Saturday, January 16, 2010
With six volumes to this collection, I wanted to break up the monotony of simply posting about the tracks on each issue. And with Volume three, I thought it might be a good time to explore the issue of bootlegging again.
Clinton Heylin reveals in his 1995 book “Bootleg: The Secret History of the Other Recording Industry,” Zappa’s intense hatred of bootleggers. But this hatred was not simply over money, as Zappa suggests in the opening track of the first “Beat the Boots” release, “As An Am.” In that sound bite, Zappa states that it angers him that bootleggers will record concert performances of material he hasn’t released yet. But there was another factor in Zappa’s antipathy for bootleggers, and that centered on Zappa’s control issues.
“Zappa had always been a control freak,” writes Heylin, “and hated the idea of bootleggers offering an alternative to his own, sometimes questionable, decisions about what should and should not be made available.”
Heylin interviewed a particularly prolific bootlegger identified as “Richard,” who was very likely a huge thorn in Zappa’s side.
“I’m a big Zappa fan,” says Richard. “In fact, my ‘Mystery Box’ got Zappa as upset as Columbia got over ‘Ten of Swords’ (a Dylan bootleg that Richard compiled).” Zappa was apparently so upset about the release of ‘Mystery Box’ that he contacted the FBI, which apparently had no interest in investigating the allegations.
“I guess,” Richard continues, “the problem was that Zappa was doing his (own) ‘You Can’t Do That on Stage Anymore,’ his ongoing series which has just ended, and ‘Mystery Box’ was like a giant ‘You Can’t Do That on Stage Anymore.’ A lot of reviews were saying that ‘Mystery Box’ was better because it was chronological and didn’t jump all over the place and didn’t have all these stupid edits in it. That kind of thing can annoy you if you’re an artist putting out your own thing.”
Zappa blamed bootleggers for profiting off his material and that caused him to lose money. But Zappa had so many other things going on in the legal realm that were costing him money that to point to bootleggers as a culprit seems more like an effort to eschew responsibility for his own travails. And besides, as “Richard” points out, most Zappa bootleggers recorded concerts and distributed their recordings for free or at a cost that was just enough to cover their own costs. The Zappa audience was too esoteric to make any real money off of, so most Zappa bootleggers were doing it because they loved his music.
And besides, the criticism that Zappa was a bit overzealous with his editing that turned a song from one performance into a quilt of sound clips from multiple shows was justified. What started as a technique in the early days that enhanced the quality of his recordings later turned into an obsession that might have improved the sound quality of a recording, but which also led some of his music losing its gut.
This was because Zappa believed that music was unemotional, that it was merely sound. The idea that music had an emotional element was absurd to him.
From Barry Miles’ “Zappa: A Biography”: “See, I take a real cold view about that stuff. I think that music works because of psycho-accoustical things – like the way in which a line will interact with the harmonic climate that’s backing it up. And all the rest of it is subjective on behalf of the listener.”
One of Zappa’s musical idols and influences, Igor Stravinsky, was even harsher in his view regarding music’s ability to convey emotion: “I consider that music, by its very nature, essentially powerless to express anything at all, whether a feeling, an attitude of mind, a psychological mood, a phenomenon of nature, etc… Expression has never been an inherent property of music.”
From that perspective, it is no wonder that Zappa spent hours and hours splicing bits and pieces of performances together and calling it a “live” performance, even when he would dub in a studio cut. To him, it was just music, just notes on a sheet of paper.
It is incredible that both Zappa and Stravinsky would have such points of view given that it is quite clear that each composed music that told stories. And how do you tell an emotionless story?
Two tracks on this recording really challenge this notion, both on Disc two: “Zoot Allures,” and “King Kong.” I can’t see how Zappa can play “Zoot Allures” without him channeling emotion into his guitar playing. He could play it strictly as music, as lines and dots on a page, but it is clear that he doesn’t. And the classic piece “King Kong” in all its many permutations; does not the fact that a performance is altered either through style or time signature change the impression the audience experiences from the piece? Zappa seems to lay all responsibility for any emotional response on the listener rather than the music; yet he ignores how that listener response changes when he changes the timbre or tempo of a song.
Just a few comments about this particular recording, which overall is pretty damn good.
Dweezil’s guitar solo on the opening track “Sharleena” is competent, but rather boring and simplistic. It is only when father and son begin playing together that the solo finally gets interesting.
“Lucille Has Messed Up My Mind” is actually a composition by former Mothers of Invention member Jeff Simmons, which he released on an album of the same name in 1970. Zappa plays guitar on the Simmons release as well.
“Drowning Witch” is a compilation of edits from shows at Stadio Communale, Bolzano, Italy, July 3, 1982 and the Bayfront Center Arena, St. Petersburg, Florida on Dec. 1, 1984 and the Bismarck Theater, Chicago, from Nov. 23, 1984, and the Paramount Theatre, Seattle, Wash., Dec. 17, 1984. It also contains musical quotes from a Hawaiian Punch commercial, Dragnet (Schumann/Rósza) and Le sacre du printemps (Stravinsky).
This CD contains the only releases of “Ride My Face to Chicago,” “Carol, You Fool,” and “Chana in De Bushwop,” which were performed at the Bismarck Theater, Chicago, Nov. 23, 1984. The latter song also included Diva Zappa.
“Zoot Allures” contains two edits, with the first part from Kosei Nenkin Kaikan, Osaka, Japan on Feb. 3, 1976, and the guitar solo from Les Arenes, Cap D'agde, France May 30, 1982.
The sequence of “Society Pages” through “Charlie’s Enormous Mouth” comes from the Halloween show at the Palladium in New York in 1981.
“Cocaine Decisions” is comprised of two edits from the Bismarck Theater, Chicago, Nov. 23, 1984, and Stadio Communale, Palermo, Sicily, July 14, 1982.
This is the only official release that has “Nig Biz,” and it comes from the show at the Stadio Communale, Palermo, Sicily, July 14, 1982. It also contains a musical quote from “The Tracks Of My Tears” (Robinson/Moore/Tarplin).
“King Kong” contains musical quotes from “Shakin’ All Over” (Heath), “Big Swifty,” “Yo Cats” (FZ/Mariano), “Uncle Meat,” “A Love Supreme” (Coltrane), “Midnight Sun” (Hampton/Burke/Mercer) and the “William Tell Overture” (Rossini). It is also comprised of too many edits from various shows to enumerate.
“Cosmik Debris” contains portions from three shows including the Paramount Theatre, Seattle, Wash., Dec. 17, 1984; the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland, Ore., Dec. 20, 1984; and the ending from The Pier, New York City, Aug. 25-26, 1984. It also contains a musical quote from “Who Knows” (Hendrix).
I rate this four out of five stars. Add your own rating below.
Released Nov. 13, 1989 on Rykodisc; various live recordings from Dec. 10, 1971 to Dec. 23, 1984.
1. “Sharleena” – 8:54
2. “Bamboozled by Love/Owner of a Lonely Heart” – 6:06
3. “Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up” – 2:52
4. “Advance Romance” – 6:58
5. “Bobby Brown Goes Down” – 2:44
6. “Keep It Greasey” – 3:30
7. “Honey, Don’t You Want a Man Like Me?” – 4:16
8. “In France” – 3:01
9. “Drowning Witch” – 9:22
10. “Ride My Face to Chicago” – 4:22
11. “Carol, You Fool” – 4:06
12. “Chana in de Bushwop” – 4:52
13. “Joe’s Garage” – 2:20
14. “Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?” – 3:07
1. “Dickie’s Such an Asshole” – 10:08
2. “Hands With a Hammer” (Bozzio) – 3:18
3. “Zoot Allures” – 6:09
4. “Society Pages” – 2:32
5. “I’m a Beautiful Guy” – 1:54
6. “Beauty Knows No Pain” – 2:55
7. “Charlie’s Enormous Mouth” – 3:39
8. “Cocaine Decisions” – 3:14
9. “Nig Biz” – 4:58
10. “King Kong” – 24:32
11. “Cosmik Debris” – 5:14
Frank Zappa – arranger, editing, keyboards, lyricist, vocals, producer, main performer, liner notes, guitar, compilation
Mark Volman – vocals
Howard Kaylan – vocals
Lowell George – guitar
Denny Walley – guitar
Steve Vai – guitar
Dweezil Zappa – guitar
Jim Sherwood – guitar, vocals, wind
Ray Collins – guitar, vocals
Ike Willis – rhythm guitar, vocals
Ray White – rhythm guitar, vocals
Ian Underwood – guitar, wind, alto saxophone, keyboards
Patrick O'Hearn – bass guitar, wind
Roy Estrada – bass guitar, vocals
Jim Pons – bass guitar, vocals
Scott Thunes – bass guitar, vocals, synthesizer
Tom Fowler – bass guitar, trombone
Peter Wolf – keyboards
Allan Zavod – keyboards
Andre Lewis – keyboards
Don Preston – keyboards, electronics
George Duke – keyboards, vocals
Tommy Mars – keyboards, vocals
Bobby Martin – keyboards, vocals, saxophone
Napoleon Murphy Brock – saxophone, vocals
Bruce Fowler – trombone
Bunk Gardner – horn, wind
Ralph Humphrey – drums
Art Tripp – drums
Chester Thompson – drums
Chad Wackerman – drums, vocals
Jimmy Carl Black – drums, percussion
Aynsley Dunbar – drums
Terry Bozzio – drums, soloist, lyricist
Ruth Underwood – percussion, keyboards
Ed Mann – percussion
Diva Zappa – lyricist
Mark Pinske – engineer
Kerry McNabb – engineer
Bob Stone – engineer, engineering supervisor, remixing, supervisor