Archive for the ‘Mini-Essay's’ Category

Zappa on film: 200 Motels
December 11, 2009

Having produced the movie, Frank Zappa explains that the idea for the film came to him while the Mothers of Invention were touring. The movie portrays the life of the Mothers of Invention, who are all mainly playing themselves minus a few parts, touring on the road. “Touring can make you crazy”, announces ex-Beatle Ringo Starr at the start of the movie, And that’s exactly what 200 Motels embodies and is all about. With the band stopping in Centerville (“a real nice place to raise your kids up”), another stopover on a long tour, the members deal with the concerns of the constant search for groupies, the desire to get paid, and arguments within the band. Although absurd and witty, throughout the movie there are a wide range of connections that resonate between the film and Frank Zappa’s life, career, and artistic opus which contribute to his conceptual continuity as a whole.

Perhaps the most obvious example of Frank Zappa’s conceptual continuity being carried throughout the film is in the role of the groupies. The groupies are played by Janet Ferguson, a real life groupie playing herself, and Lucy Offerall, a member of the GTO’s. Following the opening of the film, we are quickly immersed into the lifestyle of the groupie culture, as we are introduced to the girls as they prepare themselves for an evening of meeting rock stars. The girls appear in a bizarre nudity sequence, along with the Hot Nun who is overdosing on drugs, being played by The Who’s drummer Keith Moon. The scene depicts groupies as being cynical, sceptical, grotesque, and aggressive in nature almost. The songs “she painted up her face” and “Daddy, daddy, daddy” outline these ideas of the young groupie girls getting ready to go to the bar where guys from the musical groups are. On the other side of things, you have the band members competing with one another over the groupies and there attention. This concept of the girls following musicians from town to town in the film is a draw from Frank Zappa’s and the Mothers of Inventions real life on the road, it is an almost autobiography of the situations and dilemmas a band must cope and deal with.

What I found to be most amusing about the film was the casting of Ringo Starr, the drummer of the pop group The Beatles, as Frank Zappa. The Beatles directly contributed to the growth of the music industry and are known as one of the most influential bands ever. But regardless of how influential they are, there is a very apparent and evident difference between their genius and Zappa’s genius. It’s like, On one hand you have The Beatles who pushed the music and entertainment industry to the masses, and on the other you have Zappa who used his musical force to counter popular culture and trends. Knowing that Frank Zappa apparently never thought much of The Beatles, I find it too strange a coincidence to have Ringo Starr playing his character in the film. It was Frank Zappa who first approached Ringo about playing the role of Larry the dwarf and the leader of the MOI, to which he accepted on the notion that he was getting “a bit browned-off” with his good-guy image. Having Ringo Starr appear as Larry the Dwarf lends some humorous narration to the film, as well as a taste of delicious irony. Placing Ringo in the role of Frank Zappa allows one to draw parallels between the two icons. Whether it was to show that Frank Zappa wasn’t just some vulgar, dirty, and obscene musician by presenting the polished and well respected image of Ringo or if it was strictly for promotion, the ironic symbolism is still apparent. Furthermore, To anyone who knows any accounts of what really went on behind the scenes on The Beatles tours, the fact that Zappa was able to persuade Ringo Starr to appear in 200 Motels is rather tongue and cheek in nature.

Finally, one of the more concentrated themes throughout the film 200 Motels and Zappa’s life, career, and artistic material that contribute to his conceptual continuity is that of the dragged-out disoriented states of band members. Frank Zappa’s moral stance on drugs has always been a bit of a revelation and paradox within itself, I mean, how can someone who was so intertwined with the psychedelic and groupie rock scenes of the 60’s and 70’s have such an anti-drug stance? Truth is Frank cared more for his music then he did about the lifestyle that accompanied it, believing that people who were on drugs were “assholes in action”. He took a strong anti-drug approach to the musicians that he played with, having absolutely no tolerance for band members and there dealings with drugs, making sure there was no use of drugs whatsoever on stage. Over the course of Zappa’s career he has fired and removed numerous members from his band for poor conduct in relation to drugs and alcohol. This theme of the disoriented state of band members plays an integral part in 200 Motels, which appears when Jeff, a former band member, takes drugs in a motel room and subsequently decides he is wasting his life and talent in Zappa’s band, when one of the band members creates a potion and feeds it to another musician, who returns to his hotel room to hallucinate. These scenes outline a history of events that Zappa has dealt with throughout his career as a musician. Thus, Zappa uses the film 200 Motels as a medium to display what happens to bands and musicians along the way, the temptations vs. the expectations of touring on the road.

 

In conclusion, the film 200 Motels is a portrayal of Zappa’s concepts, ideas, and morals as a whole. It is not a single movie about something, but rather a movie about everything. Through using actors who are mainly playing themselves he is able to introduce his audience to his version of what it is like to tour with a band, and how it affects everyone differently. This is Zappa’s kick at creating a rock opera of his own standards, and includes all his ideas and concepts ranging from groupies to disorientated band members, but all together contributing to his conceptual continuity

 

Zappa: Coffee & Cigarettes
October 19, 2009

Frank Zappa’s image as a popular icon is some what an anomaly. He is widely regarded as one of the most misunderstood men in the history of popular music. Having been a part of the Rock ‘n’ Roll scene during the 60’s and 70’s, Zappa has been assimilated with the image and values that accompany the Rock ‘n’ Roll lifestyle. The highly experimental psychedelic era in music brought about the Beatles acid fuelled album “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band”, and portrayed the genre as being chemically influenced. Frank Zappa having a rather unique sound and approach; a characteristic of psychedelic music, was inadvertently linked to this way of life. It isn’t until now, in his death, that we are able to clearly understand and gain perspective on who the real Frank Zappa was.

Frank Zappa did not take drugs or drink alcohol , like many people undoubtedly assume. In fact, he took an aggressive anti-drug approach to the drug culture of the 60’s, which evolved from LSD to heroine to cocaine. He believed that taking drugs would transform people and mutate their personalities and values. In believing this, he was very adamant in promoting a no drug policy among his band members, ensuring that there was no drug use while on the road touring. His hard nosed stance led to the dismissal of fellow band members Lowell George and Ike Willis over the years. Many people are sceptical of Frank Zappa’s stance on drugs, finding him to be hypocritical, after all he did have a well known addiction to nicotine and caffeine. On one hand he was this anti-drug advocator, but on the other he smoked and drank copious amount of cigarettes and coffee. Perhaps Zappa did apply double standard in demanding complete sobriety of his musicians, while he himself took to his own remedies. However, coffee and cigarettes can’t be placed into the same category as drugs because they don’t share the same altering effects on the mind and body. “To me, a cigarette is food,” said Zappa in his autobiography, The Real Frank Zappa Book. “I live my life smoking these things, and drinking the ‘black water’ in this cup here.” As depicted in this quote, coffee and cigarettes were a normal function of life, and had little deterrent on his musical production and creativity. Thus, Frank Zappa’s truculent stance on drugs and alcohol are justified and admirable.

As an individual, Frank Zappa was very dogmatic. He felt everyone was entitled to his opinion, and he had a point of view on everything. While he was largely conservative and against the use of drugs, he admits to trying marijuana perhaps ten times during the sixties, but didn’t find it appealing. So, it’s hard to say he didn’t understand the use of drugs, when he had tried it for himself. He understood, he just didn’t believe there was a place for them in his own life. He took his music very seriously, working day and night without sleep, getting his relaxation through his work. For him to be classified as narrow minded for his personal outlook on drugs would be unjust and irrational. Frank Zappa was simply just a workaholic who would not bring play into his place of business, for him the music came first.

The theory thatFrankZappa.jpg Frank Zappa image by douglasbass Zappa’s attitude and views on drugs are a direct result from his time spent in incarceration for audio pornography, seems too far fetched. He served a ten day sentence for his actions, during which time he visualized hard guitar cords, so loud that they could break the prison walls surrounding him. This experience may have served to be a learning lesson, but was not instrumental in forming his opinion on drugs. He has been stated as saying he had tried drugs throughout the 60’s, meaning he had tried marijuana following his 1962 incarceration. This leads us to believe that he was not at all entirely taken back by the notion of the drug following his time served.

Groupies and Creativity of The Marginalized
October 1, 2009

The Groupie Phenomenon:

The groupie lifestyle has changed throughout the decades. Based on popular consensus, a groupie is outlined as a person who seeks sexual and emotional intimacy with a celebrity; in our case it pertains to a musical group. Frank Zappa, the leader of the Mothers of Invention, defines a groupie simply as “a girl who goes to bed with members of rock and roll bands.” While the groupie phenomenon may only date back to the 1950s, groupie behaviour has been explicit throughout history. One comparison that has been drawn with the contemporary groupie phenomenon is that of the women who worshiped the 19th century British Romantic poets.

In my opinion, the groupie phenomenon is deserving of both good and bad recognition within the history of rock and roll. On one hand, groupies offered good and inexpensive promotions to artists; the average groupie could be found praising a person or group to the point of religious exhaustion. Groupies support the cause full heartedly and stand behind whatever that person or group does. On the other hand, a female groupies desire to gravitate towards power and satisfy her sexual appetite can be seen as a primordial impulse; something that can’t be looked upon with good merit. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll make up the environment of the groupie lifestyle, which only help to tarnish the image. In many ways, the groupie lifestyle can be related to the lifestyle of prostitution, in which one exchanges sexual favours for money or power.
Pamela Des Barres

Pamela Des Barres

The groupie phenomenon is closely tied to feminism. This phenomenon has done both good and bad for feminism over the years. Some believe the name “Groupie” has become synonymous with “whore.” While others, such as Pamela Des Barres (a 1960’s rock and roll groupie) feels that “groupies are feminists of the highest order because we do what we want.” Who is to say which side was right? After all, many of the groupies of the early 1960’s were breaking down the conventional norms and values placed on women in previous decades. Who’s to say, if it weren’t for the groupie phenomenon, that a lot of societies stereotypes and conventions placed on women prior to the 1960’s would not still be in place. The women involved within the phenomenon made a choice, a choice to go against the conforms of society in an attempt to revolutionize the image of women, and remove them from the sexually oppressed ages of the past.

In societies eyes, it would appear that sex is what draws the line between what is considered healthy idolization of popular stars and a depraved pursuit of them. However, it is the thin line between infatuation and obsession that I believe can determine what is healthy and just idolization. We tend to idolize others because they have qualities we want for ourselves, it is normal and a part of becoming the person we want to be. But, when the idolization of a star turns from infatuation into obsession, individuals can become delusional and the search for ones self lost.

Creativity of the marginalized; creativity for all:

mothers of invention

Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention

Creativity is something that all individuals possess to some degree, it lays in all of us waiting to be portrayed in our daily lives; it is the act of making something new. Furthermore, the degree and type of creativity may vary from person to person determined through there thoughts and expressions. If creativity was confined to limited individuals with exceptional abilities within society we would be at a loss of self expression. Frank Zappa believed in the creativity of the marginalized, and his selection of musicians for his first band “the Mothers of Invention”, are a testament to his belief. None of the musicians that Frank Zappa selected for his first band were masters at their own respective instruments, but they possessed the attitude to express themselves creatively. Any individual is capable of being creative at any given time, sometimes it takes the chance or opportunity, and other times it takes the attitude and inner approach.

Creativity has no limits. It has nothing to do with any activity in particular, whether it be painting, dancing, singing, or playing an instrument for that matter. The act of these activities doesn’t require creativity at all, because the act is neither creative nor uncreative. Anything can be creative, you as an individual bring the skill and quality to the activity. A person can sing in an uncreative way, no? Creativity comes from the attitude in which an individual looks at things. So, if one expresses themselves purely and passionately with a creative attitude, there is no denying there creativity. Therefore, creativity is not just a product of the arts, but of all aspects of life which range from philosophy, economics, psychology, and business to name a few.

Frank Zappa

Frank Zappa performing in Ekeberghallen, Oslo, on January 16, 1977

Frank Zappa’s goal of showcasing and celebrating the special qualities of the most marginalized people in American society, while simultaneously establishing a creative role for audience members and others connected through his music is at the bare minimum a worthy one. During a time of conformity, Frank Zappa took a stand against mainstream music, politics, religion, education, and censorship. He was very much a musical pioneer, which can be seen through his ability to combine rock, jazz, electronic, and orchestral music together. He broke down many conventions in music and opened the door for other musicians to experiment, leaving a footprint on the history of rock and roll. Even if his music didn’t inspire every eardrum it touched, his attitude and persistence went unmatched and were admirable. If you are unable to reconcile your traditional ideas about what constitutes “good music”, then Frank Zappa is not strongly recommended. However, if you are willing to open your mind to a new kind of musical outlook and approach there is no better fit.

 “Most people wouldn’t know good music if it came up and bit them in the ass.” – Frank Zappa