Portrait of a Zappa Freak

How old were you when you figured out there was something seriously different with you? When did you discover that the world was going in one particular direction, and you the other? That age for me was around eight or nine years old. The same time I discovered the music of Frank Zappa. The album, Just Another Band From L.A. to be exact. It just made sense to me. Then and now. It was also plainly obvious, even to my young mind at that time, that I was different from my peers. I was a Freak.

The freaks, by Zappa’s reckoning, resisted the binaries of right versus left, dominant culture versus counterculture, or squares versus hippies, preferring instead to align themselves with an aesthetic not narrowly defined by fashion or political leanings.

Of course, it drove my family to distraction and despair as my collection of Zappa records grew, and many a Zappa album found it’s way shattered against the wall like a frisbee, or gashed with long scratches across the vinyl from being too hurriedly de-needled. But by high school, my Zappa fix was a close as the nearest record store (or for those who couldn’t afford them — the nearest public library).

Where do you fit along the Zappa continuum? Passing Zappa listener? Zappaholic? Full fledged Zappa Freak? Then read Ben Watson’s paper, “Houston … Fort .. Marcuse: Sin Versus Archetype in Zappa” addressed to the International Conference of Esemplastic Zappology on 16 January 2004 at Theatro Technis, Crowndale Road, Camden Town, London.

Some Zappa Freaks are really out of this world…

Author: urbangraffito

Writer, editor, publisher, philosopher, foole.

23 thoughts on “Portrait of a Zappa Freak”

  1. windows media player says my FZ collection is 214 hours, 26 mins, @ 16.38GB. i’d say that qualifies me as a complete & total Freak-For-Life, along with many many others, hopefully. first few albums for me were WOIIFTM, A/OS, Fillmore, & JABFLA. from there things went rapidly downhill… in a good way.

  2. I’ll curse in the middle of this FZ paradise: more than 50 % of FZs music happens to be crap ( in retrospect). The other half is very good and will survive for a century.
    I agree with one of his musicians when he said : ” He seemed to be aware of the fact that he would die rather young. He just kept behaving like a genuine workaholic. Everything had to be ready in due time, i e before he passed away”. Since he was working in a strictly commercial environment he was unable to delete the bad music ( like for instance Antorn Webern , http://www.antonwebern.com/ did, his entire oeuvre = 3,5 hours).

    One possible amazing thing about FZ ( ahead of his time) is that he refused to fit into a ” genre”. Intellectual translation : holistic & lateral.
    Just one example. Drummer Vinnie C. is now playing with jazz musicians H. Hancock & Wayne Shorter.

  3. I heard ‘Little House I Used to Live in’ (the Burnt Weenie version) when I was 11 and was instantly and completely addicted from then on. Because I have sort of a photographic memory for music (only for music!) I found I could listen to Frank’s music as well as everything else in my head anytime and all the time, and I did and have. Serious obsession.

  4. Let’s agree on one tought.

    FZs music is an invitation for further, much more wide ranging exploration.

    FZ as an enabling person.

  5. OK

    Unlike truly – i e self declared – old guys ( age = +/- in their forties) I’m 53.
    Young enough.

    All of you know that FZ actually got his initial inspiration from R&B, Varèse etc., etc.

    There’s still one intriguing composer left. Years before FZ he did musically speaking +/- the same thing, with much more limited means.
    Conlon Nancarrow.
    For instance:





    Ever heardo f the composer C.N ? : http://news.minnesota.publicradio.org/features/199710/29_bakera_nancarrow/

    Charles A. , the CN expert, is now inspiring Other Minds

    Fun is in the notes.

    Did FZ know about him?

  6. A chronic Zappa Freak as of 4 or 5, courtesy several older siblings of the hippy-dippy persuasion. Incurable. Have the 200 MOTELS LP, but no phonograph – ’nuff said.

    You’ll love it! It’s a way of life!

  7. FZs music is an invitation for further, much more wide ranging exploration.

    Yes. I might quibble about your 50% figure, but it doesn’t really matter. Even 50% of Zappa’s output is a lot of good music.

    BTW, I don’t agree that Ben Watson ‘sucks all the fun out’… I haven’t yet read the article linked above, but I think he has done a good job before. I enjoyed Poodle Play a lot, despite its errors.

  8. One of the most telling things about Frank’s music is that many of his fans would probably agree that about 50 percent of his music was good, the other 50 percent crap. BUT they would disagree over which albums went into which category!

  9. Disclosure! I was born in 1971.

    The first time I was exposed to Zappa’s universe was when we were driving home from, I think, Antwerp Zoo. I was ten. The tune on the radio was Peaches En Regalia — a perfect introduction to FZ’s music for that age. (I later found out it was the intro tune for a radio show produced by Zjakki Willems, called “Cucamonga”).

    Fast forward to December ’93. I have by now become a grunge/Nirvana adept, having enjoyed grunge godfather Neil Young for several years before. I hear about the demise of one Frank Zappa on the TV news. This tickles my curiousity, and I start to further investigate this Strange Man With The Imperial.

    My first purchase is Roxy & Elsewhere, and, quite frankly, it takes me a couple of days to adjust to this kind of seventies extravaganza.

    Next thing, it just clicks, falls into place, completes the puzzle. I realize that I absolutely, completely adore this completely crazy, deranged music.

    Fast forward to ’99, and I’ve got this measly little website entitled “The Way I See It Barry” which has some quotes and some articles. I remember putting up a splash-page featuring the FZ-yawning pic from Chunga’s Revenge, upon which one Cornelius (remember him?) of Scandinavian descent emails me saying I’m breaking copyright law and should take that picture down immediately.

    Did so, and instantly got a web-award (remember those?) for “Excellent Zappa” content.

    So here we are, 8 years and 50+ album purchases later. What a trip it’s been! To collaborate with SOFA, Magic Fingers, Balint, Gilles, urbangraffito, UniMuta, the Idiot Bastard…

    …and last but not least: Dr Sharl! :D

  10. Must’ve been 17 or so when I bought brand new WOIIFTM, repeated that three vinyl times before the doubleheader CD came along. One of the vinyls is an obscure Italian print as yes there were times FZ classics were no longer available in record stores. Another one has the cat’s scratches still all over it. Freak with around 40 LPs and ditto CDs, donot think so.

  11. I was 13, always felt disdain for accepted behavior, when my friend John brought over WOIIFTM, Freak Out, Hot Rats, and JABFLA. I loved Billy The Mountain right off. It was funny, weirdly melodic, and living in LA I enjoyed the super obscure references to various local TV and businesses. Bob Spreen cadillac was a local commercial, George Putnam was indeed a right wing commentator on KTTV, I knew about all the towns mentioned in the crime ring. There really was a Ralph’s supermarket on Glenoaks!
    I read the liner notes for Hungry Freaks, and the reference about dropping out of school before your mind rots from the mediocre education system was all I needed to get hooked. The reason why this music was so great is becasue the mind behind it was great. That made and still makes a huge impact on me.

  12. Reading these comments has been extremely interesting and insightful for me as a follower of the Zappa persuasion for the last 4 years or so, because like SplashyLake mentioned, every FZ lover is an FZ lover for completely different reasons. Could it be any other way?

    I’m happy to see all the references to Billy the Mountain here, because that’s when it stuck for me as well. Though my first exposure came in the form of Apostrophe when I was 16, I really fell under the spell upon the listening of JABFLA. Since then, other albumss have made huge impressions (BWS, MAJNH, Guitar, Sleep Dirt), but that record still holds a special place in my heart as the moment I “got it”. I have the framed vinyl hanging on my wall. Being from Los Angeles, Billy the Mountain was also especially entertaining for me, though most of the references came maybe 30 years too late. It was cool feeling hearing all the smut ring cities, huh Danny?

    When expressing my passion for Zappa’s music to friends however, I always do so with a grain of salt because of the aforementioned 50% line. No one has ever produced such a disparity in quality of tunes as Zappa, but of course that is subjective and up to the listener. Still, I can’t remember ever feeling as polarized about a musician as I do after hearing Rat Tomago and Jewish Princess on the same album. Paradox and half, he was.

    The iconoclastic nature of the tunes is what initially drew me in, but when it resulted in some of the tunes sacrificing musical interest for shock value or to host a joke-fest, that same attribute ended up being what pushed me towards discovering newer and even more different music. Zappa opened my brain, widened my horizons and helped me see music as being deeper than a couple riffs and some vocal harmony in 3 minutes. As Bernard said, he presented an invitation to a broader realm of undiscovered sound. His influence has dug deep and remained entrenched, and I’m not alone. I love Frank Zappa!

    Thanks, Barry for living and blogging the life of the dedicated FZ appreciator.

  13. Damn… Has it been that long?
    I must say, the nicest thing about my involvement in internet FZ appreciation, has been the incredible people with which I have become acquainted.
    (Who wouldn’t be hot for Dr. Sharl?)

  14. Why, thanks for the compliments… :oops:
    First exposures to FZ didn’t make a big impression on me. I remember having heard Bobby Brown on the radio here and there on the early eighties, however since I DID like Black Sabbath at the time i just plainly ignored it… On ’85 i travelled to Brazil, and a friend of mine asked me to bring him “whatever i could find from Frank Zappa”, which resulted on me bringing him a vynil of FZ Meets the Mothers of Prevention (right from the oven!).
    I remember I gave it a listen and decided it wasn’t “my thing” -to this day, i don’t like that album, except of course for What’s New in Baltimore…
    I guess you get it when you have to, neither before nor after.
    To me it was in ’89, when i listened to a copy of Apostrophe/Overnight Sensation, the old edition where both were together. The last thing i heard was Montana. It made my jaw drop.
    From then on, you know the drill…
    I agree with Sofa when he says about the incredible people he got to know through FZ appreciation (including the amazing Barry, and you guys reading this).

    So long and thanks for all the fish, FZ!

  15. To all of you : just have a beer right now:


    It says:

    More composer beer: Frank Zappa ale, celebrating the 40th anniversary of the release of Absolutely Free.
    (The same brewery has also released an ale in honor of Freak Out!) I keep waiting for this to be a trend. Composer/beer puns abound: Quincy Porter, Alan Stout, C.P.E. Bock—but for my money, nothing would beat a Virgil Thomson Unfiltered Wheat.

  16. For me it was WOIIFTM. I was hanging out at a friend’s and we were diggin through his older brother’s records looking for Sgt Pepper. Len, the brother, had his copy of ‘Money folded inside-out so the Sgt Pepper parody was on the outside and we pulled it out by mistake. We isntanly saw that it wasn’t Sgt Pepper, but it looked way to wierd to NOT listen too so…

    We listened to it two more times before digging through the records for more and spent the rest of the afternoon/evening listening to Freak Out!, Filmore East ’71, Apostophe(‘) and Baby Snakes. We even took Freak Out! to a high school party and switched it with whatever record was on the turntable whenever nobody else was looking. I was pretty much hooked right away.

    And yes, Frank led me to other music:
    Rimsky Korsakov

  17. My first impression of Zappa developed in a “head shop” when I was about 9 or 10 years old. I used to like to go into the hippie store to look at the BLACK LIGHT ROOM and the psychadelic posters. They had the Phi Zappa Crappa poster hanging on the wall and I thought, “How great…a poster of a man sitting on a toilet.” For a few years thereafter I always wrote “Phi Zappa Crappa” on my Pee-Chee folder without ever having heard a note of his music.

    Cut to a few years later when I discovered Overnite Sensation and Bongo Fury. As a 15 year old I liked the poop and weenie jokes, but I also instinctively knew that this music was different. I paid more attention to the SOUNDS on the records than the other music I was listening to. The SOUNDS were intriguing and exotic.

    From that point on I became a ravenous consumer of all things Zappa.

    Billy the Mountain is special to me because of the MANY specific references to television artifacts that were peculiar to Southern California in the late 60s/early 70s. Anyone who lived there at that time knows about Bob Spreen Cadillac (“Where the freeways meet in Downey”),
    the whole “SUNDAY! FUNNY CARS!!” and “Big John Mazmanian” from the commercials for Ascot Raceway in Gardena (“Where the Harbor, the San Diego and the 91 Freeways COLLIDE!!!) to name a few.

    WHEW! Good times.

  18. Re: Nancarrow

    Zappa: I don’t think there are jazz influences in Uncle Meat. If there’s any influence in Uncle Meat it’s from Conlon Nancarrow. He’s a composer who lives in Mexico, but was born in Kentucky. He writes music for player-piano that is humanly impossible to perform. He writes all these bizarre canons and weird structures – punches them out on player-piano rolls. The stuff is fantastic; there are a few albums of it. If you’ve never heard it, you’ve got to hear it – it’ll kill you. Some of it sounds like ragtime that’s totally bionic.


  19. Yes.

    I really do not believe that FZ was aware of CN. Or the other way around.

    However : the same basics.

  20. Furthermore on the great Conlon Nancarrow:

    essentials : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conlon_Nancarrow

    kind people : http://home.earthlink.net/~kgann/index2.html
    more : http://www.furious.com/PERFECT/conlonnancarrow.html
    and : http://news.minnesota.publicradio.org/features/199710/29_bakera_nancarrow/

    Classical Music Blog OvergrownPath, http://theovergrownpath.blogspot.com/ ( i e Bob Singleton ) : just have a look. Bob elaborated on CN.

    and this : http://www.otherminds.org/shtml/Nancarrow.shtml

    As for the last link: Charles Amirkhanian ( yes: Armenian roots) wrote a book on CN. And he’ s – amongst others – in charge of Other Minds.

  21. Only Ben Watson would hear the sound of a bootlegger urinating as a supposedly deep and meaningful part of Conceptual Continuity and the Project/Object. Watson doesn’t really write about Zappa–Watson writes about Watson. He would still spout the same socialist/Adorno/Joyce gibberish were he to focus on Pink Floyd as The Negative Dialectics of Marmalade.

  22. we do have here the origin of the “tape trading is ok by FZ” quote which certain on here poo pooed when I mentioned it a while back. So even Ben “sure can dance for a white boy” Watson has its use.

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