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For nearly thirty years Frank Zappa (1940–1993) pursued an idiosyncratic but influential course in music—rock, jazz, and classical composer (releasing over fifty albums); founder of the Mothers of Invention; guitarist, conductor, and producer; as well as social satirist, sonic scientist, First Amendment champion, and all-around iconoclast. This updated edition of David Wal For nearly thirty years Frank Zappa (1940–1993) pursued an idiosyncratic but influential course in music—rock, jazz, and classical composer (releasing over fifty albums); founder of the Mothers of Invention; guitarist, conductor, and producer; as well as social satirist, sonic scientist, First Amendment champion, and all-around iconoclast. This updated edition of David Walley's cutting-edge classic includes a new foreword, a substantial chapter carrying the Zappa saga through his death from cancer, an afterword, bibliography, discography, videography, and guide to Zappa on the Internet. From 1960's Freak Out! to the posthumous Civilization Phaze III, No Commercial Potential offers converts and connoisseurs the most practical and penetrating book ever written on the musical phenomenon known as Frank Zappa.


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For nearly thirty years Frank Zappa (1940–1993) pursued an idiosyncratic but influential course in music—rock, jazz, and classical composer (releasing over fifty albums); founder of the Mothers of Invention; guitarist, conductor, and producer; as well as social satirist, sonic scientist, First Amendment champion, and all-around iconoclast. This updated edition of David Wal For nearly thirty years Frank Zappa (1940–1993) pursued an idiosyncratic but influential course in music—rock, jazz, and classical composer (releasing over fifty albums); founder of the Mothers of Invention; guitarist, conductor, and producer; as well as social satirist, sonic scientist, First Amendment champion, and all-around iconoclast. This updated edition of David Walley's cutting-edge classic includes a new foreword, a substantial chapter carrying the Zappa saga through his death from cancer, an afterword, bibliography, discography, videography, and guide to Zappa on the Internet. From 1960's Freak Out! to the posthumous Civilization Phaze III, No Commercial Potential offers converts and connoisseurs the most practical and penetrating book ever written on the musical phenomenon known as Frank Zappa.

30 review for No Commercial Potential: The Saga Of Frank Zappa

  1. 5 out of 5

    Tentatively, Convenience

    review of David Walley's No Commercial Potential — The Saga of Frank Zappa by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - May 23, 2019 For the full review go here: https://www.goodreads.com/story/show/... It's unclear to me whether this bk was 1st published in 1980: "This Da Capo Press paperback edition of No Commerical Potential is an unabridged republication of the edition published in New York in 1980. It has been updated with a new foreword, chapter, afterword, bibliography, list of fanzines, discography, v review of David Walley's No Commercial Potential — The Saga of Frank Zappa by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - May 23, 2019 For the full review go here: https://www.goodreads.com/story/show/... It's unclear to me whether this bk was 1st published in 1980: "This Da Capo Press paperback edition of No Commerical Potential is an unabridged republication of the edition published in New York in 1980. It has been updated with a new foreword, chapter, afterword, bibliography, list of fanzines, discography, videography, and guide to Zappa on the Internet. It has been reprinted by arrangement with the author. "Copyright ©1972, 1980 by David Walley Updated edition copyright ©1996 by David Walley" - p iv or in 1972: The Acknowledgements are dated: "October 1971 Perry Cottage Block Island, Rhode Island" after wch the reader is informed that: "On the occasion of this revised edition, I'd also like to thank my careful editor Marian Skedgell at Elsevier-Dutton, and my copy editor Patty Romanowski for making this update such a joy to do. "June 1980 New York City" - p xv So, ok, it's not unclear: it was 1st published in 1972, then revised for republication in 1980, then it made it to the edition I'm reviewing in 1996. Its claim-to-fame is that it's "the first book in English on" Zappa: "There's a certain amount of virtue in being the first book in English on this complex and driven musician. Those of you who are enthusiasts have possibly worked your way through most of the other titles that followed before stumbling on mine. Those new to Frank's world will discover in this book a point of reference from which to proceed to more rigorous efforts such as Ben Watson's formidable treatise, Frank Zappa: The Negative Dialectics of Poodle Play (St. Martins: New York, 1993). Frank himself was never really comfortable with words; lyrics were something to hang music on and books made him sleepy, or so he claimed in The Real Frank Zappa Book." - p xvii By the way, the Roman Numerals of the above are my own, such numbering doesn't appear in the bk. The 1st page number in the bk is "3" & if one were to back-count from there to page "1" it would be the last page of a 3pp foreword. That doesn't really make much sense except that the convention is that right-hand pages have to be odd numbers & opposite page "3" is an image & chapter heading. Hence the publishers had to choose between implying that that page was unnumbered by having what's currently "3" be "1" or have it be the way it is. Decisions, decisions. I cd probably accurately be called an "enthusiast" about Zappa's music. I probably 1st heard about The Mothers of Invention in 1968 when my very 1st girlfriend, Robin, mentioned that that's who one of the foremost local eccentrics listened to. Shortly thereafter, I probably saw a copy of "We're Only in it for the Money" in the cut-out bins. I'm sure I was confused (& possibly repulsed) by the band members wearing dresses. I was a mere 14 years old & not the most experienced person in the world. It wasn't until the very beginning of 1970 that I got my 1st Mothers record: "The **** of the Mothers". Even then, I wasn't hooked, it was a promotional record, a 'best of', a category I didn't like so I traded the record for a guitar case. By then, I'd already heard such musicians as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Cream, Moby Grape, Steppenwolf, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Soft Machine, Bob Dylan, Country Joe & the Fish, Jefferson Airplane, Led Zeppelin, & Pink Floyd — as well as others. "The **** of the Mothers" didn't compare that well w/ "Their Satanic Majesties Request", "Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band", "Disraeli Gears", "Axis: Bold as Love", "The Soft Machine", "Crown of Creation", & "Ummagumma" — but that's b/c its songs were taken out of the context of their original records. As such, I had to wait another mnth or so before I got a copy of "Hot Rats" to be hooked. "Hot Rats" was a-maz-ing. I just relistened to it, as part of prepping for this review, in 2019, & still found it exciting. Zappa wd've been only 28 or so when he recorded it. The quality of musicianship is mind-boggling. In 1970 I proceeded to get "Freak Out" & "Chunga's Revenge". In 1971 I got "Cruising with Ruben and the Jets", "Lumpy Gravy", 'We're Only in it for the Money", "Weasels Ripped my Flesh". "Absolutely Free", "Filmore East - June 1971", & "200 Motels". This was a very exciting time. Each record was fantastic, each one was different. I was seeking imagination & skill & Zappa & the Mothers of Invention were providing it at a phenomenal level. My friend Brian & I even hooked high school, missing our graduation ceremony, to hitchhike north of Baltimore to outside of Harrisburg to witness the Mothers play. They performed "Billy the Mountain", it was thrilling. Naturally, it wasn't only the Mothers that were extremely moving to listen to. I'd discovered "The Crazy World of Arthur Brown", "The Band", Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band, Stravinsky, King Crimson, Dr. John the Night Tripper, Bonzo Dog Band, The Incredible String Band, Miles Davis, Joni Mitchell, Ry Cooder — all from 1970 to 1971. & there was much more. But it was Zappa who was the most prolific & the most ever-changing. He kept my eager ears busy — & I knew that I cd expect each new record to be at least a partial breakthru. Still, he really wasn't alone. Each new record by Beefheart, by The Soft Machine, by Bonzo Dog Band, by the Incredible String Band, by Dr. John.. — they were all mind-bogglingly good. But Zappa was also the one that toured all the time, a person cd witness him in concert. For me, that happened at Harrisburg when I was 17, at the Lyric Theater in Balimore when I was 18, in Miami when I was 19, & at an unknown time in Washington DC. & each concert was different, very different, different musicians, different material. "He can also spread his own environment around, in concerts and interviews, in films. He recently put out a film called 200 Motels, a surrealistic documentary on rock and roll lifestyle. A view of America from crotch level." - pp 3-4 & I witnessed 200 Motels in a movie theater, probably when it came out. This was yet-another 'masterpiece'. Perhaps I saw it in 1972 or 1973. I didn't personally become a filmmaker until 1975 & a videomaker until 1977. 200 Motels, as I remember it after not having seen it for what might be decades (I've watched it on video since my original experience of it) is full of what wd've been upscale video effects for the time. I'd never seen anything like it. The orchestral music in it, played by an orchestra behind barbed wire, was Zappa's most advanced music yet. The film was HILARIOUS. Calling it a "documentary on rock and roll lifestyle" doesn't do it justice — even calling it a "surrealistic documentary on rock and roll lifestyle" doesn't do it justice. The thing is so utterly outré. But even Zappa cdn't break into the movie market. 200 Motels was basically IT. There've been other Zappa movies, released on VHS (&, presumably, on DVD), but nothing w/ the national theater distribution that 200 Motels had. Strangely, my filmmaking happened partially as a result of 200 Motels. I went to the theater w/ 3 friends of mine, 2 guys & a girl. The girl went into the women's room after the movie was over & came out with a bag that'd been left there. If it'd been me, I wd've taken the bag to the management & sd that somebody had left it in the restroom. That way, when the person who left it realized that they'd done so, they cd call & ask if it had been found & come back & get it. The girl's attitude was more 'finder's keepers' so she kept it, she wanted to use it as a purse. But inside the bag there was a super-8 camera w/ a roll of film in & maybe a fresh roll of film or 2. She didn't want that so she gave it to one of the 2 guys. Later, he asked me if I wanted it & I sd yes so I took it, got the film processed, & used the processed film & the other film to make my very 1st movie w/ in the fall of 1975. That film is actually online now here: https://youtu.be/uraX7UhTmxc so if you're the person whose film I got processed you can finally see it. I vaguely remember reading a statement from John Waters to the effect that if you're going to be a public figure you must have an opinion about everything. I think it might be more sensible to not have an opinion about something that you're underinformed about. Anyway, Zappa seems to've been one of those people who had a superabundance of opinions. I tend to credit him having well-informed ones. Still, that doesn't mean that his every word was wise. "In 1965, while everyone was being self-congratulatory, Frank Zappa wrote: "Drop out of school before your mind rots from exposure to our mediocre educational system. Forget about the Senior Prom and go to the library and educate yourself if you've got any guts." That appeared on the liner notes for his first album Freak Out. No one was supposed to say that publicly. No one except Frank. It was too serious. . . ." - p 8 I basically agree w/ that.. but I don't think it's good advice. After all, not everyone in the world is Frank Zappa — he had the drive & the talent (& the good fortune of being in the right place at the right time insofar as he was near the center of the entertainment world as rock'n'roll was taking off as a growth industry w/ a youth market). In other words, most people probably don't have what it takes to self-educate & take-off from there. Regardless of whether they're in the "mediocre educational system" or not they're still going to be in the 'mediocre world-at-large' wch is far worse, IMO, than the "mediocre educational system" — so why advise people to make their life even more of a struggle than it already is? Zappa was great but he was dead slightly before his 53rd birthday. That's not exactly something to aspire to. As for "while everyone was being self-congratulatory"?! That's more than a bit too much of an overgeneralization wdn't you say there Walley? "Film editors who have worked with him marvel at his powers of concentration—sometimes fourteen hours a day for weeks on end." - p 10 Try 18 hrs a day for mnths on end in my case. Zappa made a paltry few features. I've made 171 as of the time of this review ( http://idioideo.pleintekst.nl/tENTFea... ). Zappa supposedly released 62 records before he died, I currently have 217 releases ( http://idioideo.pleintekst.nl/Audiogr... ). Obviously the guy was sitting around doing nothing most of his life. Don't you just HATE lazy people? Zappa talks about his dad: "He used to beat people up. He turns into Banda the jungleboy at the drop of a hat. He's normal. He's an American. He may come from Sicily but he's an American." - p 15 Ahem, uh, Mr. Zappa? I believe you may've meant Bomba the Jungle Boy?! Or perhaps the transcriber misunderstood you?! I have a copy of Roy Rockwood's Bomba the Jungle Boy on Jaguar Island in my aRCHIVE. That's from 1927. There were at least 5 Bomba bks so you might've grown up on those. After all, you were born a mere 17 yrs after the one I have was published. "Once I drew an Indian with a belly button and a pair of nipples—my parents were horrified—" - p 17 Well, Bomba's hide outfit does show a dot that cd be a nipple on the cover of Jaguar Island but no belly button shows. The one illustration inside shows neither — but, y'know, Jungle Boys were so modest in those days. I don't know about the Indians. "Frank Zappa's first piece of written music was a percussion tune called "Mice," done for a competition whle he was playing in a junior high percussion ensemble." - p 28 I don't know about you, but the title "Mice," with that comma after the word is so precocious that I just have to hear it. My 1st percussion piece wasn't called "Elephant,". When I got records, I read the liner notes. I wanted to know things like who the "A&R" person was, what type of mics they used — &, of course, who the musicians were. As a result of this scrutiny, my attn was drawn repeatedly to the name of Herb Cohen: "Uncle Meat": "business production: Herb Cohen" "Burnt Weeny Sandwich": "Master of Bizarre Business: Herb Cohen" "Weasels Ripped My Flesh": "Bizarre Business by Herb Cohen" "Filmore East — June 1971": "Bizarre Business by Herb Cohen" "Just Another Band from L.A.": "Bizarre Business by Herb Cohen" - yes, here he's listed in bold right after "Produced by Frank Zappa" "The Grand Wazoo": "bizarre biznis: Herb Cohen" "Over-nite Sensation": "biznis: HERB COHEN" "Roxy & Elsewhere": "DiscReetion: Herb Cohen" "One Size Fits All": "Herbalism: HERB COHEN" There was a time in my life when in the subculture(s) I hung w/ being a businessman was not a positive thing. In the them vs us businessmen were definitely in the them category. Therefore, having the businessman of the Zappa organization given credit was intriguing. As such, I'm glad to be able to get this low-down from Walley: "In L.A. it was the clubs. Sunset Strip in 1964 was folk city, the outcroppings of a coffee house scene started six years before, indirectly, by one man: Herb Cohen. Herb Cohen would reappear after many transmigrations as HERBIE COHEN, Frank Zappa's master of Bizarre business. But Herb had been busy already for many years. "While the Sixties were developing transitional consciousness, Herb Cohen was working hard and taking his knocks. Born in New York in 1933, Herb lived there until the age of seventeen when he joined the merchant marines. He worked the Great Lakes and Gulf of Mexico as a deckhand and fireman, and served briefly as a union organizer for the Marine Cooks and Stewards Union—a tough little kid. From age eighteen to twenty-two Herb went on the bum—until the army caught up with him. After eight months in uniform he was tossed out for incompatibility with army life. "While Herb served time in the army in San Francisco, he was living with Odetta and becoming involved in the local folk music scene" - p 47 "In 1959, he showcased a new comedian, Lenny Bruce. Herb was busted for Bruce's obscenity but he beat the charge in court. "But things were getting a little hot in L. A. Herb decided to take a vacation to Europe and the Mid East via Cuba, Algiers, Egypt, and the Congo. In the Congo he became involved in gun running, more for adventure than for the money. He supported Lumumba when all his competitors were backing Moise Tschombe." - pp 48-49 I think that arms dealers are one of the biggest problems on the planet but at least he was backing Lumumba (assuming he's not lying — wch might be stretching things). Lumumba "was a Congolese politician and independence leader who served as the first Prime Minister of the independent Democratic Republic of the Congo (then Republic of the Congo) from June until September 1960. He played a significant role in the transformation of the Congo from a colony of Belgium into an independent republic. Ideologically an African nationalist and Pan-Africanist, he led the Congolese National Movement (MNC) party from 1958 until his assassination." ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patrice... ) "The 2001 report by the Belgian Commission describes previous U.S. and Belgian plots to kill Lumumba. Among them was a Central Intelligence Agency-sponsored attempt to poison him, which was ordered by U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower. CIA chemist Sidney Gottlieb, a key person in this plan, devised a poison resembling toothpaste. In September 1960, Gottlieb brought a vial of the poison to the Congo with plans to place it on Lumumba's toothbrush. This plot was abandoned, allegedly because Larry Devlin, CIA Station Chief for the Congo, refused permission. "As Kalb points out in her book, Congo Cables, the record shows that many communications by Devlin at the time urged elimination of Lumumba. Also, the CIA station chief helped to direct the search to capture Lumumba for transfer to his enemies in Katanga. Devlin was involved in arranging Lumumba's transfer to Katanga; and the CIA base chief in Elizabethville was in direct touch with the killers the night Lumumba was killed. John Stockwell wrote in 1978 that a CIA agent had the body in the trunk of his car in order to try to get rid of it. Stockwell, who knew Devlin well, believed that Devlin knew more than anyone else about the murder. "The inauguration of John F. Kennedy in January 1961 caused fear among Mobutu's faction and within the CIA that the incoming Democratic administration would favor the imprisoned Lumumba. While awaiting his presidential inauguration, Kennedy had come to believe that Lumumba should be released from custody, though not be allowed to return to power. Lumumba was killed three days before Kennedy's inauguration on 20 January, though Kennedy would not learn of the killing until 13 February." (ibid) W/ the above in mind, Herb Cohen wd've been taking a serious risk of being murdered by the C.I.A. along w/ all the rest of the nasty possibilities. Was he a hero? Or was he just a con artist telling Walley, or whoever Wally got the story from, a lie to make himself look good? Few people wd ever accuse Zappa of playing w/ slouches. But I wasn't expecting the following: "During early 1965, Frank was also looking for other players to expand the size and sound of the band. Henry Vestine, now of Canned Heat, Denny Bruce, Jim Guercio (producer of Chicago), Van Dyke Parks, and Mack Rabinak (Dr. John the Night Tripper) all passed through. No one stayed. It was hard work even then." - p 53 1. Henry Vestine: I have a tape of a release called "Joe's Corsage" that has Vestine playing along w/ Zappa, Collins, Estrada, & Black on 4 songs: "Motherly Love", "Plastic People", "Anyway the Wind Blows", & "I Ain't got no Heart" — so those recordings, at least, are out there. I like Henry Vestine, I like Canned Heat, I like that Vestine played on Albert Ayler's 1969 "Drudgery". I liked that Canned Heat rmade a double-record set called "Hooker 'n Heat" done in collaboration w/ John Lee Hooker. When I was a teenage hitchhiker, Canned Heat's song "On the Road Again" was a favorite for me to sing to myself while I stood by the side of the road waiting.. & waiting.. 2. Van Dyke Parks: Another great. I wish he & Zappa had collaborated more. 3. That's Mac Rebennack: Also great, especially his 1st 5 albums. He had both Mick Jagger & Eric Clapton on The Sun Moon & Herbs so why not Zappa too? In other words, what amazing possibilities. "Freak Out was a conceptual masterpiece. Not only was it the first double album set of its kind in the pop music field—it also served as a living testament to L. A. freakdom, a truly honest work." - p 60 I whole-earedly agree. Freak Out is so inspired that there's very little to compare it to. For the full review go here: https://www.goodreads.com/story/show/...

  2. 5 out of 5

    John Humber

    I've had this book for quite a few years. I noticed it on the bookshelf recently and realised that I could not remember a thing about it. Being short of anything to read I decided to re-read it. In 1993 Zappa died of prostate cancer at the relatively young age of fifty-three. It’s interesting to ponder on how he would have dealt with the 21st century and, especially, social media. Musically inventive and experimental, always controversial, his music was never mainstream (unless that was a part of I've had this book for quite a few years. I noticed it on the bookshelf recently and realised that I could not remember a thing about it. Being short of anything to read I decided to re-read it. In 1993 Zappa died of prostate cancer at the relatively young age of fifty-three. It’s interesting to ponder on how he would have dealt with the 21st century and, especially, social media. Musically inventive and experimental, always controversial, his music was never mainstream (unless that was a part of the invention); it was, as we say in the UK, Marmite*. I was never a big fan of The Mothers of Invention, I recognised the inventiveness but it all felt just too much like schoolboy juvenile ‘rebellion’ that only grew up with their disbandment and the Hot Rats album. The E.P. Dutton edition of No commercial potential is an odd book in more ways than one. This is the 1980 ‘revised’ edition of the original 1972 publication. It reads very much like what I remember of 1970s music-paper features, which is not too surprising because that’s what Walley is—a 1970s music-journo. The short snappy prose is mirrored in the design concept which is, perhaps intended to reflect Zappa’s eclectic mix of influences. But I’m well over that kind of thing now and reading the book at this distance I found it more than a bit irritating at times. The book is informative, as any biography should be, but is not what could be described as captivating; you probably need to be either very interested or very curious about Zappa to enjoy the read. Production values of this edition are not high. The printing is cheap, the photographs so poorly reproduced as to be useless in some cases and only partially informative in most others. As rock-bio.s go I don’t think this one rates very highly. *Marmite is a yeast-extract food spread that has the reputation (justifiably) of being either loved or hated.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Keith

    This is the updated edition that adds chapters up to Zappa's death, and is therefore a reasonable overview of the entire project/object, with an emphasis on "time and those waves." That said, I found it a bit disjointed, in part because the addition were just that: tacked on rather than revised throughout. While this does track more closely to Zappa's own use of his archival material before and especially after breaking up "the best band you never heard in your life," somehow it seems to work be This is the updated edition that adds chapters up to Zappa's death, and is therefore a reasonable overview of the entire project/object, with an emphasis on "time and those waves." That said, I found it a bit disjointed, in part because the addition were just that: tacked on rather than revised throughout. While this does track more closely to Zappa's own use of his archival material before and especially after breaking up "the best band you never heard in your life," somehow it seems to work better in music than in prose. I also found that it did not go particularly in depth, which is to be expected given the brevity of this opus in comparison to the breadth of the subject's work, but unless you are a fan to the level of having the entire oeuvre memorized, I suggest you have a wide sampling of it near to hand for comparison.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Andy

    Pretty worshipful bio on Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. The worship is buffered by providing us with tons of precious information about Frank's earlier years with more detail than even Zappa dished out in his crummy autobiography. The crap the poor guy went through just for parodying the Beatles makes amazing reading. Great book. Pretty worshipful bio on Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. The worship is buffered by providing us with tons of precious information about Frank's earlier years with more detail than even Zappa dished out in his crummy autobiography. The crap the poor guy went through just for parodying the Beatles makes amazing reading. Great book.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Joseph Hofmann

    I gave it 4 stars only because I read own the original edition published in the early 70's and have not had to chance to see this updated version. The original book delves deep into very early "Mothermania" and is a great source for quotes and insight into the earlier albums in his repertoire I gave it 4 stars only because I read own the original edition published in the early 70's and have not had to chance to see this updated version. The original book delves deep into very early "Mothermania" and is a great source for quotes and insight into the earlier albums in his repertoire

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ned

    Like the audio tape of Walley's interview with Frank better Like the audio tape of Walley's interview with Frank better

  7. 4 out of 5

    Sid

    Pretty Weird... i like this book, Stuff like these, make a lot of sense..Frank Zappa is a man, obviously genius but he is a totally freak!...oh yeah! RAkEnRoll!!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Allan

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jacques Adrian Powers

  10. 5 out of 5

    Joel

  11. 5 out of 5

    Hills

  12. 5 out of 5

    Mike Harper

  13. 5 out of 5

    Ray Bowden

  14. 4 out of 5

    Raymond

  15. 5 out of 5

    Mark Givens

  16. 4 out of 5

    Dolf Schuurman

  17. 5 out of 5

    Skip Heller

  18. 4 out of 5

    Zahara Schara

  19. 4 out of 5

    Adam

  20. 5 out of 5

    Spencer

  21. 4 out of 5

    Edward Jennings

  22. 4 out of 5

    John Bohl

  23. 5 out of 5

    Samantha Drudge

  24. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Mealey

  25. 4 out of 5

    Shawn Persinger

  26. 4 out of 5

    Michael

  27. 5 out of 5

    Corey

  28. 4 out of 5

    Tom Mckenna

  29. 4 out of 5

    Eduardo

  30. 4 out of 5

    mattu

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