zappa, gumbo variations, 1969 – an overdue eulogy, in progress…

ps. this post is dedicated to susan gevirtz: see below for susan gevirtz

two possible versions, in addition, of: the middle tongue

[a third space]

Dylan’s Nobel Prize for literature:

dylan’s comment, when he was finally goaded into responding to the Nobel committee by being accused of arrogance and impoliteness, was:

“The news about the Nobel prize left me speechless,” Dylan said.

“I appreciate the honour so much.”

The singer-songwriter later told the Telegraph, “Isn’t that something … it’s hard to believe.”

“Amazing, incredible … Whoever dreams about something like that?” he said.

Is Dylan speaking in the mode of irony?

it is impossible, really, to imagine that dylan’s use of language in his response was not meant with a ‘literary’ value equivalent to the very reasons he was given the prize in the first place: ‘the news about the nobel prize left me speechless’ – perhaps he meant that literally, not literarily? (if so, that would be a pearodox) in the sense that it ‘reduced’ his ‘speech’ to ‘literature’? making him literally, as a singer, voiceless? if that might be the case, then, wouldn’t that be something and hard to believe?  and indeed, in keeping with those he most writes/sings/performs about, whoever of them dream about something like that? then, there was a comparison of his work to homer and sappho, to a period when ‘literature’ was ‘sung.’ when it could only be sung because there wasn’t a printing press or major record labels to distribute ‘song.’ that might be hard to take for a contemporary of the beat generation, whose closest allies were ‘poets.’ it would also be a condemnation of today’s ‘culture’ in general. it might also be a condemnation of the entire cult of individual ‘genius’.

my comments are not meant to defend or accuse him. but they are genuine political/social questions. and perhaps they reflect his only possible response? equivalent to that of his resistance to be allied with the protests of the 1960s? an expression of his mostly deeply considered, ‘politics’? to interface with ‘politics’, but through refusal/resistance to NOT be equated with its processes because they all inevitably fail? because they all inevitably co-opt? … because… perhaps only ‘cultural activity’ has any social meaning, and that is what ‘politics’ aims to eradicate? so to be ‘political’, if one supports ‘culture’, means that the only option is to oppose ‘politics’?  i could continue with this analysis, but i think anyone can carry it to their own conclusions. and will anyway.

therefore… let me compare him to zappa, who at least ‘equally’ deserves a nobel prize, and whose response to being awarded the nobel prize would have no doubt been the same as Satres.

it would be un-scholarly  of me, therefore, to not cite zappa’s greatest work from his entirely instrumental album, hot rats: it’s difficult to single out a single track of that album as better than another. they are all equally good. but the gumbo variations of 1969 might be one of his all time, greatest works/performances. the following youtube version is at least a pointer in that direction. there is also the remastered version that was released in 2012, though that too seems tame. digital compression is a terrible thing. it de-substantiates our bodies. but it’s still inspiring.

in case readers are not aware, zappa was NOT a member of the standard rock&roll establishment. he opposed himself to them, constantly, covertly in his renegade stylistics, and often overtly in his lyrics. the music world has never, for example, experienced a concert shared by zappa and… any other ‘pop’ band. see, for his own view, for example his lyrics for Plastic People:

Plastic people
Oh, baby, now you’re such a drag

“i hear the sound of marching feet…
Down sunset boulevard to crescent heights
…and there…at pandora’s box…
We are confronted with…a vast
Quantity of…plastic people…”
Take a day and walk around
Watch the nazi’s run your town
Then go home and check yourself
You think we’re singing
’bout someone else

or in his song: who needs the peace corps?

I will ask the Chamber Of Commerce
How to get to Height Street
And smoke an awful lot of dope
I will wander around barefoot
You know I’ll have a psychedelic gleam in my eye at all times
I will love everyone
I will love the police as they kick the shit out of me on the street
I will sleep…
YES
I will go to a house.
That’s, that’s what I will do
I will go to a house
Where there’s a rock & roll band
Because the groups all live together
I will stay
I will join a rock & roll band
I’ll be their road manager
And I will stay there with them
And I will get the crabs
But I won’t care

and equally presciently, from Mom & Dad:
Someone said they made some noise
The cops have shot some girls & boys
You’ll sit home & drink all night
They looked too weird…it served
Them right
Ever take a minute just to show a real
Emotion
In between the moisture cream & velvet
Facial lotion?
Ever tell your kids you’re glad that
They can think?
Ever say you loved ’em? ever let ’em
Watch you drink?
Ever wonder why your daughter looked
So sad?
It’s such a drag to have to love a plastic
Mom & dad

therefore, if there is a homer or sappho of the 20th century, it’s zappa.

Zappa always stood outside that musical ‘establishment’. he is closer to artaud/brecht/eisenstein etc. than any other pop musical performer of his era. his style is nothing like those of the greatest hits: the beatles, the rolling stones, etc. it should not be surprising, though it continues to be, that boulez orchestrated his work, deadening it in the process musically, though in effect, interpreting him, not entirely wrongly, as a latter-day varese. boulez no doubt identified with zappa from his period of touring as the Music Director of the Compagnie Renaud-Barrault, and Zappa fit in with his agenda years later as director of the Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique / Musique (IRCAM) at the Centre Georges Pompidou. And as Zappa’s very early appearance on the steve allen show, shows, he has always been a counter-cultural showman who represents an alternative history of the mainstream, bohemian/beat/hippy accounts of the ‘avant garde’.

to ‘hear’ some of this difference, listen to Brown Shoes Don’t Make It. You’ll hear Brecht not rock and roll. you’ll hear something closer to theater, musicals, stand up comedy, fusion styles, not what you typically hear in listening to pop music in any genre. something ultimately completely unique. and viciously critical.

Zappa’s ‘work’ is deeply politically personal, intimate, and direct about everyday life. It avoids the cliche’s of most lyrics, while still confronting the most important of social issues:

it would be remiss of me to not claim this: that zappa is one of the greatest western musicians of his period. he’s as important as any modernist great from any global culture, or, genre. in western terms, he’s a musical stein. even a nietzchean.

zappa, gumbo variations, 1969 – an overdue eulogy, in progress…

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