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Frank Zappa (1940-1993)
R.I.P. Frank Zappa
A Personal Discovery of Zappa's Music
I first discovered Zappa's music, way back in 1971, my final year of high school. The album was Chunga's Revenge. I knew nothing about it, but I was intrigued by the cover when I spotted it in my parents' record shop. I had this habit of playing music because of the cover. Around the same time, I discovered King Crimson because of the bizarre cover of In The Court Of The Crimson King. I played Chunga's Revenge, gasped, and taped it, and played it to death in secret while away at boarding school. It was like nothing I'd ever heard before.
Next year was my first year at Uni, and I was out there collecting any Zappa I could find. Over the next few years, I managed to get all the Zappa that had been released, and I kept up with the new releases.
This was in North Queensland, and it was hard to find the releases. It proved easier in the late 70s when Gary Hunn opened up Wavelength records and catered for people like me. He did a marvelous job and I managed to get the Zappa collection completely in shape. Later, I managed to find another Zappaphile. In a city of 100,000, there appeared to be only two people interested in Zappa's music. It took me ages to find the other guy, but Gary Hunn kept telling me about this guy and arranged a meeting. Noel Grant was a bit older than me, and had been listening to Zappa's music almost from the beginning. He taught me heaps, and got me to listen to the very early stuff. Until then, I favoured the mid-70s stuff and the new releases. Noel persuaded me to listen thoroughly to the early lps, and develop an appreciation for it. Now I live in Sydney, a city of 4,000,000+ people, and I know no-one else here who likes Zappa's music. This is probably more to do with me being a hermit, than the lack of Zappafans in Sydney.
When I moved to Sydney in 1988, I did some foolish things with my Zappa collection. I gave Noel my early compilation lps. I don't begrudge that so much, because I know they went to a very good home where they were appreciated. But I started doing the record fairs and selling off my vinyl, including my Zappa vinyl. Stupidly, I assumed that the Zappa cds that were coming out would be exactly the same as the lps. Silly me. They were different, usually in small ways, often in gross ways. By the time I discovered this, about half my vinyl was gone. Since then, I've been trying to recover it all. So far, I'm only missing the boxed sets of Shut Up'N Play yer Guitar, and Thing-Fish. And wouldn't you know it, these are the most expensive items to get back in good condition. Not to worry. I'll get them all soon.
Listening to Zappa's Music
There are many ways of appreciation Frank Zappa's releases. Firstly, there is the pleasure in listening to the music. 60 official cd releases, with 18 of them double cds, and two triple cds, provides a lot of listening pleasure. Add to that all the bootlegs and tapes of life performances, and there is a huge amount of happy listening to get through. And the variety!! Rock, classical, musique concrete, jazz, musicals, instrumentals, synthesiser music, experimental music, freak music. Such variety. I play more of Zappa's music than any other composer/performer because I never get bored with it.
It usually takes me ages to absorb a new bit of Zappa's music. Some of the early stuff, like Burnt Weeny Sandwich, I never really adapted to, and I'm just discovering the music now. The recent releases that broke new Zappa ground, like Yellow Shark and the posthumous Civilization Phaze III, I didn't like much when I first heard them, but now, a few years down the track, I have absorbed the new sounds, and am starting to like them. In a few more years, they will be old hat and I will love them and hum them and jiggle to them and recognise them whenever they appear unexpectedly.
Perhaps the only common thread throughout all Zappa's music, is humour. In all his music, you can tell that he is a person who enjoyed life, the good bits and the silly bits. In his music, he mocked the stupidity he saw, he sang about funny incidents, and generally had a good time. He enjoyed himself, and it came through clearly in his music. The answer to that album title, Does Humor Belong In Music? is obviously Yes.
One of the things that I liked about collecting Zappa's music, was that as I got older, I found more to appreciate in the early music, and the new music was getting more and more complex. As I age, my tastes are changing so that I seek out the more complex in all forms. I enjoy more complex books, more complex films, and complex music. And Zappa complemented my search for the more complex, by producing more complex music as he aged. I never considered that this mutual satisfaction would end: Zappa producing more complex music while I sought more complex music. I never considered that he would die so young. There were rumours of cancer, around 1991, but I heard nothing specific till 1993 when he died. I had to face up to the fact that there would be more music from Zappa despite his death, but that the complexity of it would be frozen in 1993. Yellow Shark and Civilization Phaze III showed me where he was heading, and that he was capable of producing better and better works as he got older. I was very sad that I was going to be denied the pleasure of hearing some fabulous new work in 2020. This is, of course, very selfish of me. He was deprived of the pleasure of breathing in the year 2020, and all I am concerned about is my own musical listening pleasure.
Collecting Zappa's Music
The second way of appreciating Zappa's releases, is collecting. I am a collector. I collect things. I collect stamps, books, cds, comics, anything that takes my fancy. As I have become older and found that there is a limit to the amount of space I can afford, I have refined my collecting to specifics. I collect Cerebus comics, not just any comics. I collect Australian MUH stamps, not just anything. I collect Zappa lps and cds, and specific things that I am interested in, not just any old lp or cd. Zappa is great for collecting because everything changed so much. Early stuff was censored in different ways and in different countries. The cd releases were different to the vinyl, and the final cd releases were different to the first cds. I have decided on collecting one of each of the vinyl and cd releases from Australia, Britain and the USA, and whatever European items that come my way. That means a couple of hundred lps, and about 300 cds. I'm half way there.
Sometime later when it's translated to HTML, I will put my detailed discography here. In the meantime, for those of you who are interested in collecting Zappa, here is a simplified discography. Note that you won't be able to get Mothermania from your local cd shop. It isn't available on cd yet. It probably never will be, but you shouldn't worry as the music is found on other releases (avoiding the version variations - this is a simplified listing.
If you are new to Zappa, might I recommend Strictly Commercial, a best-of release. If you like that, try Broadway the Hard Way, Hot Rats, then Roxy & Elsewhere and Sheik Yerbouti. If you still like what you are hearing, buy the rest of the cds in any order. They are all great bits of music, and trying to choose one above the other when you're working out what will be your 25th purchase is ludicrous.
A Detailed Discography
Click here for a detailed discography of Zappa's long play releases.
A Simplified Discography
These are a few other links to Zappa pages that could help.