In interviews, Zappa frequently recalled his fifteenth birthday when, in lieu of any gifts, he requested permission to make a long distance phone call. Following some lead–he claims it was a hunch, deducing that “a person who looked like a mad scientist could only live in a place called Greenwich Village” –Zappa found Varèse’s phone number and address by dialing New York information.
His obsession with The Complete Works of Edgard Varèse, Vol. I had grown to the point of seeking out the composer himself. His timing, however, was less than ideal and the older composer was away. Louise Varèse informed Zappa that Edgard was in Brussels working on a composition–Poème électronique–for the World’s Fair, and suggested he call again in a few weeks. 
I did. I don’t remember what I said to him exactly, but it was something like: “I really dig your music.” He told me he was working on a new piece called Deserts. This thrilled me quite a bit since I was living in Lancaster, California then. When you’re fifteen and living in the Mojave Desert and find out that the world’s greatest composer, somewhere in a secret Greenwich Village laboratory, is working on a song about your “home town” you can get pretty excited. It seemed a great tragedy that nobody in Palmdale or Rosamond would care if they ever heard it. I still think Deserts is about Lancaster, even if the liner notes on the Columbia LP say it’s something more philosophical. 
Continue reading ““The Counsel of a Veteran”; Zappa’s letter to Varèse”
Earlier, I mentioned a 1989 interview in which Zappa described a performance by John Cage:
A short time after that, John Cage came to Claremont College and he was giving one of his … he does these performances with a throat microphone. He’d put this thing on his throat and drink a quart of carrot juice, or read something to you while he was drinking the carrot juice. 
I suggested that Zappa was referring to a concert he attended at Bridges Hall at Pomona College (in Claremont, CA) on March 7, 1962 in which Cage and David Tudor performed Where Are We Going? And What Are We Doing? and Variations II. Neither of these pieces fits the carrot-juice description, so I thought I’d look into it a little more.
Continue reading “Gargling Carrot Juice”
After my second post about John Cage’s influence on Zappa yesterday, Arthur left a comment directing me to a lecture that Zappa gave (along with George Duke and Captain Beefheart) at Gifford Auditorium in Syracuse on April 23, 1975. Arthur sent me a .torrent file (many thanks, Arthur!), but I see now that the lecture is available streaming at “The Captain Beefheart Radar Station” website. (Listen here.)
Continue reading “The Return of “Water Walking and Bicycle Blowing””
The image to the right depicts the cover of the Complete Works of Edgard Varèse, Volume 1. According to Zappa, this was the first record he ever owned. (And one that changed everything for him!)
The story of how he came to discover the record was well-rehearsed. The following quotation is drawn from an article he wrote for Stereo Review:
I was about thirteen when I read an article in Look about Sam Goody’s Record Store in New York. My memory is not too clear on the details, but I recall it was praising the store’s exceptional record merchandising ability. One example of brilliant salesmanship described how, through some mysterious trickery, the store actually managed to sell an album called “Ionization” (the real name of the album was “The Complete Works of Edgard Varèse, Volume One”). The article described the record as a weird jumble of drums and other unpleasant sounds. I dashed off to my local record store and asked for it. Nobody ever heard of it. I told the guy in the store what it was like. He turned away, repulsed, and mumbled solemnly, “I probably wouldn’t stock it anyway … nobody here in San Diego would buy it.” I didn’t give up. I was so hot to get that record I couldn’t even believe it. 
Continue reading “The Idol of his Youth”
Following up on my previous post (discussing Cage’s influence on Zappa with regards to performances they gave on popular television shows), I’d like to discuss some of Zappa’s comments on Cage and get into the issue of influence a little deeper. What follows is a (roughly chronological) account of instances where Zappa talks about Cage explicitly.
Continue reading “Water Walking and Bicycle Blowing (part 2)”
I’m writing a chapter right now on Stravinsky borrowings (quotations and the like) in Zappa’s music. The centerpiece of my analysis looks at the Petrushka fragments that make up Zappa’s guitar solo in the middle of “Status Back Baby.” Well, Stravinsky was a major influence on Zappa when he was young (see my post from October 23) and the lyrics of “Status Back Baby” are about life in high school, so I figured a little biographical sleuthing would be in order.
Continue reading ““The other night we painted posters…””
At a young age, Zappa bought a copy of The Rite of Spring and loved every note:
The second 33 1/3-RPM record I bought was by Stravinsky. I found a budget-line recording (on Camden) of The Rite of Spring by something called ‘The World-Wide Symphony Orchestra.’ (Sounds pretty official, eh?) The cover was a green-and-black abstract whatchamacallit, and it had a magenta paper label with black lettering. I loved Stravinsky almost as much as Varèse.
Much of my research relies primary sources. Lyrics, liner notes, bootlegs, interviews, and The Real Frank Zappa Book (FZ’s autobiography) make up the bulk of these sources. Along these lines, Avo Raup’s fantastic website Zappa Books–with its search-able database of interviews and zine articles–and Román García Albertos’ IINK (Information Is Not Knowledge)–a huge, cross-referenced database of lyrics and other album information–have been a tremendously helpful resources. But occasionally, I need to get right to the source. Such was the case with finding Zappa’s copy of Stavinsky’s The Rite of Spring.
Continue reading “Ritual Dance of the Young Zappa”