Baby Snakes


Baby_Snakes_L.P._Frank Zappa

Baby_Snakes_L.P._Frank Zappa

I have once again been honored to choose the word of the month for All About Lemon’s Music Passion Forum for May 2014. Since it is spring, a time for rebirth, conjuring up love and flowers (both used already) I decided on the word BABY.
In Art 118 (Time Based Art) we were challenged to do a montage using found, Public Domain footage from Prelinger Archives. I chose to do a tribute to the great Frank Zappa (whose original band name “the Mothers” was chosen on Mothers day) and his Opus Baby Snakes.The rules required it to be under 2 minutes and the Title track was a natch. I based it on “The Science of Life (reel x)”, an early public school film on feminine hygiene and sex education. The quotes in the video are the actual quotes used in the film. I unveiled the rough cut on Valentine’s day, received critique, and polished it into the current format. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed making it.

All rights in this video held by the Zappa Family Trust www.zappa.com/

“Since I didn’t have any kind of formal training, it didn’t make any difference to me if I was listening to Lightnin’ Slim, or a vocal group called the Jewels … , or Webern, or Varèse, or Stravinsky. To me it was all good music.”

—Frank Zappa, 1989

Frank Vincent Zappa (December 21, 1940 – December 4, 1993) was an American musician, bandleader, songwriter, composer, recording engineer, record producer, and film director. In a career spanning more than 30 years, Zappa composed rock, jazz, orchestral and musique concrète works. He also directed feature-length films and music videos, and designed album covers. Zappa produced almost all of the more than 60 albums he released with the band The Mothers of Invention and as a solo artist. Zappa grew up influenced by avant-garde composers such as  Halim El-Dabh, Igor Stravinsky, and Anton Webern, R&B and doo-wop groups (particularly local pachuco groups), and modern jazz. While in his teens, he acquired a taste for 20th-century classical composer Edgard Varèse along with 1950s rhythm and blues music. He began writing classical music in high school, while at the same time playing drums in rhythm and blues bands; he later switched to electric guitar. While performing at Casino de Montreux in Switzerland, The Mothers’ equipment was destroyed when a flare set off by an audience member started a fire that burned down the casino. Immortalized in Deep Purple‘s song “Smoke on the Water“, the event and immediate aftermath can be heard on the bootleg album Swiss Cheese/Fire, released legally as part of Zappa’s Beat the Boots II compilation.

 

Zappa was a self-taught composer and performer, and his diverse musical influences led him to create music that was often difficult to categorize. His 1966 debut album with The Mothers of Invention, Freak Out!, combined songs in conventional rock and roll format with collective improvisations and studio-generated  experimental sound collages. Zappa increasingly used tape editing as a compositional tool, often mixing studio and live performances, combining recordings of different compositions into new pieces, irrespective of the tempo or meter of the sources. He dubbed this process “xenochrony” (strange synchronizations)—reflecting the Greek “xeno” (alien or strange) and “chrono” (time). Zappa also evolved a compositional approach which he called “conceptual continuity,” meaning that any project or album was part of a larger project. Everything was connected, and musical themes and lyrics reappeared in different form on later albums. Conceptual continuity clues are found throughout Zappa’s entire œuvre.His later albums shared this eclectic and experimental approach, irrespective of whether the fundamental format was rock, jazz or classical. His lyrics—often humorously—reflected his iconoclastic view of established social and political processes, structures and movements. He was a strident critic of mainstream education and organized religion, and a forthright and passionate advocate for freedom of speech, self-education, political participation and the abolition of censorship. Zappa dismissed criticism by noting that he was a journalist reporting on life as he saw it. Predating his later fight against censorship, he remarked: “What do you make of a society that is so primitive that it clings to the belief that certain words in its language are so powerful that they could corrupt you the moment you hear them?”

During the early 1960s, Zappa appeared on Steve Allen‘s syndicated late night show  in which he played a bicycle as a musical instrument.

On December 21, 1979, Zappa’s movie Baby Snakes premiered in New York. The movie’s tagline was “A movie about people who do stuff that is not normal”. The 2 hour and 40 minutes movie was based on footage from concerts in New York around Halloween 1977, with a band featuring  guitarist Adrian Belew. It also contained several extraordinary sequences of clay animation by Bruce Bickford who had earlier provided animation sequences to Zappa for a 1974 TV special (which became available on the 1982 video The Dub Room Special).
The movie did not do well in theatrical distribution, but won the Premier Grand Prix at the First International Music Festival in Paris in 1981.

 

On September 19, 1985, Zappa testified before the United States Senate Commerce, Technology, and Transportation committee, attacking the Parents Music Resource Center or PMRC, a music organization co-founded by Tipper Gore, wife of then-senator Al Gore. The PMRC consisted of many wives of politicians, including the wives of five members of the committee, and was founded to address the issue of song lyrics with sexual or satanic content. Zappa saw their activities as on a path towards censorship, and called their proposal for voluntary labelling of records with explicit content “extortion” of the music industry. In his prepared statement, he said:

The PMRC proposal is an ill-conceived piece of nonsense which fails to deliver any real benefits to children, infringes the civil liberties of people who are not children, and promises to keep the courts busy for years dealing with the interpretational and enforcemental problems inherent in the proposal’s design. It is my understanding that, in law, First Amendment issues are decided with a preference for the least restrictive alternative. In this context, the PMRC’s demands are the equivalent of treating dandruff by decapitation…..

Zappa set excerpts from the PMRC hearings to Synclavier music in his composition “Porn Wars” on the 1985 album Frank Zappa Meets the Mothers of Prevention, and the full recording was released in 2010 as Congress Shall Make No Law…. Zappa is heard interacting with Senators Fritz Hollings, Slade Gorton, Al Gore (who claimed, at the hearing, to be a Zappa fan), and in an exchange with Florida Senator Paula Hawkins over what toys Zappa’s children played with.

Around 1986, Zappa undertook a comprehensive re-release program of his earlier vinyl recordings. Nearly twenty years before the advent of online music stores, Zappa had proposed to replace “phonographic record merchandising” of music by “direct digital-to-digital transfer” through phone or cable TV (with royalty payments and consumer billing automatically built into the accompanying software). In 1989, Zappa considered his idea a “miserable flop”.

The album Jazz from Hell, released in 1986, earned Zappa his first Grammy Award in 1987 for Best Rock Instrumental Performance. Except for one live guitar solo (“St. Etienne”), the album exclusively featured compositions brought to life by the Synclavier. Although an instrumental album, containing no lyrics whatsoever, Meyer Music Markets sold Jazz from Hell featuring an “explicit lyrics” sticker—a warning label introduced by the Recording Industry Association of America in an agreement with the PMRC.

Frank Zappa died on Saturday, December 4, 1993 in his home with his wife and children by his side.  On Monday, December 6 his family publicly announced that “Composer Frank Zappa left for his final tour just before 6:00 pm on Saturday. Zappa was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995. There, it was written that “Frank Zappa was rock and roll’s sharpest musical mind and most astute social critic. He was the most prolific composer of his age, and he bridged genres—rock, jazz, classical, avant-garde and even novelty music—with masterful ease”. He received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997. In 2005, the U.S. National Recording Preservation Board included We’re Only in It for the Money in the National Recording Registry as “Frank Zappa’s inventive and iconoclastic album presents a unique political stance, both anti-conservative and anti-counterculture, and features a scathing satire on hippiedom and America’s reactions to it”. The same year, Rolling Stone magazine ranked him at No. 71 on its list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. In 2011, he was ranked at No. 22 on the list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time by the same magazine.

A number of notable musicians, bands and orchestras from diverse genres (in particular,  the jazz-rock fusion genre) have been influenced by Frank Zappa’s music. Rock artists like Alice Cooper, Primus, Fee Waybill of The Tubes all cite Zappa’s influence, as do progressive rock artists like Henry Cow, Trey Anastasio of Phish, and John Frusciante. Paul McCartney regarded Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band as The BeatlesFreak Out! Heavy rock and metal acts like Black Sabbath, Mike Portnoy, Warren DeMartini, Steve Vai, Strapping Young Lad, System of a Down, Clawfinger, and Devin Townsend acknowledge Zappa’s inspiration. On the classical music scene, Tomas Ulrich, Meridian Arts Ensemble, Ensemble Ambrosius and the Fireworks Ensemble regularly perform Zappa’s compositions and quote his influence. Contemporary jazz musicians and composers Bill Frisell and John Zorn are inspired by Zappa, as is funk legend George Clinton. Other artists whose work is affected by Zappa include new age pianist George Winston, electronic composer Bob Gluck, parodist and novelty composer “Weird Al” Yankovic, industrial music pioneer Genesis P-Orridge, and noise music artist Masami Akita of Merzbow. In addition, scientists from various fields have honored Zappa by naming new discoveries after him.

Baby_Snakes_Frank Zappa

Baby_Snakes_Frank Zappa

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7 thoughts on “Baby Snakes

  1. Thank you Leiulf for this Theme BABY… another challenge for this month of May.
    Very nice video along with it’s music Baby Snake. Also a very long post but the info are very helpful to know about the artist Frank Zappa.. It’s only now I heard about him… hehehe
    Merci for this post! xoxo

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