After church on Wednesday, I went to the library with my eldest, quick before it closed, to pick up my holds. The Wreckers, Old Crow Medicine Show, Joan Osborne. And my eldest picked up something he was interested in.
Joe's Garage: Acts I, II and III by Frank Zappa.
I told him "Don't let your mother hear any of this."
I told him "It isn't the most offensive recording I have ever heard. That's Sheik Yerbouti. But it's up there." And I think that's true. While I really don't want to get into Appliantology, but "Broken Hearts are for Assholes" and "Bobby Brown" really top anything here.
(And yes, when I think about Mr. Whitney Houston, I get strange mental images.)
I have it on cassette, but I don't think there's anything in the household except Mom's car that even plays cassettes anymore. And the first side of the first tape, going from "Joe's Garage" to "On The Bus", is as strong a first side as I have ever heard. And there are few pieces of music more beautiful than "Watermelon in Easter Hay".
I've been thinking about songwriting recently, and the key to Zappa, I think, is the xylophone. It shows up everywhere, doubling melody parts, and I think the point is to say "Hey, I wrote all this. Nobody's improvising here. Everything you hear is composed and conducted by me." Composed being the operative word. There are songs, but he's not a songwriter. A songwriter writes words, and put it to music that helps the words express themselves. A composer writes music, and fits words around it, as necessary. Not that Zappa didn't mean his words, or at least some of them. There's a clear theme of "everything's so stupid" in his work, a worldview more persistent in his work than anyone else I know. But I'm sure he'd rather you think "Hey, this is a song in 7/4!" than "Hey, this is a song about dog pee!" Not that he didn't know this was a major attraction to his work.
As I grow as a musician, I hear more and understand more about what Zappa was doing musically. I hope that some day, my big guy can hear the music and not the songs, too.
And I really hope Mom never hears him playing "Dong Work For Yuda".