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8.01-CONCENTRATION MOON (Mothers of Invention)

Mothers of Invention

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Concentration Moon
Over the camp in the valley;
Concentration Moon,
Wish I was back in the alley.

        With all of my friends still running free,
        Hair growing out every hole in me.

                American Way--
                How did it start?
                Thousands of creeps
                Killed in the park.
                American Way--
                Try and explain
                Scab of a nation
                Driven insane.

                            Don't cry!
                            Gotta go bye bye
                            Suddenly die, die.
                            Cop, kill a creep! pow pow pow

[Spoken: Tomorrow I get to do another Frank Zappa creation . . . and the day after that . . . and the day after that . . .]

[Spoken: Hi, boys & girls, I'm Jimmy Carl Black, and I'm the Indian of the group.]

[Repeat 1st verse]

        [Chorus]

                American Way
                Threatened by us;
                Drag a few creeps
                Away in a bus.
                American Way:
                Prisoner lock-
                Smash every creep
                In the face with a rock.

                            [Repeat D section]


Steve Huey of allmusic wrote of We're Only In It For The Money: “From the beginning, Frank Zappa cultivated a role as voice of the freaks -- imaginative outsiders who didn't fit comfortably into any group. We're Only in it for the Money is the ultimate expression of that sensibility, a satirical masterpiece that simultaneously skewered the hippies and the straights as prisoners of the same narrow-minded, superficial phoniness. Zappa's barbs were vicious and perceptive, and not just humorously so: his seemingly paranoid vision of authoritarian violence against the counterculture was borne out two years later by the Kent State killings…Regardless of how dark the subject matter, there's a pervasively surreal, whimsical flavor to the music, sort of like Sgt. Pepper as a creepy nightmare.”

Frank Zappa was between the “us” against “them”, the “hippies” and the “straights”, an artist who lived between those dimensions as a “freak”.(It is easy to speculate that cops would have referenced "freaks" as "creeps", leaving them undifferentiated from "hippies".) He never bought into the peace and love movement, and thought it just another version of self-righteousness. We’re Only in it for the Money pointed out repeatedly that the hippie way was a tawdry life of social diseases, filth, and drug addled stupidity, far from its idealization of itself, while pointing out too that there was a violent authoritarian source of repression out there that was looking for any excuse to rid the world of misfits.

Whereas Bob Dylan’s John Wesley Harding album had signaled a personal withdrawal into archetypal imagery from the “hype” that he felt psychedelic music had become, Frank Zappa in We’re Only in it for the Money began to articulate a stance against the aesthetic in direct challenge of it, while at the same time showing mastery of its available engineering technology. His psychedelic pastiche technique, pushing far beyond what Sgt. Pepper had attempted, blended voice snippets with songs that had an irregular and extended structure. (Zappa’s type of humor is as profane as that of Lenny Bruce, but it is essentially a humor shared with the Beatles in Sgt. Pepper--who, after all, laughed at the religious poetry of Within You and Without You at the end of the track.) Zappa perhaps thought people were being all too serious about their hippie sensibility, treating Sgt. Pepper like the received word of God, and that it was time to be more self-critical. In songs like Let’s Make the Water Turn Black, Zappa suggests that psychedelic experimentalism is sometimes as infantile as when kids make chemistry projects out of excrement. [Further, the song (which along with several other cuts of the album suffered extensive censorship in 1968) makes a point of having to employ infantile language (“poots”, “whizzing”, “numies”) because direct usage of words like “piss” and “shit” weren’t allowed.]

Gary Kellgren, engineer of We’re Only in it for the Money also served as engineer for the Velvet Underground & Nico album, Eric Burdon and the Animals’ Winds of Change and The Twain Shall Meet, as well as the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Electric Ladyland.

We're Only In It For The MoneyWe’re Only in it for the Money had nowhere near the success of Sgt. Pepper, but it did carry the Mothers of Invention to the highest position that the group would achieve on the Billboard charts. Its message was heard across the hippie underground, and perfectly timed for the change of aesthetic occurring in the rock audience. Of course, the album single-handedly shut down the efforts of rock groups to riff on the Sgt. Pepper album cover. It’s interesting to note that the album was complete by October 1967; it’s reported that legal disputes and censorship issues held up its release for five months. Shit! What effect would this record have had when the psychedelic aesthetic was still rushing toward some of its greatest achievements? Maybe it would have been brushed aside.

The public in the Fall of 1967 was still riding what seemed infinite “progress” with promise of enlightenment. By March 1968 the momentum of the psychedelic aesthetic had broken down. We’re Only in it for the Money struck me as terrible thing to say about Sgt. Pepper when it was released, but I, and a good portion of hippiedom , were ready to hear Zappa’s criticism and be influenced by his mockery; the album helped loosen the grip of sound engineering wizardry and surrealistic poetry on public taste.

Concentration Moon conjures up a science fiction nightmare from the 1960s metaphor of hope, flying to the moon, turning it into a bleak concentration camp, where those “creeps” that aren’t killed by the police state are sent in exile. It’s sort of like America’s version of the Soviet Union's gulag in Siberia. In this conflict, it seems that nobody’s really right or wrong: the “creeps” are merely the “scab of a nation driven insane”, the result of societal rather than psychological responsibility. It is the outcome of the American Way, a Way that needs to be reassessed. Too many people are excluded (including Native Americans) and therefore become “creeps” to be exterminated or imprisoned on the moon.

Unfortunately, one of the techniques of the psychedelic aesthetic for making an album feel as if it were tied together was to have snippets or skits that continued a certain tone or theme throughout. The Who, for example, had done this to tie together the various songs of Sell Out. Usually such threads were at the beginning or ending of a song, however, and could easily be edited out. In the case of Concentration Moon, the spoken portions are no more than an interruption to the song when heard in isolation, but help to integrate the album as a whole.

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