I am so on a Zappa kick.
I remember back in high school, the only album I had heard from Frank was Frank Zappa Meets the Mothers of Prevention and I really enjoyed it – but it never really got its hooks into me in a big way. I went through a mini-spell back in 2006 after reading Zappa’s book The Real Frank Zappa Book, but back then I stuck to the two albums I had. It was nothing like this.
Since the Vai concert last September I’ve been listening to Zappa almost non-stop. Almost every weekend I’ve gone out and bought two CD’s, and I’ll listen to them the rest of the week. Luckily, Frank had a pretty big catalog, so this could go on for a while.
I think what got me interested more in Frank’s stuff was watching the Vai soundcheck. They did some pretty heavy practicing (it was actually more of a rehearsal than a soundcheck) and I was enthralled watching the detail in which the band practiced. They spent about 20 minutes on one small piece of a song, because the phrasing of a particular lick wasn’t correct for the violins. It reminded me of what I had heard about how particular Zappa was about his music being played correctly and I began to get really curious as to just how much of an influence Frank was on Vai during his “formative years”.
As is typical when I get really interested in stuff like this, I take it to the ultimate extreme. I’ve been looking for any information related to Frank and found a book at Borders called Zappa: A Biography by Barry Miles. I’ve found it a pretty interesting read so far.
I can tell you that musically for me its been an interesting few months. Zappa’s music is hard to get into initially (at least it was for me – and definitely is for Jonna), but once you’re hooked your really hooked.
I love the humor and the “off color” nature of his music and lyrics to be sure, but I think the thing that blows me away about Frank (and Vai for that matter with his latest album Sound Theories, Vols. 1-2) are how well the songs translate to an orchestra. Its interesting to me how music that starts in a “rock” vein can be musically viable enough to be played by an orchestra and in many cases be better than the original. If you didn’t know any better, you would never know that they started out as rock music.
My favorite albums so far are Frank Zappa Meets the Mothers of Prevention, the first album I heard back in high school, with Strictly Commercial: The Best of Frank Zappa and Apostrophe (‘) a close second and third. Strictly Commercial is a great cross section of Franks more “commercially acceptable” stuff and is a good introduction to his music. The “single versions” of these songs edit out all of the things that some may find offensive.
As I mentioned earlier, Franks music translates well to an orchestra. If you want an introduction to Zappa that even your grandmother wouldn’t find offensive, you might want to check out Strictly Genteel: A Classical Introduction to Frank Zappa.
Whichever path you take, I’m sure you’ll find it rewarding. I certainly am.
I mentioned earlier that I was reading The Real Frank Zappa Book by Frank Zappa with Peter Occhiogrosso. I have found so much value in this book that I’m not even really sure how to review it. That will come later.
I did think it would be valueable to quote the opening of a chapter called ‘Failure’ (Chapter 18), in which Zappa describes many of the business plans that he had put together and tried to sell to venture capitalists and/or investors that never quite made it off the ground, one of which sounds a lot like iTunes.
I think the best thing about this quote is the philosophy expressed. Many of us are raised to fear failure, rather than viewing it as a way to figure out what doesn’t work. Some work environments reinforce the negative view of failure rather than the positive.
In any event, I like the way the concept is explained here.
Failure is one of those things that ‘serious people’ dread. Invariably, the persons most likely to be crippled by this fear are people who have convinced themselves that they are so bitchen they shouldn’t ever be placed in a situation where they might fail.
Failure is nothing to get upset about. It’s a fairly normal condition; an inevitability in ninety-nine percent of all human undertakings. Success is rare – that’s why people get so cranked up about it.
Its not only these simple statements that have an effect, but the whole book is pretty incredible. As someone who has struggled for quite a long time with learning a musical instrument, it was quite refreshing to hear Franks opinions and philosophy around music as well.
This book is way more than a musicians biography though. Its a pretty damn good philosphy book on the human condition as a whole.
I found so much value in the reading of this book. Not only that, as is typical when I read a biography, I have spent the week completely immersed in his music. Pretty amazing.