18 December 2010


Via Bob Lefsetz

I heard he was sick...

I'm not sure Frank Zappa is going to be remembered, to a great extent he's already been forgotten.  But if you don't own the first few albums, you're missing out.  "You Didn't Try To Call Me", from both the very first album, "Freak Out", and the doo-wop remake on Ruben & the Jets, encapsulates the despair of unrequited love as well as any song ever written.  And when you hear the line about reprimering the right front fender, you chuckle, Zappa was not like today's artists, taking himself too seriously, he never lost his sense of humor.

And Zappa was not only about himself.  He was an empire builder.  He released records by acts diverse as Alice Cooper, Wild Man Fischer, the GTOs and Captain Beefheart.

The Captain did not start out with Frank.  Nor did he remain with him.  But his most famous work was released on Zappa's Bizarre label.  Frank had two, Bizarre and Straight, eventually he had more.

"Trout Mask Replica" was not made for Top Forty radio.  Hell, it wasn't made for any radio.  It was an album made to be played from start to finish in your bedroom, as you tried to decipher its dense lyrics and music.

And the hype was just as good.  In "Rolling Stone", Beefheart said it took only eight hours to record the record.  When asked why it took so long, the Captain replied that he had to teach the band their instruments.

Not that we believed that.  But how great to have someone who could reply tongue-in-cheek, who wasn't giving the bland answers television seems to require in its endless quest to appeal to everybody, ultimately appealing to nobody.

Eventually, the Captain became more comprehensible.  There was that album "Clear Spot", that came in a plastic bag, which contained the positively mainstream "My Head Is My Only House Unless It Rains".  Which the Tubes ultimately covered.  But they've been forgotten too.  The real Tubes, the "White Punks On Dope" Tubes, not the MTV eighties Tubes singing about sushi and beauties and...

And then the Captain faded away.  He didn't play the oldies circuit, he went back to being Don Van Vliet and resumed painting, his first love.  Supposedly the fumes got to him.

Maybe the obits will say.

And if you really care about history, if you're the type who's up for a challenge, who takes the road not traveled and doesn't turn back, check out Beefheart's work.  Start with "Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller)", it's the most accessible.

But there won't be TV tributes and there won't be a funeral at Staples Center and you still won't hear his music on the radio.

But those who remember will never forget.  An era when being a musician was the highest calling and financial reward was not the Holy Grail.  Zappa was exploring.  He and his merry band of musician/pranksters didn't compromise a whit.  They just kept on doing what they believed in.  Sometimes the audience caught on, sometimes it didn't.

Alice Cooper went on to hook up with Bob Ezrin and record one of the great rock albums of all time, "Killer".  The fact that it took forever for the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame to acknowledge this diminishes its quality not a bit.

Pamela Des Barres, nee Miss Pamela, went on to be a famous groupie.  Then again, that's what she was before she was in the GTOs.  That's how close she wanted to be to the band.  That's how close we all wanted to be to the band.

And Beefheart was like Zappa.  Playing on a high plane, waiting for the audience to catch up with him.

Eventually Frank played on a low plane too, which gained him some commercial success, but Beefheart never did this.  And when the record deals ran out, he moved on.  An artist is about artistry, not fame.

I read the news today, oh boy.  And I was emotionally affected and needed to reach out to you.  They're rewriting rock and roll history and getting it all wrong.  They want you to think that Patti Smith was more important than Alice Cooper, that Top Forty radio ruled in the late sixties and early seventies, that everybody was always in it for the money.  But that's wrong.  We know the truth.  It's incumbent upon us to keep the flame alive.  Beefheart was part of the firmament.  He may not have been dead center, but he had a place.  And we took notice.  And his death leaves an emptiness.  There's a hole in the sky tonight, a black one, where Don Van Vliet used to live and create.

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