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”
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”
My dissertation–if you hadn’t already gathered–focuses on the convergence of popular and classical music streams that informs much of Frank Zappa’s music. This confluence means different things in different places (for both Zappa and his audience), but it seems to me to be a defining characteristic that runs through all of his work. My questions here are: Why would this be such an important aspect of his work? and, What influenced him in thinking this way?
On the one hand, Zappa was trying to establish for himself a reputation as a composer of serious art music. His reasons for this are, of course, open to debate, but Zappa was always quick to point out that his ambitions were aesthetically motivated. Continue reading “I Come From Nowhere(?)”