Thursday, January 5, 2012
My First Album - Frank Zappa/Captain Beefheart - Bongo Fury
Who the hell gives a 7 year old a Frank Zappa record for Christmas?
My oldest brother Joe did. On Christmas morning in 1974 a copy of Zappa's latest album Apostrophe (') was under the tree for me. Joe and I used to love to listen to Dr. Demento on the radio and he heard "Don't Eat The Yellow Snow" once and figured I would love all the poo poo jokes. I did. But I also loved the music. So about a year or so later when I found out that Frank Zappa was coming out with a new album I took the few dollars I hadn't spent on candy and went to the record store in the New Rochelle mall (can't remember the name of the place, but it wasn't a chain store). Ever since I was old enough to crawl I loved looking at album covers and my mother would drop me off at the record store so she could shop in peace for an hour or so. This time it was different. I wasn't going to just look, I was going to walk out of the store with something. (A few years later I got in A LOT of trouble for walking out of a store with a bunch of records I didn't pay for, but that's another story). It turned out to be Bongo Fury, a pretty insane album by most people's standards but one that made perfect sense to my 8 year old brain. The hippie at the record store counter (reeking of weeed, no doubt) seemed amused by my choice and was very patient as I pulled out my crumpled singles and loose change to pay for it.
My mother was already very annoyed that I loved to play Apostrophe (') all the time so she wasn't too thrilled to see another album by that Zappa creep entering the house. She also REALLY hated the fact that the band was called The Mothers. She thought the name was dirty as well as disrespectful to the institution of motherhood. And who was this jerk Captain Beefheart that was getting equal billing? She was convinced there was something horrible about the front cover photo of Zappa and Beefheart sitting at a table with an ice cream cone and a soda. In her mind, they had to have been high on drugs. I really didn't know what to make of the cover. It was just 2 guys sitting there. Zappa's looking into the camera and seems pissed off and you can't really see Beefheart under his hat. I was just excited that on the back cover it said that some of it was recorded live at a concert in Austin, Texas at a place called the Armadillo World Headquarters. I'd never been to Texas and thought it was cool that they played at some place that sounded like it was a zoo.
When I finally got a chance to listen to the album I realized right away I probably shouldn't play it too loud. I didn't understand the lyrics to "Debra Kadabra" or "Carolina Hard-Core Ecstasy" at all but got a pretty good understanding that my mom would not find any of it amusing at all. The word "bitch" shows up about 30 seconds into the first song. I couldn't believe that someone could say that and not get in trouble. I loved it! The music really flipped my lid. "Debra Kadabra" opens up with a killer guitar riff from Zappa and big drum hits from Terry Bozzio but the whole thing gets weird pretty quick. Especially when Beefheart starts singing. It sounded to me like he was hurting himself as he barked out the lyrics. Being 8 years old with an extremely short attention span I loved how quickly the music changed and kept changing. Who wants to hear someone moan "like a rhinestone cowboy" over and over. I got the point! You're a rhinestone cowboy. Now what? Zappa, Beefheart and the Mothers were my new heroes. It wasn't until "Carolina Hard-Core Ecstasy" that I was able to comprehend any of the lyrics when Zappa sang the line "she put a Doobie Brothers tape on, I had a Roger Daltrey cape on." To this day, those words make me crack up. It took many years until I had any idea what this song was about. Even now, I'm not so sure.
I used to really enjoy listening to Beefheart's two featured songs "Sam With The Showing Scalp Flat Top" and "Man With The Woman Head." They were so weird! Kiss would never let some guy with a deep voice scream "I wish I had a pair of bongos" on their live album. But my favorite song on the album has always been "Advance Romance." Clocking in at 11 minutes I thought it was the coolest thing ever. The lyrics seemed to be full of inside jokes and the guys in the band seemed to be trying to make each other laugh. They sounded like they were having so much fun! But I also really loved the music. It was probably the first time I had ever heard slide guitar and it really excited me. Denny Walley's solo is really raunchy and helped point me in the direction of the blues music that I was soon to fall in love with. Zappa's guitar solo that follows is insanely inventive. To my friends it just sounded like a bunch of noise but it made perfect sense to me.
The rest of the album was a little easier to share with the other kids. Songs like "Poofter's Froth Wyoming Plans Ahead," "Cucamonga," "200 Years Old" and, of course, "Muffin Man" were much easier for them to get a handle on. I'll never forget bringing the album to school once for show and tell. The teacher thought "Muffin Man" was the kids song but yanked it off the turntable almost immediately. As much as I wanted to share it with the rest of the class, her reaction was much better than I ever could have hoped for.
This album really helped point me in all the directions that I continue to refine to this very day - wild music, dirty lyrics, pissing people off, being weird and so on. Thanks Joe!