parodies by nacrowe
its difficult to quantify, verbalize or even get my head around the cultural impact of FRANK ZAPPA. when you think about truly INNOVATIVE musicians from the last century, the short list includes the likes of everyone from composers like IGOR STRAVINSKY, ARNOLD SCHOENBERG, GEORGE GERSHWIN, DMITRY SHOSTAKOVICH, AARON COPELAND, SERGEI PROKOFIEV and JOHN CAGE to songwriters like BOB DYLAN, JOHN LENNON / PAUL MCCARTNEY, LOU REED, NEIL YOUNG, LEONARD COHEN and DAVID BOWIE just for starters.
what makes ZAPPA so COMPELLING in my mind was that he took a bit from both camps and was an EXPERIMENTAL songwriter and AVANT GARDE composer. not only that but he was politically OUTSPOKEN and seemingly BOUNDLESS in his drive to create, making use of virtually every genre imaginable and molding such to his IRREVERENT sonic sensibility. even friend and out-there creatives he played with and championed, like CAPTAIN BEEFHEART, are today considered musical pioneers for the ages. learning about ZAPPA is endless fascinating because he was MERCURIAL and ever expanding his CREATIVE PROCESS, whether that be TECHNIQUE, PRODUCTION, TECHNOLOGY and/or a new vein of INSPIRATION. for instance, his son DWEEZIL showcased some of his guitars and many had PECULIAR, BESPOKE preamps and out-of-phase pickups installed to expand his sonic palette (video linked HERE). it was an ongoing affair and really speaks to his unending fascination with sound.
i also appreciate his ability to speak in opposition concerning causes he passionately believed in, whether that be the VIETNAM WAR or the PARENTS MUSIC RESEARCH CENTER (PMRC) hearings. everything these days related to musicians feels TRIVIAL and part of a branding exercise, even political advocacy. none of this modern crop hold any cultural weight. LENNON had that. DYLAN had that. ZAPPA absolutely had that.
not sure who has that sense of CLOUT these days. ED SHEERAN? MILEY CYRUS? DRAKE? we're all doomed.
embedded below is a DEER GOD RADIO episode on nonprofit internet radio station MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC that originally aired exactly four years to the day back in 2019. the playlist includes music from throughout FRANK ZAPPA's ECLECTIC catalogue. enjoy!
photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
for years i had a vague association of what i understood to be the obscure 1980s highly IDIOSYNCRATIC communal art project/quasi-religious/cult parody THE CHURCH OF THE SUBGENIUS with some of my favorite artists including DEVO and PAUL REUBENS (of PEE WEE's PLAYHOUSE fame), but beyond that i knew very little. so i was thrilled to watch the recent JR "BOB" DOBBS & THE CHURCH OF THE SUBGENIUS (DARK STAR, 2020) documentary and learn more about its origin, intent and its two main architects/accomplices IVAN STANG and PHILO DRUMMOND. i really had no idea that there was a whole community of likeminded artists including filmmakers ALEX COX (REPO MAN, SID & NANCY) and RICHARD LINKLATER (DAZED & CONFUSED, SLACKERS), cartoonists R. CRUMB and MATT GROENING (THE SIMPSONS), actor NICK OFFERMAN (PARKS & RECREATION), philosopher ROBERT ANTON WILSON, magicians PENN & TELLER and musicians DAVID BYRNE, THE RESIDENTS and FRANK ZAPPA among many others.
from what i could gather from the film, for all of the parodied RHETORICAL FLOURISHES, CADENCES, MANNERISMS and cyclical SELF-REFERENTIAL LOGIC that defines TELEVANGELISM, there is a value to the effort. at its core the whole endeavor seems to be about COMMUNICATION and COMMUNITY BUILDING. not for money or a RELIGIOUS SOCIOPOLITICAL EXPANSIONIST AGENDA, but seemingly for unfettered SELF-EXPRESSION and the search for SELF-GENERATIVE MEANING. of course by playing with the "us versus them" vocabulary and SELF-AGGRANDIZING MYTHOLOGIZED IDEOLOGY routinely utilized by CULTS and religious sects, they ran the risk of being treated like a cult or new religious sect by the population. or worse, converts. what makes this film interesting is how STANG and DRUMMOND navigate those waters of maintaining a parody religion over time, especially when things get hairy, as in the aftermath of 9/11 and the later rise of DONALD TRUMP. at those points irony was dead and the CYNICISM apparent in the population had seemingly far exceed the parodies and gentle prodding of THE CHURCH OF THE SUBGENIUS. during these periods the MANUFACTURING OF CONSENT and TRIBAL SECTARIANISM in the population through internet-enabled PROPAGANDA made for a DYSTOPIAN REALITY indeed.
at one point is the joke not funny anymore and essentially LIFE IMITATES ART.
im happy that the film ends with the two founders MOVING FORWARD and EVOLVING with the times. it makes me feel that that instinct to PROD, REJECT, LAUGH, PARODY, INVESTIGATE and ultimately THINK is an ART unto itself and when that is ability is given over to an AUTHORITY FIGURE, that is when it all ends. lights out. so im glad that the film closes with them not giving in to TRUMP. because sometimes i fear i have.
JR "BOB" DOBBS & THE CHURCH OF THE SUBGENIUS is definitely a strange film but well worth checking out, whether or not you are a genius or a subgenius.
photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
summing up the cultural legacy of seminal 20th century experimental ROCK AND ROLL musician and composer FRANK ZAPPA neatly is such a difficult task, but accomplished BRITISH director ALEX WINTER (yes, of BILL & TED fame) does an admirable job in this recent estate-authorized documentary ZAPPA (MAGNOLIA FILMS, 2020). as such, this is the first film given access to the extensive ZAPPA archives and it shows since there is much intimate footage of the composer, THE MOTHERS OF INVENTION and all iterations of his band over the years, not to mention family footage of his four children growing up.
im convinced this is one of the better music documentaries i have seen in recent years, partly because of the respect WINTER pays towards his subject. this is not a hagiography by any means and ZAPPA is shown warts and all. we see him as a man possessed by a ferocious drive and manic creativity that is a result of his being a "slave to his inner ear." we also see him as a womanizer and someone that put career in front of family for much of his professional life. in fact, his hit only hit song "VALLEY GIRL" was created as an excuse by his daughter MOON UNIT to spend time with him. again, WINTER does not shy away from his shortcomings that made him a complicated figure.
an aspect concerning ZAPPA that i was unaware of was the extent to which he was independent after his time at WARNER BROS, establishing ZAPPA RECORDS and later BARKING PUMPKIN RECORDS to put out his own records as well as those of supposedly commercially unviable acts like ALICE COOPER and THE GTO'S. this commonplace now for major artists, but back in 1981 not so much. seems ZAPPA was trailblazer from a business perspective as well.
one thing that comes across in spades is ZAPPA's love of MUSIC and MUSICIANS. this can be seen not only in his numerous collaborations with talented musicians, but also with regard to his sticking his neck out at congressional hearings related to the PARENTS MUSIC RESOURCE CENTER and their efforts to censor music. ZAPPA and his music was not a target, but his stature and credibility provided the opposition to this wave of potential overreach with a fitting white knight and spokesperson. i dont recall seeing BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, BOB DYLAN or TOM PETTY up their selflessly fighting the good fight. kinda sad that none of them did. with all the bullshit going on currently in FLORIDA with banned books and whatnot, it feels very much like we are coming full circle on this matter.
also im glad that a significant portion of this film was dedicated to the orchestral compositions written by ZAPPA throughout his life. it is a lesser known and criminally under-appreciated aspect of his immense oeuvre by the general public. especially at the end of his life when he was dealing with terminal PROSTATE CANCER, it was rehearsing and conducting these orchestral compositions that gave him great pleasure. so im glad that such was not overshadowed by his celebrated ROCK AND ROLL career.
when i think of ZAPPA i am presented with a towering cultural figure who more than anyone else i am aware of, never compromised his vision. he is the very embodiment of creative freedom. who knew the CZECH people agreed in that estimation. his music has not aged a bit and has influenced countless musicians that seek to challenge and push the medium forward. i hear his influence in everyone from ANIMAL COLLECTIVE, THE RESIDENTS, PRIMUS and SYSTEM OF A DOWN to THE FLAMING LIPS, THE BUTTHOLE SURFERS, KING GIZZARD AND THE LIZARD WIZARD and TALKING HEADS.
ZAPPA is an incredible achievement and is most definitely worth checking out.
photo & text by nacrowe
what makes listening to FRANK ZAPPA engaging and pleasurable is the experience of just being swept away with the ECCENTRIC ORCHESTRATIONS, COMPLEX COMPOSITIONS and ODD SONIC JUXTAPOSITIONS that he came up with at varying points in his career. ZAPPA was a singular creative force and an absolute original, complete with OPAQUE, seemingly DADA-esque nonsensical lyrics that appeared designed to confound and challenge.
such is the case with the mostly instrumental HOT RATS (REPRISE, 1969) and its two most famous tracks, "PEACHES EN REGALIA" and "WILLIE THE PIMP," the latter being the only song with lyrics and an appearance by noted ZAPPA conspirator, CAPTAIN BEEFHEART. in the MULTI-LAYERED mix are references to LATIN rhythms and percussion, JAZZ-influenced guitar voicings and looping chord patterns as well as the requisite BLUES-based ROCK N ROLL song structures.
its difficult to come up with an apt analogue to compare this record to because there are none in ROCK N ROLL. you have to look outside to the world of JAZZ or modern CLASSICAL MUSIC with the likes of ORNETTE COLEMAN or IGOR STRAVINSKY, artists that defied convention and audience expectation. HOT RATS still very much sounds EXPERIMENTAL decades after its release in part dude to its multi-part composition and highly IDIOSYNCRATIC sense of ORCHESTRAL DYNAMICS.
like i said, HOT RATS is very much about going on an AURAL JOURNEY that feels almost CINEMATIC. it confounds audiences to this day and is most definitely worth revisiting or checking out for the first time. highly recommended.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
if you do anything creative (not that i am claiming to be such), there will come a point at which you feel like you've cornered yourself into a pattern and can't get out of self-imposed rut. during my teaching career this was something i was aware of an constantly attempting to shift from, even though the smart thing to do would have been to codify my plans and never experiement or stray away from that which worked before. sadly most successful educators i came across in the field did the later and not the former, which is partly why i am still so down on the profession.
maybe i blame CAPTAIN BEEFHEART. he is the ultimate tinkerer and was a gifted multi-instrumentalist/composer that is renowned for his solo recordings and vague association with FRANK ZAPPA and his merry band of musical freaks back in the 1960s and 70s. the dude was attuned to what was going on in the FREE JAZZ and AVANT-GARDE worlds as well as the then-current BLUES-based BRITISH INVASION-influenced music of the time. but he was unconventional. he was constantly messing with the formula. on his renowned TROUT MASK REPLICA (STRAIGHT RECORDS, 1969), which quite honestly is required listening for any music fan of any genre, he had his band play instruments they weren't familiar with in order to garner an "unbiased sound." in my family calling anyone "unbiased," whether they be a politician or critic, means they are unbiased by previous knowledge or in other words, completely clueless.
i like to think that i strive for an unbiased opinion as much as possible diving into things i wasn't trained or schooled in, such as photo manipulation or video editing. when i was teaching i would have a skillset i was attempting to impart and would attempt to think of new ways that would benefit my students as well as me intellectually. remember, i taught in unfamiliar places such as MYANMAR, VENEZUELA, ALBANIA and JAPAN and i know from feedback over the years that that my former students enjoyed teaching me about their culture. to me those experiences are invaluable but would not have been possible without accepting and giving in to my ignorance.
to that i thank and blame CAPTAIN BEEFHEART. his music as well as its production was unique and no doubt influenced countless musicians since such as JOHN FRUSCIANTE, DEVO, PJ HARVEY, THE BUTTHOLE SURFERS, SONIC YOUTH, PRIMUS, THE RESIDENTS, MARS VOLTA, THE BIRTHDAY PARTY and FAUST among many, many other freaks.
artwork by nacrowe
click HERE for a recent episode of DEER GOD RADIO where explore the cultural, political and musical legacy of FRANK ZAPPA.
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO as well as other MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC shows like MAKE HER SPACE, NOWHERE FAST, and THE SYNTHESIZER SHOW are available here at the DEER GOD website.
artwork by nacrowe
tonight's episode of DEER GOD RADIO at 4PM on MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC will celebrate the cultural and musical legacy of FRANK ZAPPA.
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO as well as other MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC shows like MAKE HER SPACE, NOWHERE FAST and THE SYNTHESIZER SHOW are available here at the DEER GOD website.