Saturday, January 17, 2009

Hungry Freaks, Daddy!

This past Christmas, we gave my six and a half year-old son an iPod. When it came time to load in some music, I became overwhelmed by the enormous gravity of this task. Six and a half was right about when I discovered music: the Beatles from my brother, jazz from my mother and classical music from my father. The foundations laid at that age are still solid in my consciousness. This was serious business.

I went to my iTunes and quickly, almost without thinking, the first song I isolated for the lad’s iPod was “You’re Probably Wondering Why I’m Here”. If anything, it gave me the opportunity to once again, take in the masterpiece that is Freak Out! by the Mothers of Invention.

In 1966, rock-n-roll was taking itself very, very seriously. Rock was taking its first steps away from being rebellious and was moving towards a world of pretentiousness. The Beatles, rightfully so, were being lauded for the innovations of Sgt Peppers. Dylan had been crowned the poet laureate of a generation and from Carnaby Street to Haight-Ashbury, everyone was about to swoon away the Summer of Love. Enter the Mothers of Invention with Freak Out!’s overarching message: So what…big deal.

The Mothers were the brainchild of the late Frank Zappa. He built a career on defying conventions and expectations about what Rock-n-Roll music should about and how it should be made. Freak Out! sits between the polar opposites of mainstream, consumerist middle-America and the emerging youth-driven counter culture. All the while, Zappa slays the hypocrisies of both. This would be Zappa’s lifelong song writing approach. Although unconventional, these songs are enormously listenable and many are outright hysterical. Freak Out! turned out to be a hit with my son – what six year old can resist a song called “Help, I’m a rock!”

Note 1 – Zappa always said writing about Rock music was “bad writing written for people who can’t read.” I hope he'll forgive Slimbo for the above.
Note 2 - For a spell of time I worked with the bassist for The Washington Squares. He recommended Freak Out! to me. I am eternally grateful.

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