Monday, August 01, 2011

Hungry Freaks, Daddy

Rob O'Connor: Albums Celebrating Their 45th Anniversary! Part One!
You're probably wondering why I'm here - not that it makes a heckova lotta difference to ya.

Note it doesn't claim to be a "Best of" list. Rob rarely goes in that direction. Some of the albums Rob (most definitely not a teenager in 1966) selected were both popular & recognized as important at the time, some were semi popular & simmered for years as they gained stature, a few failed in their intent to establish careers, a number  were obscure & unknown for a long time (& generally still are).  One,  Yesterday and Today, wasn't even a "real" album in The Beatles' discography, just a mish mash compilation for the American market, but  clear evidence the fabs were on another level of three-minute brilliancy. The choicest, including his #1, were cultural time bombs.

Animalization by the Animals inspired  me  to play organ in a garage band & contained the first British Invasion single to drive my mom up the wall, "Inside Looking Out." Even  "Satisfaction" hadn't done that.

I don't remember what prompted me to buy Rob's #1,  the double LP Freak Out! by the Mothers of Invention shortly after it was released. It was pricey & I had a minimum wage summer job. I hadn't heard anything from it. Maybe  it was the crazy album jacket, or I'd read about The Mothers in the Village Voice; they'd been playing  New York. I had a semi-bohemian new girlfriend who was game for just about anything, more adventurous than me in some ways, from a large Irish-Catholic family short on privacy. Our relationship was much more interesting creatively & sexually than it appeared from the outside. We were a sociable couple but also a very private us-against-the-world scorpio/capricorn match compared to our yappy friends. We kept up a front of suburban adolescent conventionality. We went to the Asbury Park & Seaside Heights boardwalks. We attended parties & dances. Her mom even approved of me.

Lyrics from Freak Out! generated a private language for us. She'd say, "You didn't try to call me." I'd answer "Why?" & we'd crack up to befuddlement of anyone who heard it. We recited or sang many phrases from "Help, I'm a A Rock"  "I remember doo doo they had a swimming pool" made no sense to anyone but us.  I'd call her "Suzy Creamcheese" she'd pretend to be insulted (She was no Suzy Creamcheese). We substituted "Wowie Zowie" for then-popular words like "cool" & "groovy." We grabbed lines from "Who Are the Brain Police?", "You're Probably Wondering Why I'm Here"  & "Hungry Freaks, Daddy." I loved the album but it didn't make much sense to me, seemed unconnected to anything in my experience or currently popular, except the oldies parodies & one blues rock protest song titled "Trouble Every Day." I  hadn't yet smoked pot.   But I was insatiably curious about music. 

Parts of Freak Out! were so whack they barely touched the realm of my musical knowledge, which was scatter-shot & not very extensive  but was broader than that of my friends.  Most of the rest was  familiar in one way or another but tilted, skewed, & warped, an aural equivalent of fun house mirrors.  Zappa's juvenile humor was always hit or miss, & some of the most pointed barbs were aimed directly at suburban white teens like me. They didn't sting as much as the implied California affluence of The Beach Boys, where every guy owned  a hot rod  & a little Honda cycle,  dated a willowy blonde named Wendy, & it never rained in L.A.  It was around that time I began to realize Jersey kids had attitudes.  Clearly I had much to learn about music. But here's where Zappa was honest. He made no claims to originality. Inside the album gate fold he provided a long list titled "These People Have Contributed Materially in Many Ways to Make Our Music What it is. Please Do Not Hold it Against them." & there among the groupies & other oddballs were  over one-hundred musicians & composers, blues players, jazz men, just about everyone who influenced Zappa (notable absence, John Cage), some familiar, many not. It was the first place I encountered the names of composers Edgar Varese, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Charles Ives. If you were willing to sort it out, Zappa had provided a syllabus for an informal course, "Music According to Frank Zappa," & was inviting, challenging listeners to explore his sources.The Freak Out! list has become famous over the years, many people reacted to it the same way I did. By the time I went to college that list had made a required freshman music appreciation course one of the most boring classroom experiences I ever had - which would've pleased Zappa.

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