I stood in Venice, on the Bridge of Sighs: A palace and a prison on each hand
On an oil painted afternoon, in the republic of putti, flowers and angels, the view across the Piazza San Marco appeared to him exactly as Canaletto had depicted it in 1750. The points of the basilica and the uncomfortably tall bell tower were piercing a sparsely clouded blue sky and neatly distributed groups of tourists, who’s voices prevailed over any sound of motorized traffic, bestrewed the square,.
Approaching each spectacle with a frisson of curiosity, flânerie one day brought him to the Ponte Della Paglia with a view of Byron’s Bridge of Sighs, an enclosed passage connecting Palace to Prison over the Rio di Palazzo, where, through stone grills, prisoners were granted a meagre last glimpse of the Adriatic Queen before inquisition and execution. With its curly hair-like pediment, window eyes and unquenchable basking shark mouth, the bridge was a tangible dichotomy between the royal and the royally fucked, the condemners and the condemned, the decadent and the despairing and between all who are long lived and all who are forgotten… It recalled to mind his own civil peaks and troughs. Police interrogations : Educational Awards. Drug-hospital episodes : shaking hands with the Queen. Cells : green room spoils. Good press : bad…cavity search. Crowned : hung drawn and quartered. If a period of prolificacy; when music seemed to pour effortlessly and ideas realised readily, when inspiration would stem from the banal or his own shortcomings, when the time was always right and every whimsical noodle bore fruit - if this fluency was palatial, then writer’s block was surely incarceration. Underneath his feet water flowed into the city in frivolous rococo swirls. The local myth promises love, but perhaps upon gondola, beneath bridge, a kiss from a euterpean brunette, his muse, would grant him the elixir of poetry and song.
With a sigh, the words of Byron’s Childe Harold, who’s pilgrimage began in Venice, slid neatly into his thoughts as he trod the same path and discovered the incomprehensible artistic marvels of an age irrevocably gone by.
In Venice, Tasso’s echoes are no more, And silent rows the songless gondolier.
But the city was singing. Later in the day, dusk deadening the radiant lime stone facades, he happened upon a church emitting the castrati pitches of Allegri’s immortal Miserere. Incongruousnext to its neighbors, the front of the building suffered from an overabundance of decoration; statues, pillars and other embellishments sprouting from every possible surface. From an elderly gentleman, (history lesson for spare change) he learned that in the 17th century when public statues were more or less forbidden, the rich who wished to be immortalized had themselves adorn church fronts instead. Such was the case here. (It was here also that during a violent storm in 1752 a bolt of lightening came through the roof, down the metal chord of a hanging lamp and fried the server and the celebrant of the mass.)
After a spate of grandparental deaths in his single digits, he had been offered an unsatisfying unreligious explanation of where the deceased reside, that is, ‘in one’s heart’ or one’s memory and the collective memory but as he grew older he realized this was in fact the most unchallengeable explanation. It was perhaps ironic then that upon the building which boasted the afterlife, those who had apparent faith in it should be those most concerned with leaving their stone facsimiles behind.
The interior of the church was a continuation of profusion. The high alter, another example of baroque gone over the top; a large diorama of God and his retinue of cherubic trumpeters hovering with the ten commandments for Moses and some other holy looking people scattered majestically around a large sandstone rock pile. In the coming nights Allegri in the San Moisè revisited him in his sleep. The candle lit faces of the choir would emerge from the darkness and the enveloping incense smoke like Caravaggio’s chiaroscuro, their faces flickering through expressions of tragedy and comedy, some distraught, some solemn, accusatory; all so familiar. When the treble rose to the miraculous high C, it would hang constant and unwavering for minutes, suspended in the benzoin air before dissolving into the tinnitus of waking. RZ
Dvorak’s Quartet ”Américain” in F major, the lento movement
With his father, he had once seen this very piece performed by a local ensemble in his home townhall. But the lasting memories were of images rather than music. He was riveted by the violist’s telling eyebrows which transformed his other wise static face from the depths of tragedy to the peeks of comedy following the inflections in the music. The first Violinist’s socks, the second’s embarrassed smile and the cellist’s tendency to scratch his knee after every other phrase similarly held his attention. He enjoyed making speculations about they’re private life based on what little clues they offered, a preoccupation he had inherited from his mother. At worst this syndrome effectively deafened him. At school he was attentive and obedient and read well, but he found it difficult to take in what he was taught verbally. And as a music listener he found it more rewarding to listen to the recording than see it played. When his grandmother died suddenly, during his lonely adolescence he forbade himself to cry. And not until days after the funeral when at dinner he heard the familiar sounds of the lento on the kitchen radio did he allow tickling tears to run down his cheeks and drop into his soup.
Following suit, she finally abandons herself. She closes her eyes and, bobbing gently on the undulating ocean of strings, relents to the music: She has been told about this apparently perfect movement but never does she imagine being so easily seduced. She does not appreciate symphonic music like the others do but chamber music she can understand. The intimacy. She can hear each instrument, every percussive sound of contact. For her, this intimacy is far more evocative than the comparatively distant sounds of an orchestra. String stimulate her especially. Now, lost in her sea reverie, she is truly enchanted. The cyclical narrative of the music evokes for her the threat of a storm which is repeatedly quelled. Reassured by the bass which never breaks from its simple pizzicato, never do the ominous crescendos disrupt the serenity of her floating body. And not until the revelatory Tierce de Picardy, kissing her back to life, does she open her eyes with a smile on her lips. RZ
The threat of burglary aside, with the onset of winter the window would have to be mended. Three months on, no natural light filtered through the black, velvet-turned-moth food curtains which remained drawn as a security measure. He was still extracting shards from his heel and the contortions of such an exercise had given him a sore neck. On the the far side of the curtain the tram stop was a stage for inebriated musical performance; mostly football songs and Oasis covers, auf deutsch. His ears pricked. It was also a platform for protest; he recognised the barking wretch who harangued passers by but mainly the midnight air about the gentrification of the artist quarter. He hobbled into the bathroom in search of tweezers. Despite the inconveniences something more than lack of cash, something perverse and some vague notion of penance prevented him from reglazing just yet. With the day to day reminder of his sin his room was after all a fitting penal chamber.
He sat on the edge of the bath. His long neck, the source of his verticality, craned like a heron’s to attend to the splinter. How agile cats were to lick those distant parts of their body. How awkward it was just to get a look at his heel without cramp in his ribs. And to remain steady, balancing on his left buttock, his right leg arched over his left, his right foot resting on his left knee. His patience dwindled, his perineum tingled, his brow, his oxter and his navel itched with perspiration. Straightening up, he caught his face in the cabinet mirror.
By avoiding his full length reflection he tried to sustain the disbelief that he was shorter. Most mirrors or reflective surfaces would present him with isolated body parts so that when he did catch his full length he was disappointed by the consolidation of his fragmented self. This confrontation would always fluster him, increase his heart rate and ultimately shatter his delusional imago. So the pursuit of transfiguration was a futile one. And indeed there were other reminders he battled with; in the man made world that required tall people to stoop. RZ
The successive Overnight Sensation and Apostrophe did well commercially, the latter reaching number 10 in the billboards charts. Perhaps because, unlike the previous two, and with exception of one track, they are albums of songs, rather than instrumentals. But also, they seem to me to possess an undeniably, uplifting and and positive mood. Despite containing songs about zoophilia (Dirty Love), the dark forces of television advertisement (Im the slime) and of course growing Dental floss in Montana, the lasting impression is of a of a comfortable, cohesive and excited band (inlay photos will testify to that), the tightest and slickest production yet and a jubilant, slightly-less-sardonic-than-usual Zappa. There are bizarre cameos by Tina Turner and the Ikettes on Montana and Jack Bruce on Apostrophe’s title track but most of the songs from both albums were recorded concurrently, with pretty much the same personel…. So lets have ermm Camarillo Brillo
Fuck it, heres some more
The tradition of playing cheesy love songs prevailed throughout Zappa’s career, executed with varying degrees of sneer and filth. This is pretty much clean if a little tongue n cheek. It comes from Cruising with Ruben and the Jets, the fourth album from the Mother’s of Invention.Its a concept album emulating the sounds of doowop groups from the 50s. Apparently the first pressing had no reference to Zappa and the Mothers so some Radio stations, convinced of its authenticity and rarity, gave the album considerable airplay. When subsequent pressings bearing the date and ‘Zappa’ were released, broadcast decreased. On Anything the combination of simple arpeggios, Ray Collins’ lead vocals and one fine breathy sax solo are irresistible..
St Etienne 1982
This is a guitar solo from the grammy award winning Jazz from Hell album, 1986; the same year his 16 year old son dweezil was also nominated for Having a bad day. St etienne sits incongruously near the end of the album as the only guitar track. The rest are synclavier works (Night school, Gspot tornado among them). It’s a Live solo from a show in Saint Etienne 1982, which the video gives us a tantalizingly short view of before we are shown some footage of a French street performer. To me it’s a perfect guitar solo. A journey. No superfluous nonsense which occasionally arises with frank. Its a steady escalation of ferocity which culminates, quite rightly, in an eruption of plank spanking.
Jazz Discharge Party Hats. Live 1983
A good example of Zappa’s sprechgesang vocal approach and guitar/vocal unison. Lyrically, the filthier end of the spectrum. From the Album Man from Utopia. See also The Dangerous Kitchen. An exposition of the traumas therein.
The melody from Amnerika first appeared as ‘That Evil Prince’ on the album thing fish (1984); a broadway musical that never came to be, involving an evil, racist prince/theater critic who creates a disease intended to eradicate African Americans and homosexuals. Musically Thing Fish is a disappointment because it heavily features pre-released material with Ike Willis spraffing on top. Not entrance level stuff. But the track appears again here on FZ’s enigmatic last and under celebrated album, Civilisation Phaze III as a chamber orchestral piece. While the melody remains a solid unit, What’s most pleasing is the accompaniment and the distribution of notes therein. It’s a scattered affair with instrumental plinks plonks stabs and farts reminiscent of Pierre Boulez’s Le marteau sans maître, only tonal; or even the slow movement in John Adams’ Son of Chamber Orchestra. Could it be a post apocalyptic rubble ridden world where a rabbit scampers, searching for food? Sounds like it to me. RZ
Some Live videos
A Pound for a Brown, Sleeping in a Jar, Octandre (Varese)
New York 1978