Frank Zappa
Frank Zappa

Juan Rodriguez: A Bonanza For Fans Of Frank Zappa

Montreal's longstanding music critic Juan Rodriquez offers his thoughts on the reissue of the Frank Zappa's long controversial 200 Motels suite.

It’s as if Frank Zappa wanted to follow through with the quote by his hero Edgard Varèse, who described music as organized sound: “The present-day composer refuses to die.”

With such titles as Penis Dimensions, This Town Is a Sealed Tuna Sandwich and Touring Can Make You Crazy, the composer of 200 Motels could only be Zappa, surely the most iconoclastic, irreverent and scatological figure in 20th century music.

200 Motels began as a sketchy 1971 movie — featuring Ringo Starr, Keith Moon and Theodore Bikel — about Zappa’s Mothers of Invention’s madcap touring life, that could only be loved by Zappa fanatics. The title comes from Zappa’s estimate of their tour lodgings from 1966 to 1970.

He was scheduled to record a proper classical version of the soundtrack music in London with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, which backed out at the last minute because a trumpet player told the Royal Family’s representative at the Royal Albert Hall that it was “obscene … about sex … filth for filth’s sake.” One of the offending words was “brassiere.”

Fast forward to Oct. 23, 2013, in Los Angeles where 200 Motels was presented to mark the 10th anniversary of the Walt Disney Concert Hall, with Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Los Angeles Master Chorale. (“Is Disney Hall ready for an evening of uncensored Frank Zappa?” trumpeted the L.A. Weekly.) The 166-member ensemble — including a 115-piece orchestra, 13 singer-actors and a 32-member chorus from the Los Angeles Master Chorale — occupied every square foot of the stage.

Salonen, the progressive minded maestro who revitalized the L.A. orchestra, was “cheered like a rock star,” reported the L.A. Times. “The orchestra looked to be having a ball.”

Frank Zappa: 200 Motels — The Suites, the two-CD recording of the event, released last week (by Ume/Universal), was Zappa’s 101st album, and the last supervised by his widow, Gail.

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