Frank Zappa In A Funny HatI cannot help but think that the convergence of the end of the world as fortold by the Mayan calender, which is, of course, absolutely true, and the first day of Zappadan, which falls on the 21st, is no mere coincidence.

By way of quick, obligatory exposition, via the FGAQ—Welcome to Bummernacht, the first day of the Zappadan holiday, a time of remembrance and Freak-Out-Ology that lasts from Dec. 4 to Dec. 21, the day he died to the day he was born, blah blah blah:

The first (or 17th) day of Zappadan was originally known as Enttäuschung Nacht – German for ‘bummer night’ – but over the years it has been Americanized to the much simpler BummerNacht. This being the anniversary of Mister Zappa’s death, the original meaning is rather obvious, and we shall not delve further into it here.

Far from being a day of mourning, however, it is a day of great joy, for Zapptists know that a mere seventeen days later, on December 21st (Zero Day), Frank Zappa was born.

Usually, my friends, we merely count upon Zappadan miracles to buoy our spirits during this wonderful time. This time, I am convinced we are coming upon the Zappadanapocalypse*.

It may, I think, begin with some stupid with a flare gun. Or, it may begin with the efforts of a simple Eskimo, armed only with a handful of goopy yellow snow in his efforts to protect his favorite baby seal. Why, Rance Muhammitz himself may very well surface from the charred embers to serve you a beer! It shall certainly be a well-scrutinized event, and it shall be strictly commercial.

Regardless of how it starts, friends, I see no way around it. This convergence is no coincidence. There is no way to delay. Zappadanapocalypse* is coming every day.


* Note: Not quite the same as RoseanneRoseannadannapocalypse.

A quick note for Bill Tchakirides, blogger at Under the LobsterScope, where he often celebrates Zappadan with the rest of us. Bill’s blog currently documents an apparently exhausting round of brain surgery he’s undergone. Just thought I’d mention it.

Dog Breath Variations/Uncle Meat

The Yellow Shark, An Appreciation. Merry Zappadan.

At the time they were interviewed for the Yellow Shark liner notes, Ensemble Modern Director Peter Rundel was not aware that the “Dog Breath” set had words.


Primer mi carucha, chevy 39
Going to el monte legion stadium
Pick up on my weesa, she is so divine
Helps me stealing hubcaps, wasted all the time

Fuzzy dice, bongos in the back
My ship of love is ready to attack

“It’s interesting what you say about it having text, the words,” Rundel said. “Very often you really have the impression of a speaking quality of his music, even if there are no words. The music speaks very much.”

The Dog Breath theme is fairly universal in the project/object. Frank Zappa albums on which it has appeared include: Uncle Meat, Electric Aunt Jemima, Disconnected Synapses, Just Another Band From L.A., Swiss Cheese/Fire!, Live In Melbourne, You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore Vol. 2, Bubble Cream Cheese in Dog Meat, The Dub Room Special, and, of course, The Yellow Shark.

I love this arrangement. People say Zappa strikes them as a Stravinsky. In this arrangement, I hear Berlioz; I hear the start of Symphonie Fantastique, which also starts out as a ride on a swamp boat but then shoots a flare into the sky it brightens so dramatically. This may very well be the most bright, beautiful arrangement in this collection.

It might of course be helpful to listen to the source material. That is one nice thing about spending some time with The Yellow Shark if you never have. It can be tangential, causing you to need to listen to many other parts of the object. For instance, before 2011, I am ashamed to say, I was not much familiar with Uncle Meat. But to listen to and appreciate The Yellow Shark, Uncle Meat was certainly a necessity.

Here’s a really nice recording from 1973, which starts with Exercise 4, which, yes, we will be considering later. This is gorgeous, though:

It is also interesting how similar the arrangement is to the one some 20 years later. It is nearly the same performance, but with different instrumentation.

By the way. When these kids these days are looking for a bit of a challenge, guess what they seem to pick? Lookit these youngsters nail this piece. I love this.


The Yellow Shark, An Appreciation. Merry Zappadan.

::applause:: Thank you, thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you, and thank you. I understand there is a sign in the audience that once again says “what’s the secret word for tonight?” The secret word for tonight is: ::sound of toy laser guns::. Now, let’s get serious, ladies and gentlemen. I know you came here to see really fine performances by a really fine modern music ensemble conducted by a really fine conductor. And here comes the fine conductor now: Peter Rundel, ladies and gentlemen!

And if you feel like throwing underpants onto the stage, put ’em over there.

The first thing the liner notes of Zappa’s The Yellow Shark discuss is the genesis of the project’s unlikely name. It emerged from a piece of art an L.A. artist had mailed to Zappa in 1988, a surfboard carved into a shark that had, apparently by the bloodied mouth, been caught. Andreas Mölich-Zebhauser, Manager of the Ensemble Modern at the time, latched onto the object.

…For me it was completely clear that it must become the symbol of our event, of our tour! Because the yellow shark, he’s so pregnant with some of Frank’s characteristics. He’s very hard and a little poison, but on the other hand, he’s very friendly and charming. Two things which Frank can be very often: poison for bad people, charming for good ones! Of course, also it’s such a good logo.”

Page 140 of The Real Frank Zappa Book has one of my most favorite Frank Zappa ruminations of all time, ever. It says:

The most important thing in art is The Frame. For painting: literally; for other arts: figuratively—because, without this humble appliance, you can’t know where The Art stops and The Real World begins.

You have to put a ‘box’ around it because otherwise, what is that shit on the wall?

The frame. Context. Naming things. In his family, Zappa was the namer of things, and, quite nefariously, of the people he brought into the world. Yes, he named her “Moon Unit,” get over it. For the record, Zappa addressed this directly on Arsenio Hall in February 1989: “Unit” is about Zappa’s family values, everybody. Get over it.

So how appropriate and synergistic was it that Andreas Mölich-Zebhauser saw this ridiculous sculpture, he was struck by it and adopted it as the frame? The Yellow Shark. It’s perfect, because it lives right in the middle of the Venn diagram of all the places this music can live. Some of these pieces are incredibly straightforward. Others are laugh-out-loud farce. While the rest of the pieces, in fact, most of the pieces, are abstract and challenging.

Sorta like a yellow shark carved out of a surfboard. I guess. Either way, regardless, whatever. The yellow shark is the frame.

We’ll start listening tomorrow, and I’ll write down some observations of my own as we go (so much for dancing about architecture) and please, leave comments if you like. Any writing I do here is by no means a conclusion. I have only scratched the surface, and I am well aware of it. The answer to the question down there is steam, by the way. So please. Discuss.

In the meantime, you can warm up with this: The Perfect Stranger. (Wiki is here.)