The Lending Library
I'm not certain how Eric Hoffer's "True Believer" ended up as a must read when I was devouring books recommended to me as a young reader. Frank did thumb through my copy at the house, casually, without great interest it seemed. I was interested in the concept of "mass movements" and hoped to gain some understanding of them. Though at that time (as now), I was quite impressed by Hoffer's achievements, that he as a longshoreman who also labored as a migrant worker, chose to examine such a thesis. Hoffer was presented as an autodidact who had a library card in every town he stayed in as an itinerant worker. He was free of formal education due to childhood blindness and also free of any enrollment in a formal religion. Those are two huge influences in most everyone else's life as I saw it. Hoffer was a blue collar intellectual, an outsider, as I later came to understand the term. He was of the working class and indeed a member of the underclass, and yet had much respect for both, he didn't want to leave them behind. Given my age, I had to look up the word autodidact for definition and understanding. Later, I thought it was cute the way the right wing praised him so,as if they were finally able to find a longshoreman they could like.
Frank sought to gain understanding as well, and was a reader back when I knew him. A casual discussion of the Lenny Bruce album we had listened to, followed by tales held alive in current popular memory of the official harassment the comedian had faced and endured as the result of his shows, all led to a trip to the Claremont newstand, which offered at least the possibility of knowledge for a few dimes on the counter. Frank, my sister, and I shared this book (this very 1957 edition) as well as a small bit of discussion about it, though none of us had read any of the great literature used therein as examples at the time of our reading this (I thumbed quickly through it) and given my age at the time, the topic was genuinely quite beyond my understanding.
Exclaimer! I have just this instant discovered, to my absolute amazement, the Kronhausens were name checked on Freak Out! Frank must have revisited this volume. I feel the need to point out that Frank was thoughtful and sincere in his approach when pursuing an avenue his that piqued his curiosity. He did what most of an intellectual bent did to engage with ideas and enhance knowledge, he read.
In this same early era, c. 1963, "The Dictionary of American Slang" (1960) was considered controversial and ordered to be withdrawn from the Claremont High School library shelves because Max Rafferty, California superintendent of public instruction in 1963, and his supporters found over 150 "dirty" passages in the book.
(To her credit, the school librarian unknown to anyone left the book in its place on the shelf because there was genuinely no interest in the book. The kids didn't even know it was there, and she pointed out to the officials who asked that not so much as one person had ever so much as filled out a card to pull the book out for library reading. So this was banned, but it didn't much matter anyway.)
Rainbow Gardens Gone except in memory
more on the 1960s mexican music scene
(from east LA to Pomona)
"The El Monte American Legion Stadium was home to legendary “oldies but
goodies” DJ Art Laboe-sponsored concerts but had been demolished. Some
of these sites were also far away from East LA, including Pomona’s
demolished Rainbow Gardens and Fullerton’s Rhythm Room. Some venues were
simple union halls, like the Big and Little Union Halls and others were
schools like the St. Alphonsus School Auditorium."
(Daniel Kramer, a recent graduate of Stanford University, is an intern at the Los Angeles Conservancy)
Night time radio listening
Across the radio waves at night received even in Claremont... Earl Bostic!
Rainbow Sunday afternoons 4 to 10 pm
The more romantic Sunday afternoons at the Rainbow (for the slow dances).... the Jaguars!
Rainbow Gardens Sundays Four to Ten PM
Playing in Spanish: Toma a tu Chica (Get Your Baby)
with a photo of the band. c. 1964?
Foreclosure, Richmond, 1967
Yes, the surf records went during the time of the quick record sale in 1967 to help stave off eminent foreclosure of that Winslow Arizona trinket shop (with house attached). Some of them I had parked with a friend, and hadn't retrieved them, but who said later they had been ripped when her whole record collection was stolen. The way of the material world.
the real surf music you know
Arthur (Lee) liked surf music and came to my house in Claremont a few times to spin records and talk about all things surf and life. There was even a visit that ran into slightly after sundown. He didn't mention if he got a traffic or parking ticket as a result of this visit. He enjoyed tunes like this (which he brought over):
But he very much enjoyed the flip side of a surf record I owned, "Church Key" and we spoke at length about this one in a broad and sometimes larger cosmic kind of way. I was unaware there was a predecessor released, this one:
This is what you'd hear on my record player back then, surf music .... instrumental ... THAT was SURF MUSIC .... in case you don't know the real origins. And the sound waves pounded up against the walls (sometimes my Dad came in to complain: "What's going on in here? What's the matter with you kids! Keep it down! I'm missing the best part of 'Gunsmoke'!")
Premiers on a Sunday Night
The importance of being Susie
I just have one more thing to say. Did you ever notice a plethora of "Susies" in your school and neighborhood and a number of "hit songs" using "Susie" as the fill in name for a girl? Did you know that since the 1950s, according to the social security index of birth names which is utilized as the prime source for statistics for popular names, "Susie" has remained the 3rd most popular name for girls in the United States. Think about that! I myself personally knew perhaps eight Susies while I was growing up, pretty much all of them in Claremont, even though they'd spell the diminutive differently sometimes to individualize themselves.
Seems like I'm repeating myself as far as Frank Zappa is concerned. And I don't want to reveal someone else's hardwon research by gossiping ahead of time as some people are known and have been known to do, carrying stories told in a kindly sharing way that once heard become "their" stories. So until I can dredge up something from my own memory banks about Frank and his history in Claremont, I will remain silent on this topic. I could continue to write about books and records and meals out and small adventures in the environs, and people we knew in common, but I await inspiration before heading down those avenues.
In the meantime, I will only mention that sometime in 1971 perhaps I spoke with my sister on a rare telephone call. I was in Berkeley at the time, and she recounted how Frank had been injured during a trip to London, was in a lot of pain and in a wheel chair.
"He was really hurt!" she emphasized.
She regarded him as a friend always and always was concerned about his welfare and state of being and lauded his successes, as did I, I must admit because of all the history we had shared together. I sympathized truly with Frank's plight, but by way of example, the only one I had at the moment, I spoke of another of my friends who had recently been shot in the spine and the doctor in charge of treatment announced he would never be able to walk again. And on to the proud fact that he didn't really believe his doctor and within a year or so his wheelchair though kept for convenience was in a corner, while he gamboled about on crutches and wasn't "disabled" at all. We as humans always try to keep people inspired and believing in possibility of great outcome, or at least the happiest sort of ending we can currently find in life.
Aside from sitting with a glass of my grandmother's white zinfindel in front of him on the genuine Italian marble table, as he leaned back into the dark brown Danish modern couch, his ankle on his knee in a casual I'm comfortable here leg cross, and smiled obviously enjoying himself, I never that I remember saw Frank
take a drink. My sister told me he would sometimes be kidded by everyone in the clubs
for sipping on a soft drink all evening.
Although as soon as I say that, I recall him accepting an occasional
glass of wine at meals with us because my father’s doctor had recommended one
glass of red wine at dinner to reduce stress and help heal his heart (this was 1961 or 62 we're talking about). But after the initial tip of the glass to my
Dad and Mom (you know, one of those Czech toasts) and raising the glass dramatically, his glass would
sit there untouched. My sister would
sweep it up along with the plates when we were clearing the dishes from dinner,
she’d toss it down her throat once she got into the kitchen. Dinners with my parents could sometimes be
Out in the world, Frank got a
ribbed a lot by certain people in those fast times jazz clubs. Some would make a point of ordering by
saying, “And a Shirley Temple for my friend here.” That would piss Frank off and he would say
so, especially if he regarded the person saying that as having not too much to
offer other than a round of drinks. And some of those were expensive places to get into, or with a drink order minimum. The fancier of the venues served drinks with black napkins on the table as they were so hip (yes, it's true) and occasionally depending on the place, a little umbrella in the drink (which my sister would bring home as a souvenir and keep in her drawer.)
also got to see first hand that show biz (we're talking vaudeville here, but that *was* show biz once upon a time) can wreak havoc on families in ways that can
continue on down the generational ladder.
Being intelligent, he was sometimes impatient with people
slower to catch on. One of his favorite
phrases at that time was “watch your mouth” when a person’s only contribution to the
conversation or venture at hand percolated down into mere foul drivel. Sometimes, he could be angrier and I heard
from someone else he would say to or about a horn player to “just stick that in your
mouth and suck on it. Maybe you can get
something out of it that way.”
When Frank came to visit, my sister would always break out the
electric coffee pot and make a big pot of coffee for him.
She was determined to show Frank around Los Angeles, all the cool places she knew of. Jazz clubs were one. Jazz itself was another. Our family outings were a way of showing him the town, so to speak, the new and unusual like going to Seibu, or the tried and true like China Town, Olvera Street, and Catalina Island.
He'd join us for meals out in restaurants (my mother got mad at Spaghetti Village in Claremont because Frank and my sister sat separately from us and just ordered coffee, and she presumed he would like a nice Italian meal and so suggested that restaurant even though she didn't like it herself. When she saw them sitting there alone, not eating, she grew concerned: "People will think something is wrong" she said. She was always concerned about what the neighbors might be thinking and how they might respond. Well, you can't be ruled by what other people might be thinking. But I must admit in Claremont, a small geography then of 1100 residents all seemingly possessing a small hick town nosiness, people did have to walk and talk carefully and be mindful because everything you did in that small geography was noticed, commented upon, or acted upon in some way.
My mother was surprisingly kind in other ways. Not just Frank came to stay with us for a few days.
But one of my friends, a bit older than I, now an artist's wife, with a young child, who would occasionally be frightened of her husband's behavior when he was in a drunk artist mood and so he behaved in an inexplicable but not unpredictable way, such as taking all her money from her purse to go buy more wine for his friends, she came to rest at our house one time. Before that, she would spend time as usual laying on her back in bed shaking in fear and holding her purse to her chest. One day, she came by and she laid down in my room for hours to try to get some rest, she was still shaking and holding her purse to her chest as she first laid down. She had dropped most of the other kids off to be minded elsewhere, but brought her young daughter with her. Who my mother entertained while my friend got some rest for the afternoon. My mother understood the fear and confusion surrounding her own life, having been raised in the same house as her rabidly alcoholic father. My father never knew of this event of my own friend being provided sanctuary, not that I know of, because he was at work at the time of the visit. Needless to say, my mother approved of Frank because he did not drink alcohol.
Frank's parents and my parents had similar backgrounds, from recent immigrant background (on my Dad's side at least) just having survived the Depression as young adults coming into their own in the world, and World War II, and the leveling out and flattening of society in the scare-mongering fifties. That taken together with a lot of geographic relocations, rather than us kids being brought up our whole lives in the same small town and knowing all the same people all the time you grew up. A bit different than the WASP townspeople who would trace their lineage back to the American Revolution and talk about their relatives "class" in society as a result and assume that rank and privilege for themselves as if this was something they had inherited and only they had personal rights to.
Given the nature of the town as I was seeing it, I was so fortunate to go see Ella Fitzgerald at Bridges. I used a huge sum of money I'd hoarded to pay for my ticket and I even bought a program with glossy pages held between gray cardboard covers (looked like the same Pomona printer who did the Jr High School "annual" got this contract, too), which Ella autographed for me after the show. Ella was surrounded that warm evening outside at Bridges when I met her by the sweet scent I recognized, that of Chanel No. 5.
In the early 60s in a town with esteemed faculty in prestigious institutions, there were also an abundance of artists (both freespirited and the more commercial variety) and lofty, private, and very expensive institutions offering art classes for the well heeled children of rich people, so collage for a time became the rage in my house at least. People could (and did) criticize such a form, pointing out this was mere assemblage of individual images already created by other artists (photographers usually as these images were clipped from magazines). Frank enjoyed the notion of collage because you could be so creative with it, assembling figures that held a separate distinct meaning into a grouping with a different intent and so a different effect on the viewer.
Frank also liked the joke I made up at the time: "I guess I'll go to collage and study Arp."
Because, as I said, we made fun of everything.
(I have copywritten that joke and the original resides in the Library of Congress. If you use it, you have to pay me $10 for each use. )
Rainbow Gardens Ballroom
Following performance at the Richie Valens Memorial Concert held in Long Beach, Dec 31, 1961 , in the beginning of the new year 1962, an up and coming group called the Beach Boys played the Rainbow Gardens in Pomona, CA
Feb 16, Feb 17, March 9, March 23, March 30, 1962
(Reconstructed dates courtesy of a dedicated fan
But you could also go hear recognized jazz great Cal Tjader Quintet with Vince Guardi on piano at the Rainbow Gardens. The Quintet shared the bill with "Treni Menor and his Latin American music" April 7, 1957. My sister was really starting to get deeper into jazz at this time. She didn't go to THAT show as we hadn't moved to Claremont yet. But she may have succeeded in seeing the Quintet on Nov 1, 1958 at the Rainbow, with the bill including the Luis Arcaraz Orchestra.
(Vince Guaraldi's Timeline
My sister dug Cal Tjader, so did Frank. We'd spend time looking at the different cartoon figures of the bullfight ring on his big yellow album and talk about jazz. (This is a bright red disc inside, and on the album cover art hidden amongst the massive crowd was to be found the Lone Ranger, a naked lady, a man giving the finger, with a balloon coming out from the crowd shouting "Nixon Go Home!")
Say, do you kids remember how to do the Pachuco Hop? (If you do, you know this is too fast a beat.)
The Premiers were one of the "East Side Bands"
. This link is to a genuine labor of love site.
For scholars in what is now called Ethnic Studies, here's a monograph on some of the Hispanic music scene
as it revolved around Latin Holidays in the Los Angeles area in the old days (which mentions the Rainbow Gardens and which takes a very long time to load in, kind of like the big bands of the era).
Here is how the East Side Sound developed per Gaversa.
(People listening to Los Angeles radio of the time most definitely would recognize the music of Rosie and the Originals, but might not have known this was an East Side Sound.
Rosie's other huge local hit was "Angel Baby"
(of course Frank listened to these, as I was in charge of the record player sometimes and these were some current favorites of mine).
And what discussion even a casual mention of the East Side Sound would be complete without an interactive map from EMP?
Which helps prove you needed a car or at least a ride to and from
places involving music both then and now.
And novelty records were de riguer, as Burrito Joe
by the Armenta Brothers Orchestra
shows. A 15-piece band, they mostly were famous at El Monte Legion Stadium, but they did perform at the Rainbow Gardens Ballroom. Just to give you some idea of the flavor of the club.
Frank would make fun of the Castillian accent or "lithp" when some spoke Spanish, as we generally enjoyed making fun of everything, you see.
An artifact from when I worked as a long distance telephone operator, back when you heard the coins drop into the box (a higher sound for a dime, a quarter sounded "deeper" than a nickle), clips for the cords, and mechanical timers, pencils for bubbling in the number of minutes, headsets, cords, uncomfortable chairs, and this ....
Because this subsidiary also served some small portion of the local area, every once in a very great while I heard a voice I recognized.
I strongly suspect the "hypnotist" cited as having an influence on "Freak Out!" is likely Dr. Benjamin Simon (of Boston) from this famous UFO case of the time (The Hills were Unitarians
, which made them a bit more believable, and they perhaps at the time the most notorious of Unitarians, plus they were also involved in the NAACP. Though they soon attempted to evade reporters, news and reports spread throughout the nation like wildfire. My sister, usually indifferent to anything to do with the science fiction end of paranormal, especially mentioned this case on a number of different occasions, and with new information each time, as if someone were following the case in various articles and giving her a blow by blow accounting of new facts revealed. This was 1961 that the event occurred, but the Hills did not discuss this matter with their church until March, 1963 and did not undergo hypnosis til December 1963.
Sometime between February and June, 1974, in the vicinity of Berkeley, CA, an actor friend of mine said someone gave him tickets to see "Flo and Eddie" somewhere in San Francisco. He invited me to go to the show, and I declined. I wasn't such a music junkie then, having just returned from living far away in the woods. Anyway, I was currently mourning what I knew would be the loss of Mandrake's soon as I had just stopped in there.
Seibu, the Department Store 1962-ish
I can't find where I posted some of this before on some music writing blog. Anyway.
On a family outing one evening, carrying Frank with us, we went to a startling new Japanese department store holding items for sale that were very different than the usual "cheap" Japanese imports flooding the US of the time. This huge new building was located as I recall near Wilshire Blvd.
This was a special evening outing of some kind, likely on a weekend night, as my Dad would be acting as chauffeur. After a dinner, which was likely more superior than the usual fare as we were imposing on my father's good will, we loaded into the car and my Dad drove us all to Los Angeles.
I recall what a splendid sight it was to
view the traffic and city lights outside the building from within the
building as you rode down an escalator inside. We ascended and descended, up and down on the escalators, peered at the merchandise all up and down the aisles. My sister and Frank each bought a pair of tabi (held in assorted sizes in small thin boxes with lids). I just remembered the name of the place, I am thinking Seibu. As a business, this venture failed as a commercial establishment, as the timing and the market was off, as general consumers were not ready for that high end (actually quite upscale) Japanese imports at that time.
(The above photo is of a rare triple level server from Seibu Los Angeles of the '60s, to give you an idea of the items. And the manikans in the store were Japanese figures dressed as Geisha).
Who's in that photo
The Grand Opening Made TIME
What Seibu looked like then
Seibu per wikipaedia
Here's what was demolished to make room for Seibu (which we would have seen prior to destruction)
Pages from a book on the demolition (History of Miracle Mile in Los Angeles)
My sister and I always noticed the Geller Theater Workshop, for example, as she knew a jazz saxophonist named Herb Geller. (As I recall, there was still a brass plaque on the front column showing the old historic name of the building despite the official name change). We learned enough about Hollywood (as such facts fly at you from everywhere in the media there) to know Natalie Wood had attended the Workshop.
On a separate outing, we went to another Japanese store or building constructed somewhere out near Compton or signal hill. This was a monumental structure, probably 6 storeys, nearly all of glass. I could imagine what a splendid sight it was to
view the traffic and city lights outside the building from within the
building as you rode down an escalator inside. But I didn't go in, and I haven't found the name of that place yet.
A researcher on Japanese retail history found the 1962 Seibu photos and was "shocked".
So was I -- "shocked", that is, as it was all I could humanly do to dredge up the correct name Seibu for the department store we took Frank to. I'm putting in all this background, because we didn't eat downstairs, my parents may have actually taken an expensive brew in the beer gardens upstairs and looked at the reflecting pools, but all I remember of the outing is the sensation of the escalator ride, the fact that two people bought something (tabis), and that Frank was with us. That tea room looks familiar, though.
A different world Los Angeles was, just 35 miles away. How different Seibu was from the local high priced and pretentious department store of the time in Claremont. Snooty, despite being located next to a feed store.
And one time my sister, Frank, and I went to Griffith Observatory, where the rumble from "Rebel Without a Cause" was filmed.
Just so you can get the citations straight when discussing an album title ("Absolutely Free") and Zappa recognizing Camus as an influence on the "Freak Out!" list, here is the original quote from Albert Camus:
"Le seul moyen d'affronter un monde sans liberté est de devenir si
absolument libre qu'on fasse de sa propre existence un acte de révolte."
It comes from "The Rebel
", (French title
: L'Homme révolté
Read in English translation c. 1962 in the Pomona Valley. There were only two bookstores in the village that sold this very edition, although the title was likely available at the college bookstores. One was adjacent to Barrett's Drug Store, the other on Yale and Bonita kitty corner from the Sugar Bowl Cafe. Camus had just died a few years prior to these readings in 1962.
“The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.”
In Claremont, when I knew the folkies, the girl who wore moccasins and fired raku (she loaned me that Bob Dylan record, remember?) knew all the words to this song (though I'll bet she was singing the words she learned from a Dave Van Ronk record). Her version had a faster rhythm and was more "comedic" though could be regarded as "shocking" to many of the other residents in the village.
The Sheepskin or maybe the Sheepsgrin
Oh, thank goodness. I finally and officially got out of High School (I had already spent a semester at that poop college in the desert.)
I returned to town June 1964 for the important "ceremony" which as my life would have it none in my family other than I attended. I'd returned to Claremont for the express purpose of taking part in the "ceremony" and to walk across the stage for my rolled up faux diploma (I would have to pick up the real one later, or have it mailed to my home I think). My mother was truly disappointed I would not be attending the prom, but I glossed over this and softened the blow, assuring her the only reason I wasn't going to the prom is that at this late date I couldn't find a mudbrown formal as I would likely be going there on the back of a motorcycle.
After the ceremony, which I had attended only because I thought my folks would want me to, I ditched the gown and heels, rode on the back of an artists's motorcycle or in his convertible sportscar to LAX to bid adieu to the fella who was going to become Captain Beefheart's road manager. He was flying off to England a few hours after I got my sheepskin. I was surprised when I was rushing to the gate that there had been a switch in gates, and then I was surprised again when suddenly I heard my name being paged to go to the white telephone, which I did do, and the guy on the phone told me to go to such and such gate instead. So I proceeded there.
So the guy was leaving, maybe breaking my heart a bit in the process or certainly making me feel even more insecure, and I was trying to say goodbye to him and wish him well and I had hopes for me, too.
He came tip-toeing down the aisle, spotted me and was so very surprised to see me and we were saying goodbye as we stood for a moment, and who else shows up to show he was a friend and would help me get through this? Kenny Edwards!
I was surprised to see him and rushed over to give him a big hug, and told the guy who would become Beefheart's manager not to worry about me a bit while he was away, I had a couple of good friends who would look out for me while he was gone. Kenny and the other handsome young man on a motorcycle who was a fine artist. Kenny's appearance was a major surprise to me, but as it all spinned out in the airport aisle, turnabout is fair play sometimes. I had fine friends. The guy who would become Beefheart's manager sported an odd expression, a strange smile played out on his face, almost forced.
Everyone read books in Claremont or so it seemed, as the locale was such a literate place.
In 1961-1962, Mimi's new boyfriend Richard Farina recommended I read a thing by Orwell as he'd liked it, and I went off in immediate search of the book .... which because Claremont was a literate place and had at least five little bookstores (not counting the ones at the colleges), was easy to find. Not so easy now for you, so here is a link to the complete book online that you can read if you want.
Down and Out in Paris and London
I met up with them maybe at the Chase's house, I can't remember where exactly or who pointed me there or why, but they were hanging out together in the back room of a house, more like a summer room with high narrow windows. There was a nice wooden bedstand by the brass bed, gauzy material used to cover the top of the nightstand, and a big thick book atop that. Maybe Richard was renting that room and Mimi went up to visit him there, or just kind of moved in with him?
Richard wrote a book about himself which echoed the Orwell title (Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me), and I later read that as I knew him once. Mimi hung with the art and music people in Claremont and we shared mutual friends, good friends because we were good people. Mimi, such a bright spirit, everyone loved her!
Yes, Frank listened to this as well. Noses held some fascination for him.
One time, I learned from my science readings (as my sister was studying anatomy then in preparation for her new career as a dental hygienist) that while the human body is usually asymmetrical (one foot, the dominant foot, is usually larger than the other ... and so on), most people's noses measure not much more than 2-1/4" long, usually no more than 2-1/2". So of course the tape measure came out. My father had a big nose because he had his nose broken prize fighting. His fell between the standard measurement, much to my surprise. As was everyone within reach of the tape measure, even my own. We had four broken noses in our family, counting my grandmother's, and when measured, they all fell within the standard. I did not break my nose until later, when I was surfing one day. I finally felt that I finally had something in common with my immediate family. Frank's nose, though it appeared larger than it actually was likely did not fall too far afield from the 2-1/2" outer standard, but truth is he declined measured verification.
Frank was the eventual recipient of all the nose jokes my family members had collected through the course of many many years, but he didn't hear those all at once. As to all that nose measuring, there really was not too much to do in town.
Petty Yankee Traders
We'd listen to KPFK now and again. I was very surprised to learn such a station even existed!
You couldn’t help but think about advertising sometimes,
it was everywhere. Ads were in
newspapers, in magazines, on billboards, on TV, and on the radio way too much
for my taste. When I went to L.A., the
ads were even on the sides of buses and back of taxi cabs. All of them telling you to buy something and it was usually dreck.
I began to like commercial-free radio a lot, and as that
station also played a lot of real “ethnic” music from far flung corners of the
world as well as offering music you just wouldn’t get to hear any other way, I
listened to it now and again. That was
KPFK, coming to our valley all those thirty-five airwave miles from L.A. KPFK was listener-supported instead of being
paid for by those big old companies sticking their icky commercial music or
commercial words in there to tell us to buy something. More especially interesting after that
“payola” scandal where record companies were bribing radio and tv personalities
to push certain records.
And even though a girl at school had told me about the Pacifica radio station, I was most surprised to learn others in town listened, too, and people I wouldn't have guessed. But even though they listened, we weren't always "sympatico".
In our home catch-up course on Black History in written form, my sister would read the life story of Billie Holiday and point out the harrowing first line and could get quite mopey just talking about Billie Holiday and listening to her records.
About this time, Lou Rawls was popular and suddenly an ad appeared in the classifieds of the little local paper, which was astonishing to me (that the paper would even obliquely mention a black person). Tickets to see Lou Rawls in concert, $5. Well, this was in a nightclub so I wouldn't be able to go, but I'm sure my sister and a friend would want to go ... so I called the guy up and because it was a small town, I knew who he was (the father of a girl in school! I could barely believe it when he gave me his address to pick up the tickets!) but on my way there, I ran into the Quaker girls who (always anxious to shun!) told me he had got those from a KPFK fundraiser donation he had made. This was my first introduction to .... there wasn't a word for it, but it seemed like ticket scalping somehow so I opted out, but returned home to call him and tell him I wouldn't be by for the tickets.
It didn't much matter, as Frank listened to a Lou Rawls album at our place, and the Billie Holiday one, and that may have even been his copy of her biography as the book disappeared after I read it.
I think my mother was eight or nine before she learned "damn Yankee" were two separate words.
Meeting Place: Mike Cooney
This is why we liked Mike Cooney (that little "ribs" noise he made with his mouth) and nice fingerstyling.
He also played concertina very well even back in 1962. He would start out by chatting a bit and settling in ... he'd talk and explain about the instrument (oh lord didn't those folk music people go on and on that way especially while they were tuning their instruments, but in this case it was thankfully a concertina so no explanations about how tuning forks evolved through the centuries or history of the capo just a friendly little monologue about the "concertina").
Which of course had buttons, so he had to explain that, and bellows for air (on and on he went sometimes but it was all interesting). Then he would rasp air in and out of the bellows without pushing the buttons (and the concertina would wheeze and pant) and Mike would point out that it was good instrument for making obscene phone calls. And the audience would laugh.
Then he would start his first song. He'd assume a serious demeanor and play a few bars from "Three Blind Mice" which got the audience laughing, too. Then he'd play the song, maybe one like this:
Can't You Dance the Polka?
1955 Elvis in San Diego
This is a very nice period piece that recalls the segregated hours for r&b broadcasts on white radio stations (day for white, black at night) pretty much standard broadcast code throughout Southern California at least, and another reason Frank liked Elvis (because Elvis was banned from San Diego performances after his first and only show, which is described in remarkable detail aided by historic hindsight, much like the Deacon was banned in Los Angeles when I was in that vicinity).
1955 Elvis in San Diego (and Frank I think was, too)
Julie London records, too
We'd think about music in the movies, too. Then play the album at home, over and over.
All my artsy friends were starting to make "cinema verite" movies with cameras they'd borrowed from their moms and dads or other well heeled relatives. Nothing too great.
Not just Martin Denny //// no no no no no
The real deal, Arthur Lyman! I was buying albums by then ... and had a few by Arthur that Frank would listen to, sometimes borrow ... he'd return those.
I thereafter learned a few songs from a Ewan MacColl record I borrowed from the girl who fired raku pots and told me to forget about Ezra Pound. I'd sing those for Frank and my sister (and anyone else who cared to listen back then).
Social Economic Theory and Frank Zappa
To really enhance your understanding of Frank's music, and my interpretation of his continuing growth as an artist (which is a recent undertaking for me because I didn't really collect his records or see his movies), you'd have to read a book we shared like a lending library when I was young (This was my book, I will point out, and it cost me maybe 75 cents):
Thorstein Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class
When young students read this book for the first time, the first response is usually the correct one: Hey, he's making fun of us.
(I am obliged to make an important point here. About Linda Ronstadt developing her "ears". Kenny Edwards was such a genius when it came to moving people into music and trying to bring out the best in them. He was quite patient with me, throughout all those early years and bits of time we spent together, he was encouraging. He helped me gather the nerve to learn to play "Whinin' Boy" on the guitar, and sing the song. If I had known at that time that Bessie Smith had sung that (which I didn't), I would never even have attempted it. I first thought the lyrics were "Winding Boy" when I was a teenager and first starting to play.
Aunt Ludmilla thought I could always get a job as a secretary, and as Uncle Taddeus had income from bonds and other investments safe from who after a lifetime in the Federal Reserve called "the crooks" on Wall Street, perhaps even a penny stock or two, a typewriter appeared long about 1959. Complete with a matching green brush to whisk away eraser debris if you made a typo. And it sat in a built-in carrying case that had a lock and key. Courier No. 10 type font. That's important to my story, critically important. I took typing classes in school from a man who was a bit effeminate and had perfectly colored windswept yellow hair despite his age.
There was a typewriter just like this in "Bell, Book, and Candle" (starring Kim Novak). Remember seeing that in the movie? I do.
The movie involved bongo drums and a little Greenwich Village beatnik club. A scene where musicians played a song speeded up.
Can you guess what might have influenced the naming of the Circle of the Zodiac (a beatnik coffee house down in Pomona, where Frank would play sometimes far back in time ... ). Frank liked this movie (about really different people getting together), and he liked getting records for Christmas. When I saw Jack Lemmon getting a couple of albums as a present, I nearly fainted in shock! That was an expensive present! A 45 was all I could afford.
(This scene above ,,,, that's what we all aspired to do, you know .... summon the power and make weird faces and discordant music and freak out the people who knew us in the past and made fun of us (ha ha ha, you're the one who always went barefoot and were put on probation at school) ... and they'd continue to do so, make those snot comments and maintain those attitudes, but we'd freak 'em ... freak 'em, daddy! If I were tracing the spread of ideas in cultural history, or even an intellectual history of the United States, and simultaneously wanted to provide an indicator of possible direction and future artistic growth of a couple of artists, like a narrative Künstlerroman
(yeah, you heard me right), I'd say this was IT! This was absolutely positively IT!
Nudie shirt just back from the dry cleaners prior to tour
In 1973, while sitting by a fence, I made a snide joke about success and show business and then borrowed a rock star's Nudie shirt for "publicity photos" his wife shot.
Then within a matter of a month, I soon fell off a cliff, suffering a green stick fracture of the right arm. But before that I saw a few alligators that had escaped a person's back yard and they were sunning themselves in the alley. I was taking a short cut through town and alleys are how we kids used to travel in Claremont proper to avoid the sidewalks and walking in front of houses where snoopy neighbors would be scanning the pedestrian traffic. I always kept a low profile there, and would to this day if ever I were foolish enough to return.
See the radio on the bottom right? That was in the den on a bookshelf of encyclopedias, next to a desk that had the typewriter (Courier 10 type font) in a room that had the swamp cooler blowing out. This one was stereophonic and had FM. A jazz station usually came out of that, sometimes KPFK.
Other noises. Snippets of conversation, from those earlier more innocent days of FM radio when broadcast frequencies were not so rigorously modulated. At times, inexplicably though probably dependent on some natural phenomenon like cloud formation, a scratchy-sounding two-way radio conversation would be picked up by my mother’s radio. The unshielded transmission suddenly would bleed through the round grill cloth of the table model, sometimes interrupting the music, sometimes blending around it. Always a bit startling, local cops in conversation not knowing they were being listened to by any but each other.
They would drive past on Arrow Highway talking to another cop somewhere on a radio. Sometimes they would park along our house on Arrow Highway and "hide" awaiting all those who speeding downhill on Mills would always run the stop sign at the corner Mills and Arrow because there was no reason to stop ... no cars, no pedestrians, no reason to stop except for the stop sign. Frank heard this "cop talk" on our radio more than once and laughed like we did. We'd run to the radio and try to hear what they were saying, or go out to the backyard and peek through the grapestake fencing to see if there was a black and white patrol car parked outside on Arrow.
Want to know what the bleed through sounded like? Listen to "Giddyup" by Corey Harris (on Downhome Sophisticate).
Other times, the AM radio in my bedroom, when I was listening very quietly to music late at night in the winter, would have intermittent bursts and pulses of static noise. I'd noticed that the heat would come out the vent in the room at the same time as the bursts. This sound would drive my sister crazy. But I assumed this was connected in some way with the electrical pulse of the thermostat on the heater, go turn down the wall thermostat in the hall, and this noise would eventually stop. That seemed to fix it.
When we first moved to Claremont there was one traffic light and two policemen in town. They worked in shifts: One for the day and one for the night. And there was one patrol car. Soon after, 1959, they started building the numbers on the local force in response to two new subdivisions on the south end of town, what the townspeople called "crackerboxes" (no blacks in there yet). And the one big fancy housing tract Claraboya to the north of Foothill. With the coming of the freeway in 1957, more people started moving in and around Claremont.
My sister without asking me loaned my book "Black Boy" (by Richard Wright
) to either Frank or Don. I never got it back, though I inquired about it, and she was unapologetic, listless, and didn't give a damn. She didn't respect boundaries. I learned the word "Bildungsroman" and not from wikipaedia. I kept reading on and on, and so did they off and on, and soon we made jokes about "Thomas, Mann" and that was before I'd even set eyes on the Notesbooks of Malte Laurids Rigge, which a conga player who came from a rich family and so had attended a rich Eastern school despite his shoulder length hair and sandals (and this was 1964 before such things were faddish) had given to me as a farewell present. That was a kindly gift on his part, and one much appreciated, as aside from a copy of zenfrogpoems and "The Prophet" (bestowed by a friend trying to balance out my existential readings), no one had given me a book at a critical juncture. Frank would read my copy of D.T. Suzuki
($1.45) and Alan Watts who hoped to explain him.
In 1966, when I spoke with Frank on the telephone when I was in Laguna Beach and "Freak Out!" was offered on the KPFK fund raising telethon, he had no response when I told him that Alan Watts and Juno had just stayed over (and Alan had vodka in his orange juice for breakfast). And he had nothing to say about my trying to help build a harpsichord that summer, either. I hope KPFK didn't broadcast live all that stuff I said to Frank on the phone that day. I was headed to Berkeley at the end of that summer to begin regular studies there. In Laguna Beach, it was hard to find work, everyone wanted a job at the beach. I got a job as a dog sitter and two days as a baby sitter for the grand daughter of a rich old bat who was ashamed her daughter had met, married, and bred with an East Indian. My adventures in Laguna Beach that summer were myriad, colorful, and multifold, and my last gasp at being a teenager before moving on in my university "career".