There is a very curious thread going on over at Solo Passion: Why Catholicism Is Beating Objectivism's Ass ... Still
It is a festival of nastiness, posturing, solid information, boneheaded proclamations, great music, horrible and mediocre music, and so on. A total collage with no center.
My interest was piqued because of the people bashing Perigo (of course), but that would not be enough for me to comment on it here. What interested me was the discussion of Frank Zappa. A weird debate developed over him.
I was never interested in Zappa before other than at a huge distance, so I took a look-see. Here is a small part of what I examined, and a few thoughts.
To start with, one of Perigo's harshest critics is a musician, a guy named Billy Beck. For as much as I enjoyed his comments (and he is a hoot), I found two items totally off-key. The first is that he treats Zappa as an object of worship. Or at least he insinuates this through his worshipful demeanor and belligerent proclamations, even as he tries to insinuate otherwise. The second is that I listened to his band (he provided a link) and it is gawd-awful. See for yourself (you don't have to listen to the whole thing to get the gist, although the second half is far better than the first):
Live Coots -- "I'm The Slime" / "Dirty Love"
I admit that a recording of a live show in a nightclub usually results in terrible sound and I could mentally get around level distortions and things like that from having done it so often. But the guitar was so out of tune it hurt. Also, there is a trick when you have a lot of medium frequencies all bunched up together. You use a spectrum analyzer to thin out mid-range frequencies in one instrument while you beef those frequencies up in another (and vice-versa and so on). This way when both (or more) instruments are sitting in the same frequency range, you can distinguish one from the other. In the recording, there is only a mishmashed jumble of midrange timbres competing with each other. They tried to compensate for this with sheer volume, but it doesn't work. I could go on, but there is no need to.
I generally wish people well and hope they do better. I have not heard other works by Live Coots, so I admit that this might have been an off-night, with everyone in their 5th whiskey and so on...
I wanted to hear the song as Zappa did it, so here is another clip:
FZ - I'm The Slime (Mothers of Invention on Saturday Night Live in 1976)
Now that makes sense. (Also, notice how you can discern what instruments are playing what at any given moment.)
I even found the song to be a hilarious satire about the horrible crap that is presented on TV all the time. (Funny how that hasn't changed...)
As to plugging Zappa as some kind of god or mind-blowing experience, I don't think he would have liked that. Zappa was a professional entertainer and I heard him say so in many places. Here is an interview where he basically says he prefers old geezer record company executives chomping on their cigars and looking out for profit than the younger zealots. It's funny how he is so Rand-like at times. His point was that innovation can be profitable and he respected the old guys who may not have understood the music, but they certainly understood profit enough to take a risk. He does not seem to have such a high opinion of hippy executives.
Frank Zappa interview from The Cutting Edge
As to interviews, the following is Zappa confronting America's best (at the time) from the conservative wing, even as he was opposing Al Gore's prudish wife, Tipper, in her hapless anti-profanity crusade to save the souls of the young-ens. I can't think of anything better that shows what is wrong with the conservatives than this interview. It is eerily pertinent to today. Just change the issue and you get the same old same old ("respectable" people more worried about how to control others while the strange fringe people carry the banner for individual rights).
Frank Zappa on Crossfire, with Tom Braden, Robert Novak, and John Lofton (from the Washington Times)
All I can think of is what a bunch of jerks. The only one even slightly interested in individual rights other than Zappa was Braden. Their thing was sanctimonious anti-profanity. What's worse, in my mind's eye, I could see each of these gentlemen pulling out their stash of Playboy magazines when they thought no one was looking.
I was already impressed with Zappa's musical ability, but then I saw the following interview on the Today Show with Jamie Gangel, which gives snippets of his classical music compositions. I liked what I heard. I liked it very much. But it was still in an entertainment kind of way, not deep contemplative art. (In another interview, he charmingly stated that you get the London Symphony to record your music by paying them. And if you are controversial, you pay them a lot of money.)
Zappa Interview Today Show 1993
One part of the interview jumped out at me within the context of that weird thread on Solo Passion. Zappa was showing Gangel some of the crazy noises on the synthesizer and commenting on how composition is putting together sounds.
Noted. Entertainment. Not high art.
Jamie Gangel: I don't know if it's even fair to ask... how much of it is for the sound and how much of it was for the humor?
Zappa: Both. You know, I think it is... The goal here is entertainment.
Zappa was no god, but he was a far better thinker than many modern intellectuals, and he was one hell of a talented entertainer who helped make the world a better place than what it was when he came on board.
I can think of far worse things to be.