Saturday, December 8, 2012

Zappadan, Day 5: The Torture Never Stops

I've got no gaming wisdom about this particular piece, except as analogy: A great band leader can teach us things about what it's like to be a wizard.

Zappa wasn't just a musician. He was in large part, especially at the end of his career, one of America's premier band leaders. He was known for having an incredible work ethic, which he expected his band members to have as well.

Here's a description of same from a former bandmate, Arthur Barrow. This guy:

He said:

RehearsalsRehearsals were grueling and wonderful. We rehearsed at least 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, for about 6 weeks or so before a tour. Rehearsals usually got started around mid-afternoon, with the Clonemeister [see below] leading for the first half of the day, then Frank would arrive and take over for the remainder of the day. Once I was in the band, Frank instructed me to purchase a cassette recorder and a lot of blank tape to record the rehearsals, which I did. As a result, I own many hours of often interesting Zappa rehearsal recordings.
We usually rehearsed in big Hollywood "sound stages" - gymnasium sized buildings with high enough ceilings to set up the PA and lights. In 1980, however, we did rehearse for a while at the Zappa warehouse building now called Joes' Garage.Though mentally and physically very demanding, it was also among the most rewarding time to be spent in the band.
Rehearsal was where Frank was at his most creative, often writing new material on the spot. He seemed to love to see how far he could push the envelope of what the band could do technically. I improved as a musician in that circumstance far more than I could ever have done no matter how much I might have "woodshedded" on my own. When I was there with Frank and all those other fine players, I didn't want to be the one to mess up, so I worked hard at it. Because Frank was often writing "on the band", this meant that he changed his mind a lot, which can really twist your head up when you are dealing with so much information to process. I would leave rehearsals sometimes feeling like my brain was convulsing inside my scull. But it was all worth it to be able to be part of the process and really get inside the way his musical mind worked. Sometimes, of course, he would come in with written music for us to play which was another great way to see the way his music worked. Sometimes we would learn a few short but complex notated pieces, then insert them into songs he would write later on. Examples of this would be in "Wet T-shirt Nite" and "Jumbo Go Away".
"Wet T-shirt" also contains a small quote from "Mo's Vacation". At the end of my first set of rehearsals in LA, summer of 1978, Frank handed me a bass part titled "Mo's Vacation" and asked me to learn it. He said it was a duet for bass and drums for Vinnie and me to play. I was thrilled - it was the first really challenging part that he had given to me that was something brand new - and it was VERY challenging! (In fact, there are parts of it which I find to be impossible, to tell the truth.) But I couldn't wait to sink my teeth into it.  I remember working on it like mad in my hotel room in Munich during the time we were there rehearsing and filming at the Circus Krona. During a little break at rehearsal one day, I asked Vinnie if he wanted to try to play it together for the first time. He said he had not yet had a chance to look at it, but we went ahead and had a go at it. The amazing Vinnie proceeded to sight read the extremely difficult drum part almost perfectly, while smoking a cigarette and eating sushi at the same time! I was floored - I could not believe he was already playing it better than I was after all my practicing! Later that evening at a club, I was sitting with Frank, and he seemed pretty impressed that I had learned it so quickly. He asked how long it had taken me to learn it - I guessed  about 15 hours. (Of course "Mo's" was not part of the regular show, but once in a while, usually at a double show (2 shows in one night) he would (without warning) turn around and say "Mo's Vacation!", and we would have to try to play it (from memory, of course) after not having done it for a month or so!)

So, when we think about FZ, we also have to remember that, despite the silliness of the lyrics, this man wrote some serious music, took it very seriously, and expected everyone else to do so as well. In addition, the notion of the "Clonemeister" is an interesting one. Here's the person who is supposed to be Zappa (at this point, let's just sort of assume that FZ is a wizard in this context) when Zappa is not there. He's the wizard's apprentice:

ClonemeisterThis was Zappa's term for the reheasal director. I guess the term "clone" in the word "Clonemeister" refers to one aspect of the job which was to transcribe from the albums and perfectly teach to the band the songs that Frank wanted to perform. Rehearsals lasted 8 to 10 hours a day, with the Clonemeister runnning things for the first half or so and Frank taking over when he arrived for the second half. I still had to worry about my own bass and vocal parts, but as clonemeister, I had to know everyone else's parts as well. It was a quite a difficult job, especially when I first took over. I had a portable cassette recorder and taped the parts of rehearsal when Frank was there. At night, after rehearsal, I would listen to the tapes and make notes or transciptions of what Frank had come up with that day. The next day I would drill the band on the previous day's changes and additions. Frank changed his mind a lot, so it was hard to keep up with all of that constantly shifting information.
On the first day of rehearsals for the last tour I did, Frank brought in a list of about 200 songs that he wanted us to learn. I knew right away that it would be impossible for us to learn that many songs in the amount of time we had. I also knew from past experience that when Frank called for us to play a tune from the list and it sounded bad, he would often remove it from the list. If the tune in question happened to be one that the band liked and wanted to continue to work on, the band would be begging him to please give a little more time to work on it some more and get it right. I think he used it as a threat to try to motivate the band. Bearing all this in mind, I decided to rehearse the band on only those songs which were my personal favorites, and never bother with my less favorite ones. That way, we ended up with a body of work to perform that were all my favorites! I wonder if he ever knew...

The wizard's apprentice is expected to know everything the wizard wants him to know. He takes charge of the household in the wizard's absence, and spends long, long hours learning the spells the wizard chooses to share with him. Here's a guy who's expected to learn (and to master) 200 or so often complex songs. If we sort of used the bardic interpretation of spells I talked about yesterday, then we're dealing with some pretty high-powered wizardry via mastery of this music.

Think of it this way: When a wizard is casting spells, he stands before the very gods and the pillars of certainty and the fabric of every reality. He is a nexus for all of the forces he brings to bear. To fuck up on such a stage would be Something That Is Noticed. The preparations a wizard goes to in order to avoid such an eventuality are long, difficult, and incredibly tedious, but to go through them makes the wizard someone who stands above other men.

If we think of this in terms of the difference between the common person and a powerful wizard, the power differential is just staggering. This goes for the other classes as well, of course. So, when you look at how few characters actually survive to achieve high levels in DCC, you have to understand how hard it is, and how few are willing to put in the time to master the work, even if they weren't constantly in danger from external sources (i.e., enemies bent on their destruction). Such a person would be something to be reckoned with, make no bones about it. If, on top of this, the person was a wizard... well, you'd just have to remember that a wizard's mind is different. It doesn't work like everyone else's. It can encompass spells that rend and warp reality and allow communion with other powers and planes of existence. They are warped in the process, as well, often in ways that are not readily apparent. This explains why they are, as one wag put it, "subtle and quick to anger." Do not cross a wizard, my friends. You will ever regret it.