Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Various Artists-FRANK ZAPPA'S CLASSICAL SELECTION 2-CD set (Chrome Dreams, also available via Forced Exposure)

I remember way back when I was eight or so watching the WW II-vintage Warner Brothers cartoons on tee-vee, and my mother just happened to remark how wonderful they were for introducing classical music to us lumpen sons of prole kids who otherwise wouldn't know better! According to her reasoning, if the likes of Elmer Fudd weren't exposing us spoiled UHF brats to this wonderful music (nothing like the slop that was being played on the radio!) it all would eventually be lost to time ne'er to be retrieved again! Of course I watched Bugs Bunny because I loved his smartguy attitude I sure wish I coulda gotten away with, and liked to listen to Porky Pig do his stuttering routine and Daffy Duck act all nutzo, but for me the classical portion of the program was just incidental fluff, nothing to get worked up about and something I definitely would not want to listen to the rest of my life. But still it was "culture" that was being presented into the sanctity of our tee-vee room and for that Warner Brothers got a big pass around here.

I wonder what mom'd think if this collection of Frank Zappa-approved classical numbers had actually been released back in those halcyon days and I trekked a copy home to give it a listen to. Given one look at the goatee'd freak onna cover I'm sure mom woulda chucked the entire idea of introducing the Fine Arts into my life out the window and preferred I remain an uncouth junk food gobbling, boob-tube viewing everyday suburban slob! Come to think of it, she also would have chucked the album into the trash can while she was at it! Pre-conceived notions were so hard to overcome back then.

This two-Cee-Dee collection featuring the classical music that made a man out of Zap reminds me of that early-seventies series of albums which included the MUSSORGSKY'S HEAD collection of PICTURES AT AN EXHIBITION with liner notes by Lester Bangs, not forgetting the ORPHIC EGG series aimed at selling classical records to the budding rock market whom I thought probably didn't know any better to begin with. Of course slapping liner notes by Bangs onto the Mussorgsky one was a good way to punkify the thing so-to-speak, and come to think of it I'm sure it woulda been a brilliant move if Bizarre/Reprise issued this cut down to two-LP-length sometime in 1970 as a loss leader and flung it out to the ever-growing Zappa market. I mean, could you see all of those greasy teenage freaks taking a gander at Zappa on the cover, rushing home to slap this on the turntable only to find it nothing but a selection of orchestral favorites with some modern elements tossed in (which would at least endear it to some of the gnarlier aspects of early-seventies teendom!)???

But hey, I like it...I find that the selection going from krautsters Wagner and Holst up through Cage, Nancarrow and Penderecki is just as free-flowing as listening to a good classical music station without having to endure those downed-out announcers who permeate 'em. You can hear a lot of where Zappa stole his ideas from on these disques, with loads of Stravinsky here and some 12-tone there making for not only a good selection of where 20th-century music was at, but the behind-the-public-face workings of a guy who always did seem a little too above-it-all for being a bonafeed rock star!

Personal favorites (in case you're keeping score) include Holst's "Jupiter" (the flat original recording conducted by the composer sounding perfect in this digitized age), George Antheil's "Ballet Mechinque" (just as screwy as the composer was in real life!) and of course Penderecki's "Threnody To The Victims of Hiroshima" which was the subject of the first ever discussion between Zappa and members of the Hampton Grease Band upon meeting in 1967. And the rest, from Harry Partch to Stockhausen and even the over-exposed "Bolero" by Ravel, ain't anything to hide Zappa's greasy head in shame about. If you want to inject a li'l high falutiness into your household while still looking "hip" well, this might be the best place to start!


diskojoe said...

Another big fan of George Antheil's was Jean Shepherd of "A Chrismas Story" fame, who used the Ballet Mecanique as background muisc for his WOR radio shows:

Christopher Stigliano said...

Didn't know that! I understand that old Shepard airchecks are regularly played on WBAI of all stations. Anybody out there remember Shepard's "Creeping Meatballism" article in MAD as well as his fumetti appearance in HELP!, not forgetting JEAN SHEPARD'S AMERICA, his PBS series of the mid-seventies?

diskojoe said...

Yup, WBAI does play old Shep shows, although it's not as frequent as it did before since they took away Max Schmid's Mass Backwards, which ran them weekly. You can listen to past shows, as well as other gincy info about Shep like the stuff you mentioned at this great website:

Speaking of Shep on da boob tube, do you remember Shepherd's Pie, his late '70s show on NJ Public TV?

Christopher Stigliano said...

That's one I don't recall, though I must admit that I never tuned into JEAN SHEPARD'S AMERICA when it was on because I didn't know him from Adam! Of course if I knew that he had done that MAD article and appeared in a HELP! fumetti (considering how big a fan I was of Harvey Kurtzman at the time) I would have been watching it every chance I got!

diskojoe said...

Here's a little taste of Shepherd's Pie:

Max Schmid sells copies of both TV shows, as well as the WOR shows. You can get the catalog via the Flick Lives website. You can also get a lot of the WOR shows for free.