Friday, March 5, 2010

Check this picture out.

Dave Alvin, formerly of the Blasters posted this on his facebook page. It just kills me. Here you have one of the great American roots bands, The Blasters, as young men, running in to one of the great eccentric legends of modern music on the streets of Southern California. I love that Zappa is carrying some high-end shopping bags and looks every bit the sophisticated Cary Grant to The Blasters dead-end kids. I love both these artists, but with completely different sides of my brain. The Blasters represent the last gasp of American Rock and Roll that had some genuine connection to the grimy black and white streets of the mid-20th century. They were kids out of Downey, California who idolized the past generations of blues, country and r&b singers and forged their own version of real Americana. The band’s authentic arrangements were bookended by brothers Phil and Dave Alvin, who like all great brother acts could barely stand the sight of each other. Older brother Phil was a charismatic frontman gifted with one of the great rock voices. Dave is a lightning guitar ace who is capable of writing the great American short-story in 2 minutes 30. His songs like “American Music,” “One Red Rose,” “Fools Paradise” or “Just Another Sunday” are just perfect little rock gems - as good as anything that came out in the 70’s or 80’s. 
Zappa on the other hand, is a figure of such towering achievement, and so unlike any other popular artist that it is hard to talk about him in the context of rock and roll. He is an artist completely of his time, but detached from the constraints of popular fashion to such a degree that he was always leading his own parade. He was fearless in the face of style, political correctness and his fans expectations. This would lead one to believe that he was a real condescending jerk. Interestingly, almost every musician who dealt with him, on album or socially, has said quite the opposite. He had the reputation of being a generous and friendly person who did not feel he was above his peers in any way. He was friendly with many bands, and showed a keen understanding of all types of music. Dave Alvin remembers him as being friendly, and the picture shows him as a sweet, middle-aged eccentric - just the way you’d hope to remember him. I have nothing remarkable to say about this picture - just that it is two of my favorite musicians that have nothing to do with each other, together and looking, well - like humans.

Wanna check em out? Unfortunately some of the Blasters best stuff is out of print - but their first, primal recordings (American Music) are still available and very worth getting. Zappa is like exploring the universe. Where to start? How about a very obvious and a very un-obvious place? His early album Hot Rats remains one of the most musically satisfying rock albums ever. The fact that it was made in 1969 and still sounds futuristic still speaks volumes. Speaking of volumes of futuristic music, give Boulez Conducts Zappa a try if you want to hear Zappa’s music in a completely different context (classical), but still hear all the trademark wit and compositional abilities. No matter what he tackled, Frank Zappa accomplished it with a completely original, musical take that was uniquely his own.
Paul Epstein

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