After The Mothers: Zappa and the L.A. Philharmonic
Los Angeles – While the musical wedding of Frank Zappa and Zubin Mehta and their respective backup men at Pauley Pavilion was not a complete success, it did prove once and for all why other recent couplings of rock and symphonic elements have been such wretched failures.
For some reason this has been a year of cultural mismatchmaking. There was that cumbersome, tasteless, television effort by Bell Telephone to show that the Nice, Santana and Jethro Tull played real music just like Zubin’s Los Angeles Philharmonic.
And several examples too dismal to mention.
In most cases these abortions were instigated by the symphonic forces, apparently in an attempt to capture the huge and profitable audiences that support the rock industry.
Their basic miscalculation – brilliantly illustrated by the Zappa-Mehta effort – was their belief that somehow symphonic music, rather that the presentation of that music, had to be modified to appeal to masses of young listeners.
To those listeners, the theater of symphonic music is so inartistic and irrelevant that it amounts to a political separation. The music, with its stiff-backed black ties and tails and opening night fur pieces, has never been of the people buy of the rich. Its theater has been drained of life, frozen and encased for the possessive pleasure of the museum-minded.
It took Zappa – who, if anything, is perhaps a bit too much of the people, of the people "on a glandular level" – to break fresh wind among those suffocating old toads.
At UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion, before 12,000 attentive fans, he did it marvelously. It was his show almost from the start. Mehta and the Philharmonic were simply new lab toys for his mad genius and they became better people for it.
In three hours Zappa:
- Introduced the orchestra members to a spirit of freedom they will find hard to forget, punctuating their scores with burps, grunts and adlib confetti throwing. At one point the bass horn player stood up with his horn, twirled around like a drunken elephant and sat down. At another, the entire orchestra walked off stage and into the audience, each member apparently playing his own composition.
- Relentlessly chided Mehta with remarks like, "All right, Zubin, hit it!" and "Now you know the cue where to in, don’t you, Zubin?" (Mehta got in a few of his own licks, like warning the audience, "You must no think that this is any way a rock concert … this is music like any other music.")
- Subjected the orchestra and audience to a mild dissertation on teenage cum stains that ended with a brutal parody of Jim Morrison’s oedipal walk down the "ancient hallway" in which the hero discovers his father "beating his meat’ to a Playboy magazine. "He’s got the Playboy magazine rolled into a tube and has inserted his member right into a tube and has inserted his member right into the tube Father, I want to kill you Not now, son, not now!"
- Invited members of the Philharmonic to stay for an adlib encore of King Kong, during which cellist Kurt Reher established himself as a master freak and clarinetist Michele Zurkovski had a stuffed toy giraffe inserted up her dress.
Musically, Zappa presented few surprises, since his material has always combined rock and classic elements. His version of Edgar Varèse’s Integrales and his own 200 Motels for Mothers and Orchestra included the usual Zappa riffs from Varese, Stravinsky and Gustav Holst.
In general, the sound was terribly distorted, although it did indicate how closely, on purely a sensual basis, an amplified rock band can resemble an acoustical orchestra.
But as Zappa pointed out in his opening statement, "When you play music in a hall designed for basketball, you take your chances."