The Resentment Rationale

Posted: May 25, 2011 in conceptual continuity, zappa, zappology

Perhaps the most unique aspect of The Mothers’ work is the conceptual continuity of the group’s output macrostructure. There is, and always has been, a conscious control of thematic and structural elements flowing through each album, live performance, and interview.

Frank Zappa
“Instructional Material”
Circular, vol. 3, number 29, September 20, 1971, Burbank (CA, USA)

* * *

One of the main roads to Zappa addiction for the occasional or new listener passes through the gradual discovery of the Conceptual Continuity inherent to all his projects.

On the other way around, there is no FZ hard-core fanatic known to mankind who did not enjoy the discovery of a new Conceptual Continuity Clue (CCC), and who (still in 2011) does not look for new ones, because we know that there may be something not yet brought into light.

A CCC may include various communication elements, some of them can be easy to catch, some other quite difficult or even obscure. For instance the One Size Fits All album artwork features in the front cover a big maroon sofa and a cigar, a conceptual continuity clue to a then undocumented 1971 live suite (partially released for the first time in 1988 in YCDTOSA Vol. 1 [Once Upon A Time, Sofa #1] and in 1992 in Playground Psychotics [Divan]) The back cover represents a sky map with dozens of bogus stars and constellations labelled with inside jokes in place of names. To get all the clues you have to link the album artwork to a song in the album, to your knowledge of a ‘71 live concert, and to lyrics to other FZ songs (at least). See this page (while it lasts) for further details.

A study of the album cover artwork realized by Cal Schenkel ( in 2009

"Cigar" detail from a Cal Schenkel study

"Divan Divan" detail from a Cal Schenkel study

Moreover, Zappa was aware that his musical taste was in part different from the one of the average listener he wanted to reach. Because of that he developed various techniques to deliver “hard” musical information into, around, on top and/or at the bottom of some catchy material.

FZ discussing bass lines on the Drowning Witch album:
I like bass lines. They’re good, because for people who don’t understand what’s going on in the rest of the song, there’s always the bass line.

Tom Mulhern
“I’m Different” or “Not Exactly Duane Allman”
Guitar Player Magazine: February, 1983

To manage those techniques and such an “output macrostructure” requires a great control of details, not only because a CCC could be (and often were) microscopic, but also because sometimes the band and/or the machine had been called to perform a stratified musical object.

These are the main reasons why there’s a high risk for a FZ hard-core fanatic to become a resentment listener.

After years of exposure, the poor and sometimes unaware hard-core fanatic has become so accustomed to listen “so carefully to every little detail” (listen to the FZ rap at the end of Stink Foot in Make A Jazz Noise Here [1]) that if subject to any FZ rendition he may react in a resentful manner if something does not go as expected.

A lot of examples may be given of “incentives towards in-depth listening” strategically designed by Zappa. The following two are in the sound engineering realm.

FZ discussing the CD reissue of We’re Only In It For The Money, remixed and remastered with new drums and bass parts:
And the problem with appealing to the younger audience today is they have become accustomed to a level of audio excellence and would psychologically reject certain older recordings just because of the way they sound without ever stopping to listen to what the content was. The tone quality of the recording itself would turn them off or dissuade them from in-depth listening. So, in an attempt to meet those new customers halfway I would like to spiff the stuff up as much as possible, so that they can tolerate the sound of it while they’re listening to the content that’s in there.

William Ruhlmann
“Frank Zappa: Moving On To Phase Three”
Goldmine, January 27, 1989

FZ discussing sound designing for his live tapes:
I like the idea of making my tapes, no matter what they are, so they’re intercuttable with one another. It’s less distracting to the listener. He can follow an album’s conceptual continuity better if he doesn’t get that drastic shock when the tone of things changes. The shock should be the idea of one type of music juxtaposed on another type of music, not the fact that the high hat suddenly jumps to the left.

Steve Birchall
“Modern Music Is a Sick Puppy. A Conversation with Frank Zappa”
Digital Audio, October/November 1984

His strategy was aimed to improve the audience skills to catch CCC, and doing so, to keep them (or us) glued to the “macrostructure”.

And a maybe unwanted and unforeseen consequence was that, after a few years of training, in front of him had been standing an audience of potential resentment listeners!

Here it is, I think this is an attempt to rationalize why I have stolen the Adorno term (changing its meaning a little bit) at first to write a concert report, then to name a blog or whatever this space will be.

* * *

[1] – FZ rap at the end of Stink Foot in Make A Jazz Noise Here
Now this is a special case, ladies and gentlemen, get that spot light over here, this is Ed Mann. Now, Ed had a tragic experience a few moments ago. One of the loyal fans in the audience came up and treated him like a war criminal because he fucked up the lick on “Dickie’s Such An Asshole” way back when–who knows?–several weeks ago. But the people who come to these shows listen so carefully to every little detail that this man was deeply offended by Ed’s performance. So to make sure that he gets his money’s worth tonight, we’re gonna dwell on it for a few moments now, and have Ed actually practice, kinda warm up for that big lick that happens in “Dickie’s Such An Asshole.” We’re gonna rehearse it right now, ready? Just do it as a solo, here we go . . . or . . .

* * *

Thanks to Cal Schenkel who has kindly given permission to include his art here


  1. g2-7d4c965bdde244c66bb4b477c0330600 says:

    Brilliant! I love your blog–great stuff. I never realized the pitfalls of listening to Frank’s music garnered from one source, or recording, only. I’m not trying to brag by saying I do not consider myself a resentment listener…anymore. But I once was, oh God, was I!

    • rhoerer says:

      Thank you very much for your comment, really appreciated!

      Now that I read your note, and after some chat with friends, I realize that I can’t consider myself a full resentment listener anymore, or at least as I was in my youth (I’m 52!). Even tough that attitude sometimes returns back from the “canyons of my mind”!

      And it did come when I opened this blog just to publish my view of a concert that was far from what I would have expected, considering the director, the orchestra and the program.

      Then, after a long hiatus, I started collecting scattering views, a few of them revealing a certain amount of obsession, which I still think is the main source of that special kind of “resentment”, and I’m convinced that in some degree it also derives from all that hooks, references, and textual traps that FZ was continuously disseminating throughout his output.

      In the most part that initial resentment power is sometimes diminished in my posts, but the idea remains.

      Someone told me that the name of this blog may keep some potential reader away from it, or at least may sound odd until you don’t dig a little bit to arrive at the post you commented to!

      So thank you again for your comment, and keep listening, I think that old attitude of us is of a great help to keep the listening experience strong and fertile.

      Or should we move the discourse to indignation? A frame of mind that we are slowly but steadily abandoning, as subjects and objects of the western civilization!

  2. g2-7d4c965bdde244c66bb4b477c0330600 says:

    Fans of Frank, myself included, are fatally obsessed with the maestro. Fortunately, ZFT (for what it’s worth) keep up the output. For example, I’m 15 minutes into “Pound For Brown” (as it is manifested on the Hammersmith Odeon release), as I write this. [They (the band) laugh in the background].

    Btw, I’ve got you by 3 years, my friend. I’ve been listening rabidly since “Just Another Band From L.A.”. I wore out the grooves on “Roxy & Elsewhere” twice! So you see, I’m hopeless. Frank has had an enormous impact on my life. I’ve dedicated enormous amounts of time (and gray/grey? matter) to the master. Of course, I am a fortunate soul as I’ve seen him live many times…I cried when he died. I am still pissed as hell.

    “I’m In You” is about to start–he’s giving the audience the lead up explanation now–funny as shit! Was he funny, or what?!!

    Anyway, I’m rambling. Caffeine freak, don’tcha know. I appreciate your dedication, and am really glad I come upon your excellent blog–you know your shit, man. Really impressive.

    My name is William, btw. Keep up the great work! And your blog name is fine–I mean who but a true Zappa fan do you even give a shit about, anyway? Am I right? Haha!

    • rhoerer says:

      Thank you William, Francesco’s here.

      You have given a vivid picture of how much fun can be to listen to such performances!

      I for one decided for Joe’s Camouflage tonite, Reeny Ra is yet a lot of fun! and Phyonix is on the most intriguing unreleased instrumentals of the ZFT era.

      “Zappa’s music stands for a form of human happiness”, Riccardo Bertoncelli (an Italian journalist) wrote 10 years after his death, and I think he got a good point!

      And I need more now that I’m getting older, the matter of the fact is that I’ll be 52 tomorrow, which formally will be in half an hour down in Italy.

      I’ll let The Illinoise Enema Bandit go, then reach my beloved wife for some more chatting, William included!

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