They grow up so fast.
“I’ve been thinking about it,” I told my teenage son, so close to adulthood and yet still so much a boy. “I think it’s time you started listening to Frank Zappa.”
I’m prone to declarations like this, especially when I’ve got all the kids in the car and my carefully curated Pandora streams rolling. It is during these times that I like to dispense what I consider to be my most comprehensive pieces of fatherly wisdom: my exhaustive — and, at times, exhausting — knowledge of the Tree of Rock.
In our rides to and from school, to sleepovers and birthday parties, from dates and heavy video-game sessions, I’ve demonstrated how what we call “rock” rose up from the blues and then fragmented into all the things we love. We’ve looked at Brian Setzer’s rockabilly and Dick Dale’s surf guitar, and their connection to Johnny Cash. A David Bowie station helped me explain the British Invasion, glam rock, the importance of Queen and Pink Floyd, and how it all morphed into the big-time 1970s rock-and-roll stew that eventually begat punk rock, which in turn informed ska and grunge. This week I’ll close that circle by playing them a version of a James Booker song performed by the Clash.
I’ve explained to them the concept of Southern rock, that without the Byrds there would have been no Tom Petty, and how heavy metal crawled from a soup boiled by Black Sabbath, Jethro Tull and Led Zeppelin.
After exhaustingly deconstructing the Clapton/Page/Beck matrix, we landed on Jeff Beck for a bit. My oldest, a guitarist, recognized the intricacies of time and key immediately.
“You’re named for him,” I told the kid.
And that brought us over into Frank Zappa’s realm of weirdness, concocted from fragments of doo-wop, classical structure and lush horn arrangements — when I was in my twenties I saw George Clinton’s horn section riff on Zappa’s hook from “Cosmik Debris,” which may be the only thing I remember from that show except for the guy in the diaper wailing on guitar.
This spring and summer, I hope to move backwards from Parliament, down through the Meters, James Booker and all the way back to Congo Square, and then back up again to jazz, soul and the many branches of hip-hop.
But it’s true what they say about kids: There’s never enough time.