Mothers of Invention
"What would you do if they let you go home? And the plastic’s all melted and so is the chrome? Who are the Brain Police?"
If you wonder why I am jaded and don’t even care what is happening at the Venice Biennale, it is because 45 years ago I purchased the first album by the Mothers of Invention, "Freak Out!" It was a rare double album, with a double sleeve, perfect for separating stems and seeds, and it was on Verve, record company of my other favorite band the Velvet Underground, whose Warhol Banana debut sleeve was Braque to Frank Zappa’s Picasso.
Coming in from club tennis at my elite boarding school, I would lie on my hard, thin bed and play the opening cut over and over again:
"Mr. America, walk on by, your schools that do not teach/ Mr. America, walk on by, the minds that can’t be reached. Mr. America, try to hide the emptiness that’s you inside" and so on, until it identified me, teenage me, as a "hungry freak, Daddy!"
I can’t overemphasize the continued relevant genius of this masterwork, which makes the combined messages of all contemporary art since its release redundant. Look at the cover, with its bleeding silkscreen of purples, reds and blues accenting the menace of fellow Mothers Frank Zappa, Billy Mundi and Jimmy Carl Black. It is better than any Warhol and available for 20 bucks at one of the few West Village vinyl stores still around.
But, let us not leave out rap, soul or R&B, because "I don’t care what you say/ There’s trouble coming every day," a number so violently threatening in its ghetto rumble that the recently departed Gil Scott-Heron’s "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" is a tame imitation. But perhaps existentialist nihilism is your thing.
Let me tell you, Marina Abramovic and Chris Burden wasted their efforts, because Zappa anticipated them with the monastic drone of "Help, I’m a Rock" and "You’re Probably Wondering Why I’m Here? (and so am I)." Zappa died young, two decades ago, and his first disc has been subsumed by his overall vibe, but look no further: if the modern message is what you want, a drumbeat of hopeless joy, "Freak Out!" remains the answer.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).