By Ken Clarke
Frank Zappa once said, "rock and roll
journalism is people who can’t write,
interviewing people who can’t talk, for
people who can’t read."
Bearing this in mind, let’s be brief.
Dec. 4, 2003 marks the 10th anniversary of
the passing of the most innovative, experimental
and technically brilliant musician of the 20th
century—Francis Vincent Zappa.
Dec. 4 is also the opening night of a threenight
stint of the 10th Anniversary Frank Zappa
Memorial Freak Out. This unique show is presented
by One Yellow Rabbit’s co-artistic director
Michael Green, featuring Calgary’s 14 -piece Whip
It Out Ensemble.
The production showcases
Zappa’s entire We’re Only In It
For The Money album (1967),
which they have performed live
before. What’s new is the inclusion
of 90 minutes worth of
later Zappa compositions. Not
your average concert.
Green is highly enthusiastic
about the show, and discussed
the recent additions.
"Unlike the first show we did,
these new selections were taken
from the breadth of his oeuvre,
so there’s going to be some of his
earlier compositions, some of his
work from the ‘70s and ‘80s, as
well as some of his stuff from his
last tour (1988)," he says. "It’s a very
muscular sound. We’re Only In It For The Money
is a fascinating piece of work in itself, but the new
material that we’ve selected is very muscular in feel
and a lot more rock and R&B oriented.
Due to the nature of the material, numerous
challenges are inevitable.
"I think the most challenging thing, really, is
recognizing the scope of Zappa’s collected work. It
took me a long time to settle on the material, because
I’ve always felt that we were leaving out most of it,"
explains Green. "The stuff we don’t get around to
presenting is conspicuous by its absence. That’s the
way it seems anyway. In the end, I feel we’ve taken
just the right selections that fans of almost every
aspect of Zappa can appreciate.
"I found that every time I get involved with the
Zappa work, it’s hard for me to fi gure out what I
feel about other than excitement until after I’ve
heard it played to the audience a few times. Then I
get feedback from people who are knowledgeable,
they say things like ‘Oh, you could have covered
this material or that material.’
"In terms of more diffi cult musicality, ‘Zombie
Woof ’ is there to represent that aspect. So try and
get 14 musicians heads around that."
I know from personal experience that the odd
time signatures and rapid tempos can make
"Zombie Woof " a challenge even for a trio. So,
were the Whip It Out Ensemble intimidated by
the new selections?
"Considerably," Green concedes. "In the end, we
had to be sure we weren’t biting off too many of his
more diffi cult works. We’re limited to an amount of
time based on how much money there is."
With so much superb Zappa material out there,
it’s diffi cult to narrow it down to a two- and-a-half
"I just love them all," says Green. "It was very
important to not only pick the right songs, but
to pick songs that could be laid down in an order
that was dramaturgically pleasing musically and
semantically, and would segue naturally with a
minimum number of dead stops. It’s the transitions
that are so interesting in Zappa’s work. We’re
working on that a lot."
Another intriguing aspect of the show is the
addition of One Yellow Rabbit’s Denise Clarke as
"We have Denise there as an outside eye,"
explains Green. "I’m going to entrust to her a lot
of the responsibility of shaping it theatrically with
movement and character work. Denise has had to
put up with Andy Curtis and I in the dressing room
for the past 20 years singing Zappa tunes in the
bathroom. She’s actually come to know a lot about
Zappa as a result".
According to Richard Kolke, offi cial dramaturge
of the event and president of Calgary’s Real Frank
Zappa Appreciation Society, "everyone should
get off their couch and fork out the twenty bucks
"Whether you’re a Zappa fan or not, you’ll
appreciate the level of musicianship and the
passion for the music," he adds. "You haven’t lived
until you’ve heard Onalea belt out ‘Illinois Enema
Bandit.’ Another highlight is their killer version of
‘Carolina Hard Core Ecstasy.’"
For those interested in joining Calgary’s Zappa
Society, you can e-mail Kolke at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Frank Zappa Memorial Freak Out plays at the
Ironwood Stage & Grill Dec. 4, 5 and 6. Tickets are $20
at TicketMaster by calling 299-8888 and the Ironwood
Stage & Grill by calling 269-3030