photo credit: Lynn Goldsmith/Corbis
Camille Paglia's review, 'Zappa': Freak Out! of Barry Miles' new book, Zappa: A Biography in today's New York Times, highlights some possible intersections of the two artists.
According to Paglia's review, Zappa shares at least one musical interest with Pynchon (he has written about the "cheerfully deranged world" of Jones' music) :
Zappa was interested in sound for its own sake -- as in the cowbells and car horns of Spike Jones's recordings.It would be interesting to know if Pynchon crossed paths with Zappa or any of these folks while he was in Lower California. Chances are if he had, somebody would have kissed and told by now. (The Amazon.com page for Miles' biography doesn't yet include the "Search Inside This Book" tool that would let a browser search for references to Pynchon in the text, or in the index, unfortunately.)
As Miles chronicles Zappa's serendipitous progress toward his first recordings, we get a fascinating panorama of the 1960's counterculture in Southern California, where folk music was cross-fertilizing with hard rock. The cast of characters includes the Byrds and the Doors as well as Grace Slick, Eric Clapton, Eric Burdon and Mick Jagger, who drop by or hang out to jam in the cabins and cottages in the overgrown canyons outside Los Angeles. Miles's description of the bizarre scene, with its squatters, transients and hordes of eager groupies, vividly captures that magic creative moment.
Like Pynchon in his early writings (as he admits in the introduction to his story collection, Slow Learner , Zappa apparently had his challenges when it came to the way he treated women:
Miles, who knew Zappa, often seems ambivalent about him. There is a gap between the ''juvenile and prurient'' Zappa he describes and the one we see in the book's sensational photographs, which show a man of burning magnetism and piercing intellect. Miles calls Zappa a ''cold nihilist'' who felt no real emotions for anyone. Along with ''cynicism and misanthropy,'' he detects Catholic guilt and ''deep-seated problems with women.'' Zappa was ''stuck in a 50's time warp'' -- yet the bold feminist Germaine Greer was a Zappa fan.
Then there's that S&M thread:
Whatever the meaning of the S-and-M and fetish imagery in his songs (a theme that makes Miles squirm), the picture painted here of Zappa's family life is troubling. When not touring (which he loved to do -- Miles calls him a ''road rat''), Zappa spent 10 to 18 hours a day holed up in his cavernous basement studio in his Tudor mansion in the Hollywood Hills. He was a born tinkerer and a groundbreaker in early digital production.
Pynchon and Zappa don't seem to share the same opinion re drugs, and Zappa doesn't seem to have enjoyed the same kind of relationship with his children that Pynchon is said to enjoy with his:
Addicted to black coffee and cigarettes (he was fiercely antidrugs), he slept during the day and saw little of his family. His second wife, Gail, said, ''Frank did not do love.'' When she was 13, Moon Unit slipped a note under the studio door to ''introduce'' herself and her ideas. The result was the hit song ''Valley Girl,'' a phenomenon when it was released in 1982. Because he thought formal education a waste of time, Zappa took his children out of school at 15 and refused to pay for college.
Link to First Chapter: Zappa: A Biography