Independence Day 2020, Frank Zappa Style: Outside Now

Can we appreciate a home that we’ve perhaps never truly known? Would we recognise it if we found it? What would it look like?

Of course, we can address the question figuratively, wax existential for a quick minute; but in 2020, we can easily address the issue experientially. In a time when our homes have been displaced by COVID-19, our daily lives derailed, I submit these questions in observance of another Zappa-fied American holiday: this time a fire-works-free Independence Day.

Amid a world-wide pandemic that crosses borders without concern for human conventions, we’re beginning to appreciate our homes quite differently in isolation. This year we’ll have to imagine history’s shadows illuminated on the backs of our eyelids from a distance, do without the smell of sulphur lingering in the air, a noxious aphrodisiac to obscure a domesticated dream.

A restless revisionist to the end, musician Frank Zappa approached his craft the way one approaches a borderless home. Never satisfied for what has comfortably settled into place, he wandered fluidly between the probable and the possible, returning to his older songs throughout his life, willing, with each passing performance, to see what he heard differently.

On “Outside Now,” Frank’s soulful prog-rock soundscape reflects his adaptability with invigorating energy. Like all of Frank’s music, each version of its performance is inflected with its own vision. Yet they all share a wry sense of humor and contagious grooves, reminding us to look closely at the world (including ourselves) and see it all askew (if not anew) from another side.

Despite the national weather or the latest public health crisis, hope remains for us in 2020. There’s no need to light a fuse to ignite what we believe in. Wherever we find the prospect of a brighter future, we are welcome to celebrate it in our own way, with or without an amplifier, individually, courageously, and with as much zest for life that we can muster.

“Outside Now” studio recording from Joe’s Garage Acts I, II & III
Outside Now (Live) — München, Germany, 3-31-79
Outside Now (Live) — Rotterdam Broadcast, 1980
A moving cover of Outside Now by the Zappa tribute band, The Band from Utopia, performed after Frank’s death — Stuttgart Jazz Open, July 94

Memorial Day 2020, Frank Zappa Style: Chunga’s Revenge

While we reflect on what freedom means to us during the COVID-19 quarantine, it’s a good time to celebrate where we can.

For zealous patriots and protestors alike, whatever flag we raise or trample upon the lawn, only fools wait for history to sanctify our losses. If politics, at its best, aims for unity, it can’t help falling short at the borders of our disputes. In contrast, music can remind us that we are all conduits for a different kind of message, the kind that vibrates in our chest—and spirit—and moves our feet to an unseen rhythm.

Fortunately how we move to the beat is beside the point. What’s important is that we keep on moving. In times of grief, like times of longing, we may drift out of step to the master rhythm, but we’re never alone, for long, on the dance floor of life.

So let’s pay some respect to the tolling hour this Memorial Day. Politics aside, each casualty of war is a tragedy.

Full stop.

Of course, there aren’t words or sounds powerful enough to revive a life beyond the grave. But before we grow too grim, let’s carry on in remembrance of those who no longer can.

Musician Frank Zappa’s legacy is more American than apple pie, raw and unapologetic, topped with a dollop of zest that only he could muster. Although his music can’t raise the dead, it can raise our spirits from a realm beyond the aftermath of humanity’s self-inflicted wounds.

Frank’s song “Chunga’s Revenge” captures the mood of the occasion with a certain somber gleam. A pulsing bass line marches beneath an electric guitar riff playing scales with the stars. Perhaps its the lively wardrobe? Maybe the heroic scale work?

Whatever it is, powered by hope and a fire for righting the wrongs that still confront us, we are all invited to put on our finest tropical shirt and shake it loose to some slick Zappa riffs. We can change the world, if we choose to, but only one note at a time…

Greetings

Whoever you are, Thank you for visiting. Of course, a proper greeting should go both ways, but I’ll get us started for now.

My name is Todd. I’m a curious biped with questionable posture who makes things.

I like words.

My writings about the arts have appeared in publications such as A Closer ListenFluid RadioOly Arts, PopMatters, and Tiny Mix Tapes. And my common interest writings have appeared in publications like Washington Hospitality Association and ThurstonTalk.

I like images.

I spent two decades taking analog photos of industrial textures. Many of these photos were captured by cross-processing multi-exposed film. Consumer technology, in the form of Hipstamatic photography using a cheap iPhone, is my current focus. Although the theme remains industrial, it focuses more broadly on urban iconography.

I like sounds.

I occasionally make music. Besides my field recording-infused, spoken word folk project WiseBlood (I realise that several bands now share this name), I’ve made other left-field music in the ambient, drone, noise, electroacoustic improvisation persuasions. I’m currently working on a sample-driven music project which will repurpose iconic recordings from the 20th century.

And I like curating things.

In addition to sharing these creative projects, I’ll be hosting a multimedia blog. As expected, one side will cover going-ons in my life. Another side will celebrate a sense of wonder for life as a whole. Covering subjects from astronomy to zoology, the blog will mix photos of little-known scientists beside early Hollywood stars, literary quotes beside YouTube videos.

Lastly, since there can be no community without connectivity, I’ll be creating an interactive hub on the blog where people can mingle. There are currently two blog prompts for those who wish to participate, one is about self-development and another, cultural criticism:

  • It’s human to struggle. Yet we rarely share about it. Whether personal or professional, what are some major challenges that you’ve faced in your life? And how have you overcome them? (Please respond in whatever length and form you’d like.)
  • All art expresses its time. Again, it’s human. Disregarding genre and popularity, what music releases best capture the cultural zeitgeist of its (of our) time? Consider the historical, political, social, and spiritual contexts. (Please respond with a 5-7 sentence blurb. Consider why your selections matter to you and why they should matter to others.)

[For those who wish to share responses to these prompts, please contact me directly, for now, at grueltoddbalive at gmail dot com. I will happily provide editorial assistance before publishing your responses.]

Once more, thank you for visiting. It’s your turn now to introduce yourself.

Oh, and please be patient as I develop this site—”Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

xoxo

Todd

Every beginning involves a step forward. Sometimes, a leap.