Article 32

Rock On

Frank Zappa

(Published in Times of India, Pune on 9th February, 2002)

C ompared to today's youth, who are used to having the latest music available to them in the stores, we had it really bad when we were in our teens. There were hardly any new western pop/rock music albums released in India and we would often listen to imported albums of bands years after they were released. At times, we totally missed out on an important artiste just because we had not met the right person who might have had that LP. It was surprising how we managed to listen to almost all the greats in their prime and sometimes heard a rare artiste that did not really belong to the mainstream. One such artiste was Frank Zappa, the enigmatic composer/ guitar hero / Bandleader/satirist and political commentator. This all in one genius, produced more than 50 albums before prostrate cancer ended his remarkable career at the age of 52. I was a young schoolboy listening to the music of Jimi Hendrix, CCR, Beatles, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Cream and the Doors when suddenly somebody dropped this bombshell on me. It was an album called "Freak Out" by a band called Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention and it contained a kind of music I thought never could exist.

After having listened to the incredible melodies of the Beatles, the poetry of Jim Morrison, the instrumental dexterity of BS&T and the powerful sincerity of CCR, the music these guys made could only be called controlled chaos! Zappa sure opened a lot of doors for me that day and my natural Rocker's instinct to welcome experimentation at all levels, saw me give this band a good listen. I must admit that my immature teenage mind was unable to grasp what Zappa was trying to say! It was only years later when Zappa moved on to his Rock-guitar-hero role that I understood this musician. His vast world of orchestral soundscapes, interspersed with humor and incredible instrumental complexity, opened up and widened my horizon with its musical possibilities.

Zappa's early musical influences were said to be '50s R&B and the post-classical avant-garde, with a special fondness for the composer Edgard Varese. Zappa faced problems with authority right from his very first album "Freak Out!" The name of his band "The Mothers" made his record company wary and they changed the name by adding "of Inventions" to it. Just "Mothers" was thought to be too dangerous! This gives you an indication of his non-conformist nature and the constant struggle he faced against censorship. His disrespect for control and authority of any kind unfortunately served him badly, as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame rejected him twice for induction. Perhaps the voters remembered Zappa's curt dismissal of rock journalism as ''people who can't write, interviewing people who can't talk, for people who can't read!''

Zappa constantly made strong and controversial statements through his music and lyrics and always cleverly thrashed anything that smacked of fakeness. He made his distaste for the whole hippie culture obvious with "We're Only In It For The Money" ('68), released only a few months after "Sgt Pepper's". Every year would see more than a few releases from this prolific composer and soon Zappa's most likable persona was destined to emerge. The guitar in Zappa's hand became a powerful weapon that wowed thousands of fans and his career as a guitar hero took off with the release of the album, "Hot Rats". A string of guitar-featured albums were to follow and Zappa was soon recognized as one of the finest guitarists around.

Zappa sure had an affliction for strange albums names that immediately caught your attention. Here are some, just to give you an idea! Names like "Lumpy Gravy", "Uncle Meat", " Burnt Weeny Sandwich" etc. As far as the names of the songs go, these could get even stranger! "My guitar wants to kill your mama", "Cosmic debris", "Brown shoes don't make it", "Torture never stops", " Stuff up the cracks" etc. are some names that come to mind. Unfortunately, the strong imagery and humor in the lyrics could at times subvert Zappa's standing as a serious musician/composer. It was getting difficult for the audience to distinguish between Zappa, the serious composer who created genuine art music with Rock and mod classical elements and somebody who was just a joker looking for a few laughs.

Zappa, who had battled prostate cancer for several years, remained active to the end, vowing not to let the disease conquer him. He said he didn't care how he was remembered after he died. "It's not important to even be remembered," he said ", "I mean, the people who worry about being remembered are guys like Reagan, Bush . . .. I don't care." You can be sure that for anybody who has heard Zappa's music, this is one guy you could never forget! Rock On

Nandu Bhende











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