In First Concerts, authors discuss their first live music experience and the impact it might have had on their work overall. We've talked to dozens of novelists, playwrights, and poets and discovered amazing stories of the unhinged live performances or forgotten B-sides that have inspired their work and kept them writing.
Welcome to First Concerts.
What was the first concert you ever attended? How old were you?
My first concert was a Halloween show at the Palladium, in NYC, by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. I think I was 15 at the time, though I have had this fact-checked in the past by a magazine, and they insisted it was a year later, when I was 16. I guess it doesn't make that much difference. I was in my middle teens. It was either 1976 or 1977. My older sister, who had introduced me to Zappa a year or so before (during a year when I memorably encountered a lot of music that would really change things for me - Pink Floyd, Roxy Music, David Bowie, Mott the Hoople, Todd Rundgren, etc.), got us the tickets for my birthday. She was sort of a bad influence. We took a guy who'd been my roommate that year up at boarding school. He was called Andy.
What do you remember about the performance?
It was a vintage Zappa concert of the period that produced the LIVE IN NEW YORK album, and, later, SHEIK YERBOUTI, which I think was comprised of players like Terry Bozzio, and Patrick O'Hearn on bass, and maybe Adrian Belew. I can't remember all of them. It was a mixture of really complex stuff ("The Black Page") and really profane stuff ("The Illinois Enema Bandit"). I was the perfect age for the profane stuff. I remember that Don Pardo was a sort of announcer for the show (he figured in "The Illinois Enema Bandit" a little bit), and that Zappa unfurled a banner, at one point, that said "Warner Brothers Record Company Sucks," which struck me as remarkably combative, even at that age. There were some dripping, lava-lamp style projections which I loved. Zappa played some remarkable guitar solos.
Andy, my roommate smoked a lot of pot and drank some, courtesy of the unknown guy sitting next to us, and threw up during the encore. This was very uncool. Everyone moved away from him as quickly as possible. I'm sure he felt very bad about it. My sister was probably just hoping he wouldn't throw up in her car on the way back to Westchester County.
How do you think that experience affected you as an artist?
It's funny that, as a 16-year-old, I was in those days mostly taken by the adolescent humor side of Zappa, because it is his remarkably complicated time signatures and instrumental passages that, in the end, had a mark on me, and led me to hard bop and serious music and Stockhausen and Stravinsky and Ornette Coleman and Sun Ra and African music, and, of course Captain Beefheart. Zappa was a gateway drug for very serious listening, which commenced not long after this period. It was all because of my sister the bad influence, really.
I still listen to Frank Zappa a fair amount, and, these days, it's mostly the authorized live recordings that Gail Zappa has been releasing a little bit at a time on the Internet. I think he was a real American original. The Charles Ives of California rock and roll. The idiosyncrasy of him definitely helped me to become the writer I imagine I am. For example, Zappa once said: Anything Anytime Anywhere for No Reason At All. I definitely try to live by this code.
RICK MOODY'S MOST RECENT BOOK
On Celestial Music and Other Adventures in Listening,
Hachette Book Group, 2012