If you’re a baby boomer and you remember The Mothers of Invention, stand up. WOW, almost everyone’s standing! Frank Zappa and his cronies were big back then, and they aren’t forgotten. Especially not in the poetic memory of Wendy Taylor Carlisle, an author who lives and works in the Arkansas Ozarks, and not only saw The Mothers, but knows that they saw her.
So they’re here finally, on that seedy stage at the Lyric in Baltimore and it’s 1970, almost a year from adding ‘invention’ and all that implies to their name. They’re here with Mark Spitz, Watergate, M*A*S*H, hash, the Beatles break-up, London Bridge moved to the U.S., the Floppy disk, Kent State. And they’re Jimmy, the Cheyenne a Texan, a beat-hungry drummer, his eyes at half-mast, black hair struggling to his shoulders, a dissipate at 32, & Roy, his Chicano bass line yearning south to Tijuana, & Davy, mysterious sax man laying notes behind Roy’s carpenter-falsetto … and finally Frank in front, stripped to the waist, his goatee working.
I’m there with my new musician husband, colonizing the balcony, second row, believing we could smell the band-sweat, believing we were part of that fraternity, part of the new music that swept in from England or from that other coast. And we know the band as hungry freaks, daddy filled with Mother love and jazz riffs and white boy blues with Zappa, coyote-wise, playing the King’s fool, prancing, then straight-talking about Watergate or Spitz.
[Wendy Taylor Carlisle’s new book – Persephone on the Metro – is at Amazon.com]
His words come straight at us. Does he take us seriously? We listen. We ask ourselves, who are the bad guys, who are the thought patrol? Johnson or Nixon or Hoover? Are they someone else he sings to when he’s distilled deep in bop or when he’s the muffin man or he’s essential shoulders or when he’s workin’ the crowd and his hair like a dancin’ angel?
We’re waiting for an answer when he says he thinks we’re gonna die ‘cos we’re the plastic that melted, and the chromium, too and he looks at me, straight at me leaning-forward-in-the-balcony, and sing-talks-shouts, the words arriving on a spotlighted cloud of moisture, spit and sweat, coming from somewhere in those impossible curls — you are the brain police.