Saturday, March 14, 2009

Weasels Ripped My Flesh

Frank Zappa, when speaking about music critics in his autobiography, makes the perspicuous comment that, “There are several reasons why my music has never really been ‘explained’ in the press. For one thing, the people who write the articles don’t really care how it works or why it works.”

This brings to mind the comments by the self-titled “Dean of American Rock Critics” Robert Christgau in reviewing several of Zappa’s releases. In particular, Christgau’s review of “Weasels Ripped My Flesh,” which, ironically, and with some pretense, Christgau denotes with the grade of B+ while at the same time offering an apology for liking the recording. Just as Zappa had indicated, Christgau can’t explain why he likes the album, so he dismisses its accomplishment. I give you his terse “review” in its entirety:

“Talk about ‘montage’--the construction here is all juxtaposition, the composition all interruption. Together with some relatively straightforward instrumentals and ‘My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama,’ the album’s two finest strokes--a metal remake of Little Richard’s ‘Directly From My Heart to You’ and ‘Oh No’ a devastating reply to ‘All You Need Is Love’--would make for a highly enjoyable album. But if Brecht considered pure enjoyment counterrevolutionary, Zappa considers it dumb—that’s why he breaks in constantly with dialogue and vocal or electronic sounds whose musical interest/value is essentially theoretical. I find most of these engaging enough to think I might want to listen again some day. But all that means is that I enjoy it, quite moderately, in spite of itself.”

I like “Weasels,” and I liked it from the first listen. And I have to admit, with what some may view as pretense of my own, that liking this album from the start sets me apart from a great many other Zappa fans who, while they like the album, had to let the compositions grow on them before they could call it a favorite. If I sound like a snob, I apologize, because that’s not my intent. It’s just that “Weasels” captured me from the first spin.

What’s not to like?

Right from its frenetic start with “Didja Get Any Onya?”, “Weasels” grabbed my attention. The free-flow, avant-garde style filled with time changes and wailing voices is magnificently intense with a clear structure beneath its seeming chaos. Interestingly, while this album was released after Zappa had hooked up with drummer Aynsely Dunbar, percussion on “Weasels” is accomplished by both Jimmy Carl Black and Art Tripp, who do an excellent job of not only maintaining sanity throughout all of Zappa’s instantaneous time signature switches, but of injecting a musical quality to the pieces as well that gives them personality and character.

Not surprisingly, a favorite among fans of this album is Zappa’s cover of the R.W. Penniman classic “Directly From My Heart to You.” I would be redundant in calling Sugar Cane Harris’ amazing violin on this song “searing” or “electrifying,” as practically everyone else who has written anything about this song has done the same. All I can add is that his playing not only makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck, but makes it dance around my neck and back too. I dare say that Harris’ playing on this surpasses his amazing work on “Hot Rats.”

While some get put off by the vocalizations in “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Sexually Aroused Gas Mask,” it’s all good to me. It’s worth pointing out that the subject of this most likely comes from Zappa’s childhood, as his father, then working for the military at a base where mustard gas was stored, had these devices at home in case of emergency.

I love the abrupt transition in “Toads of the Short Forest” from the introduction to the pounding drums and frenetic saxophone squawks. I have read comments by some who are annoyed by Zappa’s explanation of what’s going on, but unless you really are aware of what is happening, and most people’s musical “ear” is poorly trained, you wouldn’t necessarily know that all these time signatures are melding into one sound.

With “Get A Little,” we get Zappa’s signature guitar playing, beautifully intense and restrained at the same time, as only he could do. More superb avant-garde jazz comes with “The Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbecue,” followed by the somewhat manic, even Baroque sounding “Dwarf Nebula Processional March & Dwarf Nebula,” which recalls recording and sound techniques that Zappa used in “We’re Only In It For the Money.”

Zappa returns to more familiar rock-n-roll techniques with “My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama,” but even that has some wacky transitions that include electronic sounds ala Don Preston and flamenco-style acoustic guitar. And if “Oh No” sounds familiar, that’s because it the same melody that appeared on “Lumpy Gravy,” but now adorned with lyrics. It seamlessly transitions into the similarly sounding “The Orange County Lumber Truck,” easily leading some to think they are still hearing “Oh No.”

Zappa closes the album with the title track, a wall of overpowering noise and feedback, calling forth the violent image in the album cover art, which was inspired by an image of equal violence, at least for that era.

There is a string at ARF that provides information on a 1956 magazine article titled “Weasels Ripped My Flesh.” Of all things, the story was about a Connecticut duck farmer who fights a swarm of weasels that have been eating his ducks. The magazine cover grabbed Zappa’s attention, who took it to artist Neon Park, allegedly saying to him, “This is it. What can you do that is worse than this?” Park has done album art for many musicians and groups, ranging from Little Feat to David Bowie.

There was a 1979 movie titled “Weasels Rip My Flesh,” about which a reviewer at the Internet Movie Database wrote that it was probably the worst movie ever made. But Joseph Ziemba at Bleeding Skull calls the movie “a chance discovery of the greatest home movie ever made.” I have no opinion as I have not seen the movie.

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

A new link was added to this post on April 4, 2009.

Released: Aug. 10, 1970, Bizarre/Reprise

Track listing:

Side one
"Didja Get Any Onya?" (live) – 3:42 (6:51 on the CD version)
Includes 'Charles Ives', and only on the compact disc re-issue, 'The Jelly'
"Directly from My Heart to You" (Richard Wayne Penniman) – 5:16
"Prelude to the Afternoon of a Sexually Aroused Gas Mask" (live) – 3:47
"Toads of the Short Forest" – 4:47
"Get a Little" (live) – 2:31

Side two
"The Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbecue" – 6:52
"Dwarf Nebula Processional March & Dwarf Nebula" – 2:12
"My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama" – 3:32
"Oh No" – 1:45
"The Orange County Lumber Truck" (live) – 3:21
"Weasels Ripped My Flesh" (live) – 2:08


Frank Zappa – lead guitar, vocals
Jimmy Carl Black – drums
Ray Collins – vocals
Roy Estrada – bass, vocals
Bunk Gardner – tenor sax
Lowell George – rhythm guitar, vocals
Don "Sugarcane" Harris – vocals, electric violin
Don Preston – organ, electronic effects
Buzz Gardner – trumpet and flugel horn
Motorhead Sherwood – baritone saxophone, snorks
Art Tripp – drums
Ian Underwood – alto saxophone

1 comment:

slime.o said...

the guy in the weasels cover was taken from a schick razor ad in the October 3, 1953 The Saturday Evening Post [Vol. 226, No. 14]

original scans of the '56 man's life here: