You, me, the music, and me.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

THE MOTHERS Fillmore East, June 1971

Bizarre/Reprise MS 2042 (1971)

The story goes that, at an early age, Frank Zappa decided he wanted to become a serious classical composer when he grew up, but in order to raise the money that would allow him to work at the type of music he loved, he would first start a band and become a rock star. That band was the Mothers of Invention, and on this live album one can hear traces of Zappa's ambitions in its operetta-like structure (even though most "serious" composers would probably never write about groupies or mud sharks).

The album's "overture", "Little House I Used to Live In", gives the listener a crash course in Zappa's compositional style: using the traditional rock group instrumentation of guitars, bass, keybaords and drums, he creates linear themes over jazzy harmonic changes and bluesy rhythms, then deflates any self-importance in the music by layering silly scat-singing on top. Zappa uses the Wagnerian technique of the leitmotif, which involves assigning each character in a musical drama their own identifying melodic fragment, and introduces us to the "mud-shark arpeggio" and "the mating call of the adult male mud shark". What follows is a rather sordid (but apparently true) tale involving groupies, a video camera, fish, and the rock bands Led Zeppelin and Vanilla Fudge (you can read about it here, but it's not suitable for all ages or dispositions, so don't say I didn't warn you).

Zappa's catalogue never seems to go out of print, so this and many other albums of the period are readily available on CD (thanks in large part to Zappa having the prescience to buy up the rights to his own music from the record companies so he could control its release (he even went so far as to seek out illegal bootleg recordings of his music and rerelease them on his own label)). Get it and hear how, even in his rock band/groupie/mud shark days, Zappa was developing his "serious" style while never taking himself too seriously.


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