Weasels Ripped My Flesh

By Richard C. Walls

Creem, October 1970


Didja Get Any Onya; Directly From My Heart to You; Prelude to the Afternoon of a Sexually Aroused Gas Mask; Toads of the Short Forest; Get A Little; Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbecue; Dwarf Nebula Processional March and Dwarf Nebula; My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama; Oh No; The Orange County Lumber Track; Weasels Ripped My Flesh

It should be widely known by now that Frank Zappa is more than just a master of bizarre but also a brilliant composer and arranger as well as a consummate musician and satirist. Maybe it just isn’t Zappa himself has no qualms about mentioning the lack of appreciation and understanding with which his music has been remitted. His contempt for his audience is legendary – and largely a part of his “act”, all calculated to shock the audience out of their lethargy. The target of his contempt and satire is often the Amerikan public’s musical taste. The alleged hip awareness which it carefully manufactured and nurtured by the media industry. And the peculiarly Amerikan inability to decide what we like and what has value outside of what we are offered (spoon-fed) through established mass outlets. Not that all cultural artifacts manufactured specifically for mass consumption are worthless. And not that everyone in Amerika is trapped and lame. And not that every Big Barny has a pickle on it. There are exceptions. Accidents, as it were.

Anyway, most of what we’ve come to expect from Zappa can be found on this album – the satire, the carefully loose arrangements and experimental compositions, the weird titles. But being made up of bits and pieces from ‘67-‘69 the album lacks coherency – it seems a little skimpy, almost like a sampler (though the usual 40 minutes are here). The extended compositions and reoccurring themes that held his last two albums together (“Uncle Meat” and “Burnt Weeny Sandwich”) are missing. What Zappa has done here is put eleven variegated compositions, half of them recorded in live performances, together in an album for the express purpose of raising money to put into such current programs as the infamous Uncle Meat movie. So it isn’t a masterpiece. We still have to wait for that. But there is a lot here to get into.

Of the three vocal cuts ”Guitar” is the best, concerning itself with a favorite theme of Zappa’s, the transmutation of adolescent frustration into rock ‘n‘ roll. Rechanneling frustrated emotions is often an integral part of creation – but here the emotion is not totally sublimated and the desire to murder is attributed to the guitar. Pretty heavy, huh gang? And it has a swell beat, too. “Oh No“ is a too brief comment on that too brief era when love was going to solve everything. But love found itself swing down the barrel of a gun and frustration was back again (I just love to simplify things). The song isn’t as timely as it might have been whenever it was written. (Historical footnote: a quote from Zappa-1967 – “I believe in what George Harrison says that you can change the world with love – if you really get it. If you really care, you can do it.”) The remaining vocal, “Directly”, the only non-Zappa number here, features the violin and voice of “Sugar Cane” Harris. How Harris fits into Zappa’s musical concept isn’t clear, but he’s a beautiful exponent of the current violin renaissance – his singing is less impressive.

The instruments here could be broken down into two types – the simpler singing melodies usually featuring Zappa’s guitar work and the more complex pieces usually featuring electronic and vocal effects as well as longer orchestrated passages. The most appealing of the former type is “Orange County” which is edited to come on immediately at the end of “Oh No” – a definite rising of the spirit after such cynicism. Unfortunately, again, it’s too brief. And for some reason it ends abruptly in the middle of the guitar solo – to be followed by the irritatingly dull title cut, two minutes and five seconds of unmodulated feedback. Though I imagine there are times when one might feel the desire to listen to two minutes and five seconds of unmodulated feedback.

The “advanced” pieces- seem even more sprawling than usual – but “Dolphy” has the widest emotional range and less effects than the others. (The “effects” of the others are usually humorous and, though imaginative, a humorous effect simply doesn’t sustain interest for as many listenings as a musical one – but a combined humorous/musical effect is something different and a Zappa specialty.)

I have mixed feelings about this record. With the exception of ”Weasels”, all the cuts have something of interest to recommend them (as they say in Downbeat.) Yet taken as a whole the album is a sloppy pastiche of some of Zappa’s past efforts. I dunno. l’d still buy it if I didn’t have it already.