musical influences for noah, part 3 – the zappa thread

it’s a fair comparison to suggest that the zappa/beefheart relationship is similar to  the cave/ellis one, though not as sustained. he’s been often much misunderstood. in part because he didn’t conform to the rock&roll paradigm of his day, and, because in that political climate, his irony and satire and parody of the political obsessions then current, particularly, ‘identity politics’, did not for obvious reasons, go over very well. it wouldn’t be until the early 2000’s when his critique of identity politics would be renewed by some of its original proponents – stuart hall, gayatri spivak, paul gilroy, etc. [see gilroy’s defense of hiphop musican, snoopdog] yet, he was taken completely seriously by some of the great 20th century composers of his day, like pierre boulez. he resisted the ‘purity’ of the avant-garde, politically and aesthetically, yet, combined both of those threads. his sometimes sexual crassness cannot be understood independently of irony/parody/satire/, and it should never be taken as literally meant. all of his own bands were incredibly ‘diverse’, and he never presented himself as a great maestro, but always featured his co-musicians as exactly that, co-musicians. during performances, he often took a backseat. that was a political position he strongly represented. see ‘porn wars’ below, where he testifies before congress, questioned by the likes of al gore… and if i remember correctly, jessie helms… and remember back to his piece, ‘it can’t happen here’, which while being an obvious reference to the rise of nazism, also, and therefore, foreshadowed T-rump and co…

[note: unlike most musician of his day, zappa eschewed drugs and alcohol]

what’s interesting about this recording, again, is the not only the visual video/tv synthesizing, and the date of the performance, but i’m pretty sure the ‘german tv’ is the famous avant-garde station, that is called something like, radiofunke, that’s not it… but the same station where vanderbeek/cunningham/cage performed Variations V in 1965.

a very famous piece called King Kong – resonate with a 40/60’s black jazz musician, eric dolphy know for his dissonant sax playing… he died tragically  in paris because a french hospital refused to treat him because he was black… but the beefheart connection is also present. though beefheart is more radically ‘poetic’, more pure poetry concret, more dada, than zappa, who is more narrative. well, i might be wrong… zappa has his own poetry concret/dada side also.

another of my deep influences: jean-luc ponty, radical electrified violinist, ‘covering’ zappa’s king kong. this, along with mclaughlin, oregon, tyner, etc, is what i was mostly listening to between the ages of 15-18… along with the blues of muddy guy, john mayhall, james cotton, john-lee hooker, and the like, t-rex… i’m a big harmonica fan. thus the shift to riley was inevitable.

couldn’t decide which to include, so i’m including both… a bit of repetition can’t hurt, no?

and…. a bit of history, live…

pierre boulez, the well known avant-garde classical composer and conductor, was a zappa fan, and performed several of Z’s pieces, including king kong, i think, but i can’t find it. boulez was the first director of the experimental music component of pompidou centre in paris, and he and cage carried on a very contentious correspondence, in which they vehementtly disagreed about the direction of contemporary classical music. which i’ve read and is fascinating. i tend to agree with cage… which is surprising since i’m pretty critical of cage generally… cage would never have covered zappa…. and then there is the collab between the who and riley…

the following is a very short zappa piece about boulez…

i was very lucky to see cotton and mayhall in waterville maine when i was in high school. where i also saw dick gregory the comedian and some then well known beat poets like ferlengetti who founded city lights bookstore in SF… the advantage of living in a well know liberal arts university town…

and this, well… it came up randomly, but fits…subversion in the moment… spontaneity… the extraordinary hubris and clamor of the times… the importance of raucous, experimentalism, and paradigms of music that never really do fit the genre paradigms… because ‘translation’ is, it seems, a deep cultural need… cover to cover, or, covers to covers… such an important aspect of music – the ‘cover’…. the authorial issue?

and well, hendrix is another big influence of course…

and well, no reflection on Z would be complete without at least a nod to his guitar prowess…

Z’s following guitar performance should NOT ONLY be compared to other rock&roll greats, but equally to coltraine’s ‘extreme’ experimentalism and other threads in 20th C classical experimentalism. as well as to Dada… of the second 20th century… the performative/theatrical response to WWI… meant to break down all your expectations in the face of the dominant Spectacle of ad-man driven modernity…

musical influences for noah, part 3 – the zappa thread

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