I'm fortunate to live in an area so stunningly beautiful and quiet, the softer sounds become large in the sonic environment. For the past year, I have been mesmerized by the soft sound of birds in flight, most especially the pigeons who are released in the morning and gently wheel in a large group through the skies over the valley. Sometimes they wing close enough to hear, they soar for a bit, and then suddenly arc away. In that aerial maneuver, their noise becomes exactly like an ocean wave. When the small rush of a wave hits and runs up the shore. Then there is a quiet pause when the wave can go no farther. Then another small rush of sound before the wave is pulled back into the larger ocean. Pigeons in flight sound just like that.
Pigeons in flight today remind me of Johnny Otis. He raised pigeons. In fact, pigeons in flight remind me of Johnny Otis and his whole career ,,,
Back to match box art. I'd heard about an engineer who used transistors and had made a miniature sound system, a fully functioning radio with a little dial set into a matchbox and speakers using match boxes as the speaker housing, all of which functioned and sounded just like a big grown up over-sized stereo system. (And I could be pretty certain he would pump up the volume to fill an entire room when showing off the muscle of his creation, to daze and amaze). Well, I couldn't do that and wasn't so sure I wanted to. Someone just had done that, and what music would come through the little speaker and how would it get there. So I made a small musical instrument, which was several small seeds I had found out on a walk, and rested them on top of a bit of puff cotton. When you shook the match box, quite close to your ear, it made a very soft, gentle sound like a miniature shaker or rattle. I'd realized later I must have heard about this instrument somewhere, too. Someone else beat me to the punch, and it took me a long time to realize I'd read about this instrument on the back cover of one of Sandy Bull's lesser known albums. Match box percussion. So everything comes from somewhere else, it seems, and it's all been done before. I still liked the sound it made.
Frank got to know our family and learned something of our family history by being around us. My grandmother had been in vaudeville and once had boasted she had played the stages of the penultimate and the absolute epitome of vaudeville venues, the absolute queen of theaters, whose floorboards were reserved for only the very famous and topmost acts, the Palace in New York (which my mother maintained was not true.)
My mother did tell me once that after such a discussion, in the early 60s, Frank added to the conversation of the day. "He said he's going to play at Carnegie Hall." Which he eventually did do.
(Just found this after posting this retrieved memory:
New York Palace Theatre, New York, 1915. Copyprint.
Courtesy of the Theatre Historical Society
of America, Elmhurst, Illinois
My mother insisted my grandmother had not really "played" the Palace, despite a photograph of her and others lined-up and smiling while standing out front. "She and the others were just hired to dance there for a few weeks.")
All That Glitters
In the early 60s, the world was treated to the first exhibition of the treasures of King Tut, and the exhibit had even made its way to a museum in the greater Los Angeles area. Frank and my sister went to this exhibit, as did I, though this was an expensive outing, and as I was young I only recall impressions of gold items detailed in jet black and dark blue stone. Though just feet away from me in the glass, because of the crowds I really couldn't see the items anywhere near as well as the Life magazine article featuring them. There were images, though, of young men with deep black hair and large eyes, and I must point out that it seemed Frank saw an expression of himself everywhere in the world, sometimes. The ancient Egyptian stick figures were wrapped in what looked like white pleated skirts, some figures with their bare chests adorned by heavy amulets. The museum I recall was packed with people, and uncomfortably so, and we'd had to hover for awhile in this viewing area to kill time until being allowed to stampede en masse into an exhibition hall for the hourly tour.
In that period, white pleated skirts were a popular outfit for girls in my geography. I owned one. They were difficult item to maintain, as it turned out. The first inkling I had that Frank was a most unusual person was when I returned home one way to discover that Frank with my sister's guidance had retrieved my white pleated skirt from my closet and had tried it on. Not only that, but he had worn it a bit around the living room, much to the hilarity of my sister, and she'd adjusted the waistband with a series of safety pins and a clothes pin to accomodate Frank's beanpole waistline. I could only ask if he were practicing to become King Tut. Frank Zappa sometimes wore my clothes .... at least once when I found him out, and on the sly, when I wasn't there to protect them. This is not something I would share with the world at large back then, and wasn't so sure what to make of it ... but my Mother seemed to think the incident was ridiculously funny, so it was okay. Though neither my mom or my sister and indeed probably no one at all could answer my inevitable question, "Why did he do it?"