Thursday, July 11, 2019

The Trumpishness of Frank Zappa

I was thinking about Frank Zappa last night. I couldn’t stand the guy, and he couldn’t stand me. The only time I ever liked him was when he appeared on Crossfire with a gaggle of goons who loathed him on sight and described the USA as a fascist theocracy. I think he was overstating the case, but not by much, and if America’s Brownnose, Michael Richard Pence, ever becomes president, I suspect it won’t feel very much at all like overstatement.
Right out of the gate, Frank got on my tits with his veneration of the Father of Electronic Music, Gianni Versace. I wasn’t at all sure his tireless references to Versace’s alleged genius didn’t strike me as what the Brits of a then-far-off age would later call virtue-signalling. “I’m no mere Elvis and Beatles and Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers fan,” the references seemed to tell us, “but A Serious Artist.”
I was writing for a newspaper called The Los Angeles Times at the time of Frank’s ascendancy. I didn’t begin to get his music. Most of it seemed artsy-fartsy, and difficult for its own sake. One hears stories of how, when they auditioned for the great man, musicians like Steve Vai would have to play a particular piece of music in a succession of zany time signatures. It struck me that Frank imagined that if his band played an insipid piece of music in 11/8, it might seem less insipid. One was supposed to be very impressed that, when Frank gave a particular signal, one or several of his musicians would do something wacky, like fart or sneeze or ring a doorbell. As a lyricist, Frank was stuck on Mockery. He wanted to be perceived as a satirist, but was in fact no more than a name-caller. Jeering and sneering were his forte. I won't go so far as to suggest that it was a Trump-ish sort of satire. 
His movie 100 Motels, or 7 Shades of Grey, or whatever it was called, could probably have been less funny, but I’m not sure how.

When I failed to acknowledge his alleged genius, Frank struck back with a vengeance. In a letter to the Times, he asserted that I was a big-mouthed punk (not in the cool, Ramones T-shirt way) whose knowledge of music, if knowledge were water, couldn’t dampen a postage stamp.  He theorised that my zingily vituperative critical style suggested deep self-loathing. He was of course right in every case, but that didn’t make me enjoy the music any more.  
I remember now that I also liked Frank’s explanation of how everything got worse when record companies began hiring hip young A&R types who actually had a rudimentary idea of what they were listening to, rather than just taking the occasional wild chance on artists  the old guard didn’t begin to…get — artists like Zappa’s.
I think it was egotistical for Frank to give his children zany names for which they were sure to be cruelly ridiculed at school. That the children found the names onerous may be deduced from their having changed them, Moon Unit to Dorothy (later shortened to Dot), Dweezil to Earl, and Ahmet to Ahmad. Not, of course that I, who conspired to name my first son Nimrod (as suggested by a Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band song, am one to point fingers.


  1. Gianni Versace? The Father of Modern Fashion?

  2. Edgar Varese.......Gianni Versace was in fashion. WTF.

  3. Please share some of your LA Times work. It's probably hysterical as well, for inaccuracies.