Well fuck all them people, I don’t need no excuse for being what I am. Do you hear me, then?
Staying within the norm is a comfort that many artists enjoy without a second thought. Play to the masses, become hugely successful and do not rock the boat.
And then, there was Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention.
When I was really young, Frank’s music did not connect for me. I walked away from it with a feeling of cacophony that was unsettling and did not find the connection. So, while older friend’s brothers were putting on a Zappa album called Lumpy Gravy in the 60’s, he was not for me. And so I kept him in that category of artists who I was aware of, but did not care about.
Life continued, my musical tastes expanded, and Zappa became one of the most prolific artists in music history. Over the course of his career, he aggregated some of the most talented musicians in the industry to play with him, tour with him and create all sorts of different music.
I was initially turned off of Zappa by a lot of obscenities in his music, just as I was initially turned off of South Park for the same reason. And in both cases, I really needed to look through the venire and see the bigger picture. In the case of South Park, I was dragged by my friend Chris to go the the South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut feature film. I went to that kicking and screaming about them being potty humor, which felt base and ignorant to me. (This was an initial judgmental reaction of mine that proved totally myopic in perspective). From the opening titles and initial song in that film, I was roaring. By the end of the film, I discovered that I was totally wrong. South Park was highly intellectual humor and the potty mouth venire was just that.
It took my friend, Marc, to get me to just listen to Frank Zappa instrumentals and stop paying attention to the lyrics for me to start to discover that Frank was unquestionably one of the greatest guitarists of all time. (No joke!) This happened on the very last album released while Frank was still alive. Joe’s Garage Acts 1,2 and 3 about an artist who wanted to play music in a world where music was illegal. I heard a song, Watermelon in Easter Hay, and it was 99% instrumental, and something connected deep inside of me, and from that day forward, I started to allow much more of his music into my life.
Today’s aphorism stems from the song, Packard Goose. In this song, Frank shares his feelings about music critics. As someone coming up through the entertainment industry, I have watched critics ruin a great project because, perhaps, they did something going wrong in their personal world, and/or perhaps they dislike the artist, or have a bone to pick with them, etc. I see critics as a necessary evil. They are there to influence people who do not have interest or time to formulate their own opinions. As an artist, I see critics as parasite wannabes who make a career sharing an opinion (everyone has an opinion, so why is the critic’s opinion so important?) and potentially destroying the success of the work of thousands of people who worked on a film. To me, that is clearly wrong. Using my favorite Baskin Robbins metaphor, if you walked into the BR store and mention to your friend that you are going to order Rocky Road, and just as you are trying to decide on that flavor, I (as a complete stranger) stand beside you and say… NO. Pistachio Almond is the flavor to get, Rocky Road is a weak excuse for an ice cream, formulated by someone who did not have the finesse to make a great ice cream. Instead they decided to throw all sorts of things into chocolate and give it a clunky name that is not high concept. You would look at me with whatever polite reaction you were willing to muster, and turn back to your friend and politely ignore me while you order Rocky Road. To me, the art critic has the same lack of validity. Who cares what they think? Why empower them to destroy the life work of others? Now, critics are evolved into influencers and they further help to shape the opinions of hundreds of millions of people worldwide!!! WTF?
I cannot think of anything I have seen or done or purchased because a critic or influencer caused the purchase. In advertising, celebrity spokespeople are another defacto purchasing determination. If you have met celebrities, many of them do not make decisions in their lives, they have teams of people to do it for them, because they are getting paid so much money for celebrity endorsements. And marketing continues….
My point today is this. Critics get paid to criticize. Sometimes to heap praise, other times to slam someone for a host of reasons, even very valid ones.
BUT….. ART IS ART. Simple. If you like Rembrandt and I like Dali, neither one of us is wrong. So to Frank’s point… Well fuck all them people, I don’t need no excuse for being what I am. Do you hear me, then?
Happy Friday! Stay an individual. Make up your OWN mind.
Watermelon in Easter Hay….This song always puts me in a great mood.