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Monday, December 21, 2015

Zappa, Elvis & Nixon ► Monday Musical Appreciation(s)

Frank Zappa before the mustache
There are two big events in today's music history and I couldn't decide between them. On this day in 1940 Frank Zappa was born. In unrelated news, 30 years later Elvis Presley bluffs his way into Nixon's White House and is presented with a law enforcement badge so the drug-addled King of Rock and Roll can help fight the War on Drugs. No, really!

I can still remember the day I bought Zappa's first LP, Freak Out. It was in the Kresge's record department and the band was one of the ugliest I had ever seen. I was 14 years old and had never heard of The Mothers of Invention before, but there was something about the cover that made me buy it. The back cover has what purported to be a letter from what purported to be a Suzy Creamcheese:
These Mothers is crazy. You can tell by their clothes. One guy wears beads and they all smell bad. We were gonna get them for a dance after the basketball game but my best pal warned me you can never tell how many will show up...sometimes the guy in the fur coat doesn't show up and sometimes he does show up only he brings a big bunch of crazy people with him and they dance all over the place. None of the kids at my school like these Mothers... specially since my teacher told us what the words to their songs meant. Sincerely forever, Suzy Creamcheese, Salt Lake City, Utah.
All of that added up to GOTTA HAVE IT!

I distinctly remember taking it home and being surprised by that it was a 2 LP set (apparently only the 2nd double album of the Rock era, following Dylan's Blonde on Blonde by mere weeks). I also remember how utterly confused I was after I listened to the entire 4 sides. The first 2 sides consisted of what could only be described as Demented Doo Wop. It was hard to tell if Zappa was satirizing the genre or lovingly recreating it, especially after listening to the final 2 sides. I didn't have the language then for what it was, but I was immediately hooked. I have been a life-long Frank Zappa fan ever since.


However, as I keep saying, it's all about the music. Here's Frank Zappa's first official LP of a career that produced more records than anybody else in the Rock era:




The unanswered question is why my unformed, teenager mind so readily glommed onto Zappa, way ahead of the curve.

Animation created by author from public domain White House photos
The Elvis Presley incident is a bizarre footnote to the entire Watergate presidency of Richard Nixon and provided a strange capper to the long career of Elvis Presley.

To make a long story short: Nixon went on the lam from Graceland and the Memphis Mafia after an argument with his wife Priscilla and his father Vernon over the cost of Christmas gifts.

First he flew to Washington, but then took off to Los Angeles. There he concocted an incredible plan to meet President Nixon. According to the Smithsonian Institute, of all places:
Elvis was traveling with some guns and his collection of police badges, and he decided that what he really wanted was a badge from the federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs back in Washington. "The narc badge represented some kind of ultimate power to him," Priscilla Presley would write in her memoir, Elvis and Me. "With the federal narcotics badge, he [believed he] could legally enter any country both wearing guns and carrying any drugs he wished."
After just one day in Los Angeles, Elvis asked [Jerry] Schilling to fly with him back to the capital. "He didn't say why," Schilling recalls, "but I thought the badge might be part of the reason."

On the red-eye to Washington, Elvis scribbled a letter to President Nixon. "Sir, I can and will be of any service that I can to help the country out," he wrote. All he wanted in return was a federal agent's badge. "I would love to meet you," he added, informing Nixon that he'd be staying at the Washington Hotel under the alias Jon Burrows. "I will be here for as long as it takes to get the credentials of a federal agent."
That's all it took to get an Oval Office meeting with Nixon, who happily posed for pictures with the King of Rock and Roll. The National Archives has an entire online exhibit called When Nixon Met Elvis and there's a hilarious movie, Elvis Meets Nixon, which takes some liberties with the truth and features my cyber-friend Curtis Armstrong as Farley Hall. Both are highly recommended by me.

Nixon went on to quit the presidency over Watergate, while Elvis died on the crapper.