Thursday, February 22, 2007
Well ... I sometimes tend to root for the underdog, and so I continue my momentary fascination about a book proposal that might not have a chance of winning the big spin, especially judging from this post:

Anonymous said...

The Zappa book sounds interesting, though there is sooooo much written about him (even album by album...Ben Watson) that the book would have to reveal something new and interesting. That said, if it did this, it would be a great service to Zappa-dom. Freak Out! is contemporaneous with Pet Sounds and Sgt. Pepper's, but doesn't get nearly enough attention relative to the other two albums.

"There is sooo much written about him (even album by album...Ben Watson) that the book would have to reveal something new and interesting."

OK. I didn't know there was sooo much written. And what's wrong with old and interesting? Provided it's interesting. They should pick a writer who (rather than contextualizing in theory or emphazing extreme character or aberrant behavior) could vividly recreate the atmosphere and human beings who made the music, and the creative or reactive jabbing this way and that in response to other (sociological, sociopolitical, socio-social) all over the place and everywhere mounds of mush that combined into forces.

Imagine the high pitch whine of a teen star's adenoidal voice broadcast over and over on the tiny tinny transistors or expanding the grill speaker cloth of plastic table models or overamplified and painfully sibilliant on staticky car radios throughout the huge environs of greater Los Angeles, and that song becomes a local hit. So quite soon that same voice still singing that same song is then amplified through loudspeakers. But this is a lip-synched performance to the kids sitting on the bleachers of a teen show that's broadcast on local tv. And the host of the teen show is standing in glen plaid to the side and smiling as he lip-synchs along with the band lip-synching on stage. And the band lip-synchs their song at dozens of visits to this local tv show because the song is becoming a local hit and is even called in and requested on the radio show of the same person who also hosts the tv show:

"A thousand stars in the sky like the stars in your eyes
They say to me that therell never be
No other love like you-oo for me-e-e"

It could have been any such song of the time. Then imagine how such a thing might have made people feel. Then imagine how such a thing might have made other people feel.

THERE the music was.

In this instance, broadcast from the same stands near the Sea Circus where during the days the seals would flip, flop, clap, and in other ways perform, at a new marine-themed amusement park on a pier. Pacific Ocean Park (The name abbreviated even verbally as Pee Oh Pee) was created as a budget outing, designed to compete with other big amusement parks in the Southern California vicinity that shall go unnamed, and the admission was less than a dollar. In fact, it cost ninety cents for a grown up to get in.

Once the entrance fee was collected, you'd walk past a bubbling display tank of light blue and pink lobsters. (You'll say "This is a crazy story. Right away, that's not right, lobsters are red." And I'll say, yes, that's true. The marine handlers didn't aerate the water with enough oxygen and the lobsters had changed color and the strange colors in fact grew fainter and eventually faded out.)

Once past the lobster tanks inside the park, there was not just a plastic octopus, but palms carved and painted with geometrics, banana boats, flights to Mars, and not just a big roller coaster (bigger, better, and hopefully safer than the splintery white wooden one at the Pike), but there were clear plastic bubbles that carried people inside -- the seaspray bubbles carried their passengers on thin squeaky cables like a ski-lift completely out over the ocean following alongside a pier and then back to the park.

And the pee oh pee continued on outside of the park boundaries, because they had trolleys on rubberwheels that puttered along the beach all the way down the Boardwalk. An easy-going, slow moving ride to catch hold of the sights and sounds along the beach, the small train of two cars occasionally slowing to allow strolling pedestrians unaware that a silent trolley had eased up behind them to step aside and evade collision, and the trolleys'd go all the way to Venice where it was rumored the beatniks and Venusians and all the drug addicts and communists were, likely assembled to hear Tambu play his congo drums on the beach, where all the sandy alleys smelled like pee. On the trolly, you'd never get too close to those experiences. Then they'd turn the small trolley around for the trip back to pee oh pee. If you sat near the back of the trolley, even with no doors or windows, it sounded and smelled like a lawn mower engine. And a round trip cost a dime.

Although there was POP music for teens at pee oh pee, you didn't always have to go to the seal court where the shows were televised to catch the tones. Sometimes a stage would be set up elsewhere, maybe near some plastic mermaids or something.

Frank came along once for a show and I am fairly certain it was at pee oh pee, though it could have been elsewhere in a place similarly abandoned and lost to time, a show that hi-lined several currently popular acts ... a teen revue typical of the day made up of three or four short acts singing three or four short songs. As I say, there were more than one on the bill, but I only really remember one of the well known hit making acts on the bill.

This show was different because it wasn't lip-synched, it was performed LIVE ONSTAGE even though the groups shared some of the same backing musicians. The act riding to the tops of the current charts were a duo called April Stevens and Nino Temple, who were singing "Deep Purple". You might know the song, from the '30s and a mere thirty years later it was a near forgotten old standard dredged up from somewhere, one they had modernized (and I found out about that old standard business because my mom knew all the lyrics the first time I ever heard that song come out over the tv or radio):

"When the deep purple falls, over sleepy garden walls, and the stars begin to twinkle in the sky-eye-eye-yi-yi."

Well, I didn't know what to make of that hit duo, I barely remember her except she wore some kind of dress that had the hem sticked up harem style and he grinned a lot and wore a glittery medallion and maybe a V-neck shirt, but definitely combed his hair with an excess of petroleum products. But for this show at least they had acquired a lady player (electric guitar or electric bass, I forget, but that alone at the time was a bit strange) and during another of the songs (kind of a put-together instrumental for the pleasure of the crowd), the lady player was allowed to stretch out a bit and took a solo.

She looked like everyone else on the stage, in early '60s squareball duds and she was wearing a plaid skirt, but she was a woman and she could play and my sister's friend was there watching this very show. And the person onstage as it turned out was Carole Kaye. My sister knew about her, she knew of this lady somehow as a jazz guitarist.

Now as things had turned out this lady player was a staple in the studios, often recording hit tunes like these all night long (and some were good [por exemplo, (PAH-rah PAH-rah "La Bamba" by young Valenzuela y "Let's Dance!" (da da da DA da da da da da) by Chris Montez were my then current examples of good and were some of the songs she played on in the studio] and some were dreck, and some were dreck and became number ones), recorded one after another, with different groups strolling in for their turn at the mic.

And I know because I started getting the low-down, like when I went to the very studios that pumped out all the hits, I saw at least one heavy green gymnasium mat with handles just like the ones used in physical education classes for somersaults and tumbling (but ours at school didn't have black plastic ashtrays full of cigarette butts and bottle caps). And those were the mats that had been acquired somewhere and dragged into a room at the studio so the studio musicians could have a place to sit or crash on before the next cheap session came in to record what would be the next hit song. And years later Carol Kaye had mentioned these very mats in an interview.

So maybe in a way this live performance could be regarded as an unofficial audition, as this person Carole Kaye may have stuck in Frank's mind because she was later summoned to participate in what became "Freak Out", though for that she's listed as playing a 12-string. And in collecting lore on her, Frank might have been reminded once again that she was working as a musician trying to support her kids and was straight as an arrow but had played jazz in town behind Lenny Bruce and jazz guitar though she loved it wasn't paying the bills, well, maybe that swirled around in his thinking about things, too.

Well, this likely isn't new, and the lady in question stuck around only for four or five songs for the album. But just once I would like to read something about "Freak Out" that is more atmospheric and reminiscent of the times and captures something of the spirit of the people and breathes real places back to life rather than hearing revised information from yet again the same old people who say the same old stuff over and over again and they're the prevailing point of view.

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