AU CONTRAIRE

3 Dec

ZappaMothersofinvention

Once upon a time, in the deserts west of Los Angeles, lived two boys who were really into music. One was a wop. Looked a right wop too. Wop is American for wog. Back then people looked down on them. The other one was white-bread I s’pose, name of Don. Lived with his parents, his aunt and uncle, grandmother handy… and his girlfriend! This was the ’50s man.

The wop (Sicilian mainly) had the Wop Family. Very respectable. They designed the model. His dad had security clearance at some local research facility with the US military-industrial complex. He was a good guy but he thought it was safe to eat DDT. His wife was a good woman; they had education but not much money. When the kid turned 15 they told him he could have a present worth $5! So the kid made a long distance phone call to the composer Edgard Varèse in New York City. A little earlier he’d bought his first record ever – Varèse’s Ionisaton; brought it home, played it. His mom looked at him like he was out of his fucking mind. She banished the music forever from the living room. Told him to take the Decca into his bedroom to listen to it. They never saw it again.

Don’s family was close but weird. Letting your teenage son co-habit with his girlfriend um-ah. Don’s uncle used to leave the bathroom door open, exposing himself when Don’s girl Laurie walked by. “Ah what a beauty!,” he said, “It looks just like a big, fine beef heart.” Mmm okay. She didn’t move out. I guess they had a sense of humour.

Years later the world’s best rock journalist would visit Don aka Captain Beefheart. Dirt poor. A trailer in the Mojave desert and 39 years-old. The rockpig’s piece waxed lyrical about Beefheart and slagged off the other boy, the wop with the Dad who ate DDT. He wrote that the kid “wouldn’t be hock in a spitoon, much less a “composer” (anybody says that certifies themselves a moron)…” The wop kid, like Don, had made a name by then as a writer/play/producer of highly esoteric music that left some people’s minds blown whereas others just blew up the stereo.

ZappaBeefheart

Anybody says it certifies themselves stupid ‘ey? Well I say the guy was a composer and a damn fine one. I say Lester Bangs knew rock better than the people who created it but he didn’t know from shit the art of composition. Last Thursday I listened to a whole Frank Zappa album for the very first time.

Freakout

I’m not gonna write about Zappa’s music, yet. Hot Rats is the one I’m after next. There’s shitloads of his stuff and I’ve listened to slightly over 1/60th of it. What would I know. But he’s a composer, he takes rock and composes like a modern master, like Stravinsky only with electric guitar. I’m just amazed to find another hero this late in life. The guy was cool. So Lester Bangs didn’t like him. He didn’t like Lester Bangs: “When rock journalism, as a form, finally developed, the wit and wisdom of the Ancient Incompetents became the data base for all writing to follow.”

Take that.

(I like Lester Bangs.)

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