Nov 292012

While searching for something completely unrelated I stumbled across this Frank Zappa performance of “Dumb All Over,” (sorry, the YouTube poster doesn’t seem to allow embedding) a song I’d not previously known existed. As usual, I can appreciate Zappa’s intelligence and wit, but the song raised a question that gets at the root of why I can never embrace Zappa’s records: Did Frank Zappa actually like music?

By “music,” I mean the musical elements at the root of songs: melody, rhythm, and harmony. At the 4:20 mark he sits down, shuts up, and fires off an excellent guitar solo. Clearly there was a side to Zappa that at least liked the music that could be made on a guitar. The rest of this song, however, displays no appreciation for music itself. He seemed to have a penchant for hiring shit-hot musicians and then punishing them by making them play stuff they could have been playing had they accepted offers to join Loverboy or a second-rate rock-fusion band. Was this Zappa’s twisted way of punishing dedicated musicians?

I look forward to other examples of Zappa’s direct connection with music, points in his songs that indicate that the music itself was more than a vehicle for his stand-up comedy act.

Here’s another video featuring sophomoric humor and dumb rock music.


  13 Responses to “Did Frank Zappa Actually Like Music?”

  1. misterioso

    Furthermore, did music actually like Frank Zappa?

  2. diskojoe

    Another question that I have is that does (non-college) radio ever play Zappa anymore? I remember listening to Zappa songs like “Dancing Fool”, “I Don’t Want to Get Drafted” and others on WBCN back in the day, but I don’t know if these “classic rock” stations have his stuff in rotation.

    Also, one thing that annoyed me about Zappa’s later stuff was that “dink, dink, dink” sound that a lot of them had. Rykodisc, which was started & originally based in my Witch City (the founder/owner was a customer of my seamstress mother) prided themselves on handling the Zappa catalog, but I was more stroked on their Costello & the Undertones releases myself.

  3. I can appreciate his intelligence. But his “wit”? Ooof… It’s frigging painful.

    I acknowledge that he is a very proficient musician, and I (very) occasional like some of his solos, but ultimately, I much prefer him and as a free speech advocate than a recording artist.

  4. 2000 Man

    Cleveland radio plays FZ. He was huge here, and at one point, this was supposedly the only city he’d still play Dinah Moe Hum in. You’ll still hear something by him every Saturday night on the Classic Rock All Request House Party. Where Old People Still Sit Around The Kitchen Table And Get Drunk And Listen To The Same Crap They Always Did.

  5. 2000 Man

    I liked him a lot when I was a kid, but the older I get the more he sounds like a busybody. Too much stuff getting in the way of his Rock.

  6. machinery

    I always thought of him closer to say Firesign Theater than rock. His odd left hand turns into triplets and the way he (or others) sang sooo smirkingly sarcastic always was a major buzz kill.

    I think though you might not have Stephen Malkmus without Zappa though. Not sure if that’s a good or bad thing …

  7. BigSteve

    I’m with machinery here. His music is intermittently interesting to me, but once he opens his mouth, I’m outta there. His guitar playing can be cool, but he tends to go on and on with endless twiddly bits, and it’s ultimately yawn-inducing.

  8. I think the real question is whether Zappa likes people. I think the real problem with his “comedy” music, particularly after ’69 or so, was that he found what he thought his audience liked and he proceeded to give it to them with total contempt. Does he ever seem like he thinks this shit is funny? Not really. He’s just marketing what he thinks he has that will sell.

    So does he like music?

    Actually, I think so. The early Mothers, while certainly not the technical monsters that he typically hired after he went “solo” were really good musicians and I think every one of them had way more personality than Frank. I’ll go to the mat for the early records. While the condescension is still there, it’s softened by the surreal, found humor, stupid but not sophomoric. I think he broke up the band so he could get even higher skilled folks to do music that he thought the original band could’t handle. And then he sold it with poop jokes. To people that would repeat that frankly totally unlikely story about Zappa eating shit onstage.

    I saw the line up that was on Overnite Sensation and Apostrophe in 1973. It included Jean Luc Ponty, George Duke, Chester Thompson, Ruth and Ian Underwood. They were terrific. They didn’t do the dumb shit that was smeared all over those albums; they were basically a very idiosyncratic fusion band of sorts. When Overnite Sensation came out I was so excited to see that these guys were on it…and it blew. That fuckin’ Montana Song. Shit.But by the next album, he’s making a big splash with Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow, and he’s not turning back. I think he cynically milked that shit forever to be able to support himself and his musical interests, but his superior attitude and inferior humor eventually turned me off completely.

  9. A pretty early version of the Mothers. A little too clever at the beginning, but as thy swing into King Kong at the 2:25 mark, you get some sense of the off-center “Power and Glory” of the Mothers in their heyday.

  10. Great stuff, geo! I usually admire a person’s degree of contempt for humanity, but Zappa goes too far for my admiration. I honestly think he’s even got contempt for the musicians in those ’70s bands, but maybe I just think that because of my contempt for him. I like it when artists screw with their audience before finally embracing them in some ways. I don’t get the sense that later-period Zappa had that compassion for his audiences, except for right at the end, when he became a proto-Henry Rollins spoken word type of guy more than a musician.

  11. This is musical and fun. General Slocum used to play me the early stuff like this, and I could dig it, especially after we’d been drinking and doing other things. The General’s great company, of course, added much to the proceedings.

  12. machinery

    Oh … and of course he had an album titled Apostrophe. Which literally means addressing someone who isn’t there!

    If that isn’t contempt for his audience, I don’t know what is!

  13. In the interview in the beginning of the BBC video, Zappa totally identifies what is so annoying about his music. He always has an agenda. You can never just listen to his music because you want to enjoy some music. There always has to be a point to it. I’m glad that provocateurs exist. If not, it would be Hootie’s world and we’d just be living in it. But that doesn’t mean I want to listen to someone who has stated that their mission statement is to be musically annoying. Here’s another way to shake people out of their apathy: be interesting instead of just annoying.

Lost Password?

twitter facebook youtube