Sunday, April 5, 2009

Announcements/Zappa by Barry Miles

Hey, folks. A couple of things...

First, I am super-psyched to tell you that I am getting audio up on as many of the mixtape entries as I can, thanks to! I can create an audio file of the mix there (or each side of a mix) and then embed it in a blog entry! So far, I have files up for Clam Snout and the Soundtrack Spotlight: 1989 entries, so go check 'em out!!

Second, I am hoping to start doing some writing for some other blogs and sites, and I have a lead or two, so I'll keep you posted about that. And now, without further ado:

So I recently read Barry Miles’ Frank Zappa biography, called simply Zappa. I haven’t really looked online for other reviews of the book; I don’t know if others feel about it the same way I did. I imagine some of them must—it’s not exactly the most favorable view of the man, his work & his life.

Once I had finished the book, I kind of felt that Miles’ goal was to put Zappa on trial. It’s almost as if, now that he’s been dead a while, Miles felt that we can stop talking about what a genius the guy was and finally address what a jerk he could be. I don’t really understand his motivation. Mind you, a few of his corrections to Zappa’s version of events were welcome, but most of it seemed like it was designed to tear my/our image of the guy down.

I can’t imagine that Gail Zappa or any of her children were in favor of the book, or gave it their stamp of approval in any way. No one seems more interested in protecting the legacy of Frank Zappa than his widow (all the more ironic given the tales of Zappa’s adultery and marital troubles delineated in Miles’ text). I guess, ultimately, Miles was attempting to portray Zappa as a human being, rather than some genius on a pedestal, but I don’t think anyone in the Zappa family wants to see his/her deceased husband/father’s name dragged through the mud.

Miles’ basic accusations toward Zappa are that he was incredibly bitter, incredibly cynical, a jerk, a thief (all the issues with Zappa taking credit for the early Mothers of Invention members’ contributions are raised and paraded about), unrealistic in his expectations of his audience, and an inattentive, absent and downright lousy father. Miles seems to have no sympathy for the man, either, as if all of the issues that caused Zappa trouble in his interactions with the world and other people must have been completely his fault. I understand that we all have choices in terms of how we let the difficult aspects of our lives affect us, Mr. Miles, but there are grounds, especially since he’s not around to defend himself, for some sort of benefit of the doubt to be given. I’m sure that, like most of us, there were a lot of ugly moments where Zappa was doing the best he could.

Finally, the thing that becomes most apparent throughout the text is that Miles doesn’t seem to really LIKE Zappa’s music that much. I mean, why would one even bother to write an exhaustive biography of a musician who one didn’t even care for? I can’t imagine such a massive waste of time. Miles seems to be fairly impressed with Zappa’s orchestral work, but that’s really about it. Nary a kind word is levied on pivotal albums like Apostrophe’ or Joe’s Garage—in fact both of those albums suffer at Miles’ pen. Any praise for Zappa’s early work with the original M.O.I. is tarnished by the insistent harping on the unjust treatment of the members of that ensemble. It’s almost as if there is some sort of personal feeling of betrayal that Miles is acting out. Either that, or he has somehow avoided being touched or affected by Zappa’s music in any way, which again brings me back to the question: if you don’t really care for the music, then WHY BOTHER?

If you’re interested in reading something about the man, skip this one. Highly recommended texts on Zappa include:

The Real Frank Zappa Book-Frank Zappa w/ Peter Ochiogrosso
A text that receives a great deal of venom from Miles’ tongue…he almost takes Zappa publishing his own version of certain events personally.
Frank Zappa’s Negative Dialectic of Poodle Play-Ben Watson
This is a fascinating and impressive academic analysis of Zappa’s albums and music. It really breaks down the “conceptual continuity” idea in a cool way. Not for the flippant, but essential for Zappa fans.
Relix, Issue #33-2
The cover story is a really great overview of the man’s career from the point of view of the jam-band community. It exhibits a healthy, yet still reverent perspective.

I hope you folks don’t feel like I’ve been posting too much Zappa stuff recently. I have a couple of other things in the pipeline that aren’t Zappa-related, so be patient.

1 comment:

Jason said...

Can there be too much Zappa stuff?