In the Beginning…

In the beginning there was a word, and the word was secret, and the secret word was…Mudshark! And for fifty years the Mudshark ruled supremely as the only secret word on the planet Earth, but one day the Mudshark became older, and began to turn yellow, and decided to go onward and upward into the cosmos as a Yellow Shark…But, in his wake, he left a void…filled by MTV and Supermarket Shopping Musik! And the family of the Mudshark became so bloated that they didn’t know what to do anymore with the legacy which the Mudshark had left behind him…They became concerned with the question of whether or not a Fish, or a beard Fish, or a Zappatika or a Central Scrutinizer Band could be a Mudshark! And how we can stop them swimming in the waters of the ocean! And the Mudshark looked on from high, and scratched his head, and scratched his beard, and he picked something living out of it, and he ate it. Then he pondered the question…”I wonder if there’ll ever be a new secret word?”

“The Secret Word”, ZAPPATiKA! Live at Zappanale #21


For as long as Zappanale has been functioning as a festival, I confess, I have always had a secret yearning to get my grubby completist hands on any or all of those privately released CDs of the acts performing at the festival, as well as the myriad limited edition compilations put out privately by the Arf Society. As a collector of Zappa and Mothers and related music, these are indeed some of the most difficult to come by, if not downright impossible (unless one is actually at the festival). Why would I care to collect them? Simple. They offer glimpses into what has become the premier Zappa/Mothers music festival.

Well, someone somewhere must have been tapping into my psychic musical desires because just last week what should appear in my Inbox but an email from the band ZAPPATiKA along with a link to a file containing a Soundboard recording of their entire Saturday, August 14th, 2010, midnight performance at the Zappanale Festival (with guest Ike Willis), offering it freely to seed or publish online.

So, after some further editing on my part (into individual tracks) here’s the ZAPPATiKA‘s Zappanale #21 show in it’s full glory:

ZAPPATiKA (with Ike Willis)
Zappanale 21
Galopprennbahn
Bad Doberan, Germany
August 14th, 2010
(2hr set at midnight)

1. Intro

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2. The Torture Never Stops

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3. I’m the Slime

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4. Wonderful Wino Man

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5. The Secret Word

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6. Dirty Love

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7. Sleep Dirt

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8. Cosmik Debris

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9. Wino Willie Hop

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10. I Have Been In You

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11. Broken Hearts Are For Assholes

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12. Sexually Harassed

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13. Titties ‘n’ Beer

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14. Thru the Wormhole

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15. Ballad of Leroy

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16. My Guitar Wants To Kill Your Mama

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17. Watermelon In Easter Hay

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18. Untitled

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19. City of Tiny Lites

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20. Black Napkins

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ZAPPATiKA is:

McInnes: lead vocal & lead guitar
Zomby Woof: rhythm guitar & vocals
Bongo Fury: percussion, xylo, tabla, vocals
The Kid: bass
Daddo: guitar & vocals
KE: violin
Batta-Tutti: drums

ZAPPATiKA is the kind of band that Zappa purists love to hate, and is exactly the sort of band that would send Gail into a rabid froth. They do not play Zappa’s music note for note. For that reason alone, they are well worth a listen. I like how they merge Zappa’s music into their own explorations of West Indian, Mongolian, and Slavic melodic influences with humor and verve.

If Zappa’s music, indeed, has a legacy, it is not as a museum piece, stuck on a shelf (sought after only by academics) but as part of living, breathing bands in front of live audiences.

20 Responses to “In the Beginning…”

  1. jonnybutter says:

    A quote from jonnybutter:

    ZAPPATiKA is the kind of band that Zappa purists love to hate… They do not play Zappa’s music note for note.

    I have no problem with Zappa bands not playing his music note for note, so long as they’re doing that on purpose. I haven’t listened to all of these particular cuts yet, but I will admit to getting annoyed at some cover bands that change notes in melodies or ostinatos (e.g.) just out of carelessness or because they think it doesn’t matter. If you’re going to change something, have a reason for it. Not only do details matter, they are *everything*.

  2. urbangraffito says:

    Of particular interest to me were tracks such as “Sleep Dirt”, “Sexually Harassed”, “Watermelon In Easter Hay”, “Black Napkins” and most of all, “Wino Willie Hop”. Of course details matter, yet sometimes I also enjoy being surprised by the occasional variation. Isn’t Zappanale just the place to celebrate such variations? Otherwise, every song every Zappa cover/tribute band would begin to sound the same. What always impresses me about Zappa’s music is that it can be performed by bar bands from Liverpool to the world’s greatest symphony orchestras – it’s the same music.

  3. Thinman says:

    Sometimes Zappa’s music doesn’t work at all when not performed “right”. “Right” consists of many factors and leaves room for endless discussions of course.

    Have you ever heard the Ensemble Modern performing a Zappa program on a bad day? That is no fun.

    So I would disagree with this:

    A quote from urbangraffito:

    … What always impresses me about Zappa’s music is that it can be performed by bar bands from Liverpool to the world’s greatest symphony orchestras – it’s the same music.

    Th.

  4. Thinman says:

    I mean, Zappa’s music is very sensitive when it comes to the quality of the performance. It is not something like “Blowin’ in the Wind”.

    BTW, ZAPPATIKA doesn’t make it for me. But I think what Ensemble Ambrosius did, works very good.

    Those opinions don’t qualify me as purist, I’m afraid.

    Th.

  5. urbangraffito says:

    A quote from Thinman:

    Sometimes Zappa’s music doesn’t work at all when not performed “right”. “Right” consists of many factors and leaves room for endless discussions of course.

    Have you ever heard the Ensemble Modern performing a Zappa program on a bad day? That is no fun.

    So I would disagree with this:

    A quote from urbangraffito:

    … What always impresses me about Zappa’s music is that it can be performed by bar bands from Liverpool to the world’s greatest symphony orchestras – it’s the same music.

    Th.

    While I have yet to hear the Ensemble Modern release a CD performing such Zappa works as “Titties ‘n Beer”, “Punky’s Whips”, “Brown Shoes Don’t Make It”, “Pick Me I’m Clean”, “The Blue Light”, “Truck Driver Divorce”, “Drowning Witch”, or even “Jones Crusher” at their local German Beer Garden – if you do recall, Thinman, they did release “The Adventures Of Greggery Peccary” on their 2002 CD, ‘Greggery Peccary & Other Persuasions: The Ensemble Modern Plays Frank Zappa’, along with the unlisted “Does This Kind of Life Look Interesting to You?” So, there is a precedent, even with the likes of the Ensemble Modern, playing out of their usual comfort zones.

    Even when asked the distinctions between his classical music and his rock music [I refer you to his interview currently streaming in KUR's mixtape], Zappa himself stated that there was no distinction.

    “It’s the same music,” Zappa said, whether performed by a symphony orchestra or a rock band. To illustrate his point, Zappa noted how “Sinister Footwear” began as a guitar solo.

    So, essentially, this discussion revolves back in that never ending circle… Should Zappa only be performed if performed “right”? And exactly who, or what body, will determine what interpretations of Zappa’s music is “right” anyway?

    Myself, I am open to all interpretations of Zappa’s music – the good, the bad, and the ugly. And I will once again reiterate, Zappa’s music has always impressed me with it’s wide variation: there’s music to appeal both to high and low brow music lovers. And as a Zappa music lover, I smile, because I know it’s essential the same music, only directed at different audiences.

  6. Dark Clothes says:

    If it sounds good it’s bitchen, if it sounds bad it sucks.

  7. zappafreak says:

    Personally if i feel so particular about the exact notes or arrangements,then i just stay home and listen to an FZ album…..but if i want to go to a concert then i love a band like this ,who have their own character,their own music,who thrive on life performance …and who still do their damndest to promote FZ and all that he stood for…..rock on Zappatika dudes ! Thanks for posting this show/article KUR, i enjoyed it

  8. jonnybutter says:

    A quote from jonnybutter:

    Personally if i feel so particular about the exact notes or arrangements,then i just stay home and listen to an FZ album

    There’s a big difference between ‘exact notes’ and ‘arrangements’. Zappa was about as fastidious and intentional as it’s possible to be about his music, just like any other composer. He didn’t make a distinction between instrumentation (rock band vs orchestra) or style, but he was SUPER picky about ‘exact notes’ – including about mistakes he liked the sound of. He had sections of exactitude and sections of freedom.

    What I don’t like is when there’s a given melody, and people change it because they’re just lame, or can’t be bothered with paying attention. Zappa was very open and inclusive about style and instrumentation, and I think his music deserves the same respect the other way around.

  9. xorg says:

    I agree that when playing other people’s music, you should play or sing the right notes. Just think of how many mangled versions of ‘Summertime’ you’ve heard. But music is different from most other forms of artistic expression in that it can more easily be interpreted and reproduced in different ways by musicians and this is a big part of its attraction. So, jazz musicians for instance will often take a tune to places you or the composer never thought of. Hence we get the sometimes irreconcilable quandary currently under discussion.
    I would have thought that most composers would be glad that other people want to play their music, particularly if it means additional royalty payments. But in general terms, I reckon that with all art forms, once it’s done and out in the big wide world, then people can make of what they will. The composer’s/author’s/artist’s intention is relevant but not imperative. Hence I can dismiss Tracey Emin’s intentions for what she does and call it a load of crap, but take account of FZ’s intentions and, for the most part, say it’s wonderful.

  10. jonnybutter says:

    A quote from jonnybutter:

    I agree that when playing other people’s music, you should play or sing the right notes.

    It’s also possible that someone could improve the original. Rare, but possible. Glenn Gould occasionally very slightly modified something in JS Bach, but it was usually a piece in which there was room for improvisation (like figured bass or a Sarabande) or there were questions about what Bach intended. Sometimes he would change something and make it worse, too. But he never changed anything really structural.

    The main thing is that you change something for a REASON, and you should have a VERY good reason that you’ve considered very carefully. Otherwise, why are you playing the music of the composer at hand?

  11. urbangraffito says:

    Hmmmm. The right notes played in the right manner by the right people. Where have I heard this kind of bunk before, I wonder? After 40 plus years of listening to Zappa and the Mothers, believe me, I have heard a lot of variations of Zappa compositions by Zappa and his many bands. Which ones were right? All of them! That was what I always loved about Zappa’s music, it’s adaptability to a given moment’s musical improvisation, without which such albums as the Shut Up and Play Yer Guitar Series would never have been created. Some of us seem to forget that Zappa’s music basically began as jams and improvisations. And it was from this element of pure chance that some of FZ’s finest musical moments occurred live on stage.

    While I adore what Dweezil Zappa Plays Zappa does on stage, their “note for note” rendition of Frank Zappa’s compositions are a perfect example of how the sum of the parts do not make up it’s total quality. Time and time again, when listening to DZPZ perform such FZ classics as “Andy”, “Call Any Vegetable”, “Pound for a Brown”, “Inca Roads” and “Yo Mama” I find they fail to “own” these songs by inconsistently putting their own particular imprint upon them, in particular, Dweezil’s guitar solos (too often cut too short) Why not create the very same improvisational variations that FZ did?

    Indeed, all good tribute bands do this. The Grandmother’s June 1st, 1981 Roxy show’s “King Kong Meets Doctor Strange” for instance. The Don and Bunk Show. The Jack and Jim Show, too.

  12. Dark Clothes says:

    In fact I have seen Dweezil cooking with the band and doing entirely his own thing in the middle of a Zappa composition, and it was a real treat and a highlight of the concert (in 2009, I believe).

  13. xorg says:

    I was thinking of compositions like ‘Navanax’ on Civilization Phase III. You’ve got to play the right notes for this one, but you don’t have to play it using synthesizers as FZ did. It could (with some practice) be played by a live band using conventional instruments and there’s room for interpretation – you’d probably opt to play it slower and add a short drum solo, and perhaps repeat the jazzy intro (extended) to include some improvisation. I wish I was a good enough musician to try it!
    As for Dweezil; yes, ZPZ does follow everything pretty much as on the records apart from solos here and there but it is still enjoyable. I hope, however, that for the sake of his own development Dweezil will stretch out more.

  14. jonnybutter says:

    A quote from jonnybutter:

    Some of us seem to forget that Zappa’s music basically began as jams and improvisations.

    Not really. His music began with written down pieces.

    One more time for the world: there is a difference between arrangement and written notes of a melody (for example). Of course the arrangements and instrumentation change! Zappa’s whole musical project consists of juxtaposing total control and total freedom. The one doesn’t work without the other – you lose the tension. Some pieces are designed to be completely different every time you play them, but the *score* doesn’t change.

    I’m actually ambivalent about Zappa cover bands. I certainly don’t think they should be barred from covering Frank’s music. But I have a hard time getting interested most of the time. On the one hand you have bands like Dweezil’s, who really replicate the original – which I find completely boring, no matter how well they do it (and let’s face it, Frank himself did a certain amount of that in the later years; his last band was AT TIMES an auto-cover band). On the other hand, you have some bands who change a lot of stuff, and then it just sounds like inferior Mothers. I’m more interested in hearing more exacting musicians do something with his pieces, rather than ‘bands’ per se. But that’s just me.

    Nobody (outside the ZFT) is talking here about not *allowing* people to cover Zappa music. But, speaking for myself, I often don’t enjoy it very much, although there are exceptions. Some of the more stock Rock songs don’t lose much if you do a lot of changing. But for quite a bit of the material, if you change the melody or the chords (without a good reason), you’ve changed something essential. Why bother? Write your own music!

  15. urbangraffito says:

    A quote from jonnybutter:

    A quote from urbangraffito:

    Some of us seem to forget that Zappa’s music basically began as jams and improvisations.

    Not really. His music began with written down pieces.

    I suppose Steve Vai was hired just for his “good looks”, then, and not his ability to transcribe “by ear” Zappa’s music? Why? If it was already written down?

    Indeed, some of Zappa’s music was written down, but he was the first to go off in some new direction when he heard something better. Which came first? The chicken or the egg? The written note or the improvization/jam? I have heard enough live Zappa recordings over the decades to assume that his new songs began as elements, or variations during live performances before written note ever saw a page (all you need do is listen to his myriad field recordings).

    As for the variations that cover bands bring to Zappa’s music, I find them interesting and intriguing, especially live. But would I want a steady diet of their variations? I’m a Zappa freak for a good reason. I may be entertained by cover bands, but there comes a time when every Freak must return to the source.

    There is no alternative to the maestro’s music.

  16. jonnybutter says:

    A quote from jonnybutter:

    I suppose Steve Vai was hired just for his “good looks”, then, and not his ability to transcribe “by ear” Zappa’s music? Why? If it was already written down?

    I don’t want to get into a pissing match about something which is really academic anyway. Maybe I misunderstood what you meant. You said: ‘Zappa’s music basically began as jams and improvisations’. I took that literally, and I’m pretty sure that Zappa’s music literally began with things like Pound For a Brown (I think he said he wrote that in 1957) and the string quartet which ended up in ‘Brown Shoes’. He also said that he was writing music for years before he ever wrote any rock music. And keep in mind that he called his guitar solos ‘instant composition’, not ‘jamming around’.

    Of course improvisation was important to his music – vital. And it doesn’t really matter which came first, since he thought of it all as composition anyway. But I think it’s misleading to say his music ‘began’ as jams and improvisation, even though you used the weasel word ‘basically’. Know what I mean?

  17. urbangraffito says:

    You caught me, jonnybutter, weasel word and all. Of course, we are both right in a way. Many of the Zappa standards you speak of began as written compositions. Then as he began to tour with each successive incarnation of the Mothers, his methods of composition also began changing. One can hear it in the music, particularly during the Roxy years. It’s interesting considering that of all of Zappa’s bands, it was while in the Roxy Mothers that Zappa was his most funky, most creatively loose (at least in my opinion) and most welcoming of input from his bandmates. That band released the fewest albums, yet no doubt the best because of Zappa’s looseness and funkiness of that period.

    By the way, when I suggest that Zappa jams, I do suggest just that. Sometimes Zappa did meander when he played before he found a groove, at least when he was improvising on the spot. Then the magic happened. He called it air sculptures. Without the possibility of failure, there is nothing to reach for musically – and Zappa reached very high, indeed.

  18. jonnybutter says:

    I think that what made Zappa’s released stuff different from a typical jam or bunch of solos is that he had such a overriding sense of *design*. He imposed or found a design in just about anything (with the help of a razor blade, usually), including jams and random events. For example, he himself said that most of his guitar solos were ‘garbage’, but the ones he thought were good really were like instant compositions. They had a form. Compositions which weren’t so instant, like the ones he wrote down, obviously had a robust design to them too. That’s why I think playing his written-down compositions and changing essential stuff – like notes in a melody, or bass functions – is generally a mistake, unless you have a really good reason for doing it. No different from changing notes in a Bach fugue.

    I find something ironic or weird about people who are supposedly slavish Zappa fans, who then cover his music and change notes around for the hell of it, or just out of carelessness. When I hear stuff like that, I can’t escape the conclusion that the exercise of covering Zappa is more about the self-aggrandizement of the fan than about Frank’s music. Want to use his music as a point of departure? Fine. But get to that actual point before you do it. Or, you know, write your own fucking music.

  19. Thinman says:

    One can play all the right notes and still fuck up the performance.

    Th.

  20. urbangraffito says:

    Can’t argue with you there, johnnybutter. Whether he was editing various versions of Lumpy Gravy with the help of a razor blade, or plucking solos from various live recordings which he would later perfect as a compositional tool known as Xenochrony (on Zoot Allures, Shiek Yerbouti, Joe’s Garage, et al), he most definitely was imposing his own personal design.

    As for making variations on Zappa’s compositions, I’ll agree that there are limits. Beyond that point and you should be composing your own music and not riding Zappa’s coattails, compositionally speaking.

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