Frank Zappa and Joe’s Garage: Still Amazing and Confusing Me After All These Years

When I was in High School, I knew one kid who was into Frank Zappa… really into him.  I’m not sure if he had an older sibling or was just way ahead of the curve.  I am way behind the curve… in everything.  I feel like I am about 15 years behind myself.  It’s a bit confusing.  I will admit, that the music of Frank Zappa is confusing to me, too.  It always has been.  I certainly did not get it back then… and I am just finally coming to understand it now… I think… Okay, maybe just a little bit.  It has so many elements and is so out there, but then again, maybe you are not supposed to be able to wrap your head around it at all.  Maybe that is part of the point.

I liken Frank to being a musical absurdist.  His canvas is a sheet of music and a concert stage.  He is doing with music what some artists do with paint.  His earliest influences were from avant-garde composers Webern and Stravinsky!

He would then go on to influence bands like The Tubes, Primus, Alice Cooper and Phish.  Freak Out!, his debut album from 1966 influenced Paul McCartney and apparently Sgt. Pepper!!!

Last night, for the second time, I saw Zappa Plays Zappa.  The band is amazing, and the music they are playing is wacky and wonderful and unbelievably complex.  They were great and the crowd’s response was overwhelming!

Before I continue, let me just say that Return to Forever, the headliner, was a joy to behold.  They are all incredible musicians… Chick CoreaLenny WhiteJean-Luc Ponty and Frank Gambale… Come on… They are sick!!!  But without a doubt, Stanley Clarke is the greatest living musician out there.  He is on another plane AND another planet… and transforms his instrument like no other.  He does not play the bass, he masters it and has made it into something so ethereal, something so utterly stunning, something we have never seem before.  I have seen him a number of times and he does nothing short of amaze me every single time.

But back to Zappa… I am listening with new ears… exploring… trying to understand… I love listening, but I want to feel like I have a grasp on it.  Just to GET it a little more… I don’t think that will come today.  Perhaps it will never come, but that is exciting… that is thrilling… it lets me know that even though Frank is gone, his music not only lives on, but spurs thought and debate.

Frank Zappa – Joe’s Garage: Acts I, II & III

The reason I picked this one is simple… it has one of my FAVORITE SONGS PERIOD in “Watermelon in Easter Hay.”  Seriously, I adore this beautiful instrumental.  It also has Frank’s biggest “commercial” hit… “Catholic Girls.”

Joe’s Garage is a rock opera and actually has a through line…  crazy, out there through line, but there is a story.

“The albums feature Ike Willis as the voice of “Joe”, a stereotypical garage band youth who unwittingly journeys through the miasma of the music business… Zappa provides the voice of the “Central Scrutinizer” character—a mechanical voice that narrates the story and haunts Joe’s psyche.”

Zappa says the story was “inspired by the 1979 Iranian Revolution, which outlawed public musical expression. The story incorporates humorous examinations of various topics, such as groupie migration, sexual repression imposed by the Catholic Church, Scientology, fetishism, struggling musicians and the censorship of music.”

One of the highlights last night was “Dancin’ Fool” and I just learned after a crazy stage accident in 1971, that one leg healed “shorter than the other” and so he references this in this song and “Zomby Woof.”  Neither on Joe’s Garage, but interesting.  He also played with Jean-Luc Ponty in the ’70s… FYI…

Despite what you may think… I thought for sure some of the music had to have been influenced by certain substances… Frank was very anti-drugs… His one vice seemed to be his cigarettes, which he never gave up.  His legacy is intact, his output amazing and I am just starting to make sense of it all.  Sorry, I am way behind the times.


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