May 20, 1984—Speaking Of Music With Frank Zappa, Exploratorium, San Francisco, CA

The Program

SPEAKING OF MUSIC
WITH FRANK ZAPPA

HOSTED BY CHARLES AMIRKHANIAN
WITH CALVIN AHLGREN, READER

Presented by The Exploratorium
Palace of Fine Arts Theatre, San Francisco
Sunday, May 20, 1984
8:00 PM

Lumpy Gravy (excerpt, digitally remastered from original) *
Mo 'n Herb's Vacation (first movement, 112-piece orchestra)
Love Story (synclavier)*
Naval Aviation in Art (chamber ensemble)
Girl in the Magnesium Dress (synclavier)*
Jonestown (synclavier)*
While You Were Out (guitar version)
While You Were Art (ensemble version)

INTERMISSION

Francesco, Op. 1/6 (synclavier)*
Francesco, Op. 1/11 (synclavier)*
Francesco, Op. 1/2 (synclavier)*

Francesco: The Almost Fictional Life of an Obscure Italian Composer (play by Frank Zappa)*
Read by actor Calvin Ahlgren

Francesco Rock, Op. 1/1 (synclavier)*
He's So Gay (from the musical, Thingfish)*
Sinister Footwear (from the forthcoming LP, Them or Us)*
Truck Driver Divorce (from Them or Us)*

* world premiere


The Spring 1984 Speaking of Music programs are made possible by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, The California Arts Council and the San Francisco Foundation. The Exploratorium is sponsored in part by a gran from the San Francisco Hotel Tax Fund.

Tonight's state-of-the-art playback system for Frank Zappa's digital tapes has generously been furnished by John Meyer of Meyer Sound Labs of Berkeley (which designed and built this UPA 650 system) and Ultra Sound of San Raphael, dealers in fine audie equipment. Thanks also to Andy Neddermeyer (no relation) for providing the Sony digital playback unit. Frank Zappa's master tapes were made with recording engineer Mark Pinske and mixing engineer Bob Stone. All selections (P) Munchkin Music (ASCAP). Most of the recordings heard tonight are, or soon will be, available on Barking Pumpkin Records and Angel Records. The music by Francesco Zappa (fl 1763-1788) was provided to Frank Zappa by the Music Library of the University of California, Berkeley.

Speaking Of Music: Frank Zappa, archive.org

Publication date 1984-05-20
[...]

In an interview recorded on May 20, 1984, before a live audience as part of the San Francisco Exploratorium's Speaking of Music series, Charles Amirkhanian speaks with Frank Zappa about his forays into, and subsequent retreat from, the world of so called "serious" music. Zappa begins his remarks with the proclamation that Art in America is dead. He then lays the blame for its moribund state on schools that have ceased to educate, a mass media that only entertains but never explores, and the tendency of those who do still attend cultural events to be only interested in being seen and drinking copious amounts of white wine. During the first half of the program Zappa plays excerpts from a number of projects, including performances of his music by the London Symphony Orchestra and Ensemble InterContemporain, as well as a number of works composed on the Synclavier, one of the first digital synthesizers. The later part of the program is devoted to a reading of a hilarious play Zappa had written about the obscure 18th century Italian composer, and possible namesake, Francesco Zappa. Interspersed among the music and readings, Zappa takes rapid fire questions from the enthusiastic crowd, who are not disappointed by his sometimes outrageous answers and anecdotes, be it about faking a chamber music performance, the deceleration that tobacco is food, composing minimal music using an Echoplex and a chimpanzee, or simply talking about touring, upcoming releases, and his children's careers. All in all it is a remarkable program that offers an opportunity to investigate aspects of Frank Zappa's art that fans of his rock music may be unaware of but which will not fail to amuse or illuminate.

archive.org vs. Zappateers

Zappateers archive.org
1) SOM intros 1st Half
00:00-03:17  
03:17-05:21 0:00:00-0:02:10
2) FZ Intro and Q&A session  
00:00-05:35 0:02:10-0:07:42
05:35-06:25  
06:25-10:05 0:07:42-0:11:19
3) Lumpy Gravy (excerpts)  
00:00-01:30 0:11:19-0:12:51
4) Mo'n Herbs Vacation (excerpts)  
00:00-04:50 0:12:51-0:17:31
5) Love Story  
00:00-00:57 0:17:31-0:18:28
6) Naval Aviation In Art?  
00:00-02:44 0:18:28-0:21:02
7) The Girl In The Magnesium Dress  
00:00-02:44 0:21:02-0:23:39
8) Jonestown  
00:00-05:43 0:23:39-0:29:01
9) Q&A Session  
00:00-09:07 0:29:01-0:38:17
09:07-09:14  
09:14-13:34 0:38:17-0:42:43
13:34-14:16  
14:16-22:44 0:42:43--0:51:14
10) While You Were Out  
00:00-06:05 0:51:14-0:57:19
11) The story behind While You Were Art  
00:00-03:27 0:57:19-1:01:13
12) While You Were Art (unreleased)  
00:00-07:35 1:01:13-1:08:33
07:35-07:45  
13) He's So Gay (includes intro) 2nd Half
00:00-04:27 0:00:00-0:04:22
14) Q&A Session  
00:00-12:08 0:04:22-0:16:28
15) Francesco Zappa - Opus 1, 2nd Movement Presto  
00:00-01:50 0:16:28-0:18:20
16) Francesco Zappa - Opus 1, 2nd Movement Minuet  
00:00-02:24 0:18:20-0:20:26
17) "The Almost Fictional Life Of Francesco Zappa" (read by Calvin Ahlgren)  
00:00-00:35 0:20:26-0:21:02
00:35-00:41  
00:41-39:47 0:21:02-1:00:01
18) String Trio - Opus 1, 2nd Movement  
00:00-03:51 1:00:01-1:03:51
03:51-05:22  

 

First Half

1. KPFA & Exploratorium Intros 5:21

[...]

2. Interview, Q&A Session 10:05

[...]

Charles Amarkhanian:

One of the important things about Frank Zappa's career right at this point is that it's going through a couple of important changes, and I'd like to ask you first to talk about the switch back from the classical music world that you've been involved with for a couple of years, to touring again, which starts very soon.

FZ:

Well, what happened was that I stopped touring in 1982—we did a concert in Palermo, Sicily, where a number of people were injured very badly—there was a riot there, and the police and the army, and the audience also had guns and they were playing ring-around-the-rosie outside the soccer stadium, and I said, "This is no way for a person of my years to be earning his living."

So I stopped and I went into what some people think of as the serious music world and, I got news for you— Yeah, well, I'm coming back, don't worry, because what I've found in the world of serious music was sickness, rot and decay. The arts in America are totally fucked, mainly because nobody really cares about them, and they are going to die. In the realist sense, they will die. There will be this ghostly remnant that people will pretend is American culture—that will stay because that's merchandisable. And there will always be somebody to give you some fake little artifact that they tell you this is culture, but really for quality performances and things like that, I think that the chances of that being kept alive in America, that's pretty bleak.

[...]

Audience Member:

You speak out against drugs, why is it you smoke cigarettes?

FZ:

Well, to me a cigarette is food, you see. Now that may be a baffling concept to people in San Francisco who, who have this theory that they will live forever if they stamp out ah, tobacco smoke. I find this a little bit difficult to deal with, but, I live my life eating these things and drinking this black water in this cup here, OK?

And as far as drugs go, I think that if you want to use drugs, terrific. Just don't become a liability to the society, or don't put yourself in a position which under the influence of drugs you can hurt somebody else because you're so fucking out of it you couldn't handle yourself. That's what I got against drugs.

[...]

Audience Member:

Will we ever see Baby Snakes?

FZ:

The problem with Baby Snakes is simply this: a lot of people have said, "Sure, give me this film! We'll just sort of take it and distribute it," but nobody wants to give me any money. And since I spent all my own money to make this film, I take a very dim view of people doing me those kinds of favours.

[...]

But wait, let me answer this question up there about the tour. The tour is gonna start around July 15. Rehearsals start tomorrow. And we'll be out until the 1st of the year, and I don't know when we're gonna be in the Bay Area—

Audience Member:

Who's on percussion?

FZ:

Okay, I'm not using percussion. I'm taking a rhythm & blues band down on the road. And the band is Napoleon Murphy Brock on tenor sax and vocals, Ike Willis, Ray White, Scott Thunes on bass, Chad Wackerman on drums, and Bobby Martin on keyboards and screaming vocals, and we're looking for one more keyboard player who's incredibly proficient and who can also sing rhythm & blues falsetto like Frankie Valli. So if you know anybody, auditions are still going on for the next week.

[...]

Audience Member:

What about the 35 record set?

FZ:

The first box of the 35 record set, which is 7 discs in a box—which has Freak Out!, Absolutely Free, Lumpy Gravy, We're Only In It For The Money, and Ruben & The Jets, plus the Mystery Disc of unreleased material from that era—, will be available very soon because we've just made a distribution deal with MCA for the product.

[...]

Well, I've got an idea for a video that I want to do. A song called "Be In My Video," which has—it has all the clichés that you're so acostumed to from MTV. It has the lips, it has the girl's legs as she gets out of the car, it has the midgets, it has the venetian blind, and the atomic explosion, it has doves, it has a girl in a white dress twirling around in a lap dissolve, it has a person who pretends to be Chinese, and it has a pair of red shoes. It's got everything that you always wanted to see. And I've asked John Carpenter to direct it, and I'll know—I should know by Tuesday whether or not he'll go through with that.

[...]

3. Lumpy Gravy Excerpt 1:30

Spider: The way I see it, Barry, this should be a very dynamite show.

Motorhead: I keep switching girls all the time, because if I'm able to find a girl with really a groovy car that ain't build up, man, I'll go steady with her for a while until I'd build up her car and blow out the engine!

Spider: This is Phaze III. This is also . . .
John: Well, get through Phaze I & II first.
Spider: Alright, alright. Here's Phaze I . . .

4. Mo 'N Herb's Vacation, 1st Movement 4:50

 

5. Love Story 0:57

 

6. Naval Aviation In Art? 2:44

 

7. The Girl In The Magnesium Dress 2:44

 

8. Jonestown 5:43

 

9. Interview, Q&A 22:44

[...]

CA:

"Mo 'N Herb's Vacation" was recorded—it's available on disc, but the mix that we heard was a different one. Maybe you should tell us about that.

FZ:

Yeah, I decided to remix all the stuff from the London Symphony album—

CA?:

Sounds better.

FZ:

Yeah, the reason that it does is because I was the engineer on the first one and there's no way that I'll ever be able to mix as good as Bob Stone. And I was going for a completely different—'cause Bob had hepatitis when the mix was done, he couldn't do it. But, what I tried to do on the first mix of the London Symphony album was to bring out details by moving the faders up and making things happen that you couldn't get acoustically and, that succeeds, but it doesn't make it sound so much like an orchestra but more like a rock & roll record. And the character of theses mixes that Bob has done is more set the faders to a balance, get the echo just right, and get your hands off of it and leave it alone. So that's more of an orchestral blend.

CA:

"Naval Aviation In Art?" sounds like it was recorded digitally. How was that done?

FZ:

It was. It was.

CA:

But what kind of multitrack equipment?

FZ:

All the orchestral stuff—both "Mo 'N Herb's" and "Naval Aviation In Art?" were done on a Sony PCM 3324 24-track digital machine.

[...]

CA:

Were you referring to the sliding sounds in some of those pieces?

FZ:

Oh, that sound comes from the Synclavier and, we named that sound "Meltdown." What it sounds is like an eternally glissando in the trombone section, it, once it starts, it just keeps going until it disappears.

Audience Member:

Who was saying "The way I see it, Barry, this should be a very dynamite show"?

FZ:

His name is Spider Barbour. And he was the, uh— You know Spider? . . . Alright, that's right. They were working at the studio in New York where we recorded Ruben & The Jets and Uncle Meat. They were— We had eight hours a day, they had eight hours a day, and so I— He had an interesting voice, so I said, "Why don't you just climb inside this piano here with these other people and start talking?" And that's where all that dialog came from.

[...]

Well, let's see, we recorded—we did three days of that.

[...]

Audience Member:

[...] Harry Partch?

FZ:

Yes, I gotta like Harry's music. Harry Partch. Yeah, [...] was influenced by Harry Partch, you know.

[...]

Audience Member:

Whatever became of the quilt?

FZ:

A woman named Emily Schultz from—I guess she's from Boulder—made the quilt and has been displaying it. It's done. It may even come to San Francisco. She's been taking it around galleries and showing it to people, and— She stuffed all the underpants, stuff them with cardboards so they got, you know, a nice little position and rigid, and made this kind of wall hanging sculpture out of it.

Audience Member:

How do they smell?

FZ:

Well, I'm not a whiffer, you know? You'd have to ask Colaiuta or Mars or Steve Vai. Those were the people for whom the garments were really collected, you know.

[...]

Betty Polus:

How did you happen to bring [?] puppets to enact your symphony?

FZ:

Well, actually I have to thank Stephanie Zimmerman for that, because I believe she's the one who came up with the idea. They called me after the project had almost fallen through for the third or fourth time and said, "We have a great idea. How do you feel about having puppets do it?" And I said, "Terrific!" Because that's how I got started in, let's say, show business. Some of the first things that I did involved puppets, and I've always liked puppets. But the things that you're gonna see on stage at Zellerbach are way bigger than what you think of as puppets. Some of them are bigger than people.

[...]

Audience Member:

What effect are you using on your guitar on the guitar solo of "Black Napkins" and "Ship Ahoy"—?

FZ:

That's an Oberheim VCF [...].

[...]

Well, on the Freak Out! album there's a list of 160 names—both positive and negative influences, I'm, you know, I'm influenced just as easily by things I hate as by things that I like. And since that first list I don't think I would have added more than four names to it, 'cause at that time I don't believe I've heard Penderecki or Takemitsu, so I would add those two names to it.

Audience Member:

What do you think of Nino Rota?

FZ:

Oh, you mean the guy who write all those scores, those—

Audience Member:

For Fellini.

FZ:

Yeah. Well, you know, he's got that Farfisa kind of tone . . . What?

Audience Member:

Would you consider colaborating with Fellini?

FZ:

Well, I did once, and send him a letter and, you know, he wasn't interested, so . . . He had his chance, that's it.

Audience Member:

Do you use vocal sampling or will you be using vocal sampling, like on a Fairlight or an Emulator?

FZ:

Well, the Synclavier does vocal sampling and I have one piece on the Thing-Fish album which uses it. And it also us— It uses a combination of vocal sampling and a computer generated voice of a character called Crab-Grass Baby, which is a little infant in a nativity box who has a face like that Fuck Doll with the mouth open and Wayne Cochran's enormous white video religious pompadour. And the voice of this character is done with a $300 card that you plug into an IBM computer and type in the words, and it says it back to you in this kind of Irish-Swedish accent.

[...]

Well, I don't wanna give Bill Graham a bad time because I like Bill Graham, but the fact of the matter is Bill Graham runs his business in a certain way and that's for the advantage of Bill Graham and he should run his business that way. But that does not mean that everybody should always do business the way Bill Graham likes to have it done. And if I have certain expenses that I am stuck with in terms of doing my tour and somebody doesn't wanna pay me enough to play there, I'm not gonna play there. And that's the way it works.

[...]

10. While You Were Out 6:05

 

11. "While You Were Art" Introduction 3:27

FZ:

Now here is what happened. For those of you with a musical imagination, you heard what the pitches were and how the rhythm is on that. These people from the EAR Unit, which is two keyboards, two percussion, flute, clarinet and cello, asked me to arrange that for them. The guy who asked me was Art Jarvinen, so I wrote a piece called "While You Were Art," and I did it on the Synclavier, and used the Synclavier to print out the parts for the musicians and got it all ready and delivered it and they were supposed to play it, I guess it was about three weeks ago.

So here is what happened. He comes by to pick up the piece and since it was in the Synclavier I could actually play it back for him on the Synclavier so he could hear it. And he said, "You know, we're not gonna be able to learn that in time." And they'd already announced and it was already on the program. And they didn't think they would have enough rehearsal time to learn something that hard. So I said, "No problem. I'll just have the computer play it for you."

So we synthesize the sound of all the instruments in their group and treated the cello as if it was gonna be played through a flanger. We arranged to have wires coming out of every instrument on stage, and they were gonna go on stage of the Monday Evening Concerts—for those of you who don't know what the Monday Evening Concerts are, it's the prestigious modern music concert that's been going on for years and years in L.A., where they do all the really serious things. And it's gonna be at the County Museum, you know, really serious and there was another piece that required amplification on the program so there was already gonna be a PA system there, so it wouldn't have been too unusual to see the speakers on either side of this group.

So I gave each musician a cassette with his part prominently turned up so he can learn how to pretend to play it and then the sheet music of what he was supposed to pretend to play, and they went on stage and they did it. And I also gave them a digital cassette—they asked for a F1 VHS cassette—they didn't know the difference between VHS and Beta, so when they went to do the thing, they had the wrong machine. And so what they used was a little practise cassette. In spite of using a practise cassette, nobody in the audience knew that they never played a note.

The man who runs the Monday Evening Concerts didn't know that they didn't play any notes. Morton Subotnick didn't know they didn't play any notes. The Los Angeles Times critic didn't know they didn't play any notes. And neither did the Herald Examiner critic. Nobody knew, okay?

And so . . . instead of realising that this was the beginning of a new era—the missing link between performance art and electronic music—a medium that allows the musicians to what they always wanted to do on stage, concentrate on looking good, while all the hard stuff was being done for 'em—instead of treating it that way, many people are ashamed that the whole event even occured.

And so, for the first time anywhere, the F1 digital cassette of "While You Were Art."

12. While You Were Art/Intermission 7:45

FZ:

Okay. And now, here it is, the moment you've all being waiting for—Intermission. About 20 minutes and we'll be right back.

[...]

Second Half

13. Introduction/He's So Gay/After Comments 4:27

[...]

14. Q&A 12:08

[...]

FZ:

No, I never went to a university. I went to one semester at junior college to get laid, was succesful, and got out.

[...]

Yes, I have written a book. It's called Christmas In New Jersey, and it's available by mail order only, because it's a little bit too weird for publishers.

[...]

As a matter of fact, the first pieces from the 200 Motels album had three classical guitars on it, and one of the most famous classical guitarists in the world was on that recording session and the part baffled him so, when the other two guys were playing their parts, he just thought he'd sit out and listen to it, to see how it went, and that was the only take that was done of that piece, so, he—I don't wanna name his name—but he, he was hired, he was on there, but he wasn't on there. There were like four or five little chamber like pieces in that album that used classical guitar, but I don't usually write for it.

[...]

Well, see, there's a book called The Frank Zappa Guitar Book, which is available through [...]. And the scores are available mail order through the Barfko-Swill mail order company. And uh, this is a fairly recent development. The Barfko-Swill company, I can't remember the Post Office Box, but this is easy to remember—if you need information about those kinds of products or t-shirts or concert information, we have a number in Los Angeles, it's 818-PUMPKIN, so you can call that number and there somebody there will answer it.

[...]

Okay, this part of the show is going to start off with some examples of the music of Francesco Zappa. Now, to tell you the story of how I found out about this guy—my wife was looking through Grove's Dictionary Of Music And Musicians, which is this little encyclopedia reference work, for some perverse reason, to check and see whether or not her husband was in there. I wasn't. But this guy was. And he lived in the 2nd half of the 1700s, he's from Milan, he was a cello player, he gave music lessons to the Duke of York, he was a touring musician—in fact he played a lot of cities in Germany that we've played—, and he lived in The Hague for a while.

And he was a real guy, and he wrote string trios mostly, and so we did a little research and got a hold of some of the actual music from the Berkeley Library, also from the Library of Congress. And it was typed in to the Synclavier by David Ocker, and after the pitches and rhythms were loaded in, I did the orchestrations and then it was transferred to tape. So what you're gonna hear now—

[...]

One of the pieces had a letter included in the folio which was in French, and we had a translator and it was the most ass-kissing letter I've ever heard, to somebody royal that he was dedicating this thing to, it was really—oh, boy what he had to do for a living.

[...]

15. Opus 1, Unit #6 1:50

 

16. Opus 1, Unit #11 2:24

CA:

Before we go on, I'd like to thank John Meyer, who invented the speakers, and he's here tonight. Can you stand up for us now? Fantastic.

FZ:

And I wanna thank him too. These are the same things we use for our PA system.

17. Introduction/Opus 1, Unit #2/Francesco, Read By Calvin Ahlgren 39:47

CA:

We're going to introduce now a third member of our cast, whose name is Calvin Ahlgren. Calvin is an editor for the pink section of San Francisco Chronicle, but 15 years ago if you had lived in San Francisco and been walking down Haight St., you could have gone into the Street Theater and seen him acting in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. So, we'll bring Calvin back on his first acting role in 15 years. Calvin Ahlgren!

FZ:

[...]

Let me tell you what this is. After I found out about Francesco, I decided I would write a puppet show—a one character puppet show, and everybody else in the thing is supposed to be a hand puppet. This is a little cheap production. And Calvin is going to play all of the roles, including the hand puppets that you don't see, so you have to imagine his costumes and stuff, and how elaborate the thing could be one day. And it's— This is a scientific extrapolation on the possibilities regarding this guy from the 1700s and starts up with a little piece of theme music which is #2 from Opus 1, and as soon as it dies off, he's gonna launch into it. So let's get the theme music going.

Francesco:

My name is Francesco Zappa. I am an obscure Italian composer. Nobody really knows when I was born, and there is no conclusive evidence that I ever actually died.

Grove's Dictionary Of Music And Musicians indicates that I 'flourished' between the years 1763 and 1788. Right around the time of that little stronz, Mozart.

I was born in Milano, not far from a mosquito-infested lagoon, in an area now known as the Parco Redecessio. At an early age I decided to become a composer. I learned to play the cello, and, to pick up a few bucks on the side, I gave music lessons to the Duke of York.

Here the puppet theater curtains open and we see the Duke of York in the Music Room of his English Country Estate pacing anxiously back and forth.

That's him over there. What a prick. He likes to call me a 'little guinea.' I hate the English. They are scum.

Duke Of York:

Where's that little guinea cello player! It's time for my lesson! The civilized world awaits my musical debut!

Francesco:

At your service, O Radiant Benefactor! You're looking very significant today! Mama mia! Your new wig! It's so incredibly bouffant . . . and your sport-frock! Porco dio! The people of your country certainly know a lot about grooming and comportment. It must be wonderful to be a truly English sort of a person! Really terrific, I betcha.

Francesco takes a little cello out of his pocket and attempts to help the Duke get a grip on it.

Okay, just put this thing between your legs here . . . move the coat a little bit. That's it.

Duke Of York:

Yes, 'tis great to be English. No question about it—We are God's chosen people. We are the best. We have always been the best. We shall always be the best. You should be damned thankful that I have given you the opportunity, wretched and foreign as you are, to provide me with instruction on this uncomfortable piece of musical furniture.

Why must it go between my legs? Surely this is not a condition in which one of God's chosen people should be observed when seated!

Francesco:

It's a small problem, Your Goodness . . . easily solved. The possibility always lurks that you are, in fact, not a 'cello kind of a guy.' In cases such as this, prudence leads one to consider the concertina . . . a friendly little instrument which tends to increase the strength of the arms . . .

Francesco retrieves the little cello and hands the Duke a tiny concertina.

Duke Of York:

Dash all this drudgery! Those damned scales and so forth! If only I could just sort of emerge as the illuminating beacon of British Musical Life! Then, surely, the heart of fair Lady Aurora would be mine!

Francesco:

This arrogant cocksucker has a bitch he's been trying to strap on for the last five years named Lady Aurora. I already fucked her a dozen times . . . she's not bad. There's no way the old boy is getting some crumpet from this girl . . . she only goes for cello players of Milanese extraction who have a sensuous tone and write cheerful little dago-sounding string trios.

The Duke is lazy, tone deaf, and has about as much sex appeal as the stench that comes out of the vents in his trainer accordion. But a guy's gotta earn a living.

All I gotta do is act like an ignorant grease-ball and tell him how good he looks every once in a while. Meanwhile I get to ride the wild girl, all the porridge I can eat, and the U.S. equivalent of 27 cents a month, in pre-war dollars. Being an obscure Italian composer is not really that bad.

Duke Of York:

Where do I put my fingers?

Francesco:

What? Your fingers? That's an incredibly intelligent question, Your Magnitude!

Duke Of York:

Hurry, you nasty little Knight of Columbus! There's not a moment to lose! I must learn to play this damned thing immediately! My beloved is due here at any time!

With that Lady Aurora bursts through the Music Room door tossing her furs and feathers.

Aurora:

I'm here!

Duke Of York:

She's here! See what you've done! By delaying my lesson, I am now forced to play this fiendish contraption in an unstructured manner! Aurora, my love! You're a bit early! I had hoped to enrapture you with a fully developed concertina technique.

Aurora:

The concertina? I though you were learning to play the cello!

Francesco:

His Expressiveness has progressed beyond the mere cello.

Duke Of York:

Quite. Far too easy. The concertina is a much more masculine instrument . . . British sailors play them all the time.

Francesco:

Yes. Then they fuck each other in the butt and chase the parrot around the poop deck.

Aurora:

The concertina has never beguiled or entranced me. I feel the instrument lacks animal magnetism.

Duke Of York:

But you have never heard me play the concertina!

Francesco:

Me neither, Your Wonderment.

Duke Of York:

Once I begin, do not be ashamed to weep or show other forms of raw emotion! In my skilled, British hands, this instrument becomes . . . a lethal, yet sensitively poetic, weapon of vengeance and destruction!

Aurora:

I'm ready then . . . move me, Reginald!

Francesco places the little cello over his cock and takes a tiny bow out of his other pocket.

Duke Of York:

If the little guinea will provide a suitable accompaniment on that awful brown thing between his legs, I will enthrall you with the primere performance of my Duet for Uncomfortable Foreign Instrument and Experimental Concertina, Opus I. We begin with a somber first movement, expressing deep feelings of unrequited love.

(Likes that) A horrible computer-generated musical interlude is heard, featuring an atonal concertina solo superimposed on a baroque cello ostinato.

Lady Aurora says:

Aurora:

That was dreadful! Utterly dreadful! Reginald, you have purposely offended my ears! How could you squeeze that vile-smelling instrument in a room with improper ventilation!

You have me it impossible for me to revel in Francesco's sensuous tone! You are the enemy of the cello! You bastard! May you burn forever in God's Perfect Hell!

Duke Of York:

Francesco! You rotten little ravioli! You are fired and banished henceforth from my improperly ventilated English Country Estate!

The curtains close abruptly on the puppet stage. Francesco puts his little cello away and strolls to the audience. Still brandishing Grove's.

Francesco:

So I got fired. Big deal. Later that night, Lady Aurora blew me, gave me a basket full of unidentifiable English pork things, her best napkin (as a love-souvenir), and bid me farewell, as I set out to become increasingly obscure.

I soon learned that one of the problems of not having a birth date in a musician's dictionary is that you can never know for sure how old you are. This, in turn, makes it impossible to 'act your age.'

Back in those days, I was in trouble all the time. In the last 200 years, I haven't found one single person with a real sense of humor. you wanna stop your musical career dead in its tracks? Do something 'amusing.' People hate that shit. They think it's not artistic.

The slightest whiff of humor and it's the 'one-way ticket to Fresno' for a composer in any century.

Lights come up on the puppet stage as its curtains open again. Fumbling around inside against an historically accurate backdrop of the Baroque period downtown area of The Hage, is a bunch of miniature Dutch people all of whom look like Van Gogh's Potato Eaters.

This is The Hague. These are real, live Dutch People . . .

A Dutch girl walks up to him and says:

Dutch Girl:

We are a small country . . . only a few million people speak the Dutch Language. Here! Let me give you an onion!

Francesco:

This is a good thing. The Dutch are pleasant, but they have ugly teeth and a language that sounds like vomit.

The Dutch love music. Unfortunately, they must hear it performed by these little bastard from The Hague . . . quintessential musical whores, incapable of that special love required for the correct performance of any type of music. They are only interested in money. May they burn forever in God's Perfect Hell, or move to France.

In spite of all this, I had a great time during my residence in The Hague. I never let the girls kiss me, and, whenever onions were offered, I told them I was allergic.

The Dutch girl comes back and says:

Dutch Girl:

You have rejected my onion! The problem with you is you only want to have a good time. Why can't you be serious . . . like Mozart?

Francesco:

The little stronz? He makes me laugh.

You got lotsa guys like that in your century. Everybody thinks that they're terrific . . . who'll be the 'Mozart' of your time? David Bowie?

The people of your age no longer require the service of composers. A composer is as useful to a person in a jogging suit as a dinosaur turd in the middle of his runway.

Your age is ugly and loveless, and when you finally get the big write up into the imaginary leather book with the red silk thing hanging out of the side, your nasty little 'Mozart' will be a sort of egalitarian-affirmative action non-person of indeterminate sex, chosen by a committee who will seek advice from a group of accountants who will consult a tax lawyer who will negotiate with a clothing manufacturer who will sponsor a series which will feature a simulation of a lip-synced version of the troubled life of a white boy with special hair who achieves musical greatness through abnormally large sales figures. The re-runs of this series will provide conclusive evidence to future music historians that the craft of composition reached the pinnacle of efficiency during the latter part of the 1980s.

Mozart was a shit-head. All the other 'big guys' they were twerps. For real achievement, nothing beats total obscurity.

Think of the miserable creatures in the university libraries who study this shit. Why? Who the fuck cares? You get to be a 'big guy' and the next thing you know you're spending eternity with some student's nose up your asshole, assessing your 'relative merit.'

When you're obscure, you just go write your stuff and have a good time. So what if nobody ever hears it? Who's supposed to hear it? The Duke of York? Get off of my face!

I was born obscure. I was born despised. I will live forever in this condition. Che cazzo voi, eh? You think the Duke of York is ever gonna get a blow job from Lady Aurora?

We hear the second movement of Francesco String Trio, Opus I. The puppet stage curtains open on a sidewalk café next to a church in Partinico, Sicily. Two little men talk at a table. Francesco says:

Francesco:

The music you are hearing is a computerized simulation of my String Trio, Opus I . . . the only accurate performance for the last couple of centuries. The title page bears a dedication to Count Catanti, the Sicilian Plenipotenziano at the time of its composition.

That's him over there, negotiating a gelati franchise with Francis Ford Coppola.

Frankie is another distant relative. That's one of the best things about Italians . . . even somebody like you could be related to one! Hey! Don't kid yourself. It's something to be proud of, eh! Go on . . . smile about it . . . listen to the happy music! Have a good time!

Francesco dances a few preposterous steps as a dark, sexy, peasant girl exits the church, crosses herself and moves to the front of the puppet stage, studying him.

While I was in Sicily, I met a charming young girl named Angelina, just as she was leaving the confessional at the church in Partinico. Take my advice: this is a great place to meet girls who 'go all the way.'

She was one of those Sicilian-Greek-Arab girls that jump on your dick, scream 12 times, roll over, beg for it up the asshole, then blow you right away so you don't lose interest.

The bastard resulting from this illicit encounter went on to father the Sicilian branch of the family.

'Zappa' (which, roughly translated, means 'primitive garden utensil') is not an especially popular name. There are not that many Zappas around, and, in every century, there are those who refuse to believe we exist at all.

The guy from Sicily who started up the 'B' Team was ugly as fuck, and had a hard time getting laid. Consequently, he did not produce a large number of descendants.

Most people today with this name are descended directly from me, since I would fuck anything that was still warm and, being one of the first touring musicians, I had plenty of opportunities to do so, all over Europe.

(That's another musician.)

I was on the road before the French Revolution . . . long before the invention of the motel. I even went to Germany. Terrific place. Incredible warmth and humor. I was there during the critical period just prior to the discovery of the secret formula for the dangerous gray cardboard toilet paper.

During these tours, it was my privilege to meet hundreds of characters even more obscure than myself. The most outstanding of these was a guy named Shemp, a Yiddish Gypsy Alchemist.

The puppet stage curtains part to reveal a gypsy wagon, open at the side like a factory catering truck.

The interior is a cross between a kosher butcher shop and an alchemical laboratory. Shemp is in the wagon, looking out as if over the meat counter.

Shemp:

So, what'll it be today, Mr. Weary Sort-of-Italian-Looking Traveller? In the market for an interesting sausage?

Francesco:

I already have an interesting sausage. What I require hasn't been invented yet.

Shemp:

This is not possible! Everything that's anything has already been invented . . . take my word for it!

Francesco:

Then give me a cheeseburger with no onions and a strawberry shake . . . I'm late for the concert.

Shemp:

You speak of strange things, Italian person! Everyone I know eats onions, but you. You actually request their suppression!

Francesco:

I have no desire to smell of onions! I already smell of garlic!

Shemp:

I, too, smell of garlic, but onions are terrific for you! The trouble with you is you only want to have a good time! What kind of a schmuck turns down an onion?

Francesco:

I do not require an onion, however, if that is the customary method of cheeseburger achievement in this region, then, what the fuck?

Shemp:

Very puzzling, this 'creature' of which you speak. In all my travels I have never butchered a single one. They are indigenous perhaps to France?

Francesco:

They are not alive. They do not require butchering. They are strange oily things that will eventually contain the same ingredients as the cardboard that anonymous persons stuff in your shirt when it visits the laundry. They most definitely have not been invented yet and will not exist in France until after Jerry Lewis attempts to order one from room service.

Shemp:

Curse you, Mr. Weary Italian-Looking Traveler! You have spoiled my entire evening! You make a request I cannot fulfill and I lose a sale! Must I turn now to 'white-collar crime'?

Francesco:

My sympathy, transient vendor, but, there are those moments when only a cheeseburger will do!

Shemp:

Buy a chicken! I'll kill it for you in back of the wagon. You don't even watch. A real chicken! Eat nice food . . . couple of onions and then you'll proper . . . maybe you'll even flourish!

Francesco:

The year is 1770 and, according to this book, I'm already flourishing . . .

Shemp:

A person as obscure as yourself was never meant to flourish without an entire stomach full of chickens and onions!

Francesco:

Few have manged to flourish in a manner as obscure as the one to which I have devoted myself.

Shemp:

Let me guess . . . you're an arms dealer?

Francesco:

Worse. I am a composer of cheerful, dago-sounding string trios, a part-time music teacher, a cello player of mediocre repute and a whore-monger. And I'm hungry as fuck and demand immediate delivery on the cheeseburger!

Shemp:

Okay! Okay! The customer is always right! Burger you want? Burger you got!

He lifts the lid on a small steaming cauldron, peers into it, mumbles a few cabbalistic phrases, appears suddenly amazed and continues.

The object you desire is in my view
Why does it mean so much to you?
I see a man . . . he has my face
The burger lives in his briefcase
His clothes are green, of martial cut
The briefcase steams, although it's shut
He opens it and offers to
A pair of pudgy guys you knew
Somewhere ahead in non-linear time
This 'Mystery Burger' I divine

Francesco:

Are they wearing matching ugly-looking multi-color shirts?

Shemp:

What? You got a mirror? You can see in the pot? How could you know this?

Francesco:

I am an obscure Italian composer. I know everything there is to know about non-linear time. In your cauldron you have seen The Phlorescent Leech and Eddie. They are standing on a fake stage in Pinewood Studios, during the filming of 200 Motels, in the year 1970. You are there too. Your name is Rance Muhammitz. You are supposed to be The Devil, and your wife used to be a censor at NBC.

You are about to entice the fat boys with my very own personal 'Mystery Burger,' after which Ringo's chauffer will eat it without having to pay you for it. You have located the wrong burger! Look in there again and find me another one! I'm gonna be late for work!

Shemp:

This is exceedingly unsual, Mr. Whore-monger. When I look in the pot and do the mumbo-jumbo, I only report to you what I see . . . I say rhymes and so forth but they mean nothing to me. Non-linear time is a concept to which I am not accustomed.

Francesco:

Non-linear time is the clock and calendar of all the Arts. Even the Black Ones.

Shemp:

Now that you mention it, I, myself, have dabbled a bit in a wholesome form of Yiddish Alchemy.

Francesco:

Of course you have . . . you're a retailer!

The rest of the concept should be fairly simple to grasp. Time does not go from here to there, or from then to now. Everything is happening all the time. It always has. It always will.

Ignorant men have compartmentalized it, in a pathetic attempt to meet imaginary marketing deadlines. But time is one big lump of stuff. Any one time is equal to any other time. Every obscure Italian composer knows this.

Shemp:

Surely this is not a thing which could be proven!

Francesco:

Look . . . you're watching channel nine, right? There's always something else on channel five . . .

Shemp:

This is not a good night for the kosher food industry. I see big trouble in the pot. Strange things in the future.

Francesco:

You are a retail-romantic. Strangeness is nothing to fear. Ugliness is normal. Danger is stupid. Fear is boring. The future has already hapened. People live and die . . . like the chickens in the back of your wagon.

Shemp:

The things I see disturb me greatly!

Francesco:

It's because of your overhead. You need to get out of the wagon for a while. I got a terrific idea . . . let's go to The New World!

Shemp:

America? They're getting ready to have a revolution over there . . . they got Indians . . . the Indians got smallpox from the blankets the British gave them for Christmas . . . people sleep in beds with wooden boards down the middle so nothing can happen . . . are you crazy? I'll stay in the wagon!

Francesco:

What you say is true. I have no interest in visiting a place where such obstacles are placed in the path of recreation. However, in 214 years the boards will have been removed, small wheels will have been installed on the bottom of them, and incredibly stupid girls with earphones on named Debbie will ride them all over the place in Santa Monica.

Shemp:

The Holy City?

Francesco:

Yes. But, I do not suggest we visite there . . . such women lack the mental capacity for voluntary contraction of vaginal muscles and when they blow they don't swallow. Far better that we go to New York. A guy like you could do real good there.

Shemp:

New York?

Francesco:

They're calling it New Amsterdam now, but, in a few years, a bunch of guys like the Duke of York will show up and open a disco called Xenon. They'll meet fascinating people like themselves there, and accidentally reproduce. The ones who can't will have their photographs taken with Brooke Shields. It's a terrific place . . . you'll love it!

Shemp:

I get sea-sick . . . I could never stand the boat ride . . .

Francesco:

Look, butcher . . . what's your name, buddy?

Shemp:

Shemp.

Francesco:

Shemp? Terrific. Look, Shemp, concentrate . . . we are not going on a boat, because we are not going to New Amsterdam, 1770 . . . we are going to New York, 1984.

Shemp:

This is ridiculous! It can't be done! It simply can't be done!

Francesco:

Are you not a Yiddish Alchemist, specializing in the retail field?

Shemp:

Obviously.

Francesco:

And what does every Alchemist do when nobody is looking? He boils a bunch of crap, looking for the secret of The Philosopher's Stone . . . right?

Shemp:

Everybody knows that.

Francesco:

Certainly, Shemp! But what kind of a stone does a Yiddish Retail Alchemist look for?

Shemp:

You bastard! You've known it all along! The Philosopher's Incredibly Realistic Simulated Diamond! Curse you!

Francesco:

You crafty little vagrant kosher butcher! You've got one in the pot there . . . and you've used it to travel in non-linear time already. how else could you have known about 'The Holy City'?

Shemp:

This is terrible! Terrible! A whore-monger knows my secret! What will I do?

Francesco:

Shemp! Stop beating on yourself like that! They got all kinds of guys in New York that'll do it for you! Get the fake diamond and rub the sonofabitch or whatever you do, and let's get the fuck out of here!

Shemp:

I won't do it! You can't convince me to go again!

Francesco:

I knew it! You didn't get laid the first time and that created a negative attitude toward the metropolitan area . . .

Shemp:

It was awful! Yellow vehicles travelling at great speed in the middle of the night over badly maintained roads! Noise . . . horrible noise . . . and my hemorrhoids! Every time there was a bump . . . spots on my trousers . . . it was God's Perfect Hell.

Francesco:

I'll make you a deal . . . we go back right now, and I'll get us a couple of tickets to Fiddler On The Roof.

The curtains close on the puppet stage. Another of Francesco's computerized string trio—this time with disco drums added—plays in the background. Francesco rotates the puppet stage 180ยบ to a view of another puppet proscenium with new wave decor.

As soon as it's in place, the curtains open again to reveal Shemp, carrying the pot with the Philosopher's Incredibly Realistic Simulated Diamond, in New York, summer 1984, strolling through the heart of the theater district just before 8 P.M. Tiny theater-goers are rushing all around him.

Shemp:

A deal is a deal! You promised me tickets! We come all this way and there's no Fiddler On The Roof! I'm rubbing it and we're going back again! I hate this place! Who are these people? Where do they think they're going?

Francesco:

So? I made a mistake. Everybody knows there's only safe investment re-makes and revivals on Broadway in 1984—it's the only sort of entertainment permitted during corrupt Republican administrations. They must be suppressing Fiddler On The Roof because of the disproportionately small quantity of non-Jewish characters in the story . . . as part of the President's newly mandated Year Of The Bible. Guys like him don't appreciate musicals full of ignorant Russian Christ-Killers twirl-dancing near the pig sky.

Shemp:

The first time I came to this place it was freezing cold, and there was garbage everywhere. Rats were running by my feet. Everybody looked dangerous.

Francesco:

And now . . . the weather's pretty good, the garbage is being made into health food, the rats have a new video on MTV, and everybody looks like they're scared shitless to say that's really on their minds.

The backdrop, which is a scroll showing marquee after marquee of safe investment re-run productions, finally arrives at its end—a curiously proportioned, obviously imaginary theater advertising Thing-Fish, a musical production by Frank Zappa.

What? How can this be? A theatrical work by an Italian composer . . . even more obscure than myself? He's not even in the dictionary! The lucky bastard! Obviously one of the Sicilians. Shemp! We are indeed fortunate! Let's go in and enjoy ourselves! He's a Zappa! He'll probably have lots of nice, happy little dago-sounding string trios all over the place!

Shemp:

I can't stand happy little dago-sounding string trios! I like only clarinets, tambourines, accordions, and guilt.

Francesco:

Look at this poster! This person has a head like a potato, lips like a duck, and is dressed in some perverse form of medieval religious costumery. There is nothing cheerful about it. It's actually very ugly! It is obvious that these Sicilians take a different approach to things! Shemp! We must see this potato-creature!

Shemp:

I'm rubbing it. I'm going back. Onions! Onions are better . . . alway better! I'm going back . . . I'm rubbing it . . .

He walks away, rubbing the pot, leaving Francesco alone in front of the theater.

Francesco:

Big deal. Go eat an onion, out in back of the wagon! What do you know from excitement? Exactly nothing!

A robot Frank Zappa (as-imagined-by-the-editor-of-a-famous-rock & roll-magazine) emerges from the Thing-Fish theater and creeps over to Francesco.

Frank:

I'm pleased to see you're so punctual, Francesco.

Francesco:

You know my name?

Frank:

Yes, but not much more. I made up the rest.

Francesco:

What do you mean? What have you 'made up'? Are you the little devil that stuck me in this fucking dictionary, exposing my bung-hole for all eternity to the ravages of Academia?

Frank:

Most certainly not. You may be assured that I have no connection whatsoever to the infernal machinery of the American Educational Establishment.

I am Frank-Zappa-as-imagined-by-the-editor-of-a-famous-rock-&-roll-magazine. I am an anachronism who makes the ugliest music on the planet. I have no right to call myself a member of the human race. I am tasteless, untalented, pompous, arrogant, cruel, insensitive, vulgar and not a fun guy because I don't use drugs.

Francesco:

Minchia!

Frank:

You never fucked the Duke of York's girlfriend . . . he would have had horsewhipped. You never met a kosher alchemist. You only wrote happy little dago-sounding string trios and had a dull, boring life, playing the cello and kissing ass to Baroque period ticket buyers.

Francesco:

I don't seem to remember it that way at all. Are you sure? For centuries I've been convinced that I was imagining myself.

Frank:

No. It is your great misfortune to have me doing it for you.

Francesco:

Why a misfortune? In spite of your metallic complexion you do appear to be some sort of a Zappa. I'll bet there's a happy little dago-sounding string trio stuffed away in there someplace.

Frank:

All things are possible through concentrated technological ignorance.

Francesco:

You're not a very cheerful person, are you?

Frank:

I'm not a person at all. My disposition was manufactured for me in an office in Northern California.

Francesco:

Surely that in itself is not a sufficient excuse for an outlook as hostile as the one you display! I'm beginning to resent being related to you.

Frank:

This is America, 1984. There will be no problem providing you with an entire phone book full of corruptable scholars, eager to alter the appropriate text books for a guarantee of tenure and a gift certificate from Tweeds 'R' Us.

Francesco:

Why the fuck would somebody bother to invent something as wretched as you? My God, you're a hateful creature! I'm such a terrific guy . . . how could you have invented me?

Frank:

I am pure fiction. I am the product of the imaginations of legions of tiny, hateful people. may they burn forever in God's Perfect Hell . . . or move to Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood.

Francesco:

What?

Frank:

Never mind. So, now that you've finally arrived, I have big plans for you.

Francesco:

You presume a great deal. Why should I choose to involve myself in these disgusting plans of yours?

Frank:

Because, just as you suspect the presence of a cleverly concealed happy little dago-sounding string trio somewhere in me, I suspect the presence of a potentially deranged musical mentality lurking somewhere in you. It is my duty to unleash this horrible force, send you back where you came from, and allow you to pollute the musical atmosphere of that wretchedly wimpish period into which you were born.

Francesco:

This is truly perverse! What you are suggesting simply reeks of obscurity! Congratulations! What a fiendishly original idea!

Frank:

Frank Zappa-as-imagined-by-the-editor-of-a-famous-rock & roll-magazine has never had any original ideas. Since what he does is trivial, and irrelevant to The American Way of Life, their absence pleases everyone.

Francesco:

Well . . . somebody had to dream this thing up. Are you trying to tell me there's another one hiding out someplace?

Frank:

Of course, you fool! It would be very amusing for you to meet him. Everyone tells me he's a sick motherfucker who hates everything except sex and music, but he never leaves his laboratory.

Francesco:

Hey! Now, he sounds like an okay guy! Let's go!

Frank:

I said it might be amusing for you to meet him . . . I did not say it was possible for you to meet him.

Francesco:

What's the problem? We just grab a bottle of wine and drop in on him . . .

Frank:

You are speaking of a person who is so obscure as to require an improved definition of the clinical terminology. No one ever sees him. most are convinced he cannot possible exist.

Francesco:

He does . . . doesn't he?

Frank:

I have been invented by legions of tiny hateful people. I know only what they know.

18. Francesco Rock, Opus 1, Unit #1/Thanks & Good Night 5:22

 

 

All compositions by Frank Zappa except as noted
Site maintained by Román García Albertos.
http://www.donlope.net/fz/
Transcription by Román, with parts by Charles Ulrich and from Does Humor Belong In Music?
The parts from Does Humor Belong In Music? (1985) are printed this way
This page updated: 2020-10-05