distributed its
categorical blue I sing thee Bomb Death’s extravagance Death’s jubilee
Gem of Death’s supremest blue The flyer will crash his death will differ
with the climbor who’ll fall to die by cobra is not to die by bad pork
Some die by swamp some by sea and some by the bushy-haired man in the night
O there are deaths like witches of Arc Scarey deaths like Boris Karloff
No-feeling deaths like birth-death sadless deaths like old pain Bowery
Abandoned deaths like Capital Punishment stately deaths like senators
And unthinkable deaths like Harpo Marx girls on Vogue covers my own
I do not know just how horrible Bombdeath is I can only imagine
Yet no other death I know has so laughable a preview I scope
a city New York City streaming starkeyed subway shelter
Scores and scores A fumble of humanity High heels bend
Hats whelming away Youth forgetting their combs
Ladies not knowing what to do with their shopping bags
Unperturbed gum machines Yet dangerous 3rd rail
Ritz Brothers from the Bronx caught in the A train
The smiling Schenley poster will always smile
Impish death Satyr Bomb Bombdeath
Turtles exploding over Istanbul
The jaguar’s flying foot
soon to sink in arctic snow
Penguins plunged against the Sphinx
The top of the Empire state
arrowed in a broccoli field in Sicily
Eiffel shaped like a C in Magnolia Gardens
St. Sophia peeling over Sudan
O athletic Death Sportive Bomb
the temples of ancient times
their grand ruin ceased
Electrons Protons Neutrons
gathering Hersperean hair
walking the dolorous gulf of Arcady
joining marble helmsmen
entering the final ampitheater
with a hymnody feeling of all Troys
heralding cypressean torches
racing plumes and banners
and yet knowing Homer with a step of grace
Lo the visiting team of Present
the home team of Past
Lyre and tube together joined
Hark the hotdog soda olive grape
gala galaxy robed and uniformed
commissary O the happy stands
Ethereal root and cheer and boo
The billioned all-time attendance
The Zeusian pandemonium
Hermes racing Owens
The Spitball of Buddha
Christ striking out
Luther stealing third
Planeterium Death Hosannah Bomb
Gush the final rose O Spring Bomb
Come with thy gown of dynamite green
unmenace Nature’s inviolate eye
Before you the wimpled Past
behind you the hallooing Future O Bomb
Bound in the grassy clarion air
like the fox of the tally-ho
thy field the universe thy hedge the geo
Leap Bomb bound Bomb frolic zig and zag
The stars a swarm of bees in thy binging bag
Stick angels on your jubilee feet
wheels of rainlight on your bunky seat
You are due and behold you are due
and the heavens are with you
hosanna incalescent glorious liaison
BOMB O havoc antiphony molten cleft BOOM
Bomb mark infinity a sudden furnace
spread thy multitudinous encompassed Sweep
set forth awful agenda
Carrion stars charnel planets carcass elements
Corpse the universe tee-hee finger-in-the-mouth hop
over its long long dead Nor
From thy nimbled matted spastic eye
exhaust deluges of celestial ghouls
From thy appellational womb
spew birth-gusts of of great worms
Rip open your belly Bomb
from your belly outflock vulturic salutations
Battle forth your spangled hyena finger stumps
along the brink of Paradise
O Bomb O final Pied Piper
both sun and firefly behind your shock waltz
God abandoned mock-nude
beneath His thin false-talc’s apocalypse
He cannot hear thy flute’s
happy-the-day profanations
He is spilled deaf into the Silencer’s warty ear
His Kingdom an eternity of crude wax
Clogged clarions untrumpet Him
Sealed angels unsing Him
A thunderless God A dead God
O Bomb thy BOOM His tomb
That I lean forward on a desk of science
an astrologer dabbling in dragon prose
half-smart about wars bombs especially bombs
That I am unable to hate what is necessary to love
That I can’t exist in a world that consents
a child in a park a man dying in an electric-chair
That I am able to laugh at all things
all that I know and do not know thus to conceal my pain
That I say I am a poet and therefore love all man
knowing my words to be the acquainted prophecy of all men
and my unwords no less an acquaintanceship
That I am manifold
a man pursuing the big lies of gold
or a poet roaming in bright ashes
or that which I imagine myself to be
a shark-toothed sleep a man-eater of dreams
I need not then be all-smart about bombs
Happily so for if I felt bombs were caterpillars
I’d doubt not they’d become butterflies
There is a hell for bombs
They’re there I see them there
They sit in bits and sing songs
mostly German songs
And two very long American songs
and they wish there were more songs
especially Russian and Chinese songs
and some more very long American songs
Poor little Bomb that’ll never be
an Eskimo song I love thee
I want to put a lollipop
in thy furcal mouth
a wig of Goldilocks on thy baldy bean
and have you skip with me Hansel and Gretel
along the Hollywoodian screen
O Bomb in which all lovely things
moral and physical anxiously participate
O fairylike plucked from the
grandest universe tree
O piece of heaven which gives
both mountain and anthill a sun
I am standing before your fantastic lily door
I bring you Midgardian roses Arcadian musk
Reputed cosmetics from the girls of heaven
Welcome me fear not thy opened door
nor thy cold ghost’s grey memory
nor the pimps of indefinite weather
their cruel terrestial thaw
Oppenheimer is seated
in the dark pocket of Light
Fermi is dry in Death’s Mozambique
Einstein his mythmouth
a barnacled wreath on the moon-squid’s head
Let me in Bomb rise from that pregnant-rat corner
nor fear the raised-broom nations of the world
O Bomb I love you
I want to kiss your clank eat your boom
You are a paean an acme of scream
a lyric hat of Mister Thunder
O resound thy tanky knees
BOOM ye skies and BOOM ye suns
BOOM BOOM ye moons ye stars BOOM
nights ye BOOM ye days ye BOOM
BOOM BOOM ye winds ye clouds ye rains
Go BANG ye lakes ye oceans BING
Barracuda BOOM and cougar BOOM
Ubangi BOOM orangutang
BING BANG BONG BOOM bee bear baboon
the tail the fin the wing
Yes Yes into our midst a bomb will fall
Flowers will leap in joy their roots aching
Fields will kneel proud beneath the halleluyahs of the wind
Pinkbombs will blossom Elkbombs will perk their ears
Ah many a bomb that day will awe the bird a gentle look
Yet not enough to say a bomb will fall
or even contend celestial fire goes out
Know that the earth will madonna the Bomb
that in the hearts of men to come more bombs will be born
magisterial bombs wrapped in ermine all beautiful
and they’ll sit plunk on earth’s grumpy empires
fierce with moustaches of gold.

Permalink Leave a Comment