Saturday, August 8, 2009

It just might be a one shot deal

42 Zappa, ‘Big Swifty’

Ladies and gentleman – watch Frank! I know what you’ve been thinking, all through this list you’ve been thinking to yourself, “Where’s Frank?”

Frank has been hovering over this list from the beginning. He’s been mentioned a few times already and I like to imagine him reading my entries and reacting to the choices and stories. A wry smile maybe, a raised eyebrow perhaps, a shake of the head at times. He’s a great editor actually. A few times I’ve wondered and reconsidered and, sometimes, hit the delete button.

It’s actually a wonder he ever released anything, given his exacting standards. But maybe that’s just the image I’ve superimposed on him. He could be a merciless critic of others – mainly the bloated rock stars that he saw around him. The Beatles would have enjoyed the parody of Sgt Peppers but Peter Frampton came in for an appropriately scathing attack for ‘I’m in You’. No one was really immune from his caustic wit. Certainly not television evangelists, Tipper Gore, and those without a sense of humour.

His catalogue is so huge and so varied in style and quality. It’s tricky picking one song that represents the joy I feel when listing to him. I’ve written about Bongo Fury, The Mothers Live at the Fillmore and Hot Rats already on the blog. Each of those albums is completely different, as if they were written and performed by three different Frank Zappas and those three barely scratch the surface of his genius.

I’m being a little disingenuous here. It’s actually not hard to pick one at all. The Waka Jawaka/Hot Rats album is my clear favourite and his album that I’ve played the most often. Every second of it is unique, special and rewarding. It’s remarkable that one guy can create all of this stuff in his head. For me, Frank is even more of a creative genius than Brian Wilson. Brian, while I love his stuff, basically only worked in a straight-forward pop mode. He got crazy around the ‘Smile’ period with drugs and insecurities and then couldn’t finish his work. Frank just kept on going during all those years. A stable marriage to Gail, no drugs, no rehab, no insecurities!

Big Swifty is a superb piece of music. At 17 minutes 22 seconds it is not one second too short, or too long. It sounds perfect to me, as it leaps along from the intro into a steady pulse of ever changing textures and sounds. Horns and pianos and guitars mingle, jostle for position, leave and reenter when it’s appropriate. The separation and space between the instruments is anchored by Erroneous on bass and Aynsley Dunbar on drums. The song is a paradoxical exercise in simplicity (what feels like hundreds of musicians is actually just Frank and five others) and teasing, intricate, complexity. I know it’s a cliché to say this, but very time I hear it I truly hear new things. Big Swifty. Those 17 minutes and 22 seconds just fly by. Thanks for the music Frank. Rest in peace.

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