Review: Zappa (The Official Documentary)

Art is making something out of nothing, and selling it.

Frank zappa
Frank Zappa

First i hope everyone is safe.

Second i’ll am writing about something off my usual beaten path and that is a movie review.  Yes once in a while i watch ye  ole “boob tube” as they used to call it back in the day.

This movie is a special movie to me as it is about the life of Frank Zappa the rock and roll guitar player, the composer, the artist, the movie maker, the recoding engineer, the American representative to Czechoslovakia, (or Czecho-Slovakia)  and most importantly a man who fervently fought for free speech.  Mainly at least for me it is a testament to someone who was constantly creating and recording that creation as well as documenting and saving those creations. While i’ve been into Zappa since a teenager i really started trying to understand the magnitude whilst in graduate school at the University of Miami where i was lucky enough to engineer and work with a group called the Zappa Ensemble. The musicianship and complexity blew my mind and it was hilarious all at the same time! It finally clicked!

Kerry Mcnabb and Frank Zappa getting physical in the mixing process (photo courtesy Magnolia Pictures)

Alex Winter was the main creative force behind Zappa with Frank Zappa’s oldest son Ahment Zappa producing. 

Zappa Trailer:

One of my greatest enjoyments is being part of making or being in deep active listening of this thing human’s call music and Frank Zappa to me is one of the greatest composers of the 20th century of which this movie showcases.  His ability to meld performance, musician ship and lyrical satire i believe will never be seen again in my time or possibly anyones time.

lf you’re going to deal with reality, you’re going to have to make one big discovery: Reality is something that belongs to you as an individual. If you wanna grow up, which most people don’t, the thing to do is take responsibility for your own reality and deal with it on your own terms. Don’t expect that because you pay some money to somebody else or take a pledge or join a club or run down the street or wear a special bunch of clothes or play a certain sport or even drink Perrier water, it’s going to take care of everything for you.

Frank Zappa

The movie deeply focuses on the extreme drive Zappa had to create and duplicate the sound that he heard in his head transferring it from paper to little dots of which we call musical notation then taking it to the studio and attempting to reproduce it as accurately as possible to the sound being heard inside his head.  The recording process to me is truly astounding.  It’s what i term “a perceptual to parameterization to physical transform”.  He was self taught in all aspects of his creative pursuits of which he was what i consider to be an ultimate autodidactic.

This movie starts off with Frank’s last guitar performance then cuts to him  in his Vault of recordings and VHS tapes identifying original master recordings.  I was awestruck.  

You’ve got to be digging it while it’s happening ’cause it just might be a one shot deal.

Frank Zappa

Through my research on the film i found out that alex Winter was Bill in the “Bill and Ted” films although i have no idea what those are as i haven’t seen them only heard about them.  Evidently he has been making documentaries for a decade. He approached Zappa’s widow Gail (the film is dedicated to her as she died in 2015)  for permission on the project.  The result is a a cacophony of a life lived loud with constant feeding the disease of composition and creativity.

Winter was given complete access to the Zappa family archives which as i mention above was called The Vault.  There are many shots of The Vault which is a treasure trove of both audio and video recordings all shapes sizes and formats.  

There is also a ton of footage of his family and how he grew up.  Initially his family completely opposed him getting involved with music and Zappa also notes that they were extremely poor. They also note Zappa was interested chemistry at an early age and tried to blow his school up.

The illusion of freedom will continue as long as it’s profitable to continue the illusion. At the point where the illusion becomes too expensive to maintain, they will just take down the scenery, they will pull back the curtains, they will move the tables and chairs out of the way and you will see the brick wall at the back of the theater.

Frank Zappa

There is a great section of Frank “On The Hill”  testifying before the senate during the PMRC hearings on album and music lyrics which he definitely as i do consider censorship.  The movie then details his pursuit of anything that looks or smells like censorship.  If it weren’t for him doing this at every turn i believe things would be very different even a much a it is now. Then i wonder, today in this environment, he probably couldn’t publish a lot of the music he wrote.

The salient point i was reminded of in this movie is  don’t waste your time go make a dent in this thing we call life and create at all costs even if no one – not one person – views, listens or uses the creation at least one person will and that will be the person of You.  

Never compromise and always choose quality over quantity and remember give “them” a good laugh.  They might not get the joke but at least you can laugh.  

Why do you necessarily have to be wrong just because a few million people think you are?

Frank Zappa

To give you an idea of the sheer output and dedication to the art while alive Zappa released 62 albums. Since 1994, the Zappa Family Trust has released 54 posthumous albums as of July 2020, making a total of 116 albums/album sets.

This dear reader should remind you of one aspect of your life:  Find your passion and dwell on it deeply, daily, hourly, minute by precious minute.  

Personally i hope The Vault is all mined, uncovered, reformatted and converted so that the world knows about the volume and creativity.

If you think that Zappa was all about raunchy lyrics, complex poly rhythms and symphonies most ensembles and orchestras couldn’t play i urge you to listen to this song that ends the documentary.  The documentary ends with amazing shots of his house  and uses a live version that is recorded in 1978 as the back drop. Below are several versions including the studio version from Joe’s Garage album because the comments by the “Central Scrutinizer” are hilarious and are juxtaposed against what i consider to be one of the most amazing pieces of guitar work ever recorded.  The sadness and lamenting of the piece is deafening.  However at the same time as someone who i have met in the land of suspicious coincidence said it is intoxicating.  

For completeness here is the live version in 1978

And here is a version in 2013 by his son dweezil zappa crying while he is playing.  

There is a four “disc” set on itunes of the documentary soundtrack here: Zappa Soundtrack.

Frank Zappa died on December 4, 1993 of prostate cancer.  He is survived by his four progeny: Moon, Dweezil, Ahment and Diva Zappa.  

Until then,

#iwishyouwater

@tctjr

Muzak To Blog By:  Zappa Soundtrack

Rolling Ubuntu On An Old Macintosh Laptop

“What we’re doing here will send a giant ripple through the universe.”

Steve Jobs

I have an old mac laptop that was not doing anyone much use sitting around the house.  i had formatted the rig and due to it only being an i7 Pentium series mac you could only roll up to the Lion OS.  Also, i wanted a “pure” Linux rig and do not like other form factors (although i do dig the System 76 rigs).

So i got to thinking why dont i roll Ubuntu on it and let one cat turn into another cat?  See what i did there? Put a little shine on Ye Ole Rig? Here Kitty Kitty!

Anyways here are the steps that i found worked the most painless.

Caveat Emptor:  these steps completely wipe the partition and Linux does run natively wiping out any and all OSes. You WILL lose your OS X Recovery Partition, so returning to OS X or macOS can be a more long-winded process, but we have instructions here on how to cope with this: How to restore a Mac without a recovery partition.  You are going All-In!

On that note i also don’t recommend trying to “dual-boot” OS X and Linux, because they use different filesystems and it will be a pain.  Anyways this is about bringing new life to an old rig if you have a new rig with Big Sur roll Virtual Box and run whatever Linux distro you desire.

What you need:

  • A macintosh computer is the point of the whole exercise.  i do recommend having NO EXTERNAL DRIVES connected as you will see below.
  • A USB stick with at least 8 gig of storage.  This to will be formatted and all data lost.
  • Download your Linux distribution to the Mac. We recommend Ubuntu 16.04.4 LTS if this is your first Linux install. Save the file to your ~/Downloads folder.
  • Download and install an app called Etcher from Etcher.io. This will be used to copy the Linux install .ISO file to your USB drive.

Steps to Linux Freedom:

  • Insert your USB Thumb Drive. A reminder that the USB Flash drive will be erased during this installation process. Make sure you’ve got nothing you want on it.

  • Open Etcher Click Select “Image”. Choose ubuntu-16.04.1-desktop-amd64.iso (the image you downloaded in Step 1).  NOTE: i had some problems with 20.x latest release with wireless so i rolled back to 16.0x just to get it running. 
  • Click “Change” under Select Drive. 

  • Pick the drive that matches your USB Thumb Drive in size. It should be  /dev/disk1 if you only have a single hard drive in your Mac. Or /dev/disk2, /dev/disk3 and so on (if you have more drives attached). NOTE: Do not pick /dev/disk0. That’s your hard drive! Pick /dev/disk0 and you’ll wipe your macOS hard drive HEED THY WARNING YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED! This is why i said its easier if you have no external media.

  • Click “Flash!” Wait for the iso file to be copied to the USB Flash Drive. Go browse your favorite socnet as this will take some time or hop on your favorite learning network and catch up on those certificates/badges.

  • Once it is finished remove the USB Flash Drive from your Mac. This is imperative.
  • Now SHUTDOWN the mac and plug the Flashed USB drive into the mac.

  • Power up and hold the OPTION key while you boot.
  • Choose the EFI Boot option from the startup screen and press Return.
  • IMMEDIATELY press the “e” key.  i found you need to do this quickly otherwise the rig tries to boot.

  • Pressing the “e” key will enter you into “edit mode” you will see a black and white screen with options to try Ubuntu and Install Ubuntu. Don’t choose either yet, press “e” to edit the boot entry.
  • This step is critical and the font maybe really small so take your time.  Edit the line that begins with Linux and place the word "nomodeset" after "quiet splash". The whole line should read: "linux /casper/vmlinuz.efifile=/cdrom/preseed/ubuntu.seed boot=casper quiet splash nomodeset --

  • Now Press F10 on the mac.
  • Now its getting cool! Your mac and Ubuntu boots into trial mode!

(Note: at this point also go browse your favorite socnet as this will take some time or hop on your favorite learning network and catch up on those certificates/badges.)

  • Double-click the icon marked “Install Ubuntu”. (get ready! Here Kitty Kitty!)
  • Select your language of choice.
  • Select “Install this third-party software” option and click Continue. Once again important.
  • Select “Erase disk and install Ubuntu” and click Continue.
  • You will be prompted for geographic area and keyboard layout.
  • You will be prompted to enter the name and password you want to use (make it count!).
  • Click “Continue” and Linux will begin installing!
  • When the installation has finished, you can log in using the name and password you chose during installation!
  • At this point you are ready to go!  i recommend registering for an ubuntu “Live Update” account once it prompts you.
  • One side note:  on 20.x update there was an issue with the Broadcom wireless adapter crashing which then reboots you without wireless.  i am currently working through that and will get back you on the fix!

Executing the command less /proc/cpuinfo will detail the individual cores. It looks like as i said the i7 Pentium series!

Happy Penguin and Kitten Time!  Now you can customize your rig!

Screen shot of keybase running on my ubuntu mac rig!

And that is a wrap! As a matter of fact i ate my own dog food and wrote this blog on the “new” rig!

Until Then,

#iwishyouwater

@tctjr

Muzak to blog by: Dreamways Of The Mystic by Bobby Beausoliel