Blasphemy and Upholstery
Erratum: This article is now out of date and totally irrelevant due to the existance of this album:http://www.zappa.com/fz/discography/2011carnegiehall.html
In October 1992 Frank Zappa released an album by the name of ‘Playground Psychotics’. This was part live in-concert(s) and part documentary based on the recordings of the group Zappa (and on one occasion vocalist Mark Volman) made with the Uher seven-inches-per-second portable tape recorder. The live music showcased on the album which featured a mammoth total of fifty-seven tracks came from three concerts in 1971. Bill Graham’s legendary Fillmore East on June 5th in New York City, Los Angeles’ Pauley Pavilion 1. on August 7th and London’s Rainbow Theatre on December 10th which culminated with a trip to the hospital for Zappa and (along with the fire that happened at a certain casino in Montreux that inspired a certain Deep Purple song that inspired certain air guitarists) a superstition in some quarters that ‘Uncle Frank’ was feeling the wrath of God Almighty.
What is the cause of this superstition? The answer lies in a concert piece involving story-telling, acting and singing which some call ‘The Sofa Routine’ and others (including myself) call ‘Divan’. This is what Frank Zappa had to write about it in ‘Playground Psychotics’.
“This recording from the Pauley Pavilion is all that remains of a larger piece which included “Sofa” and other material.”
Reading various write-ups about the ill-fated Rainbow Theatre concert the same thing is always mentioned and that is the last song was a cover of The Beatles’ ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’. Frank Zappa himself and many websites with a song by song listing of all (if not, most) audience recordings state that the last song was ‘King Kong’ a jazz instrumental that first appeared in brief form on ‘Lumpy Gravy’ the first solo effort by Zappa and the first one to showcase his “serious” orchestral compositions. Does that mean the ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’ story is a myth? Not really as vocalists Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan have mentioned in interview that they did sing that particular number. In short ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’ was probably an impromptu piece that formed part of a lengthy ‘King Kong’ number. I am only guessing because I have never heard an audience recording of the Rainbow Theatre concert.
A part of the ‘King Kong’ performance from that particular concert was used in conjunction with extracts from 1982 in the third volume of the twelve disc ‘You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore’ series. In his linear notes Zappa wrote that the tape ran out before his crash-landing. Had it not then he would have included it in. There is often a documentary aspect within Zappa’s officially released output whether it be through actual recordings of real life events such as ‘If We’d All Been Living In California’, ‘The Bun’ and most of the tracks on ‘Playground Psychotics’ or musical pieces or banter on stage shows such as ‘In France’, ‘The Jazz Discharge Party Hats’ and ‘The Champagne Lecture’.
Looking at the set list of the Rainbow Theatre concert it does look like an interrupted show when one considers the songs that were not performed. Staples of that particular tour included ‘Magdalena’ a true-life tale of a father’s incestuous desire for his teenage daughter, ‘Call Any Vegetable’, ‘Billy The Mountain’, ‘Mudshark’ and a mini-operetta about groupies, rock stars, an automobile and touring climaxing in a cover of The Turtles’ hit ‘Happy Together’ albeit without the opening riff that everybody knows and loves.
That particular concert was recorded on eight track whilst the concerts at New York City’s Fillmore East and UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion were recorded subsequently on sixteen track and four track. The remote facility for the Rainbow concert was EMI Remote. Zappa was a long way from having his own remote recording studio and recording every concert from each year’s tour. That did not prevent him from making live recordings of almost every possible concert. Unless I am given keys to all four of his underground vaults I very much doubt that Frank Zappa was only able to record at those three venues in the year of the Oz trial. There has to be other recordings in the vaults. ‘The Nancy and Mary Music Parts 1-3’ as featured on ‘Chunga’s Revenge’ was an extract from a 1970 concert featuring George Duke at the Tyrone Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis. There have been Frank Zappa concerts that have never been officially recorded such as his ‘Hot Rats’ performances featuring pieces like ‘Boogie In G’ and ‘Twinkle Tits’, plus the ‘200 Motels’ concert with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra at Pauley Pavillion.
I shall now put my cynicism aside (or at least some of it) and write the next paragraph on the assumption that the only concerts that Zappa had recorded on professional equipment within 1971 were in New York, Los Angeles and London on the dates mentioned on the opening of this article. Because Zappa has been extensively bootlegged it is possible to analyse the set lists of each year thanks to various websites. As far as I am aware there have only been ten performances of ‘Divan’ with the earliest at the Pauley Pavilion. I do not know if the tale of God, Wendell and Squat was performed at the Fillmore East concert which guest starred John Lennon and Yoko Ono as frustratingly there is no set list for that particular show. Analysing both set lists for the Los Angeles and London concerts one can work out that ‘Divan’ was performed approximately after an hour’s worth of music, song, storytelling and comedy in the former and roughly half an hour in during the ill-fated Rainbow Theatre concert.
When recording a live concert in those days one had to be aware that at some point the tape would run out and unless the show was being recorded on two tape machines then part of the show would go unrecorded whilst a secondary tape was inserted. For example when The Zappa Family Trust released ‘FZ:OZ’ on their newly formed Vaulternative label certain sections of the double compact disc had to be supplemented by audience recordings of very poor sound quality. The first five numbers of the Pauley Pavilion concert (albeit with original Mothers of Invention drummer Jimmy Carl Black’s vocal parts edited out of ‘Billy The Mountain’) were released on the 1972 album ‘Just Another Band From L.A.’. ‘Divan’ was the fifth number to be performed at the Rainbow Theatre concert. It is a long composition but even so it is half the length of the usually half hour ‘Billy The Mountain’. Unless the opening avant garde sound check consisting of bleeps from the keyboard set ups (an extract of which can be heard as ‘Zantini Serenade’ on ‘Playground Psychotics’) was so long that a substantial amount of tape was used up that when it came to the nitty gritty of ‘Divan’ it ran out I can see no reason why the blasphemous piece cannot be released in any official form.
What is ‘Divan’ anyway? It is a suite of songs and spoken word that tells a story. Think of Igor Stravinsky’s ‘L’Histoire Du Soldat’. Stravinsky would insist that every performance would refer to the local area in which it was being staged. Zappa often did the same regarding the story and acting based pieces during the 1971 tour. The tale of ‘Divan’ tells of God spotting a sofa floating in outer space. He manifests a large piece of flooring made out of oak and once done he informs the sofa through song and with the lyrics in German that he is the sky, the water and many other things besides. Whereas in The Bible he was merely content with describing himself as the Alpha and the Omega in this case God compares himself to gum and secret smut under the stairs. Following that he decides to entertain himself. He calls on his girlfriend Wendell and her assistant Squat The Magic Pig (who ejaculates fire) and films them having sexual intercourse warning them not to stain the sofa with their genital emissions.
Speaking of bestiality in that same year there was a Danish film entitled ‘A Summer’s Day’ which later became known to schoolchildren in the eighties and nineties as ‘Animal Farm’. One story I heard was that a class was studying George Orwell’s novel and one pupil piped up with, “I’ve got a copy of ‘Animal Farm’ on video. Is it okay if we watch it?” The class would then be subjected to badly dubbed beast on woman action. Illegal in Britain with a risk of imprisonment for those who try to sell a copy ‘A Summer’s Day’ (originally made in 1970) was shown at the ‘Wet Dreams’ film festival where it had won top prize. The only judge who abstained from voting for that notorious film due to being morally offended by it was Zappa fan Germaine Greer. Those who have seen the film which has no onscreen titles (‘Animal Farm’ was a nickname that stuck due to a cheeky association with Orwell’s classic piece of fiction) have usually walked out of the room to vomit and have commented that once you have seen those images they are imbedded in your psyche. One scene I was informed of consisted of a man sodomising a chicken who acquired it by demanding in non-synchronised English, “Gimme the chicken! Gimme the chicken!” However the real lasting image in that film was of its star, Bodil Joensen (and she did become a star after being heralded as a counter cultural heroine after ‘A Summer’s Day’ had won top prize) fellating a pig’s curly penis.
When ‘Divan’ gets to the bestiality part of the story a bass driven heavy metal piece now known as ‘Stick It Out’ is sung by God’s girlfriend and inevitably brings the house down. The first half of the song like God’s eulogy to the sofa before it is sung in German but to make sure that we know what is going on the lyrics switch to English where everything is pornographically clear. So the line, “Fick mich, du miserabler hurensohn” is sung in English as “Fuck me, you ugly son of a bitch.” Interestingly enough when he came to perform the piece on 13th October 1971 in Toronto the translation was changed to the appropriate pun, “Pork me, you ugly son of a bitch.” In that particular concert ‘Divan’ was the opening piece. It was as if Zappa was telling his audience to forget about the old Mothers of Invention as this is now where he is heading and if you do not like it then you’d better leave and demand your money back right now.
Some have argued that Frank Zappa never looked back when writing lyrics on sexual topics for Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan to sing. Later songs throughout his career included, ‘Bobby Brown Goes Down’, ‘SEX’, ‘Titties and Beer’, ‘Keep It Greasy’ ( a song about sodomy that sounds like it really should have been sung by Volman and Kaylan) and an instrumental composition entitled ‘G Spot Tornado’ which Germaine Greer would like to be played at her funeral.
When the song ‘Stick It Out’ is finished Zappa’s music takes on a more hallucinogenic tone reflecting the exhaustion after three minutes of depraved celestial copulation. Volman and Kaylan sing about sheets of fire and dry-walled roofing with Zappa translating their German into English. Still in a state of sexual arousal (and, on the occasion of the ill-fated Montreux show, in a drunken stupor) God commands his girlfriend to make mysterious gestures towards the reproductive orifice of Squat causing her to scream, “Fick mich, Schweinb bis meine orchester dunkles gas blast funken schiebem heraus sich nebel lassen hort.” In the Canadian concert Zappa tastefully translated Wendell’s screeching as: “Stuff it up me swine, until my orchestra blows dark gas, sparks shoot out and nebulas are revealed.” Was Zappa forbidden from using the word ‘fuck’ in that concert by venue officials? Did he share the opinion that many people have of the Canadians that they are quite respectable and easily offended? When the Monty Python team performed their cannibal themed undertaker sketch in Canada according to Robert Hewison’s ‘Monty Python: The Case Against’ it was met with an opened mouthed shocked silence. Whatever the reason it goes to show that Frank Zappa was willing to make compromises and sometimes did throughout his entire career. So ignore those music journalists who have romanticised his persona and career.
‘Divan’ concludes with an on-stage fade out, made possible by Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan singing (in this instance during the Swiss concert where there were no qualms about using the word ‘fuck’), “ Lachen von Kataloge mit Klistierspritze, Spritze, Spritze, Spritze, Spritze, Spritze (Fondu, Fondu, Fondu, Fondu” pianissmo style until their singing voices became barely audible. During the Montreux concert an audience member with a flare gun shot a ball of fire into the ceiling just as Don Preston, who would later go on to play for Leo Sayer, was about to go into his keyboard solo for the large improvised piece ‘King Kong’. In that venue there were only two exits and one of them was through the backstage. Audience members trampled through the stage crushing the equipment, Volman searched through the smoke to find a girl he took to see the concert and who was at the back of the theatre and the large orange amplifiers were being used to break the twenty by forty feet windows.
Unsurprisingly Zappa did not want to do any more shows and go back home. Here is Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman on the matter:
We were the guy saying, “Yeah, but Frank, you’re the guy with the Rolls Royce. You’re the guy with the big house. We don’t have that stuff. We gotta keep the tour going.”
It was Christmas time. There were two more weeks of touring, two more weeks of pay for the group, and they were all sold out shows in England, so we pretty much forced the issue, as a band, that we wanted to finish the last two weeks. We would borrow equipment and go on and do it. Frank was really opposed to going into the Rainbow Theatre with borrowed equipment for the four or five sold out days that we had there.
[Society Pages ‘Happy Together Part Three (Conclusion)’ by Co de Kloet Page 17. Issue 11. February 28th 1992]
The Rainbow Theatre concert that ended with Zappa being rushed into hospital was a matinee performance. The date was Friday 10th December 1971 and the ticket price for stalls was one pound and fifty pence. There are three explanations for why audience member Trevor Howell pushed Zappa fifteen feet into the orchestra pit. Firstly, that he felt that Zappa was not giving him value for his pound fifty. Secondly, that his girlfriend fancied Zappa and was giving him the eye. The third reason being that it was the other way round. People thought Zappa was dead especially due to the factor that the orchestra pit had concrete flooring. Little wonder that he would adopt an even more “I’m in charge” attitude to his bands even to the point of disbanding a twelve piece group and losing forty grand in the process because of animosity to the bass player Scott Thunes.2.
Frank Zappa spent much of 1972 in a wheelchair recording a big band album called ‘The Grand Wazoo’ which he later toured with a band that was later whittled down to The Petite Wazoo 3. and a follow up to ‘Hot Rats’ called ‘Waka/Jawaka’. The jazz flavour of those releases was an indication of where he was heading in the following two years. However it was no indication that the smut of the Flo and Eddie years was to retain in that era and neither was it the end of ‘Divan’.
In 1975 Frank Zappa released ‘One Size Fits All’. A conglomeration of complex compositions, blues, fusion style improvisations, assorted top notch male vocals and songs inspired by a cook, memories of prison and Erich Von Daniken’s book ‘Chariot of The Gods: Was God An Astronaut’ which was sent up in ‘The Goodies Book of Criminal Records’ where Tim Brooke-Taylor hypothesized that the deity might be an English astronaut.
The opening track was a song about flying saucers called ‘Inca Roads’. Amusingly the saucers are described as vehicles transforming them from being astonishing crafts constructed by great intelligent super-beings from beyond our galaxy to something as mundane as a Range Rover. The outer space theme of the song was reflected on the cover designed by Cal Schenkel which included a parody of a star map along with a large floating maroon sofa and the hand of God. ‘One Size Fits All’ was a reminder (especially to those who went to see The Mothers of Invention in 1971) that Zappa was not putting Flo, Eddie and that maroon sofa behind him. ‘One Size Fits All’ as a title is a reference to the song ‘Eddie Are You Kidding?’ in which Howard Kaylan boasts that, “I stretch in all the right places”. As well as having the infamous fat maroon floating sofa on the cover the album featured God’s eulogy to the sofa twice. First as an instrumental which would later be considered as one of Zappa’s most beautiful melodies and then as the original vocal version sung by George Duke, Napoleon Murphy Brock and Frank Zappa. The following year Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan were guest stars at a Zappa concert. No accidents of note happened during that show.
The touring bands of the late seventies would perform two songs from the Flo and Eddie band that were never released during their era and would be released in updated versions in 1979 with ‘Joe’s Garage Acts II & III’ and 1981 with ‘Tinsletown Rebellion’. The songs in question were ‘Easy Meat’ (which went through many musical changes before becoming what it is today) from the latter album and ‘Stick It Out’ (which despite having the same lyrics, the same tempo and the same music sounded unlike the original ‘Divan’ version) on the former album. This time there is no God, no Wendell and Squat The Magic Pig is now re-named Sy Borg and now has the luxury of speaking with guitarist Warren Cuccurullo’s untreated-with-vocoder-voice. The person who is indulging with the pig is Joe performed by Ike Willis (a great vocalist whose voice would be as beautiful as silk, velvet and leather if it were material) who has got into trouble in a futuristic world where music is illegal.
Nevertheless there is a link between the ‘Joe’s Garage’ version (which sounds like an outtake from the debut album by the Scissor Sisters) and the blasphemous ‘Divan’ tale. Both involve religion with the 1971 version ostensibly being Christianity and the 1979 version being L. Ron Hubbard’s Scientology. In ‘Divan’ the approach was playful and humorous whereas the version that featured in the saga of Joe was far more angry and critical of the more recent religion. It would only take the animated series ‘South Park’ to outdo it in sheer rage to the point that Isaac Hayes, a Scientologist himself, left the show in offence.
Christianity did still get it in the neck in the concerts of the late seventies but it was more of the humorous level than the critical level. For example the myth of Adam and Eve was given the absurdist treatment in the spoken word piece ‘The Poodle Lecture’. Zappa would tell his audience who would either laugh, go “eurgh!” or wonder if he is going to play any numbers from his sixties period 4. about how Eve told Adam to seek employment so that she can buy a pair of zircon encrusted tweezers to remove any unwanted hair from Frenchy the poodle in order to use his face as a dildo.
Returning back to the 1979 version of ‘Stick It Out’ there was a reference to the Flo and Eddie band when in true that-bit-in-‘All-You-Need-Is-Love’-where-‘She-Loves-You’-is-sung style the android Sy Borg recites the final lines of ‘Latex Solar Beef’ which was originally sung by Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan on the album ‘Fillmore East June 1971’ but this time replacing the word “steam” with “chrome”.
In the year of 1984 Zappa wrote and self published a large story book of sorts using a screenplay type format as he intended it to be for people who did not like to read. Originally titled ‘Christmas In New Jersey’ but renamed ‘Them or Us (The Book)’ to tie in with the album ‘Them or Us’ which was also released that year along with ‘Francesco Zappa’, ‘Thing Fish: Original Cast Recording’, ‘Boulez Conducts Zappa: The Perfect Stranger’ and a twentieth anniversary world tour. It is a very peculiar book and incorporates much of Zappa’s story based compositions and albums such as ‘Billy The Mountain’, ‘The Adventures of Greggary Peccary’, ‘Thing Fish’ (a musical about AIDS) and ‘Joe’s Garage’. The story of God and his sofa is also told but because ‘Stick It Out’ is already part of the ‘Joe’s Garage’ section of the story the pig/girlfriend shenanigans is told differently.
[sort of singing]
“Fuck me, you ugly sonofabitch! Stick out your hot curly weenie! Make it go in ‘n out REAL FAST, ‘til it SQUIRTS! But don’t you get no jizz on THE SOFA!”
Wendell loses her name and merely becomes a description as regards her height and sex.
In ‘Them or Us (The Book)’ whilst the President of the United States (unaware that the ghost of Abraham Lincoln is in the White House) is reciting the Lord’s Prayer whilst waiting for his black servant to fetch him a hot toddy and a video copy of ‘The Devil In Miss Jones’ a middle class black family in North California is having a Christmas meal with their permanent house guest Uncle Willie who is dressed as a medieval nun and holding a ventriliquist’s dummy. He dances to get attention and dies on the tree. After his funeral instead of going either to Heaven or to Hell Uncle Willie plus his dummy (which now has a face like his) is sat on a large maroon sofa during the time of the universe’s beginning. Both tell the story of ‘Divan’ or rather Uncle Willie just does as he is the one operating the dummy.
After God, his girlfriend and the pig has climaxed the Almighty switches off his big light which plunges everywhere in complete darkness.
“DARKNESS fell suddenly on ALL FORESTS as CANCELLED LEECHES & TRANSOMS swarmed ashore, devouring bushes while they slept.
Farmers walked off and got lost because there was NO STARS! (Not even THE MOON!)
Then, from a distant cave, the measured tread of cloven hoof on darkened gravel: ‘OLD ZIRCON’, the PHASED-OUT BYZANTINE DEVIL, dressed in a costume of that period, (except for his feet).”
Old Zircon sees that the leeches have eaten up every bush commenting that “this place will look funny when the lights go back on.” He then does a tap dance routine which causes sparks to appear igniting the local moss. Old Zircon is then approached by “dangerous-looking animals” and by snapping his fingers “produces an assortment of primitive musical instruments” and “proceeds to do his version of a Las Vegas lounge act for them.” Old Zircon sings with a deep voice which produces smoke that forms mountains including a talking one called Billy. The story of ‘Billy The Mountain’ is told by Uncle Willie, God’s girlfriend and Squat The Magic Pig.
The eighties had a lot of songs by Zappa criticizing organized religion and those who used it to their profitable ends. Namely Jimmy Swaggart, Pat Robertson and husband-and-wife team Jim and Tammy Baker. Songs from that era included ‘The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing’, ‘Dumb All Over’, ‘Heavenly Bank Account’ and ‘When The Lie’s So Big’ all of which culminated in ‘Jesus Thinks You’re A Jerk’. A brilliant satirical attack on those who profit from people’s religious beliefs and/or insecurities. ‘When The Lie’s So Big’ and ‘Jesus Thinks You’re A Jerk’ were both new songs written for the 1988 ‘Broadway The Hard Way’ tour. And of course 1988 was when the first volume of the ‘You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore’ series was released.
Since Zappa wasn’t wholly suppressing ‘Divan’ by allowing it to escape in different ways, why did he not release it in full on the first ‘Stage’ album? Was he taunting the Godhead “to do his worst” as Ben Watson music journalist for The Wire and author of ‘Frank Zappa The Negative Dialectics of Poodle Play’ put it and if so did he get cold feet before putting out the good bit? It may be a long shot but perhaps Zappa being the perfectionist that he was felt that the performances of ‘Divan’ were not good enough to release in its entirety. There are a lot of unreleased performances and compositions locked up in his vaults.
There is a third possible and most likely explanation for ‘Sofa Part One’ cutting straight into an opening number from the 1982 tour. Just as the 1971 tour ended in disaster so did the 1982 one and for some people it was fatal. The tour of that year was a European only one and Zappa decided to play at his father’s birthplace of Palermo, Sicily in the Stadio Communale La Favorita on 14th July. The concert only lasted an hour with the police firing teargas into the riotous crowd and approximately three people at that show died. Zappa vowed never to tour again but he changed his mind and went on the road in 1984 and again in 1988 when encouraged by Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan who were going to be part of it but felt singing about father and daughter sexual relations was not good for their career which at that point included work for The Care Bears.
With a provocative title like ‘You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore’ it is quite appropriate to open up with a reference to puking during a song, an extract from a show that culminated in the hospitalization of its band leader and a regular opening song (the original title for ‘The Mammy Anthem’ was ‘Born To Suck’) from a tour that was often interrupted by objects such as syringes being thrown on the stage culminating in a riot and the deaths of fans.
Interestingly there was another concert that culminated in disaster. The year was 1968, the date was October 16th and the venue was the Sport Palast in Berlin. The audience demanded that he led them down the street and set fire to a building (I don’t know which one) in order to bring down capitalism. Zappa’s refusal led to his being called a “facist” and a chant of “Mothers of Reaction! Mothers of Reaction!”5. Appropriateness of using tours with explosive endings aside the cut from Volman and Kaylan’s high note in 1971 to a heavy metal guitar chord in 1982 works very well indeed. It is an impressive contrast that makes the hairs on your back stick up.
Nevertheless Zappa could have released the second half of ‘Divan’ elsewhere on the six volume set. Perhaps on the end of the second disc of the first volume or more fittingly at the end of the series. ‘You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore’ is far from perfect and there are selections that seem unnecessary. ‘Divan’ is one of Zappa’s most impressive works ever written for popular beat combo and it seems a shame for it to be only available in bootleg form.
In fact it was in bootleg form that ‘Divan’ was officially released. Fed up with his concerts being bootlegged Zappa decided to take matters into his own hand and bootleg the bootleggers. He set up a label called ‘Foo-Eee!’ and made a deal with Rhino Records. Bootlegs were copied from vinyl to tape. The first box set was more successful in capturing the musical diversity of Zappa’s twenty year plus career as a touring performer than ‘You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore’ ever did. ‘Beat The Boots’ was a success and a second box set this time with a beret, badge and scrapbook was commissioned. ‘Beat The Boots #2’ was biased heavily in favour of the Flo and Eddie years who were only represented on the bootleg ‘Freaks and Motherfuckers’ in the first set. One of the bootlegs selected for legal release was ‘Swiss Cheese/Fire!’ which featured (you guessed it) ‘Divan’. A third bootleg box-set was planned but like many of Zappa’s projects ranging from a musical entitled ‘Hutchentoot’ to a screenplay intended for Terry Gilliam to direct it never came to fruition.
Did Zappa believe that the God he escaped from was furious with him for composing a piece where he was sexually aroused by bestiality? Of course all this talk about divine retribution and intervention is nonsense even if one believes in an intelligent designer of the universe or not. It is possible to prove almost anything so that suckers such as you and me will stroke our chins and exclaim, “Oh, yeah!” Just as one can see faces in William Morris designed wallpaper and hear Satanic messages in L.P.s then one can make connections with even the most tenuous of links. For example 666 is meant to be the number of the beast, three sixes are eighteen, the first letter of the alphabet is A and the eighth is H. Therefore one can conclude that Adolf Hitler was sent by The Devil.
When rehearsing for the ‘Broadway The Hard Way’ tour between 1987 and 1988 the band practiced a large number of songs some of which never were performed on stage during the tour. One of which was ‘Divan’. Zappa clearly had no regrets in creating a piece which was a parody not only of Wagner but also of those Greco-Roman myths where the Gods not only fornicated with mortal men and women but also with swans and bulls. The fact that it was never performed on stage after seventeen years was most likely due to the departure of Volman and Kaylan than any deep seated fear.
During the ‘Broadway The Hard Way’ tour just before Zappa’s band performed ‘Theme From Lumpy Gravy’ (a surf instrumental that has a version with lyrics called ‘Bwana Dik’ sung by Volman and Kaylan on the album ‘Fillmore East June 1971’) at The Ahoy in Rotterdam on May 3rd 1988 he announced the piece by declaring “May you never hear vloer bedekking again!” This can be heard on the 1991 album ‘Make A Jazz Noise Here’. Not only a reference to Jimi Hendrix’s comment on surf music it was also a reference to a concert Zappa performed at the same venue on November 27th 1971. Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan sang in Dutch “Geef mij vat vloer bedekking onder deze vette zwevende sofa” which translates as “Give me some floor covering under this fat floating sofa.” Frank Zappa may not have released ‘Divan’ officially in full but he wasn’t going to allow it to be fully hidden. It was also yet another example of what he described as his ‘Conceptual Continuity’ and ‘Project/Object’. The former being that an aspect from a composition, concert, album cover, interview and so forth can reappear anywhere and the latter referred to how his entire output was part of an even bigger piece. What he also called his ‘Output Macrostructure’. A transcript of ‘Divan’ or ‘The Sofa Routine’ can be found at http://www.globalia.net/donlope/fz/btb/swiss_cheese_fire.html . If you want to know how the music goes just imagine starting off with a pastiche of German “oompah” style music, continuing with a waltz, switching to heavy metal and then climaxing with music that has a hallucinogenic quality.
There are many unreleased recordings by Zappa. From a CD for dance groups entitled ‘Dance Me This’ to five Beatles songs and ‘Divan’ in its entirety is just one of them. Zappa’s “all that remains” sleeve note on ‘Playground Psychotics’ is annoying and can lead one up a garden path bordered with speculation and superstition but the ultimate conclusion we can come to is that we will never know.
For further reading on the subject of faith and swine read chapter three of Christopher Hitchens’ ‘God Is Not Great The Case Against Religion’ which is entitled ‘A Short Digression on the Pig or, Why Heaven Hates Ham’.
1. Where Zappa’s ‘200 Motels’ was premiered for the first time on 15th May 1970 under the baton of Zubin Mehta. In attendance were vocalists from The Turtles Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan who would later form part of the second phase of Frank Zappa’s Mother’s of Invention. They became known as Flo and Eddie after being listed as The Phlorescent Leech and Eddie on Zappa’s 1970 album, ‘Chunga’s Revenge’. That particular Mothers of Invention became known as the ‘Vaudeville Band’ due to the focus on comedy albeit ‘Burlesque Band’ might be a little more appropriate since the humour could be quite blue.
2. This occurred during the 1988 ‘Broadway The Hard Way’ tour and led to the naming of a 1991 release, ‘The Best Band You Never Heard In Your Life’.
3. Proving that ‘The Grand Wazoo’ was an English language play-on-words parody of the French translation of ‘The Big Bird’. Namely ‘Le Grand Oiseau’. Zappa would later parody the French exclamation ‘Zut Alors!’ by using it as the title of one of his most beautiful guitar pieces ‘Zoot Allures’.
4.Quite often he didn’t.
5. There is a home movie of the show which forms part of Zappa’s third feature film ‘Uncle Meat’ that features an angry member of the Berlin audience screaming at a calm Zappa. His calmness probably due to the influence of Zen Buddhism a religion that Zappa dabbled in a bit as a way of escaping from Roman Catholicism. He came across it when studying comparative religion at the library. His written notes in ‘Freak Out!’ include an instruction for the listener to drop out of school and go to the library. A more practical counter cultural form of advice than Timothy Leary’s “Turn on, Tune in and Drop Out” which some wags changed to “Turn on, Tune in and Drop Off”. Zappa did not last long with Zen Buddhism but its philosophy did have an affect on his life and work.
© 2009 Clinton Morgan