Saturday, December 13, 2008

Joe's Garage

When listening to the epic “Joe’s Garage” today, I am struck by its prescience. With the recording’s introduction of the Central Scrutinizer, it’s easy for our minds to begin thinking in terms of the George W. Bush administration, particularly when the Central Scrutinizer, voiced by Zappa, proclaims that his duty is to “enforce the laws that haven’t been passed yet.” But this opera was released in 1979 on the eve of the Reagan administration. Foreshadowing what was to come during the Reagan years, the theme presented in “Joe’s Garage” is just as relevant, if not more so, today as it was at the time of its release.

I’m going out of my intended (although perhaps seemingly random) order of presenting Zappa’s recordings to write about this one primarily because of somewhat recent events involving the opera, and that is a stage production of the work that premiered in September 2008 at the Open Fist Theater in Los Angeles, all with the blessings of the Zappa Family Trust. The production has received rave reviews and its run has been extended. This review presents the details of the work’s story line, as well as information about the production for the stage, so I have no need to delve into that.

Reviews of “Joe’s Garage” are mixed, which is often the case with Zappa’s work. In giving it three out of five stars, reviewer William Ruhlmann points out that after Zappa was freed from his contractual obligations with Warner Bros., he was free to produce as much and as often as he liked. Mark Prindle also notes this flurry of activity, commenting that, in his opinion, this created “quality control issues” and led to Zappa releasing unrefined material using sterile techniques.

Comments left regarding the album at Kill Ugly Radio are interesting in that people who visit the page often give it a high rating (8.69 out of 10 stars), as well as glowing praise. Yet the first comment indicates that a mixed reaction is retained by others when one opines that “you can find masterpieces beside dull tunes.” Perhaps ironically, Rolling Stone raved on the recording: “Joe's Garage ties the dual extremes of Frank Zappa’s sensibility closer together than ever. An attack on authoritarianism in which fascist governments, self-help pseudoreligions and the music industry are inextricably linked….” It’s surprising because Zappa often lambasted music critics, particularly those from Rolling Stone. I must point out that Rolling Stone reviewer Don Shewey states that “As a stage musical, ‘Joe’s Garage’ is unproducible.” I wonder if he went to the show at the Open Fist Theater.

I really like the opera. Besides its brilliant prescience, the variety of the guitar work is refreshing because Zappa, in my opinion, can get into these ruts with his solos, pushing out a repetitive sound that shows little distinction from one to another. Through my joining two Facebook Zappa pages ( Frank Zappa and The Real Frank Zappa Group) I have learned that the solo “Watermelon in Easter Hay” is a favorite among fans. Indeed, Zappa infuses this beautiful solo with real emotion, a sense of sorrow and wistfulness that is neither condescending, nor a form of parody.

See this blog for additional information.

I rate this recording four out of five stars. Add your own rating below.

Additional content was added to this post on Jan. 4, 2009.

Album release date: Sept. 17, 1979 for Act I, Nov. 19, 1979 for Acts II and III, Zappa Records.

Track listings:

Act I
Side one
“The Central Scrutinizer” – 3:28
“Joe's Garage” – 6:10
“Catholic Girls” – 4:26
“Crew Slut” – 6:31

Side two
“Fembot in a Wet T-Shirt” (aka “Wet T-Shirt Nite”) – 4:45
“On the Bus” (aka “Toad-O Line”) – 4:19
“Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?” – 2:36
“Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up” – 5:43
“Scrutinizer Postlude” – 1:35
On vinyl, “Lucille” and “Scrutinizer Postlude” were indexed as one track.

Act II
Side one
“A Token of My Extreme” – 5:30
“Stick It Out” – 4:34
“Sy Borg” – 8:56

Side two
“Dong Work for Yuda” – 5:03
“Keep It Greasey” – 8:22
“Outside Now” – 5:50

Side three
“He Used to Cut the Grass” – 8:35
“Packard Goose” – 11:34

Side four
“Watermelon in Easter Hay” – 9:09
“A Little Green Rosetta” – 8:15


Frank Zappa – Vocals, guitar
Warren Cuccurullo – Rhythm Guitar, Vocals, Choir, Chorus, Organ, Guitar
Denny Walley – Vocals, Slide Guitar, Guitar
Craig Twister Steward – Harmonica
Jeff – Sax (Tenor)
Marginal Chagrin – Sax (Baritone)
Patrick O'Hearn – Wind, Bass
Peter Wolf – Keyboards
Stumuk – Sax (Baritone), Sax (Bass)
Tommy Mars – Keyboards
Vinnie Colaiuta – Drums, Percussion
Arthur Barrow – Vocals, Bass
Ed Mann – Vocals, Percussion
Dale Bozzio – Vocals
Al Malkin – Vocals
Ike Willis – Vocals
Barbara Isaak – Choir, Chorus, Assistant
Geordie Hormel – Choir, Chorus
Terry Bozzio – Guest Vocals
Ferenc Dobronyi – Cover Design
Steve Alsberg – Project Coordinator
Joe Chiccarelli – Engineer, Mixing, Recording
Norman Seeff – Photography, Cover Photo
John Williams – Artwork
Steve Nye – Remixing
Mick Glossop – Remixing
Stan Ricker – Mastering
Jack Hunt – Mastering
Thomas Nordegg – Assistant
Tom Cummings – Assistant

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