Bring him home, mother to mom

By Cindy Kudlaty

Scene, 10 May 1973

I am thoroughly convinced that Frank Zappa is the kind of man that you could take home to your mother.

Never having seen a Zappa performance until the May 1 concert at Kent State, I was thoroughly prepared for (and half-ready to forgive) one of those “I am a remote artist and you people don’t understand anything” routines. But he just wanted to play his music. He likes to play with it, break it up into little pieces and build it up again.

Zappa would probably like it better if he could play a concert without an audience. Audiences are notorious for being drunk and stoned and horny and making demands such as, “We want Billy the Mountain!” It’s a well-known fact that Zappa has a pronounced aversion to that kind of thing, but after all, audiences are just people who pay outrageous prices to sit on bleachers, risk their lives climbing over one another, and enjoy being entertained.

So Zappa entertained. During a seemingly endless period spent trying to rectify sound problems, he told little stories and jokes. He played bits of Richard Nixon’s Watergate speech. He didn’t want us to get bored. He even played “Uncle Meat” and “Chunga’s Revenge.”

And then he played some incredible music. Nothing like “Suzy Creamcheese,” “Mud Shark,” or any of “that kind of swill” as Zappa referred to his past, musical excursions. The sound was powerful, tight, jazzy, and definitely Zappa. The band included Ian Underwood (the sole survivor of the old Mothers) on sax, Ruth Underwood on percussion, Jean Luc Ponty on the electric violin (whose amp, unfortunately, was not loud enough), and George Duke on keyboards. They are all adequate musicians in their own right, as evidenced by their solo work. And Frank Zappa is no half-assed guitar player.

Also present in the group are two dude-like individuals who primarily act as vocalists. They do a lot of soulful yelling, absurd dancing and spinning about, and they get wound up in their microphone cords a lot. I’m convinced that they are on stage only because Zappa is amused by their antics.

Often under attack is Frank Zappa’s insistence upon absolute control and dogmatic direction of his musicians, allowing them no artistic license of their own. The band does seem to rely heavily on Zappa’s direction and follow his every whim, but it is difficult to tell how much of his direction is legitimate and how much is show. Whichever is the case, his directing is artfully executed, brilliantly timed, and amazingly funny. And the music, the end result, stands on its own merit.

Frank Zappa is an incredible person. He’s all bones, with a nose, and some fuzzy hair, like some kind of bird. He doesn’t want anyone to get hurt, or be unhappy. He just likes to play music.

Anybody’s mother would like him.