I’ve been having a Frank Zappa film festival
On Usenet, a bunch of Frank Zappa videos have been making the rounds. Up first, “Does Humor Belong in Music” is a gem that until recently was locked away in my ex-wife’s stash of our old beta video tapes. It’s a concert from 1983, and it’s fun, but it’s been really outstanding to finally see old gems like “Uncle Meat.” I’ve been using a chicken to measure it every since.
Frank Zappa was a big influence on me growing up. Helped me forget a lot of the teenage angst crap with songs like “Broken Hearts are for Assholes” and the like. The most important lesson I think, is to never take yourself too seriously. It’s possible to be brilliant and enjoy gutter humor at the same time. It’s possible to enjoy both serious music, and fart noises at the same time.
I can remember one of the things I read in a Guitar Player article a long time ago. Zappa postulated that music needed to have at least one part that was simple, so that the audience could tolerate increasing levels of complexity in other parts. I remember how most of the people I knew couldn’t get past the puerile lyrics of “Valley Girl” to hear the incredibly smoking backing track. I think that was probably what amused Zappa the most: people love a good gag, and always miss the more complex subtext of what is underneath it.
The best of the videos so far, quality wise, has been “The Video from Hell.” Besides having such classic gems as “You Are What You Is” and “G Spot Tornado,” it’s also got footage of FZ defending rock music in front of the Maryland legislature, and conducting an audience on Australian TV from 1973.
The bird takes flight again. The gesture used to signal the band to play a high squeely note seems oddly familiar. My brother made the observation that we both attended the same university (and the same university that most of my heroes attended), Fuck U.
Of all the deaths of people before their time, I suppose it’s Zappa I miss the most. Though I wasn’t as big a fan of his classical music as I was of his rock and jazz, I might have been converted if he lived a little longer. The posthumous stuff that came out showed that he was not even close to losing the sort of edge that made him famous to begin with.