Round the Dial
Wednesday 05 June @ 10:51:33
by Tom Hallett
(NOTE: RTD will continue with our in-depth look at quality local and national indie record labels with a glimpse inside the workings of local label Susstones next week.)
As I was sifting through my rather extensive collection of Frank Zappa (and Mothers Of Invention) albums, CDs, tapes, and Root Of All Evil radio compilations of a recent sunny afternoon, it suddenly struck me that damn near every one of the late, nimble-fingered guitarist/songwriter’s ruthless little musical jibes and jabs still ring true today—and maybe now more than ever. Some of the names and titles are just as relevant, and most of the lyrical content is easily transferrable to today’s skewed, fear-filled society. Even as far back as the original 1966 Mothers lineup, Frank’s political, sexual, and societal comentary could very well have been penned with some moronic modern-day public official, morally uptight/corrupt individual, or silly current fad, trend, or style in mind. In the ‘80s, he took on the PMRC and the entire U.S. government, testifying on Capitol Hill against censorship and record album warning labels. Mostly, he just didn’t cotton much to STUPIDITY anywhere, from anyone.
Nobody ever really thought of Frank as a patriotic, true-blue American protest singer (maybe because he spent so much time making great sport of them) while he was alive, but he was—and he was one of the best. Thing is, he wasn’t just protesting against the government, or square society, or organized religion, he was also railing against the hippies (who were buying his albums, oblivious to the fact that they were fodder for his songs), the yippies, and the yuppies-to-be. You mean you dropped out of a conformist society only to join another conformist society? DUMB! Just another reason I love Frank Zappa. So I grabbed some random stacks o’ tunes and just let ‘em ride—within moments I had more material than there’s room for in this column.
I cranked up the best of the best- skronky jazz riffs, nasty blues and rock licks, doo-wop boogaloos, and space-age spoo alike—and sent those timeless, raunchy, on-the-money jams out my window and across the neighborhood like a breaking wind. No, we don’t have the man here with us anymore, but his music, wit, and undying pursuit of freedom, liberty, and intelligent life forms among the human race will live on forever. In the spirit of summer fun and in respectful tribute to Mr. Zappa, then, Round The Dial is proud to present some modern-day connections/similarities to Frank classics throughout the years:
FRANK ZAPPA: ZAPP-ING ZOMBIES FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE: (Or, Is This Phase Three of Lumpy Gravy?)
1) “Hungry Freaks, Daddy,” from Freak Out!, 1966. In the liner notes to this album, Frank says he wrote this tune for a guy named Carl Orestes Franzoni, who “...will someday live next door to you and your lawn will die.” That’s pretty scary, but the song’s real statement—that the youth of the times (and these times) were totally expendable to the money-and-war-mongering adults who were entrusted with their futures—was, and is, the true horror. He goes on to tell the kids of 1966 to “...drop out of school before your mind rots from exposure to our mediocre educational system. Forget about the prom and go to the library and EDUCATE YOURSELF if you’ve got any guts.” Zappa qualifies his rant with a quick aside to potentially square listeners—a quip today’s flag-waving, post-9/11 psuedo-patriots might want to take to heart: “Some of you like pep rallies and plastic robots who tell you what to read. Forget I mentioned it. THIS SONG HAS NO MESSAGE. Rise for the flag salute.” Word!
2) “Who Are The Brain Police?” also from Freak Out! Another trippy, post-apocalyptic nugget from the middle of the Love Decade, wherein a mind-bending chorus of freaks queries: “What will you do when the label comes off/And the plastic’s all melted/And the chrome is all soft?/Who are the brain police?” Frank later went on to fight some of the brain police—Tipper Gore, the U.S. Senate, even the record labels who were supposed to be supporting him and his music. Today’s brain police are very easy to spot—the DEA, the heads of the FBI and the CIA, your local school board, PTA, city council, mayors, librarians, watchdog groups, every major record label, television network, and film studio, Jerry Falwell, and most members of the Republican Party. They watch every word, screen every song, and help shape every trend, fad, and supposed “underground movement” that sees the light of day. They’re ever-vigilant and always on the lookout for non-conformists. Did I just say that? Shhh!
3) “Plastic People,” from Absolutely Free, 1967, also on Live, You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore, from February, 1969. Norm Coleman—this one was just MADE for you! As the toothy former St. Paul mayor sets his sights on higher political goals, methinks a couple of lines from this little ditty are particularly relevant: (Chant to the tune of “Louie, Louie”) “Plastic people/You gotta go/Yeah yeah yeah yeah/Take a day/And walk around/And watch the Nazis run your town/Then go home/And check yourself/You think we’re singing about someone else/But you’re plastic people...”
4) “What’s The Ugliest Part Of Your Body?” from We’re Only In It For The Money, 1968. This one was written with the folks who advocate censorship partly as a reaction to their own nasty little thoughts in mind, and I think it still more than hits the mark today. Should be required listening for prospective Moral Majority-backed candidates, or at least for burgeoning teen/pop idols: “What’s the ugliest part of your body?/Some say your nose/Some say your toes/But I think it’s your MIND/ALL YOUR CHILDREN ARE POOR UNFORTUNATE VICTIMS OF SYSTEMS BEYOND THEIR CONTROL/A PLAGUE UPON YOUR IGNORANCE AND THE GREY DESPAIR OF YOUR UGLY LIFE...” That was way back in ‘68, and some of those people are still holding public office! Argh!
5) “Willie The Pimp, Parts One And Two,” from Hot Rats (Vocals by Captain Beefheart), 1969. This one’s got to go to ole Slick Willie himself, former U.S. President Bill Clinton, who’s gone from givin’ lap in the Oval Orifice to struttin’ like Stagger Lee down the streets outside his new digs in Harlem. Wotta compassionate liberal! Wotta brotha! Here’s Frank’s take: “I’m a little pimp with my hair gassed back/Pair o’ khaki pants with my shoe shined black/Got a little lady, walk that street/Tellin’ all the boys that she can’t be beat/Standin’ onna porch of the Lido Hotel/Floozies in the lobby love the way I sell: HOT MEAT HOT RATS HOT ZITZ HOT WRISTS HOT RITZ HOT ROOTS HOT SOOTS!”
6) “Dickie’s Such An Asshole,” live from YCDTOSA, December, 1973. Later used in his 1988 Republican Melody, on which Zappa commented, “In politics, some things never change.” This one has to go out to current U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney, whose position seems like, ten billion times more powerful than anyone else who’s ever held the office, including former shadow VP Hillary Clinton, and whose deep, dark, secret Enron meetings and “undisclosed locations” lead one to wonder whether this Dickie is maybe even worse than the original Dickie (Nixon) that the song was written about. Ain’t that just ducky? I know Frank would be shaking his head: “One and one is 11/Two and two is 22/Won’t somebody kindly tell me/What the government’s tryin’ to do/Dickie’s just too tricky/For a chump like me or you/Millions and millions of dollars/As much as he might need/He could open up a chain of motels on the highway, yes indeed.”
7) “Wind Up Working In A Gas Station,” from Zoot Allures, 1976. He’s been a “Navy SEAL,” a pro wrestler, an actor, a mayor, and the Governor of the state of Minnesota. What’s left for Jesse Ventura? Well, he is a man of the people, right? Gas station work these days is probably more dangerous and is certainly more honorable than politics—maybe “The Body” should tackle Frank’s challenge and give it a shot: “That’s the way it is where I come from/If you’ve been there too, let me see your thumb/Wind up workin’ in a gas station/Pumpin’ that gas every night!”
There are literally hundreds more—I doubt even Zappa himself knew how many songs he’d written, improvised, and performed over his three-plus decades (and 80-plus albums) of recording, composing, and positively rocking the %@!#$& out of any and all styles, genres, and eras of music. Some of those worthy of a mention here include: “You’re Probably Wondering Why I’m Here” (Which I’d dedicate to G.W. Bush) and “Trouble Every Day,” (Goin’ out to Jesse Jackson) both from Freak Out!, 1966; “St. Alphonzo’s Pancake Breakfast” and “Father O’ Blivion,” (For the Catholic church scandals of late—“Father O’ Blivion was delighted as it stiffened/And ripped right through his sock/Oh, St. Alphonzo would be proud of me...”), from Apostrophe, 1974; “Flakes,” “I’m So Cute,” “We’ve Got To Get Into Something Real,” “Bobby Brown,” “Tryin’ To Grow A Chin,” and “Dancin’ Fool,” all from Sheik Yerbouti, 1979; “Teenage Wind,” “I’m A Beautiful Guy,” “The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing,” “Dumb All Over,” (For today’s uber-patriots) “Heavenly Bank Account,” and the title track from You Are What You Is, 1981, and (For all of us) Joe’s Garage, the entire triple album, 1979.
I’ll leave you with an excerpt from Frank’s liner notes for Joe’s Garage, an album he calls, “...a stupid story about how the government is going to try to do away with music (a prime cause of unwanted mass behavior). It’s sort of like a really cheap kind of high school play...if the plot of the story seems just a little bit preposterous (NOTE: This “preposterous” album came out six years before the PMRC actually did try to outlaw at least some music) ...just be glad you don’t live in one of the cheerful little countries where, at this very moment, music is either severely restricted, or as it is in Iran, totally illegal...All governments perpetuate themselves through the daily commission of acts which a rational person might find to be stupid or dangerous (or both). Our government is no exception.
“If the President went on TV and sat there with a flag in the background...and told everybody that all energy and inflationary problems had been traced to and could be solved by THE ABOLITION OF MUSIC, chances are most people would believe him and think that the illegalization of this obnoxious form of noise pollution would be a small price to pay for the chance to buy gas like the good ol’ days. NO WAY! NEVER HAPPEN? Records are made out of oil. All those big rock shows go from town to town in fuel-gobbling, 45-foot trucks...and when they get there, they use up enormous amounts of electrical energy with their lights, their amplifiers, their PA systems...their smoke machines. And all those synthesizers...look at all the plastic they got in ‘em...and the guitar picks...you name it.” Hey, America—don’t say me an’ FZ didn’t try to warn ya. Until next time—make yer own damn news.
If you have local music news/gigs/events that you’d like to see listed in this column, or you’d just like to confess to someone besides Father O’ Blivion this week, send replies to: TMygunn777@aol.com