After an adolescence of knowing about Zappa from the back pages of rock encyclopaedias and the odd reference encountered as a hardcore Beatles fan (John & Yoko jammed with him in the early ’70s, their collaboration forming the majority of record two of the Sometime In New York City album - later released as a section of Zappa's own Playground Psychotics; George Harrison referenced him in the lyrics of the song 'Blood From A Clone', on Somewhere in England; the album artwork to We're Only In It For The Money parodied Sgt Pepper) I started buying and enjoying his music.
I've previously blogged about how much of a mission being into Zappa was, in the late-’80s, when so little of his work was easily available in Australia at the time.
By the time of his death in 1993, almost all of his oeuvre had been reissued on CD and I more-or-less came to own it all - all the while acquiring whatever I could on the original vinyl as well.
An interesting item is the double album Uncle Meat. Its subtitle claims that it contains “MOST OF THE MUSIC FROM THE MOTHER’S MOVIE OF THE SAME NAME WHICH WE HAVEN'T GOT ENOUGH MONEY TO FINISH YET”. I realise now the apostrophe is in the wrong place. Never mind. Dig the artwork: a collage of photography, glass, teeth and who-knows-what.
It was the first album on the 'Bizarre' label - set up by Zappa and manager Herb Cohen, and distributed by Warner Brothers/Reprise. I've read that the name of the label, 'Bizarre', was inspired by the anthology of weird writing that Barry Humphries had compiled, entitled Bizarre. A journalist claims to have spotted it, during an interview, on Zappa’s shelf. (I think it was in a piece in Craig McGregor's 1973 anthology, Up Against The Wall, America.)
The name of the album, however, was inspired by the uncle of Zappa's childhood friend Don Van Vliet. According to Zappa's autobiography The Real Frank Zappa Book, Uncle Alan had a habit of exposing himself to Don's girlfriend Laurie. He's go to the bathroom and urinate with the door open, turning around to announce that "it's like a great big beef heart". That was Uncle Meat. The event was also the inspiration for Van Vliet's stage name, Captain Beefheart.
Uncle Meat is a distinctively quirky, mostly instrumental double album. On CD, it's quirkier still: a double disc set containing most of the album on disc 1. Disc 2 includes excerpts of soundtrack dialogue from what would have been the Uncle Meat movie - as well as a ridiculous new song called 'Tegno Na Minchia Tanta' (essentially, Italian for 'I have a big dick' - or, more literally, 'I am holding a dick this big'). Those tracks really break with the feel of the late-’60s album - and have come to be referred to as 'penalty tracks'. A frequent question for fans on the forum of the Zappa homepage regarding the recent re-issue of the entire catalogue, is whether Uncle Meat would be re-issued with the penalty tracks. It has been.
Thing is, the dialogue was the first signal that the Uncle Meat movie was finally being released. It was one of a number of VHS videos - including Amazing Mr. Bickford and The True Story of Frank Zappa's 200 Motels - that finally saw the light of day. Sadly, none of these titles are currently available - although bits of Bickford's work appear in Frank Zappa - Baby Snakes, which is available on DVD.
Uncle Meat the movie - in its final release - was part documentary and part cheesy monster movie; like so much of Zappa's filmed work, it didn't know what genre it wanted to be and so attempted to be many things at once. Most obviously - having been completed many years after shooting had commenced - it was part documentary, part cheesy monster movie. Elements seemed to serve as a prequel to sequences that turned up in 200 Motels. And - trust me - make just as little sense, really. Perhaps even less.
A friend recalls me trying hard to make him and another buddy watch it - a good 20-odd years ago. "I remember it being very psychedelic," he says, and attributes to the other mate the phrase "Wow, that was doing my head in," but they appreciated my love of FZ - "like crack cocaine to you, I recall" - even if they didn't share it. I'm not sure if he's recalling the time I made them watch Uncle Meat the movie, the time I made them watch 200 Motels, or the time I made them watch The Amazing Mr Bickford. It doesn't matter. Our respective responses were the same each time, and I'm glad they indulged me. I probably only ever watched each one once - and yet if this were released on DVD or Bluray, I'd buy it the second it was available.
For now, someone has uploaded it, so I'm using Youtube to watch it, and that's pretty cool.
Enjoy. If you can.