Zappa 15: LIFE, June 28, 1968

“The ways in which sound affects the human organism are myriad and subtle. Why does the sound of Eric Clapton’s guitar give one girl a sensation which she describes as ‘Bone Conduction’? Would she still experience Bone Conduction if Eric, using the same extremely thick tone, played nothing but Hawaiian music? Which is more important: the timbre (color-texture) of a sound, the succession of intervals which make up the melody, the harmonic support (chords) which tells your ear ‘what the melody means’ (is it major or minor or neutral or what?), the volume at which the sound is heard, the volume at which the sound is produced, the distance from source to ear, the density of sound, the number of sounds per second or fraction thereof… and so on. Which of these would be the most important element in an audial experience which gave you a pleasurable sensation?”

– Frank Zappa, “The Oracle Has It All Psyched OutLIFE, June 28, 1968 (“The New Rock” issue, with pieces on Jefferson Airplane and others).

The fact that there is no correct answer to this question (“which is more important?”) does not render it an invalid question; it’s a roll call — a hit list, if you will — of the questions every rock critic who ever tried to describe sound (what it is, how it works) contemplates eventually. When, a couple weeks ago, I was trying to think very specifically about what attracted me to Zappa’s guitar playing, particularly on tracks like “I Am the Slime” and “Muffin Man,” I limited my attraction (my “pleasurable-sensation-meter”) to a duality between notes and tone, and I was pretty sure I had Zappa pegged as a master of the latter as opposed to the former. But yeah, volume, density, “harmonic support,” etc., figure into this also; the lens I was using to think this through was laughably puny (and even Zappa’s is probably smaller than it actually should be, acknowledged here by his “and so on”). My contention about Zappa is that he’s as much a critic as a musician (he exists in a pantheon I’ve created of pop musicians-who-think-like-critics), and that his criticism is realized as “music.” Turns out he knew how to play the typewriter pretty good as well.

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Bob Stanley’s ‘Yeah Yeah Yeah’

Saint Etienne’s Bob Stanley to publish ‘The Story of Modern Pop’ book.

Bob Stanley is a sometime-critic of pop music and the founder of Saint Etienne. His upcoming book is (apparently) 800 pages long and has the best (and yet, the most obvious) title of any book on pop yet written. The book is an attempt “to bring the whole story to life, from Billy Fury and Roxy Music to TLC and Britney via Led Zeppelin and Donna Summer.” If every single reviewer of the book manages to convince me that it is the worst piece of garbage ever written on the subject of music it will still be something I insist on owning. Its mere (at this point, only imagined) existence makes me smile.


Pet Shop Boys vs. Rock Critics (1986)

“When the subject of critics arose, Tennant just laughed. ‘I love to give them a hard time,’ he said in an interview here. ‘In America, I proudly go around and say to these critics that we’re a disco group. I know they hate disco. We kind of rub their faces in it.

‘I don’t like the way they turn up their noses at dance music. Who do they think they are? I don’t like their patronizing attitude. If you’re not Hüsker Dü or somebody like that, they think you’re insignificant. These critics approach music like books, like book collectors. They don’t listen with their ears. You never get a sense that they like music.'”
Pet Shop Boys’ Neil Tennant blasts critics, but he was oneThe Bulletin, May 8, 1986

(FWIW, I will go to my grave convinced that Tennant pronounces “Hüsker” with the long, and not the short, ü, umlauted or not.)



Neil Tennant Recalls Smash Hits Days in Word Magazine Podcast

I’m only about halfway through this podcast, but if you’re a fan of a) the Pet Shop Boys, b) Smash Hits magazine (Creem for New Pop Brit teens?), c) the years 1980-1983 or so, it’s a fairly useful discussion that fills in a lot of blanks about all three of those things. Particularly about Neil Tennant’s stint as a music journalist, which is a bigger deal than I was aware. Or maybe it’s treated like a big deal because, you know, he’s Neil Tennant. Anyway, some interesting stories here.

Via Word magazine… Click here.

If It’s Wednesday, It Must Be Deborah

Nothing makes us happier than when a fellow rock writer and musician is seen fit to be featured in someone’s blog. Such was the case when Deborah Frost was interviewed for Life, Words & Rock ‘n’ Roll, Chicago scribe Stephanie Kuehnert’s blog about, you guessed it, rock and roll life. In it, Deb discusses her band, the Brain Surgeons, livelihood despite icky record labels and her band’s new record, Denial of Death. Described as rather lengthy, you will uncover many facts you may have glossed over before, like the rock royalty writer taking singing lessons from a celebrated opera coach and her first impromptu gig singing “Que Sera Sera” at a grand hotel in Palm Beach, FL.

There’s even a raffle for her goods more suggestive of another Florida coast. She also addresses the girlhood phenomena of two Beatle camps; those who wanted to be girlfriends, or members of the fab four themselves. So what are you waiting for? Hop to it. Then, of course, reread our fabulous interview with her.

Critics Making Noises With Their Mouths, Not Just Their Hands

Phil Dellio devoted his bi-monthly Sunday morning radio show last week (on CKLN in Toronto) by playing 90 minutes worth of music by rock critics, a theme you often hear about but don’t often get to hear (at least not compiled in one place).  It was a great set, featuring tunes by Vom (Meltzer), Insect Trust (Robert Palmer), Pet Shop Boys (Neil Tennant), Yo La Tengo (Ira Kaplan), Christopher Milk (John Mendelssohn), and, um, DJ Shoe (yours truly…)–among other critical luminaries, past and present.

Here’s Phil’s playlist

And here’s 3/4 of the show, which I was able to capture in mp3 format (I join in progress a little late, midway thru the Dictators, and was forced to fade out at the end during the Delinquents tune).

Sub-question: What other examples are there, good or bad, of critics making music, that Phil doesn’t cover here?