A few years ago when I first met the object of my ‘its complicated’ status on Facebook I had, as it happened, also just started seeing a rather lovely, though seriously bonkers pornstar. My ego being what it is, thought, very foolishly as it turned out, that I could carryon with both these extraordinary women at the same time, with their agreement of course, and that all would be rosy in the garden…
As part of the romantic process I had also hit upon the idea of taking my incredibly posh, though foul-mouthed, ‘complicated’ partner to see (and I have no idea why) Drowning Pool at the Astoria and the pornstar, who really looked like a pornstar should look, to the Opera. I can’t remember what the Opera was called, but it was very contemporary and set in the last days of the Weimar Republic, so I was hoping that it would have a touch of Cabaret about it.
It did, but it was also an incredibly long and very experimental piece of work, and while the first half had gone quite quickly, the second half seemed to be going on and on and my pornstar companion was getting increasingly agitated and wanted to leave. It was also a very intense opera and you could literally have heard a pin drop so I quietly reassured the pornstar that it would be finishing in a few minutes. Indeed that seemed to be the case, but then, just as we were about to rush for the exits, it would start up again.
This game of cat and mouse went on for ages and was having a very detrimental effect on the pornstars emotions, and after a particularly momentous moment which really seemed to herald the end, the pornstar had stood up only to have to sit down again and exclaimed, very, very loudly to the audience and the surrounding populace, “this is intolerable!!”, and flounced out.
Last night, particularly during the first forty minutes or so of Frank Zappa’s 200 Motels I felt what my pornstar friend had felt all those years ago and longed to shout out that this is intolerable or words to that effect! Indeed Zappa’s experimental, often discordant and unharmonious musical work is both clever and maddening, at moments infuriating and at other times really beautiful, as if Zappa’a unconventionality was, if not so much contrived, as staged rebellion except here using chords and notes rather than words and theatrics.
For those unfamiliar with 200 Motels, it is a film based on his Zappa’s life on the road and this is the accompanying musical score. Back in 1971 the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra had been booked to play a concert of the films musical score at the Royal Festival Hall, but due to the number of expletives and sexual references within the scores accompanying lyrics the sellout performance had been cancelled and as a result has never been performed in the UK.
Forty two years later and 200 Motels is finally to be performed at the prestigious Royal Festival Hall on the Southbank to a select audience of Zappa fans, many of whom looked as if they had had tickets for the original show. That in a way was what this performance and the subsequent adulation for Zappa was all about. It was as if time, culturally at least, had stood still.
Written in 1971, 200 Motels, is very much of its time. Full of schoolboyish naughtiness and trite offence, for example, “Far Out!”, becomes ‘Fucking Far Out”, which is of course terribly shocking, and then there are songs like “Penis Dimension” in which the word ‘penis’ is used a lot and the choir wave luminous vibrators at the audience. 1971 was also the year that OZ magazines publishers and editors were on trial for obscenity for publishing cartoons of Rupert bear having sex with his grandmother, while other Underground publications demanded the right to “fuck in the streets”. Offending, was easy and usually got results from a society that was equally easily provoked into moral outraged.
Frank Zappa the provoker in this instance was incredibly prolific, producing some 62 albums in his relatively short life (he died aged 52) and had, and continues to have, a major influence. He was also politically active and remained opposed to censorship all his life. Yet watching and listening to 200 Motels with its reliance on trite swearing and vibrators to ‘shock’ I could not help but think is that all the sixties achieved? Is its legacy that a choir can wave luminous vibrators at the audience, while we can laugh and titter at our joyous freedom?
I hope not, but turn on virtually any TV programme or pick up the traces of conversation in the street and the use of the f word is everywhere. Nolonger is it raining, it has to Ffffing raining, or Fffffing cold or whatever. Now vibrators and sex toys are sold in Boots alongside aspirin and plasters, now nothing in 200 Motels shocks, it just seems like the antics of a generation that wanted to be naughty and to be noticed. A generation, in fact, that wanted everything and sulked until they got it, even 200 Motels performed at the Royal Festival Hall. Far Out!
© Nigel Wingrove 2013