Uncle Meat

By Alec Dubro

Rolling Stone, May 31, 1969

Uncle Meat
The Mothers

(Bizarre 2MS-2024)

While it’s subtitled “most of the music from the Mothers’ movie of the same name which we haven’t got enough money to finish yet,” it almost doesn’t matter whether the movie gets finished or not, for this soundtrack-without-a-movie is a consummate piece of work. In fact, from the sketchy description of the movie provided in the liner notes, the Mothers would probably do better to let the thing just rot.

While Uncle Meat is subject to the same sort of criticisms that any soundtrack score (from Blue Hawaii to Dr. Zhivago) it seems better to just evaluate the music as itself and let Frank Zappa hassle with the film.

The four sides are broken up into short musical vignettes, longer musical pieces and some of the most revealing, incisive, monologues in existence. While it is disjointed in the extreme, there is a unity which becomes more apparent when you take into account the music, the packaging, and the Mothers as they have come to be regarded.

That unity is a picture, a very unflattering and absolutely unretouched photograph of that hostile and incomprehensible environment known as Los Angeles. Not Los Angeles as a geographic entity, but Los Angeles as a state of mind. And with the impending Los Angelization of the world, this theme becomes universal. Perhaps not even a photograph. Uncle Meat is an X-ray. It probes the soft underbelly of the Miracle Mile. It sees the freeways not so much as streams of cars or swaths of concrete, but as frantic tedium and open hostility. It examines, even revels in, those very real parts of plastic America that the plastic can’t hide: “Nine types of Industrial Pollution”; “The Dog Breath Variations”; “Our Bizarre Relationship,” a monologue by Miss Christine which in 1:05 accurately describes show business glamor as a case of the crabs.

The longer pieces are over-dubbings done with such incredible care and painstaking artistry, so exact as to be much closer in structure and in spirit to modern classical music. And yet they, too, are impressions, sometimes melodic, sometimes dissonant, but always honest of the Southern California syndrome. As Frank Zappa says, “basically, this is an instrumental album.” And as instrumentation, it is artistry.

The shorter songs are much in the same vein as those on Ruben and the Jets, that is a parody of Fifties R&R, except that these have much more outrageous lyrics. “Cruising for Burgers,” and “Electric Aunt Jemima” are like that. The only way the Mothers (or anyone else with any sensitivity, for that matter) can face the Plastic Life is to sneer and burlesque.

“We are the ugly remainder,” Zappa once said. And here, in part, is presented that remainder. It’s pretty apparant from their expertly crafted cynicism, that the thing the Mothers dread most is being taken too seriously. But Uncle Meat, more than any of their previous albums, is a serious piece of music. You can’t just put it on the set and grab it with half an ear. You’ve got to listen to it, hard. Much of it isn’t easy to follow, although some of it, like their version of “God Bless America,” is sheer delight.

The longer instrumental pieces, particularly the whole fourth side, the King Kong suite, takes a good deal of concentration. But it’s worth the effort in every way.