|Issue 2 February 1972|
Out of over nine hours of recorded material, Zappa has created a jigsaw that equals that of Burroughs (in writing) and Warhol (in film).
In attempting to look at his work, it is a mistake to take each album as only an individual statement. Each piece of recorded work fits (not always neatly) into the preceding pieces as well as the ones that are not yet written, let alone recorded.
There are songs on an album that reappear a year or so later on a new one in a different form. Bits keep showing their heads under different titles and in a different form with the voices taking the place of the guitar or brass and in a different time.
A song on 'Freak Out' is also on 'Rubin and the Jets' with slight changes - while a thing off 'Only in it for the Money' also ends the 'ballet' 'Lumpy Gravy' in quite a new shape.
Things slot into each other across a number of years. There are also re-references. Burroughs calls it "cut-ups" - Zappa, as far as I know, has no particular name for it.
While Burroughs is quite willing to talk about the structure of his writing, in both practice and in ideas behind it - Zappa, possibly due to the people who have interviewed him, appears to be rather unwilling to talk about the 'philosophy' behind his structure of reappearances.
Zappa has certain human touch points in his make-up and one of these must be considered in this short analysis of his work and that is that it must be looked at in two actual sections: what he writes about and the way in which he writes about it.
The first four albums have a very one-sided approach in the sense that they all concern themselves with observing different aspects of America and not much else. The first three being weighted very heavily in a 'political' direction while the fourth is concerned with a reconstruction of the great American art-form: soft-rock.
A few years ago, Miles wrote this bit in IT in which he referred to Zappa as something akin to one of the old alchemists because he concentrated on only one problem and attempted to solve it by examining it in every possible way.
This way of looking at Zappa is OK as far as it goes but since Miles wrote that, there has been a number of changes. Some of them slight and not world shattering - while others have changed the entire construction of contemporary music.
It was with 'Uncle Meat' (not 'Lumpy Gravy') that Frank Zappa, for me, became a composer instead of being just a good song writer. 'Uncle Meat' contains the entire Zappa recorded persona - and I do not think that it is an incorrect or foolish statement to say that in this album he has managed to cover the entire range of music that has emerged since the end of the war.
This does not mean that he has simply reconstructed note for note what others had already written.
He is one of those unique people who is capable of observing his environment objectively, being aware of most of the musical forces working on and around him - filtering it all and reconstructing his own personal vision of the world.
His methods are varied from one extreme to the other. This can be illustrated by playing the following two tracks off 'Uncle Meat': 'The Air' and 'Dog Breath in the Year of the Plague'.
Not only does 'Uncle Meat' cover the musical changes of the last 20 years - it also is the best example of Zappa's own musical philosophy. While on other albums you only get references to other albums - on 'Uncle Meat' you get the complete cut-up and re-reference structure. Tracks reappear under different names with voices doing things that were, a few tracks earlier, played by the reeds.
If the only thing that Zappa had ever recorded had been 'Uncle Meat' then there would be no less doubt, that there is at the moment, about his supreme importance in 20th century music.
'Break Out' Verve: Time 57.25
This discography is not complete in so much as I have not included certain albums such as the Wild Man Fischer or the GTO's etc and certain 45s such as 'Big Leg Emma'. If I was to attempt to give a complete list of recordings I would find it both doubtful and difficult since on certain albums his name is not given but it is obvious who is playing guitar or drums or who has arranged or recorded the particular album. And because of this I have limited the discography to only the recordings that Zappa's name actually appears on.