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This whole monstruousity was originally conveived
February through March 2001 by the members of The Big Note - a Frank Zappa
YahooGroup. After an arduous gestation period, this site was birthed on
April 11 2001. True to the essence of collaborative effort, these people
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Speed will turn you into your parents.
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A Mother Of A Story (Continued)
by Mike Keneally
Part Five: Getting In Thunes.
The following Monday marked the beginning of my audition period with the full band. When my brother and I arrived at the rehearsal hall I was instructed (I don't recall by whom) to set up my gear on the upstage riser, in the same portion of the stage the horn section would soon occupy. At this point the horn guys might have been hired, but if so they didn't start attending rehearsals until a while later. And when they did, they were originally positioned on the floor in front of the riser, in the position that I would eventually occupy. One day I came in to rehearse and found that the positions had been switched, the horns were now behind me. But I get ahead of myself now, as I always do.
On my first day of rehearsal/audition, the band consisted of Chad, Scott, Ed, Robert, Frank and, tentatively, myself. Ray White had just done a disappearing act and there was not yet anyone to fill the lead vocalist chair - Ike made a social appearance on that first day but I don't recall him singing; there was about a week of vocalist auditions before Ike officially joined (thank God - the other guys who auditioned were a shockingly motley lot. I remember being stunned that a person of Frank's position in the industry was giving any of these guys a shot - but then he was doing just that for me, wasn't he?).
Back yet again to my first day. I was busily setting up my little amplifier and little effects (borrowed from Marty - a Roland Jazz Chorus amp and a couple of blue rack mount effects units - none of which I had any idea how to work. I was a keyboard player y'understand) in my little station next to a Yamaha DX-5 synthesizer (Frank's synth, and the one I would come to use on the tour - I especially liked a combo patch which had a very chiffy tuned percussion sound stacked with a French Horn - most readily audible on the fast written sections of "Inca Roads" on "Best Band"). I introduced myself to Chad, Bobby and Ed, all of whom received me with politeness.
Then came a tall, head-shaven, impolite force of nature skateboarding into and all around the enormous facility. This combination punk-rocker/Marine drill sergeant on wheels was, of course, Thunes.
He skated up to my feet (he was on the floor, I on the riser, y'understand) and I immediately proffered my hand. "Hello, my name's Mike Keneally. I enjoy your playing a great deal and I'm pleased to meet you".
"Thank you; what are you DOING here?"
"I'm auditioning to play in the band".
"OH GOD". He skateboarded away and left me to my shiftless tinkering. Instantly he returned.
"Can you play 'T'Mershi Duween'?"
The song had yet to be released officially, though I was exceedingly familiar with it through bootlegs. I'd never played it, and as this was my first day I didn't want to misrepresent my knowledge of the repertoire, so I told him I didn't know it. He snuffed, huffed, and skated away.
I began to gingerly piece the "Duween" melody together on the guitar. I was playing unamplified, and Thunes was about a football field and a half away, but somehow he heard my unplugged electric over the sound of his racing wheels.
"YOU KNOW IT!" he shrieked and skated back. He began barking string/fret positions at me and after a minute I was playing the melody to his satisfaction (at least he appeared satisfied because he didn't say anything to wound me, he just skated away once again).
Frank wasn't there yet (he rarely was for the first several hours of each rehearsal - which were five-day-a-week, eight-hours-a-day affairs). Scott, in his appointed role of clonemeister, ran the early part of the rehearsal, and called "Alien Orifice". This is the moment when I learned that picking up FZ tunes off of an album is no substitute for seeing the stuff on paper, especially when it comes to odd groupings, because when I played what I believed to be the weird section after the guitar solo, the other gentlemen of the group found my efforts to be greatly amusing. After my attempt at playing the main "Alien" melody in Tommy-style block chords limped to a miserable death, Scott padded over to me from his position of authority, seemed to grow several inches and glowered: "That was BAD MUSIC".
Other tunes were called and I struggled through, not nearly as ragingly as I'd hoped, but evidently some sort of impression of my knowledge was being formed - Robert Martin asked me during a break how come I knew Frank's material so well. This was the first semi-encouraging sign of acceptance from the other band members. Making a good impression on Frank was apparently a breeze compared to these guys.
As night commenced, Frank arrived and took over the rehearsal; the lighting got very moody and the situation very dreamlike. Frank started a Synclavier sequence of "Mo 'n' Herb's Vacation" and Scott ran like a motherfucker to find the printed bass part, spread it out on the riser and began to play along with it. For many minutes this went on and no one spoke a word. I watched Scott negotiate that fucking piece, my every sinew suffused with awe. This guy was a dead-on motherfucker and I was NOWHERE near his league. Frank called "Filthy Habits" and I chumped the fives - Frank sang the subdivisions to me and it took me embarrassingly long to nail it. He said something like "why is that so hard for you to play?" Fuck. Yet somehow he was not offended by my presence and at one point Frank, Scott, Chad and I played a quartet version of "Sleep Dirt" which had my brother swooning.
Part Six: Still Getting In.
Writing about this stuff is affecting me very deeply right now. I miss those days like fuck.
I didn't get the big yay or nay after the first night. My brother and I stayed at my great friend Chris Joyce's apartment in North Hollywood, after driving around for an hour trying to find which little uninterrupted, two-block long, stretch his complex existed within. I would stay at Chris' "pad" for the four-month duration of rehearsals, driving home to San Diego on weekends. Viv would drive up to visit me during the week whenever she could. What an amazing time this was.
Again I have leapt into the future hastily. Rewind to the fourth day of my audition/rehearsal period: Frank calls me over to say that Ray White's whereabouts are still a mystery, and I seem to be doing an OK job in the vocal/guitar slot (plus keyboards as kind of a bonus skill), so it would appear I'm in the band. But if Ray returns, I'm the fuck outa there. He extended his hand and I had no choice but to accept the gig on these shaky terms. Even to get that much, though, was a mind-blowing triumph. The rest of the band congratulated me enthusiastically, none more so than Scott, who had not stopped giving me shit for four days solid. Thank, well, Gail, that about a week later Frank came into the rehearsal and announced that he'd been talking over the Ray situation with Gail and they decided that if Ray was irresponsible enough to disappear without warning and then not contact them afterwards, that he would not be welcomed back into the band even if he were to return. Although he didn't then turn to me at that point and say, "Your position in the band is now secure", I felt that it was safe to take it that way. And it was.
Rehearsals continued, the horn guys arrived, Ike was installed permanently - the twelve-piece band was now intact. I had, of course, the time of my life. Many tunes were rehearsed which did not make their way into the live repertoire. Many hours were spent on a weird, mechanical Devo-sounding arrangement of "I Come From Nowhere". I sang lead on a medley of "She Painted Up Her Face", "Half A Dozen Provocative Squats" and "Shove It Right In" which we rehearsed constantly, then stopped rehearsing suddenly. We rehearsed "Jezebel Boy" a trillion times, getting into the energy the neighborhood supplied, then played it ONCE during the tour (and didn't play it at all well - it's the version you hear on BTHW).
One day I spent about twelve hours in Chris' apartment learning "Moggio" - when I was done I felt like I'd been skiing for a week solid. When Frank called the tune in rehearsal, most of the guys in the band hadn't worked on it and it didn't sound very promising, so he said, "Omit that". The song was stricken from the repertoire that quickly. Scott saw my jaw hit the floor, and said, "That's what you call The Clamp". And no impassioned defense on the song's behalf could loosen it. (It was I who insisted on playing "Moggio" at the Zappa's Universe shows - I wasn't going to have learned that fucker for no reason.)
We messed around with "Night School" and "G-Spot Tornado". All the new songs, which would become "Broadway The Hard Way", were pieced together without charts; Frank would bring in a printout of the song's lyrics, and conjure up musical settings on the spot, dictating parts to the band as he went. Somewhere in the basement is many hours of video footage of this process, like almost an entire eight-hour rehearsal devoted to conjuring up "Jesus Thinks You're A Jerk". While it was certainly work, it was just as certainly exhilarating joy and there was a LOT of laughing going on. Frank was almost always in good spirits during the rehearsal period. It was big, crazy, expensive, mind-boggling fun.
Part Seven: I'm with the Band.
I couldn't believe I was a part of it...I remember lying on my back on the riser at one rehearsal listening to a Synclavier sequence Frank was composing that day, and feeling just SO grateful...(you know Chatfield is always telling me how important it is to write things down...I'm having some memories well up that I don't want to lose...indulge me, please). I remember a dark little wardrobe type-area at the rear of the rehearsal hall where I could hang out uninterrupted, and work on the hard parts of songs. I spent hours in there shredding parts of "Strictly Genteel", and the fast line right before "the difference between us is not very far" in "Cruisin' For Burgers"...
Speaking of "Genteel", I remember playing it for the first time with the whole band - that song was, for me, an act of acrobatics, switching from keys to guitar and back sometimes in the space of a sixteenth note. I remember: Thunes running over to stand next to me and intimidate me right before the wicked keyboard run that comes right after "every poor soul who's adrift in the storm". I nailed it; he gave me the finger and ran back to his station...
...playing the instrumental interludes of "Drowning Witch" (on guitar) and "Jumbo, Go Away" (on keys) after Frank called them cold (just to see who in the band knew them), and listening as other band members fell out of line - but I soldiered on...
...another time practicing one of the impossible guitar lines in "Drowning Witch", and nearly having an aneurysm in the process; Chad walking up to me, getting right in my face and saying "RELAX" - advice that I still summon when needed...
...me and Paul Carman launching into Jimmy Page's "Stairway" solo in unison without telling Frank we were going to (he'd been playing an improvised solo in that spot), Frank digging it, waiting until we were done, then saying "OK. Now show it to the REST of the horn section"...
...Frank giving the band sheet music for a song called "Thirty-Five", composed on the Synclavier, and IMPOSSIBLE to play. We got through almost one bar. It eventually became "Navanax" on "Civilization Phaze III" ("Put A Motor In Yourself" from that album was originally called "Martin" and was also conceived around this time, and used as intermission music on the East Coast leg of the tour)...
...going out to dinner with Frank, Scott and Chad, usually at Hampton's on Highland, but once in a while someplace nicer, like Chianti on Melrose (where Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis walked in and Jeff stood dumbfounded as Frank told him how much he respected his work. "Well, I really respect YOUR work", Jeff sputtered, followed by Frank asking when he was gonna make a sequel to "Buckaroo Bonzai")...
...a lot of great dinners with Scott and Chad during the early stages of rehearsal, me thinking how cool that the two of them were the same age and had come into the band at the same time, and how close they must've been; after awhile Chad stopped coming to dinner with us, and Thunes and I became allies as the shit started to come down on him...
...and the times I could have died from happiness and disbelief as Frank relied on me to help piece together an arrangement of some old song of his, which he'd just decided he'd like to play. "Peace Corps" in particular - not to be too fucking pompous, but that song probably wouldn't have happened on that tour if I weren't there (same with the Beatle stuff) - topped off by Frank not remembering the monologue at the end, asking me to recite it, and then assigning it to me afterwards. I thought back to being in fifth grade and Elliot the yard monitor, a kid maybe four or five years older than me, lending me "We're Only In It For The Money" and me listening to it a million times, utterly captured by the editing and the sound effects and the sped-up voices and the lyrics and the humor - it's still my favorite FZ album, the one that has had the most influence on my own albums' structures. And now I was doing the monologue on "Who Needs The Peace Corps?" I mean, come on.
What the fuck more does a person need in life?