I came across an old notebook – about A6 in size, with a solid cover in a truly sickeningly bright shade of yellow. Only the first twenty or so pages are written on. It appears to be a kind of work book-cum-diary and, in addition to a school timetable, contains truly execrable poetry that can best be described as the kind of song lyrics written by a pretentious, geeky teenager. To wit:
Why do you hold back
And then stand upon my toes?
Against the fence, your [sic] too intense
To try and grasp my prose
The fact is, they are indeed the kind of song lyrics written by a pretentious, geeky teenager. I was that pretentious, geeky teenager, and they are my song lyrics, dating back from – for me, half a lifetime ago – January 1989. (The song went on to be called ‘A Bluer Shade of Deep’, the title at once inspired by both George Harrison’s ‘Deep Blue’ – originally the flipside of the ‘Bangla Desh’ single and now located at the tail end of the newly remastered Living in the Material World CD – and ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ by Procol Harum. It was going to be part of a heavy concept album, to be entitled either From the Sublime to the Ridiculous – And Back Again! or, possibly, I Am My Own Phallic Symbol. It was brimful of self-righteous arrogance.)
More significant than the shit lyrics, written more than half a lifetime ago for me now, are the diary entries. This one is particularly meaningful:
On Monday 30th (of January) – the tail-end of the school holidays – my mates Noz and Damien have come over to watch a U2 video. I’ve played them something called ‘Telling…’, which I recall was a song, now lost, called ‘Telling It Like It Is’. (It was a thinly veiled personal attack on someone who I thought was behaving insincerely. Such things, as a geeky teenager, are worth turning into songs.) The ‘getting there Willy-baby’ reference is most likely some 3-unit English work, to be completed over the holidays, that was left to the absolute last moment – we were studying [Willy-baby] Shakespeare’s comedies, Twelfth Night and The Tempest
But more important than this, it seems the following day, January 31, 1989, is the auspicious day on which I appear to have “acquired” my first two Frank Zappa albums: Joe’s Garage Act 1 and Studio Tan. I actually remember buying them, at my favourite halfback book and record store, in Dee Why, on Howard Avenue. I guess there were no Beatles-related albums of interest that day. And I got right into it, clearly, having knocked off a quick sketch of Frankie himself, in ink. I can’t help marvelling at how my shit writing – the product of a St Kieran’s primary school education (pretty much everyone in my year from there still has crap handwriting) hasn’t changed at all in nearly twenty years.
I can’t believe I didn’t write about what my first two Zappa albums were like.
However, over the next couple of pages I note the acquisition of further albums – as if that was the most important thing I was doing at the time, that required preserving for posterity.
Even though his contract with EMI had expired and his albums were, once again, pretty much deleted, you could still find the odd Frank Zappa album, brand new, on a shelf – old stock that had failed to sell. So I soon had a copy of Frank Zappa Meets the Mothers of Prevention - European Version from a David Jones store. You used to be able to depend on the music sections of department stores for old gems that had spent quality time gathering dust in a store room. Sale time was particularly good to pick up deleted items at bargain prices – I once picked up a copy of the shaped picture disc single of the Rolling Stones’s ‘Brown Sugar’, with ‘Bitch’ on the flip side, for three dollars.
Mall Music, the shop I worked in over the summer holidays, had a copy of London Symphony Orchestra Volume II. It was on Zappa’s own Barking Pumpkin label, imported and distributed by an independent company called Avant Gard.
Somewhere in between or soon after those albums, I know I returned to that halfback book and record place to discover Overnite Sensation and Just Another Band From L.A. I remember running into my buddy Fiona Hastings that day. She was on her way to a funeral for the mother of a friend, at St Kevin’s Church at Dee Why.
I distinctly remember that Frank Zappa album number seven for me was the predominantly live Roxy & Elsewhere – it’s not annotated in the little yellow notebook but I recall finding it in the two-dollar rack at the Dee Why Loan Office, on my way to a meeting of the Warringah Shire Youth Council. Since it was a double album, it cost me $4. Another time, in that same pawnshop, on that same rack, I found a copy of George Harrison’s Concert for Bangla Desh, in its box, with the yummy full colour booklet. Three records. $6. The box had seen better days, but was still none too shabby. Records and booklet were still immaculate. But that’s another story.
But all that’s by-the-by.
The thing I love most in this note book is a stupid little drawing entitled Black Führer: an African American has a parted fringe and toothbrush moustache, a la Adolph Hitler. The parted afro was inspired by my own unruly hair, always a bitch to comb into anything but a duck’s ass, and to some extent, by Gene Wilder as he appears in Young Frankenstein.
Thoughtless racism or inspired, absurdist satire? I'll let you be the judge – although I think it’s probably a little bit of both.