The old "All About Mike" was just a press release about "Boil That Dust Speck" but I got tired of having that thing purporting to be all about me. So here goes...the official Keneally autobiographical profile (I must be out of my mind)...
I was utterly born on December 20 1961 in Long Island, NY. This birth date brings up an interesting point regarding teachers/disciples: my birthday is one day before that of my primary musical influence, FZ. Frank's birthday is one day before that of Edgard Varese. I'm not making any claims here, just pointing out what I find to be an interesting bit of information.
I had a miserable temper as a child and very little patience. When Mom was putting groceries away I would scream at her to make sure all the labels on the canned goods faced towards the front of the cabinet for easy identification. Somehow such idiosyncrasies were tolerated, and apart from the occasional manic outburst brought on by my own perfectionism, childhood was delightful...thanks to my parents, who were always maniacally proud and supportive of my odd pursuits. Once I got into school and found that I had a fondness for the cultivation of knowledge, my flare-ups subsided a lot.
Neither of my parents played instruments but Dad was a hell of a whistler and he sang constantly (frequently with intentionally "adjusted" lyrics...I have very different memories of a lot of old standards thanks to him). The radio was constantly on, we had a lot of parties with music blasting, and my sister Bobbi was deep in the throes of Beatlemania. I would exploit this situation by playing her records when she was out of the house...at the age of four my favorite record was "Rubber Soul". The first album I could call my own was "Sgt. Pepper" (Bobbi lost interest in the group when their hair got too long and their music too freaky); before that, the Cowsills' version of "Hair" (good vocal arrangement) was my first single. My brother Marty was three and a half years older (still is) and we had the disagreements common to all siblings but found common ground in music. His first single was Tommy Roe's "Dizzy", his first album "Abbey Road". (What's more absurd, that I would remember that or that I feel driven to tell you about it?) Anyway we spent a lot of time recording songs off the radio onto our little cassette machine and getting more and more into it.
For my seventh birthday, although I hadn't asked for one, my parents bought me a little organ, manufactured by Magnus with one manual and a bunch of buttons on the left side to play chords. I started playing "Paint It, Black" fairly instantly and thereupon could not be dragged away. A couple of years later we were living in San Diego and a year after that I'd gotten my first guitar, but my childhood/teen years were spent with the understanding that my lot was to be a pop organist. Pop, meaning "Begin the Beguine" and leisure suits and white shoes. For some reason I thought there was a future in this sort of thing.
My alternate life was a little more odd, having discovered progressive rock on San Diego FM radio and finding it to be an interesting amplification of some of the things I most enjoyed about the Beatles (I remember the first time I heard "The Yes Album" in a record store I actually thought I was dreaming. It sounded like another world). I heard "Tarkus" on the radio (those were cool days for FM radio..."hey, we just got the new [insert uncommercial act of your choice] album...let's play the whole thing") and secretly conspired to become that kind of keyboardist, although I kept up appearances and became pretty efficient on the bass pedals as my organ underwent period updating. To this day I'm grateful for the ability to play the bass pedals on an organ...it's such a twisted skill.
The next step in my burgeoning weirdification occurred when Eric McGrew across the street played "Freak Out!" for me, specifically "Help, I'm A Rock". I loved it. I loved it. (In the article about me that ran in Musician magazine after "hat." came out, Matt Resnicoff wrote that "Freak Out!" [I might be paraphrasing] "collated his obsessive interests in music and Mad magazine". That's pretty much spot on.) It was essential that I obtain the album from him in a trade and I did. I had a crush on a girl in fifth grade named Karen who spoke to me only rarely but when I played "Help, I'm A Rock" at Show and Tell she accosted me in the cloak room and said that if I thought that was music I must be INSANE. Music had brought me closer to the girl of my dreams! I began to realize its terrible power.
'Twas on my eleventh birthday that my first guitar, a teeny acoustic jobber, was bespooched unto me. I holed up in my room with a cassette recorder and made tapes that sound remarkably like John Frusciante's solo album. (When I re-tool the Tar Tapes for CD I hope to release some of this material. Prepare to be amazed.) For the same birthday I received "Mothers Fillmore East June 1971". At that point I learned it was wise to use headphones when listening to Zappa. I had no idea you were allowed to say that kind of stuff on a record. One time I brought the album to a classmate's house (Teddy Tibbets, where are you now?) and left it on the turntable while we went out to play. When we returned his mother had found it and accosted us with great vigor.. We made up some extraordinary stories...when she objected to "Bwana Dik" Teddy told her that DIK were initials for something completely innocent (I can't remember what). When she objected to "Willie The Pimp" I righteously informed her it was an instrumental (good thing I hadn't brought "Hot Rats") and thus completely unobjectionable. It might as well have been an Osmonds record by the time we were through with it. Eleven-year- olds can be very resourceful.
My brother Marty wasn't particularly interested or impressed by the organ, but when I got a guitar his interest in playing music was piqued. Gradually he began to pick up more and more guitar and he and I made a lot of duo recordings (on Bobbi's old two-track at first, then later in the decade we got a four-track Dokorder, then a two-track Dokorder for mixing down) at home through the seventies, mostly cover tunes (a lot of Santana and CSNY because we had their songbooks) although originals would crop up every now and again (see Drawer of Grin for some of the writing I was doing around this time).
Somewhere in here I turned 14 and went to a party way on the other side of San Diego and met Vivian Spurlin. I was immediately smitten but it didn't seem possible to seriously pursue a relationship since we lived so far from one another. For the next seven years we saw each other once a year or so on a very casual basis and finally got married in 1985. I recommend this method (seeing a person once a year over a long period of time before committing to a serious relationship) to anyone considering wedlock.
Marty and I mainly pursued music as a duo but the opportunity to play at the Miss Santee Beauty Pageant (Santee being a community in East San Diego where we were living at the time) presented itself. We enlisted two friends of ours, Ed Roenker on acoustic guitar and Tony Gray on electric accordion. Marty played electric guitar and I played the organ and ARP soloist synthesizer. My left foot played bass and the rhythm box in my Hammond was the drummer. We played "Light My Fire", and "Evil Ways" and "Samba Pa Ti" by Santana. All we needed was a name, and we never came up with one. The MC of the pageant (who looked like George Jetson...we would quietly sing "here come old flat-top" whenever he approached us) introduced us thus: "Let's hear it for a group". It's all on tape somewhere.
Graduation from high school loomed. I began considering options (work? college?) until my father informed that I was to do neither, that it was my duty to stay home and write songs and allow him to subsidize my activities. I swear that this is true. There is no way to overstate my gratitude to my parents and Marty for fostering an atmosphere which allowed me to create freely without pressure.
Marty and I tired of the overdubbed duo approach so we started playing with a variety of drummers and bassists, although all we did was rehearse incessantly, we never did live gigs (except for one New Years' gig at a Knights of Columbus hall in the early 80s. The first song we played was "Night After Night" by UK, and I remember playing "One More Red Nightmare" by King Crimson and "The Sliding Floor" by Bruford during the evening. We were a real hit machine). By this time we had obtained a decent stack of keyboards for me to play and I was primed to become the Keith Emerson of the 80s. Throughout the 80s I continued to play guitar for fun and started learning more and more Zappa tunes, not realizing I was actually doing job preparation. (My other big guitar project had been a few summers earlier, probably 1978, when I set out to learn every Gentle Giant guitar part, and after a couple of weeks I could play along with the entire catalog. Then I learned "Passion Play" and was starting on "Thick As A Brick" when my attention was somehow diverted.)
In 1982 we acquired an Oberheim DMX drum machine and I was really writing a lot, so we started recording demos incessantly. This is the material that constitutes the lion's share of the Tar Tapes material. I also had a real bass by now, a Peavey, and really enjoyed playing it. To this day I get a special thrill from playing bass which is difficult to describe.
1983 brought about our first band formed specifically for the purpose of playing in clubs and making money. We were called Graphic, and in addition to Marty and I there was Roy Garrity on drums (he also got to sing the Van Halen and ZZ Top songs) and Andy Vereen on bass and vocal (Andy is audible on the song "Rosemary Girl" on "hat.", and has had a band called Burning Bridges for a long time in San Diego...recently their albums have begun to receive very positive national attention). Again I had no idea of what was required for a club band to be successful, and insisted on playing Thomas Dolby and Split Enz songs for audiences who wanted nothing more alternative than "Honky Tonk Women". Eventually, I believe, Roy pulled a gun on Andy for some reason and it seemed like time to break up the band.
FZ answered phone calls at the Pumpkin office a couple of times in the 80s, and in 1985 I got through to him. The main question I had was about some lyrics in the "Strictly Genteel" finale (they were "bent, reamed and wasted"), but I also mentioned it was a dream of mine to work with him someday. His response: "Keep dreaming. I'm never going on the road again."
Through the '80s Marty and I continued to capture my songwriting efforts on four-track tape. Another experiment was launched in 1985 with nuptials impending...my first attempt at a day job. I attempted to sell keyboards for a couple of months at a store called Music Mart. I even appeared in TV commercials for the store, standing on a stage in a line with my fellow employees, singing the Music Mart jingle. I quickly discovered that I did not have the salesman's temperament and beat a hasty retreat, although at least one good thing came out of the job: a musician named Larry Rathburn saw me demo a Roland synth by playing the main riff from "Jump" and decided on the spot that I should play keyboards in his band LA (which also featured Annie Levin, an extremely engaging vocalist...LA = Larry & Annie, see?). For nearly two years this band was an extremely dependable source of income, and we had a lot of fun. Larry now plays around San Diego as Rockin' Joe Rathburn and remains a good friend.
Although I was still an active member of LA, I felt the need to lead an original band, and Drop Control was formed in January 1986: Marty, me, Doug Booth on bass and vocal and Alan Silverstein on drums and vocal. We played at being a quintet for awhile (Andy Vereen came to a couple of rehearsals, and an electric violinist named Chris Vitus sat in with us on at least one occasion) but ultimately it was decided to stay with the more wieldy quartet format. Although it was our intention to play original music, the lure of the ducat proved irresistible and eventually we found ourselves playing covers. It was with this band that I made my only public appearances playing alto saxophone, on "Tequila". The second time I attempted it, it sounded so awful I laid down on the ground with the sax, left it on the floor when I got up and never picked it up again. As Drop Control took up more and more of my attention I found it difficult to be in two full-time bands, and took my leave from the group LA.
(This following section is the official getting into Frank's band story, with every detail I can call to mind at the moment.) Drop Control was in the middle of a fairly lengthy stint at a club called the Moonglow (its empty husk still resides at the intersection of Clairemont Drive and Clairemont Mesa Blvd., unless something else has moved into it by now) when I called 818-PUMPKIN and discovered that Frank was in rehearsals with a new band. My initial thought was "Cool. I get to see another Zappa show." But upon further reflection I realized that this would very likely be my final opportunity to work with him (I sadly didn't realize how true that was...at the time I just figured he wouldn't want to do more than one last tour, especially considering what he'd told me on the phone a couple of years earlier).
So the day after hearing the message on the PUMPKIN answering machine, I called back early enough to get an actual human on the phone. It happened to be Gerald Fialka (to whom I owe an EXTREMELY IMMENSE debt of gratitude). I informed him who I was, that I could sing and play keyboards and guitar, and that I didn't know if Frank was auditioning but I was highly conversant with the Zappa repertoire and would love a chance to try out. (Legend has grown in some quarters that I can play every Zappa tune - one version has it that I can play them BACKWARDS - but I've never claimed this. My only claim was that my FAMILIARITY with the repertoire was extensive, and that [owing to the fact that I've got a good ear] I could be counted on to provide a working version of the rock tunes [not the orchestral or Synclavier stuff, although I did know "Night School" and part of "Beltway Bandits" at the time] at a moment's notice.) Gerald thanked me for calling and said he'd pass on the information. I hung up, thinking that nothing would come of it but I was glad to have taken the initiative.
To the best of my recollection it was THE NEXT DAY when I got a call from the office, a woman (it might have been Muriel) who asked if I could come up to audition for Frank THAT NIGHT.
Here's where I did something that I would never ever do now. I TURNED DOWN the audition because Drop Control had a gig at the Moonglow that night. You have to understand what a piece of shit club this was. I didn't even call the other guys in the band to see if it was OK if I went up for the audition, I just got all integrity-filled and said that I couldn't POSSIBLY skip out on a gig (playing Huey Lewis tunes and "I Want Your Sex" by George Michael, and maybe "Born On The Bayou" sometimes). (Actually something like this DID happen recently, when I turned down an audition for Todd Rundgren's band...but I ran it by Dweezil before I officially declined.) So I asked the mystery woman if it would be possible to come up during the weekend (it was Friday when this conversation took place). She said she wasn't sure if Frank was conducting auditions during the weekend but someone would get back to me if he did. I hung up and suddenly felt really stupid about what I'd just done - there was a very real possibility that I had blown my chance; what if another guy got an audition before me and got the gig? - but tried to comfort myself with the thought that I had done right by my band. (Later my band would inform me that I was an idiot to not take the audition that night, and they were very right.) Marty and I arrived at the Moonglow that night and despite my misgivings about the day's events I was determined to do right by Huey Lewis that evening. Walking into the club I saw another band's equipment on stage. Huh? I asked the club owner Jim Duncan what was up. Oh, sorry, he'd meant to call me...he decided to hire another band for the evening.
I won't attempt to put into words how I felt then. I can feel rage rising in me now just thinking about it. The worst part was that I couldn't even convey to this cocksucker the magnitude of his sin - he'd never heard of Frank Zappa. Marty had to physically sit me down and try to cool me out. I think I downed a few beers in succession and managed to drown my misery to the point that I could vacate the premises without tearing anybody's fucking head off. We went home and I endured a very miserable night...with the promise of an even more miserable weekend (this was Friday night...the PUMPKIN office was closed and would be until Monday morning and I had no other number to call).
The next day I was alone in the house staring at the phone until it rang. I said hello and was asked by a woman if I would hold for Frank Zappa. I suggested that this was a definite possibility. Frank got on a few seconds later, genially introduced himself and got to the point.
"I understand you know everything I've done." (Hmm, a slight exaggeration...how should I deal with this?)
"I'm familiar with all of it, yes."
"Do you have any idea how many songs that is?"
"Yeah, they're all in the other room."
"I don't believe you. Get your ass up here and prove it."
I suggested that this was a definite possibility.
Frank gave me a list of some of the tunes the band was soon to rehearse (I still have the titles scrawled in a lyric book within which I was writing a song called "Targetland" when the phone rang). He said I should come up that evening for an audition, prepared to play "What's New In Baltimore?" and "Sinister Footwear II". I can't remember why now, but I didn't have access to a car right then, and Viv wasn't around for some reason. I got in touch with Marty and made plans for him to drive me up. Then I frantically learned those two tunes - utter bears, both of them - and got them to a respectable level of playability ("Sinister" I'd messed about with a few years earlier and promptly forgot, "Baltimore" I'd never played before).
Marty drove me up to LA and I practiced the tunes, and every other FZ song I could think of, in the back seat. I remember sweating over a couple of notes in "Little House I Used To Live In" - Marty noticed my building panic and said I was as prepared as I was going to be, and Frank would either realize it or not. Lurching into a frenzy at this point wasn't going to help me at all. I recognized this for the sage advice it was and calmed greatly, although I kept playing. We even stopped for burgers.
We had more trouble finding the rehearsal studio than we should have and I began to worry that Frank might leave before our arrival, but this was not the case. The rehearsal space was enormous (formerly part of Francis Coppola's Zoetrope Studios) and occupied only by my brother and myself, Bob Rice, Bruce Fowler (just leaving) and FZ. Since I'd been playing the guitar in the back seat I didn't bother to put it in its case. Frank's first words to me were "nice case". (I realize I've told this story a billion times and many of you may not want to read it again but I wanted to get every last detail out of my head and onto this page before I disintegrate.) Bob Rice was playing a Synclavier sequence of "The Black Page # 1"; I plugged into Ike Willis' rig and chumped along with it. Frank was not horrified. He asked to hear the two songs he'd mentioned on the phone and I chumped through those as well (playing the post-solo melody in "Sinister" with no backing for its composer is daunting. Understand also...I still consider myself a babe in the woods in a lot of ways when it comes to theory, and I've come a long way in seven years. Back then when I learned a Zappa melody I was going completely by feel; I didn't break it down and figure out that "this is a septuplet over two beats followed by a triplet followed by a quintuplet with the second and fourth notes missing" or whatever...in other words I was faking my way through it. This became dreadfully apparent, to me at least, when I started rehearsing with the full band and had to get my shit together in a hurry. But, going one-on-one with Frank at the audition, somehow my inexperience was not a hindrance. I lucked out).
Then Frank wanted to test my repertoire comprehension and started suggesting random song titles. The ones I remember now are "Cheepnis", "We're Turning Again" and "Studebacher Hoch". I presented presentable versions of each. We harmonized, vocally, on a couple of things (he liked the blend but was a little concerned about the "shaky" quality of my voice, which I assured him was pretty much unique to this event) and he made me try to sing "he could be a dog or a frog or a lesbian queen" to watch me struggle through the leaping fourths. He put a chord chart for "Yo Cats" up and I failed miserably, which he acknowledged.
He asked if I knew "G-Spot Tornado" on guitar. I didn't but I had learned "Night School", so he had Bob Rice get the Synclavier print-out of the score to read along as I played the melody. When I got done one of the famous eyebrows rose heavenward. "There was only wrong note". I started feeling really good around this time.
Then he set out the music for "Strictly Genteel" on top of a DX-7 and asked me to play the piano part. I couldn't sight read worth a damn, still can't, so I squinted at the page and played it by ear. Now I've heard interviews where Frank says he's gotten incensed at auditioners who pretended to read, but I must have done a reasonable job because even when I copped to doing exactly that, Frank was visibly amused rather than offended. And at this point he shook my hand and said I was a remarkable musician, and that I'd best return for the rehearsal on Monday so "the rest of the band can witness your particular splendor".
Marty and I did a lot of screaming in the car on the way home.
The best part was when we got home and I checked my answering machine, finding three successive messages from Jim Duncan, the owner of the Moonglow (the club that had nearly ruined my life the night before). Drop Control was booked to play there again on Saturday but I of course blew it off when Frank called for the audition. Here's an approximation of the three messages:
"[beep] Hi, Mike, it's Jim Duncan at the Moonglow. It's about an hour before showtime and I was kind of wondering where you guys were. I'm sure there's no problem - I'll see you when you get here."
"[beep] Mike, Jim Duncan again. You were supposed to start playing five minutes ago. I hope everything's OK, see you when you get here."
"[beep] Mike, it's Jim. I'm sorry it had to come to this. Obviously there was some misunderstanding. I'm sorry. Goodbye."
I could not POSSIBLY have been happier than I was to hear those messages.
The following Monday marked the beginning of my audition period with the full band. When my brother and I arrived at the rehearsal hall I was instructed (I don't recall by whom) to set up my gear on the upstage riser, in the same portion of the stage the horn section would soon occupy. At this point the horn guys might have been hired, but if so they didn't start attending rehearsals until a while later. And when they did, they were originally positioned on the floor in front of the riser, in the position that I would eventually occupy. One day I came in to rehearse and found that the positions had been switched, the horns were now behind me. But I get ahead of myself now, as I always do. On my first day of rehearsal/audition the band consisted of Chad, Scott, Ed, Robert, Frank and, tentatively, myself. Ray White had just done a disappearing act and there was not yet anyone to fill the lead vocalist chair - Ike made a social appearance on that first day but I don't recall him singing; there was about a week of vocalist auditions before Ike officially joined (thank God - the other guys who auditioned were a shockingly motley lot. I remember being stunned that a person of Frank's position in the industry was giving any of these guys a shot - but then he was doing just that for me, wasn't he?).
Back yet again to my first day. I was busily setting up my little amplifier and little effects (borrowed from Marty - a Roland Jazz Chorus amp and a couple of blue rackmount effects units - none of which I had any idea how to work. I was a keyboard player y'understand) in my little station next to a Yamaha DX-5 synthesizer (Frank's synth, and the one I would come to use on the tour - I especially liked a combo patch which had a very chiffy tuned percussion sound stacked with a French Horn - most readily audible on the fast written sections of "Inca Roads" on "Best Band"). I introduced myself to Chad, Bobby and Ed, all of whom received me with politeness.
Then came a tall, head-shaven, impolite force of nature skateboarding into and all around the enormous facility. This combination punk-rocker/Marine drill sergeant on wheels was, of course, Thunes.
He skated up to my feet (he was on the floor, I on the riser, y'understand) and I immediately proffered my hand. "Hello, my name's Mike Keneally, I enjoy your playing a great deal and I'm pleased to meet you".
"Thank you what are you DOING here?"
"I'm auditioning to play in the band".
"OH GOD". He skateboarded away and left me to my shiftless tinkering. Instantly he returned.
"Can you play 'T'Mershi Duween'?"
The song had yet to be released officially, though I was exceedingly familiar with it through bootlegs. I'd never played it, and as this was my first day I didn't want to misrepresent my knowledge of the repertoire, so I told him I didn't know it. He snuffed, huffed and skated away.
I began to gingerly piece the "Duween" melody together on the guitar. I was playing unamplified, and Thunes was about a football field and a half away, but somehow he heard my unplugged electric over the sound of his racing wheels.
"YOU KNOW IT!" he shrieked and skated back. He began barking string/fret positions at me and after a minute I was playing the melody to his satisfaction...at least he appeared satisfied because he didn't say anything to wound me, he just skated away once again.
Frank wasn't there yet (he rarely was for the first several hours of each rehearsal - which were five-day-a-week, eight-hours-a-day affairs). Scott, in his appointed role of clonemeister, ran the early part of the rehearsal, and called "Alien Orifice". This is the moment when I learned that picking up FZ tunes off of an album is no substitute for seeing the stuff on paper, especially when it comes to odd groupings, because when I played what I believed to be the weird section after the guitar solo, the other gentlemen of the group found my efforts to be greatly amusing. After my attempt at playing the main "Alien" melody in Tommy-style block chords limped to a miserable death, Scott padded over to me from his position of authority, seemed to grow several inches and glowered: "That was BAD MUSIC". Other tunes were called and I struggled through, not nearly as ragingly as I'd hoped, but evidently some sort of impression of my knowledge was being formed - Robert Martin asked me during a break how come I knew Frank's material so well. This was the first semi-encouraging sign of acceptance from the other band members. Making a good impression on Frank was apparently a breeze compared to these guys.
As night commenced, Frank arrived and took over the rehearsal; the lighting got very moody and the situation very dreamlike. Frank started a Synclavier sequence of "Mo 'n' Herb's Vacation" and Scott ran like a motherfucker to find the printed bass part, spread it out on the riser and began to play along with it. For many minutes this went on and no one spoke a word. I watched Scott negotiate that fucking piece, my every sinew suffused with awe. This guy was a dead-on motherfucker and I was NOWHERE near his league. Frank called "Filthy Habits" and I chumped the fives - Frank sang the subdivisions to me and it took me embarrassingly long to nail it. He said something like "why is that so hard for you to play?" Fuck. Yet somehow he was not offended by my presence and at one point Frank, Scott, Chad and I played a quartet version of "Sleep Dirt" which had my brother swooning.
Writing about this stuff is affecting me very deeply right now. I miss those days like fuck.
I didn't get the big yay or nay after the first night. My brother and I stayed at my great friend Chris Joyce's apartment in North Hollywood, after driving around for an hour trying to find which little uninterrupted two-block long stretch of the extremely sporadic Huston his complex existed within. I would stay at Chris' "pad" for the four-month duration of rehearsals, driving home to San Diego on weekends. Viv would drive up to visit me during the week whenever she could. What an amazing time this was.
Again I have leapt into the future hastily. Rewind to the fourth day of my audition/rehearsal period, Frank calls me over to say that Ray White's whereabouts are still a mystery, and I seem to be doing an OK job in the vocal/guitar slot (plus keyboards as kind of a bonus skill), so it would appear I'm in the band. But if Ray returns, I'm the fuck outta there. He extended his hand and I had no choice but to accept the gig on these shaky terms. Even to get that much, though, was a mind-blowing triumph. The rest of the band congratulated me enthusiastically, none more so than Scott, who had not stopped giving me shit for four days solid. Thank, well, Gail, that about a week later Frank came into the rehearsal and announced that he'd been talking over the Ray situation with Gail and they decided that if Ray was irresponsible enough to disappear without warning and then not contact them afterwards, that he would not be welcomed back into the band even if he were to return. Although he didn't then turn to me at that point and say, "Your position in the band is now secure", I felt that it was safe to take it that way. And it was.
Rehearsals continued, the horn guys arrived, Ike was installed permanently. The twelve piece band was now intact. I had, of course, the time of my life. Many tunes were rehearsed which did not make their way into the live repertoire. Many hours were spent on a weird, mechanical Devo-sounding arrangement of "I Come From Nowhere". I sang lead on a medley of "She Painted Up Her Face", "Half A Dozen Provocative Squats" and "Shove It Right In" which we rehearsed constantly, then stopped rehearsing suddenly. We rehearsed "Jezebel Boy" a trillion times, getting into the energy the neighborhood supplied, then played it ONCE during the tour (and didn't play it at all well - it's the version you hear on BTHW). One day I spent about twelve hours in Chris' apartment learning "Moggio" - when I was done I felt like I'd been skiing for a week solid. When Frank called the tune in rehearsal, most of the guys in the band hadn't worked on it and it didn't sound very promising, so he said "Omit that". The song was stricken from the repertoire that quickly. Scott saw my jaw hit the floor and said "That's what you call The Clamp". And no impassioned defense on the song's behalf could loosen it. (It was I who insisted on playing "Moggio" at the Zappa's Universe shows - I wasn't going to have learned that fucker for no reason.)
We messed around with "Night School" and "G-Spot Tornado". All the new songs which would become "Broadway The Hard Way" were pieced together without charts, Frank would bring in a printout of the song's lyrics and conjure up musical settings on the spot, dictating parts to the band as he went. Somewhere in the basement is many hours of video footage of this process, like almost an entire eight-hour rehearsal devoted to conjuring up "Jesus Thinks You're A Jerk". While it was certainly work, it was just as certainly exhilarating joy, and there was a LOT of laughing going on. Frank was almost always in good spirits during the rehearsal period. It was big, crazy, expensive, mind-boggling fun.
I couldn't believe I was a part of it...I remember lying on my back on the riser at one rehearsal listening to a Synclavier sequence Frank was composing that day and feeling just SO grateful...(you know Chatfield is always telling me how important it is to write things down...I'm having some memories well up that I don't want to lose...indulge me, please)...I remember a dark little wardrobe type-area at the rear of the rehearsal hall where I could hang out uninterrupted and work on the hard parts of songs, I spent hours in there shedding parts of "Strictly Genteel", and the fast line right before "the difference between us is not very far" in "Cruisin' For Burgers"...
...speaking of "Genteel", I remember playing it for the first time with the whole band - that song was, for me, an act of acrobatics, switching from keys to guitar and back sometimes in the space of a sixteenth note - I remember Thunes running over to stand next to me and intimidate me right before the wicked keyboard run that comes right after "every poor soul who's adrift in the storm", and I nailed it and he gave me the finger and ran back to his station...
...playing the instrumental interludes of "Drowning Witch" (on guitar) and "Jumbo, Go Away" (on keys) after Frank called them cold (just to see who in the band knew them) and listening as other band members fell out of line, but I soldiered on...
...another time practicing one of the impossible guitar lines in "Drowning Witch" and nearly having an aneurysm in the process, Chad walking up to me, getting right in my face and saying "RELAX", advice which I still summon when needed...
...me and Paul Carman launching into Jimmy Page's "Stairway" solo in unison without telling Frank we were going to (he'd been playing an improvised solo in that spot), Frank digging it, waiting until we were done, then saying "OK. Now show it to the REST of the horn section"...
...Frank giving the band sheet music for a song called "Thirty-Five", composed on the Synclavier, and IMPOSSIBLE to play. We got through almost one bar. It eventually became "Navanax" on "Civilization Phaze III" ("Put A Motor In Yourself" from that album was originally called "Martin" and was also conceived around this time, and used as intermission music on the East Coast leg of the tour)...
...going out to dinner with Frank, Scott and Chad, usually at Hampton's on Highland but once in a while someplace nicer, like Chianti on Melrose where Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis walked in and Jeff stood dumbfounded as Frank told him how much he respected his work. "Well, I really respect YOUR work", Jeff sputtered, followed by Frank asking when he was gonna make a sequel to "Buckaroo Bonzai"...
...a lot of great dinners with Scott and Chad during the early stages of rehearsal, me thinking how cool that the two of them were the same age and had come into the band at the same time, and how close they must've been; after awhile Chad stopped coming to dinner with us, and Thunes and I became allies as the shit started to come down on him...
...and the times I could have died from happiness and disbelief as Frank relied on me to help piece together an arrangement of some old song of his which he'd just decided he'd like to play. "Peace Corps" in particular - not to be too fucking pompous, but that song probably wouldn't have happened on that tour if I weren't there (same with the Beatle stuff) - topped off by Frank not remembering the monologue at the end, asking me to recite it, then assigning it to me afterwards. I thought back to being in fifth grade and Elliot the yard monitor, a kid maybe four or five years older than me, lending me "We're Only In It For The Money" and me listening to it a million times, utterly captured by the editing and the sound effects and the sped-up voices and the lyrics and the humor - it's still my favorite FZ album, the one that has had the most influence on my own albums' structures. And now I was doing the monologue on "Who Needs The Peace Corps?"? I mean, come on.
What the fuck more does a person need in life?
And so rehearsals came to an end. And it was time to hit the road. And I diligently, for a while anyway, kept a microcassette diary on the road...so let's go to the audio tape and let a much greener Mike take over from here...
Newly hired stunt guitarist Mike Keneally kept an audio journal during most of Frank Zappa's 1988 "Broadway The Hard Way" tour that included set lists, backstage goings-on and many personal observations. Here are the transcripts of Mike's diaries, originally posted in chronological order on their 10-year anniversary dates.
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