A tribute to my brother, Bob Nemes. Frank Zappa: “Status Back Baby” from Absolutely Free

Dear Gentle Readers.

Did you know that fundraising, giving, and receiving gifts improves our health, makes us happy, and is good for our communities?  Today I’m reaching out to you to ask you to be happy and give a gift to my brother Bob, who’s battling stage 4 colon cancer.  Bob is the big-hearted guy in the line up of us Nemes siblings below.  Please take a moment to read about his campaign and please consider making a contribution, no matter how small.  Your gift will directly improve the quality of his life, I guarantee.

nemesfla

https://www.gofundme.com/help-my-brother-bob-beat-cancer-2tpnt758

Bob has been a great inspiration to me, exposing me to art, music and culture when I was a kid, being a hard-working father who raised two amazing daughters and a son, and always striving for self-awareness and spiritual growth.  He introduced me to today’s piece which I originally wrote back in 2000.  Love you Bob and all who follow The Musical Almanac

Frank Zappa: “Status Back Baby” from Absolutely Free

Die-hard classical purists would say “Frank Zappa didn’t write classical music.” Or “He’s a performer, not a composer.” Zappa claimed in his autobiography that the reason he became a rock musician was so that he could bankroll his classical aspirations. In his last years, he focused less on rock concerts and spent his time writing pieces that saw performances by the London Symphony Orchestra, Pierre Boulez, and the German group, Ensemble Modern. The reason he is the subject today is because as a boy, I heard the second album he ever released and recently, as an adult, the last recorded during his lifetime. What strikes me now comparing the two is how he good a musician he really was, and in my mind, I put him in the category of Kurt Weill.

Zappa released Absolutely Free in 1967. I just happened to be in my brother Bob’s room one day when Tim Labuda, his best friend, burst in holding an album. Tim, who looked like a beat poet with a goatee (and I think he even wore a beret) said “You’ve got to listen to this.” They let me stay, and though I didn’t have a very highly developed sense of sarcasm back then, I was interested to hear lyrics making fun of high school cheer leaders along with quite interesting music that didn’t sound like your average pop record of the day.

As mentioned earlier, I used to sneak into Bob’s room when he wasn’t there and Absolutely Free was one of the albums I used to play again and again. One song became my favorite “Status Back Baby,” which lampooned vapid cheerleaders from the point of view of a boy who doesn’t fit in because he doesn’t care about high school spirit. At one point, the song breaks into an instrumental interlude, which sounded like nothing I’d ever heard before. Seven years later in college, when I first heard Stravinski’s “Petrushka” I realized Zappa had lifted the first movement from that ballet score. That made me return to Zappa and I casually followed his career from then on, buying just a few albums of the scores that he released. Another song on Absolutely Free, “Plastic People,” became the anthem of the “Velvet Revolution” in Czechoslovakia that brought an end to twenty years of communist rule.

During the 1980s, Zappa became interested in politics and free speech and even testified in hearings before congress against labeling rock albums with parental warning stickers. In the late ’80s he toured again, and I went to see him perform at the Warner Theatre in Washington, D.C. Though Zappa’s ensemble performed some rock standards, the concert seemed more like a cabaret show than anything else. At one point, they broke into a musical skit satirizing Ed Meese, head of the Justice Department, who had announced an additive that the federal government was going to start putting in prisoners’ food to keep them docile. Zappa saw this as fascistic, as he did censorship and big business.

Around this time, I read his autobiography, in which he described his early musical influences–Stravinski, Messiaen, and Varese. He bemoaned the fact that people writing serious music often couldn’t get their works performed. The reason is that new music is often difficult to play, which requires extra rehearsal time for orchestras and that makes the pieces prohibitively expensive to produce. Still at the end of his life, the Frankfurt Music Festival honored him, placing him in the same category as John Cage and Stockhausen. His last album Yellow Shark consists of a performance of his works by the Ensemble Modern at that festival. One of the pieces, “G spot Tornado” is so accessible that it could become part of the basic repertoire for orchestras.

Thinking about Zappa also makes me wonder what has happened to classical music. Before composers became cult figures, musicians often improvised. We’re told nowadays that renaissance musicians were kind of like modern jazz performers. They had a basic melody and some musical conventions, but they were free to do their own thing within that framework. Maybe that is why renaissance music has become popular of late: it is beautiful, but it also has a fresh spontaneity to it that you often don’t find in huge, ponderous, symphonic pieces.

European audiences and musicians took Frank Zappa more seriously than American, who didn’t quite know how to categorize him. Zappa was a kind of iconoclast, who never minced words when criticizing people he thought of as vain and stupid. Thus he angered just about everyone. For example, he referred to rock journalists as ”people who can’t write interviewing people who can’t talk for people who can’t read.” He also criticized what he thought of as stodgy classical musicians, orchestras, and conductors who didn’t perform his work. Still, he never seemed to compromise his principles, and he did get through to a number of people. Rarely do you get a chance to laugh at rock music; it takes itself so seriously. Even more rarely do you find popular musicians that aren’t a “product” targeted at a specific market segment, and who actually have talent. Rarest of all are “serious composers” who are also virtuoso performers, articulate champions of free speech, and who maintain a sense of the absurd. Among some people, me included, Zappa finally got his “Status Back Baby.”

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Frank Zappa – Jonestown (Reblog)

Source: Frank Zappa – Jonestown (Zappa)

Happy Belated 75th Birthday Frank Zappa!

Your music drifted in and out of my life. I first heard you whe a friend of my brother’s brought over a copy of Absolutely Free in 1967 (when I was 12). It amazed me and I kept listening to it through high school. It shaped my thinking about school spirit and team sports and cheerleaders. Look, he wrote this when America was coming out of the 1950’s teeny-bopper Greaser mentality and America was confronting its darker aspects with men dying in a stupid war in Vietnam and race riots raged.

Zappa went on to skewer just about every social convention and conceit. He once said that he had a rock band so that he could finance his work as a “serious composer.” He was a devote of Varese and Stravinsky, and the latter is quoted in the middle of that previous song. Near the end of his life he was getting recognition, mostly in Europe, for his work as a composer. Pierre Boulez conducted his work, and one of the last performances of his work was in Berlin by the Ensemble Moderne. This was recorded and put out on a posthumous album entitle “Yellow Shark.” It contains another of my favorites by him: “G-Spot Tornado.”

The dance was choreographed and performed by Louise Cavalier.

Hard to believe he passed away in 1993. So many excellent musicians passed through his bands over the years–Ruth and Ian Underwood, Jean-Luc Ponty, George Duke, Captain Beefheart, Adrian Belew, and Steve Vai are just the tip of the iceberg.

We have no iconoclastic genius like this in our midst these days.

Frank Zappa: G-Spot Tornado

This is day 26 and the last day of the A-toZ Challenge in which I attempted (and succeeded) to blog every day (excepting Sundays) during the month of April. Though there are 30 days in April, when you remove Sundays, it comes out to 26.  The goal was to blog on a subject using the letters of the alphabet sequentially.  During this month, I curated a collection of “classical” music pieces, which are lesser known or by lesser known composers (to me at least) going from A to Z.  I’m choosing to end this series with a piece today by Frank Zappa (1840 – 1993).

Zappa caught my attention in 1967. My older brother Bob had a friend named Tim Labuda, who wore a beret and a goatee, being influenced by the Beat poets.  At the end of their senior year of college, Tim came over to our house all in excitement.  He had a new album by a guy name Frank Zappa that he wanted Bob to listen to.  Bob had built his own vacuum tube stereo amplifier, and Tim took the vinyl album out and set the needle down.  What came out blew us both away.  Later when I became enamored of Stravinsky’s “Petrushka,” I realized that Zappa had quoted pieced of it on an instrumental interlude in the track called, “Status Back Baby.”  That’s when I learned that Zappa really wanted to be taken as a serious composer and said that he played rock music to finance his serious composing.

I followed Zappa’s work for the next 20+ years.  When I lived in Algeria in 1980, my room mate had copies of Zappa’s albums, Roxy and Elsewhere and Bongo Fury, dating from 1974 and 1975.  These became my favorites as the musicianship was superb and the lyrics were insanely funny.  I saw Zappa in concert around 1988, and realized that his live shows were a kind of rock Cabaret show with humor and political satire mixed in with great music.

In 1992 it came out that he had terminal prostate cancer.  His last album was called “Yellow Shark” and it was a recording of a concert by the  group, Ensemble Moderne, of Berlin.  Here were serious musicians performing his works.  And not his rock ones, but his serious compositions.  The track G-Spot tornado fascinated me, and that’s why I chose it.  There is another version of the  tornado I found on Youtube, which has a man and a woman performing a modern dance accompanied by the Ensemble.

Zappa died at the age of 53 in 1993.

There’s no one around like him and I miss his craftsmanship and humor.

Frank Zappa: “Status Back Baby” from Absolutely Free

Die-hard classical purists would say “Frank Zappa didn’t write classical music.” Or “He’s a performer, not a composer.” Zappa claimed in his autobiography that the reason he became a rock musician was so that he could bankroll his classical aspirations. In his last years, he focused less on rock concerts and spent his time writing pieces that saw performances by the London Symphony Orchestra, Pierre Boulez, and the German group, Ensemble Modern. The reason he is the subject today is because as a boy, I heard the second album he ever released and recently, as an adult, the last recorded during his lifetime. What strikes me now comparing the two is how he good a musician he really was, and in my mind, I put him in the category of Kurt Weill.

Zappa released Absolutely Free in 1967. I just happened to be in my brother Bob’s room one day when Tim Labuda, his best friend, burst in holding an album. Tim, who looked like a beat poet with a goatee (and I think he even wore a beret) said “You’ve got to listen to this.” They let me stay, and though I didn’t have a very highly developed sense of sarcasm back then, I was interested to hear lyrics making fun of high school cheer leaders along with quite interesting music that didn’t sound like your average pop record of the day.

As mentioned earlier, I used to sneak into Bob’s room when he wasn’t there and Absolutely Free was one of the albums I used to play again and again. One song became my favorite “Status Back Baby,” which lampooned vapid cheerleaders from the point of view of a boy who doesn’t fit in because he doesn’t care about high school spirit. At one point, the song breaks into an instrumental interlude, which sounded like nothing I’d ever heard before. Seven years later in college, when I first heard Stravinski’s “Petrushka” I realized Zappa had lifted the first movement from that ballet score. That made me return to Zappa and I casually followed his career from then on, buying just a few albums of the scores that he released. Another song on Absolutely Free, “Plastic People,” became the anthem of the “Velvet Revolution” in Czechoslovakia that brought an end to twenty years of communist rule.

During the 1980s, Zappa became interested in politics and free speech and even testified in hearings before congress against labeling rock albums with parental warning stickers. In the late ’80s he toured again, and I went to see him perform at the Warner Theatre in Washington, D.C. Though Zappa’s ensemble performed some rock standards, the concert seemed more like a cabaret show than anything else. At one point, they broke into a musical skit satirizing Ed Meese, head of the Justice Department, who had announced an additive that the federal government was going to start putting in prisoners’ food to keep them docile. Zappa saw this as fascistic, as he did censorship and big business.

Around this time, I read his autobiography, in which he described his early musical influences–Stravinski, Messiaen, and Varese. He bemoaned the fact that people writing serious music often couldn’t get their works performed. The reason is that new music is often difficult to play, which requires extra rehearsal time for orchestras and that makes the pieces prohibitively expensive to produce. Still at the end of his life, the Frankfurt Music Festival honored him, placing him in the same category as John Cage and Stockhausen. His last album Yellow Shark consists of a performance of his works by the Ensemble Modern at that festival. One of the pieces, “G spot Tornado” is so accessible that it could become part of the basic repertoire for orchestras.

Thinking about Zappa also makes me wonder what has happened to classical music. Before composers became cult figures, musicians often improvised. We’re told nowadays that renaissance musicians were kind of like modern jazz performers. They had a basic melody and some musical conventions, but they were free to do their own thing within that framework. Maybe that is why renaissance music has become popular of late: it is beautiful, but it also has a fresh spontaneity to it that you often don’t find in huge, ponderous, symphonic pieces.

European audiences and musicians took Frank Zappa more seriously than American, who didn’t quite know how to categorize him. Zappa was a kind of iconoclast, who never minced words when criticizing people he thought of as vain and stupid. Thus he angered just about everyone. For example, he referred to rock journalists as ”people who can’t write interviewing people who can’t talk for people who can’t read.” He also criticized what he thought of as stodgy classical musicians, orchestras, and conductors who didn’t perform his work. Still, he never seemed to compromise his principles, and he did get through to a number of people. Rarely do you get a chance to laugh at rock music; it takes itself so seriously. Even more rarely do you find popular musicians that aren’t a “product” targeted at a specific market segment, and who actually have talent. Rarest of all are “serious composers” who are also virtuoso performers, articulate champions of free speech, and who maintain a sense of the absurd. Among some people, me included, Zappa finally got his “Status Back Baby.”

Frank Zappa: “Status Back Baby” from Absolutely Free

Die-hard classical purists would say “Frank Zappa didn’t write classical music.” Or “He’s a performer, not a composer.” Zappa claimed in his autobiography that the reason he became a rock musician was so that he could bankroll his classical aspirations. In his last years, he focused less on rock concerts and spent his time writing pieces that saw performances by the London Symphony Orchestra, Pierre Boulez, and the German group, Ensemble Modern. The reason he is the subject today is because as a boy, I heard the second album he ever released and recently, as an adult, the last recorded during his lifetime. What strikes me now comparing the two is how he good a musician he really was, and in my mind, I put him in the category of Kurt Weill.

Zappa released Absolutely Free in 1967. I just happened to be in my brother Bob’s room one day when Tim Labuda, his best friend, burst in holding an album. Tim, who looked like a beat poet with a goatee (and I think he even wore a beret) said “You’ve got to listen to this.” They let me stay, and though I didn’t have a very highly developed sense of sarcasm back then, I was interested to hear lyrics making fun of high school cheer leaders along with quite interesting music that didn’t sound like your average pop record of the day.

As mentioned earlier, I used to sneak into Bob’s room when he wasn’t there and Absolutely Free was one of the albums I used to play again and again. One song became my favorite “Status Back Baby,” which lampooned vapid cheerleaders from the point of view of a boy who doesn’t fit in because he doesn’t care about high school spirit. At one point, the song breaks into an instrumental interlude, which sounded like nothing I’d ever heard before. Seven years later in college, when I first heard Stravinski’s “Petrushka” I realized Zappa had lifted the first movement from that ballet score. That made me return to Zappa and I casually followed his career from then on, buying just a few albums of the scores that he released. Another song on Absolutely Free, “Plastic People,” became the anthem of the “Velvet Revolution” in Czechoslovakia that brought an end to twenty years of communist rule.

During the 1980s, Zappa became interested in politics and free speech and even testified in hearings before congress against labeling rock albums with parental warning stickers. In the late ’80s he toured again, and I went to see him perform at the Warner Theatre in Washington, D.C. Though Zappa’s ensemble performed some rock standards, the concert seemed more like a cabaret show than anything else. At one point, they broke into a musical skit satirizing Ed Meese, head of the Justice Department, who had announced an additive that the federal government was going to start putting in prisoners’ food to keep them docile. Zappa saw this as fascistic, as he did censorship and big business.

Around this time, I read his autobiography, in which he described his early musical influences–Stravinski, Messiaen, and Varese. He bemoaned the fact that people writing serious music often couldn’t get their works performed. The reason is that new music is often difficult to play, which requires extra rehearsal time for orchestras and that makes the pieces prohibitively expensive to produce. Still at the end of his life, the Frankfurt Music Festival honored him, placing him in the same category as John Cage and Stockhausen. His last album Yellow Shark consists of a performance of his works by the Ensemble Modern at that festival. One of the pieces, “G spot Tornado” is so accessible that it could become part of the basic repertoire for orchestras.

Thinking about Zappa also makes me wonder what has happened to classical music. Before composers became cult figures, musicians often improvised. We’re told nowadays that renaissance musicians were kind of like modern jazz performers. They had a basic melody and some musical conventions, but they were free to do their own thing within that framework. Maybe that is why renaissance music has become popular of late: it is beautiful, but it also has a fresh spontaneity to it that you often don’t find in huge, ponderous, symphonic pieces.

European audiences and musicians took Frank Zappa more seriously than American, who didn’t quite know how to categorize him. Zappa was a kind of iconoclast, who never minced words when criticizing people he thought of as vain and stupid. Thus he angered just about everyone. For example, he referred to rock journalists as ”people who can’t write interviewing people who can’t talk for people who can’t read.” He also criticized what he thought of as stodgy classical musicians, orchestras, and conductors who didn’t perform his work. Still, he never seemed to compromise his principles, and he did get through to a number of people. Rarely do you get a chance to laugh at rock music; it takes itself so seriously. Even more rarely do you find popular musicians that aren’t a “product” targeted at a specific market segment, and who actually have talent. Rarest of all are “serious composers” who are also virtuoso performers, articulate champions of free speech, and who maintain a sense of the absurd. Among some people, me included, Zappa finally got his “Status Back Baby.”

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