If you like your avant-garde rock delivered with all the pomp and bombast of a full orchestra, and you happen to be in L.A. this coming week, we highly recommend scoring yourself a ticket to see the “world premiere” of 200 Motels, Frank Zappa‘s 1970 rock opera opus based on the early touring days of The Mothers of Invention. I put “world premiere” in quotation marks because, of course, there’s been a perfectly good film version of 200 Motels in circulation since 1971—and available in its entirety on YouTube since 2012, But according to the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which is mounting the one-night-only performance, this will be the “first complete realization of Zappa’s musical vision.” This version will be based on the first live performance of the complete 200 Motels score, which also featured the LA Phil. Zappa was not happy with conductor Zubin Mehta’s interpretation of his music, so 43 years later, the Phil is giving itself a do-over.
This time around, the LA Phil will be conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen, who in the classical world is a bit of a rock star in his own right. It will also feature former Mothers of Invention sax/keys player Ian Underwood and a cast of vocalists that includes Michael Des Barres, Rich Fulcher of The Mighty Boosh and Frank’s youngest and least weirdly named offspring, Diva Zappa. The program lists lighting, scenic and wig designers, so apparently there will be some production values, although we’re not sure if the whole thing will be fully staged.
Oh yeah, you might need to know the date, huh? It all goes down this coming Wednesday, Oct. 23rd at Walt Disney Concert Hall—which, amazingly, is not the first time the names Disney and Zappa have been associated with one another. Frank’s son Ahmet conceived and produced the Disney film The Odd Life of Timothy Green. Bet you didn’t see that random factoid coming, did you?
Tickets are $25-$83 and can be secured via the LA Phil website.
We’ll leave you with a fan favorite from the 200 Motels film soundtrack, “Magic Fingers.” Take it away, Ringo!
Classic Frank Zappa albums “Freak Out!” and “Over-Nite Sensation” getting the deluxe vinyl reissue treatment
Since regaining the rights to Frank Zappa‘s vast catalog, his heirs over at Zappa Records and Zappa Family Trust have wasted no time in finding new and creative ways to get his music out into the marketplace. Some moves, like selling CDs with a distribution license for $1,000 a pop, have struck us as a bit ill-conceived. But they’ve also put out some cool unreleased material and finally made his stuff available on iTunes, a long overdue boon to those of us who still quaintly insist of paying to download music instead of just listening to Pandora all day.
Even more quaintly, some of us still listen to music on big black pieces of vinyl—and now Zappa Records has those folks covered, too. Next month, they’ll be reissuing two classic Zappa albums on collector’s quality 180-gram vinyl: Freak Out!, the groundbreaking debut from Zappa’s band The Mothers of Invention, and another Mothers mind-bender, 1973’s Over-Nite Sensation, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. Damn, I feel old just typing that.
No word yet on the exact release date of these suckers, but keep an eye on the somewhat bewildering Zappa.com site for (hopefully) more info soon. Meantime, let’s play out this post with a golden Frank oldie from Freak Out!, shall we?
In the latest installment of what is now our continuing series of posts about artists and their representatives charging insane amounts of money for their music, the Zappa Family Trust recently announced a rather unique method of putting out some unreleased Frank Zappa live stuff: Instead of just selling the tracks themselves (for now, at least—more on that in a sec), they’re going sell what are known in the biz as “master duplication copies” for $1,000 a pop. Owners of said masters can then turn around and resell the music themselves—becoming, in effect, independent distributors of what ZFT has cleverly titled Roxy by Proxy (All Roxy No Elsewhere), a set of unreleased recordings from the same December 1973 shows that the produced the now-classic live album, Roxy & Elsewhere.
On paper, I suppose a thousand G’s for a master dupe sounds like a bargain. Under the terms of the sale, you get to manufacture and sell as many copies of Roxy by Proxy as you want—so for any really enterprising soul, this could even prove to be a money-making venture. But there are a few major caveats in the fine print.
First, you’re only allowed to distribute Roxy by Proxy on CD—not in any other format, including digital or increasingly trendy, collector-friendly vinyl. Second, you’re responsible for your own manufacturing costs—unless you decide to use ZFT’s manufacturer, in which case you’ll be charged the rather steep wholesale price of $11 per CD (plus shipping and handling) on top of the grand you already dropped. Third, ZFT retains the right to sell this same music itself in any format—so you might eventually be competing with them to get your copies of Roxy by Proxy out to the Zappa faithful.
The Family Trust says they’re doing this mainly to raise money to complete a concert film documenting some of those historic shows on which Roxy by Proxy and Roxy & Elsewhere are based. So in a way, this is sort of their own version of a Kickstarter campaign—except unlike with most Kickstarters, Roxy by Proxy has one tier only, and it’s strictly for high rollers. Which seems like a not very well-thought-out strategy to us, but what do we know? We’re just a couple of broke-ass bloggers. We’re sure Frank has more than his fair share of fans with an extra thou lying around.
For more information on how to license Roxy by Proxy, visit Zappa.com. And if you decide to pony up for a master duplication copy, just remember that you need to do so by Dec. 28th.
Hey, lookee here: A new Frank Zappa two-disc compilation has arrived, and it even contains some previously unreleased material—or at least reworked versions of some old Zappa classics. Called Understanding America, it purports to be “one of only three compilation albums produced and titled by FZ himself,” according to the press release. As far as we can tell, however, this is the first time any Zappa release has come out under the title Understanding America, so maybe a zombie Zappa is behind the whole thing. It did come out the day before Halloween.
The centerpiece of the album seems to be a new version of “Porn Wars,” a 1985 track that included samples of Zappa’s infamous Senate testimony protesting Tipper Gore’s Parents Music Resource Center. The new version, called “Porn Wars Deluxe,” is 25 minutes long, so if you really can’t get enough of Uncle Frank waxing statesmanlike over the dangers of censorship, you better go out and get yourself a copy.
After the tracklist, Frank’s widow Gail Zappa has some words for all our American readers about the importance of registering to vote. Especially all you lady Americans. Do any ladies read this site? If so, let us know, won’t you? The reader comments can be a bit of a bro-fest.
UNDERSTANDING AMERICA DISC 1
1. Hungry Freaks, Daddy
2. Plastic People
3. Mom & Dad
4. It Can’t Happen Here
5. Who Are The Brain Police?
6. Who Needs The Peace Corps?
7. Brown Shoes Don’t Make It
8. Concentration Moon
9. Trouble Every Day
10. You’re Probably Wondering Why I’m Here
11. We’re Turning Again
12. Road Ladies
13. What Kind Of Girl Do You Think We Are
14. Camarillo Brillo
15. Find Her Finer
16. Dinah-Moe Humm
17. Disco Boy
18. 200 Years Old
UNDERSTANDING AMERICA DISC 2
1. I’m The Slime
2. Be In My Video
3. I Don’t Even Care
4. Can’t Afford No Shoes
5. Heavenly Bank Account
6. Cocaine Decisions
7. Dumb All Over
9. Thing-Fish Intro
10. The Central Scrutinizer
11. Porn Wars Deluxe
12. Tinseltown Rebellion
13. Jesus Thinks You’re A Jerk
Over to you, Gail:
This week marks the third anniversary of the launch of TWBITW. The traditional third anniversary gift, in case you’re wondering, is leather. Thanks in advance.
Actually, we like to celebrate anniversaries around here with two things: The consumption of booze (although let’s face it, we celebrate everything with the consumption of booze) and the addition to The Weird List of a classic artist. Last year, it was Primus; the year before that, it was Parliament-Funkadelic. This year, we’d like to finally make a whole shit-ton of you readers happy by belatedly inducting one Frank Vincent Zappa into our hallowed halls of weirdness. Welcome, Frank! Your arrival is long overdue, we know.
Full disclosure: Although I’ve come to appreciate him in small doses, I never was much of a Frank Zappa fan. Way back in high school, I knew a kid who owned a copy of Joe’s Garage, and he would occasionally play it for us with all the usual Zappa-head exhortations: “The guitar on this track will blow your mind,” “The rhythm changes on this part are nuts,” “Check it out—this whole song is about sausage!” I wish I could say he eventually won the rest of us over, but honestly, we all just shrugged and went back to our U2 records.
So despite being the keeper of a weird band blog, I’m not really the best person to expound on the weirdness of Zappa’s colossal ouevre, which encompasses more than 60 albums and a mind-bending mishmash of rock, jazz, funk, doo-wop, classical and avant-garde tape loop and sound collage experiments, sometimes all of the same album and always shot through with a surreal sense of humor that made it hard to tell when he was trying to make a point and when he was just fucking around.
Still, I will endeavor to enumerate just a few of the many, many reasons why Frank Zappa not only deserves to be on The Weird List—he should probably be the patron saint of this whole damn blog:
- At the age of 22, he played a bicycle as a musical instrument on the Steve Allen Show. Yes, video of this exists.
- In 1968, at the height of the Flower Power era, he and his band the Mothers of Invention released an album called We’re Only in It for the Money that was basically a giant fuck-you to hippie culture.
- He is the inventor of a recording technique called “xenochrony,” in which two different studio takes done in entirely different tempos, keys and/or time signatures are merged together to jarring effect. You can hear a good example of it in
this track. (Reader Waffenspiel referred us to this later track, which is actually a better example.)
- He ran a pair of independent record labels called Bizarre and Straight. Among the artists signed to them was this guy. Also this guy. Oh, and Alice Cooper.
- At a time when most people were too chickenshit to openly criticize Scientology, he openly mocked it with his made-up religion, Appliantology, led by a con artist named L. Ron Hoover, on Joe’s Garage. Had I known all this back in high school, I might have been more inclined to dig Joe’s Garage.
- This was his only Top 40 hit in America.
- He helped give the world Steve Vai.
- His most controversial work was a 1984 rock musical called Thing-Fish, which has been variously condemned as being racist, sexist, homophobic and just in general bad taste. Here, judge for yourself. When he couldn’t get the musical produced on Broadway as he originally intended, Zappa instead partially staged the whole thing for a photo shoot for Hustler magazine. (All of this helped set the stage for Zappa’s anti-censorship campaign against the Parents Music Resource Center, Tipper Gore’s lobbying group that prompted the advent of parental advisory stickers. Zappa’s Senate testimony against the PMRC ranks among the most entertaining performances of his career.)
- For much of the last decade of his life, he composed and recorded almost entirely on the Synclavier.
- The same year he released Joe’s Garage (1979), he also released albums called Orchestral Favorites and Sheik Yerbouti. Yes, Orchestral Favorites featured a full orchestra. No, Sheik Yerbouti was not a disco record.
I could go on, but you get the idea. No one colored outside the lines like Frank Zappa.
“I never set out to be weird,” Zappa told his hometown paper, The Baltimore Sun, in 1986. “It was always other people who called me weird.” Don’t all the best weirdos say that? (And in case we haven’t made this clear by now: Around these parts, we consider “weird” to be a high form of praise. “Weird” means you’re doing something original and exciting that changes people’s perceptions of what music or art can be. “Weird” should be a badge of fucking honor, not something used to belittle or trivialize an artist’s work. Can someone place explain that to this guy? Thanks.)
I’ll leave you, selfishly, with a song that’s not Zappa’s weirdest by a longshot. It just happens to be my favorite. After all, it’s our anniversary! Crank it up, and don’t forget to air out those python-skin boots.
P.S. As of Aug. 14th, Frank Zappa’s entire catalog is now available on iTunes. Frank would’ve been totally down with it.
In 1968, Frank Zappa decided to launch his own record labels, Bizarre and Straight, to release not only the music of his band, the Mothers of Invention (and yeah, someday we’ll get around to officially adding them to the Weird A-Z List), but also some of the crazy music he was hearing around L.A. in those heady days of Free Love and plentiful psychedelics: records by TWBITW mainstays like Captain Beefheart and Wild Man Fischer as well as less celebrated but still pretty strange acts like The GTO’s, a band made up entirely of groupies. They also put out records by Alice Cooper, Lenny Bruce and Tim Buckley, among many others.
Now a new film is coming out Feb. 21 that revisits the Bizarre and Straight legacies. From Straight to Bizarre: Zappa, Beefheart, Alice Cooper and LA’s Lunatic Fringe features archival footage and interviews with former GTO member Pamela Des Barres, Beefheart sideman John French, and some of the other folks involved in Bizarre and Straight’s brief existences (both labels folded in 1973). We haven’t seen it yet, so we can’t whole-heartedly recommend it, but we’re really hoping it’s more interesting than the first minute or so of this trailer (be patient, it does eventually get good):
You can pre-order From Straight to Bizarre on DVD from SeeOfSound.com. No word yet on whether it’ll be available via Netflix or iTunes or any of the other usual sources, but we’re betting it’ll pop up somewhere on basic cable (the Documentary Channel? VH1?) soon enough.
Weird music lost a pioneer last week: Larry “Wild Man” Fischer, a paranoid schizophrenic street musician from Los Angeles who was “discovered” by Frank Zappa and went on to become one of the leading lights of so-called “outsider music.” Fischer, who hadn’t released any new music since the 1980s, had apparently been holed up in an assisted-living facility in Van Nuys since 2004, where he was taking medication to control his mental illness. Unfortunately, the meds also dulled what he called “the pep,” his frequent manic episodes that were responsible for most of his musical outbursts. He died last Thursday at age 66 of heart failure.
Fischer’s story is a rather sad one, as he was by all accounts genuinely off his nut and never fully reaped the benefits of his cult musical status. Still, he had a Zelig-like ability to turn up all over the place: His debut album, An Evening With Wild Man Fischer, was one of the first albums released on Zappa’s Bizarre Records in 1969. He appeared on Laugh-In in the ’60s and Jimmy Kimmel Live in 2004. When Rhino Records was just a retail store in the ’70s, they got Fischer to record a promotional jingle, “Go to Rhino Records,” and released it as their first single, thus launching what would go on to become one of the biggest novelty and reissue labels in the industry. In the ’80s, Fischer recorded albums with Barnes and Barnes and cut a single with legendary jazz singer (and George’s aunt) Rosemary Clooney. It’s fair to say the man rarely let his mental illness interfere with his productivity.
Los Angeles attracts more than its fair share of wingnuts (like this guy), but the loss of Wild Man Fischer really is a blow to the city’s offbeat charm. No longer will Sunset Strip crawlers and UCLA students be able to “buy an original song for a dime” (a favorite Wild Man sales pitch when he was out busking) on their way to happy hour. Wild Man Fischer might be an acquired taste at best, but his is the kind of crazy that makes the world a richer place (even if it too often fails to enrich the person behind the craziness).
We’ll miss you, Larry.
- dErailRoaDed official site (documentary about Larry “Wild Man” Fischer)
- “Wild Man Fischer, Outsider Musician, Dies at 66″ (New York Times obituary)
- Wild Man Fischer on Rhino Records
- Wild Man Fischer on MySpace (unofficial page)
- The Fischer King on Amazon.com (rare Rhino Records Wild Man Fischer compilation)