Writings about Music

California Dreamers

Last night, I had a dream that I was at some festive event standing next to Frank Zappa, and after some hesitation because I don’t like to hit on famous people, decided to say hello. This turned out to be a pleasant dream, as Zappa knew who I was, enthusing about my Rainbow Thunder album from 1996 (he was no longer here at that time, of course), explaining how he had listened to it over and over. No doubt, this dream was engendered when I met singer Maxayn Lewis while on line at Ralph’s the night before, and later read about how she had performed with Zappa. That triggered a memory of how I was with Ray Manzarek the day Frank passed away, and how he shook his head in disbelief upon hearing the sad news about his friend. Coincidentally, I also met Frank Zappa’s longtime manager, Bennett Glotzer, at Bristol Farms earlier this summer, with him initially advising me on the best type of bun for hamburgers before jointly learning about our mutual involvement with music. My favorite Zappa by far has always been his Zoot Allures album, introduced to me by my visionary composition teacher, Don Funes. This is one of the finest unified collections of songs and performances in rock history, with its dark, luminously liquid transversal and transcendence of Laurel Canyon and the San Fernando Valley. Zappa's playing here remains a pinnacle of rock guitar artistry, and his The Torture Never Stops, together with Joan of Arc by Leonard Cohen, as performed by Judy Collins on her Living album, represent the most haunting songs in all of rock and folk.



In real life yesterday, I decided to play Rainbow Thunder and Trance in Bamboo, both compositions centered around African rhythms, for a woman who had been describing in detail her African American ancestry. Echoing my dream about Frank Zappa, she was joyfully excited by the music, praising its energetic nature most elegantly, including noticing textural subtleties that revealed a finely tuned musical acuity. I replied half-seriously: “May I quote you?” which made her laugh, but honestly, I have forgotten her exact words, unfortunately.





A handsome male feline named Bob was there too, charmingly princely in sleek blond-brown coat with enormous and luminous light green jade eyes reminiscent of the lion in The Sleeping Gypsy by Henri Rousseau, even if the eyes there appear more yellow and smaller in relationship to body size. Bob began meowing loudly in unusually constant fashion with the music as if to voice his well-tempered approval of something new and fun going on while darting around the living room, including a 1920's brown patterned wood Steinway Grand, attempting to find and play with seemingly living entities of drums, trumpet and African harp. Here is how Rousseau described the subject of his 1897 painting: "A wandering Negress, a mandolin player, lies with her jar beside her (a vase with drinking water), overcome by fatigue in a deep sleep. A lion chances to pass by, picks up her scent yet does not devour her. There is a moonlight effect, very poetic."



What astonished me most of all was how excellent the audio quality of the iPhone we used to listen was, having personally avoided cell phones as much as possible to date. They seem to have done an excellent job here, and given how I have benefited from using an iMac in recent years, would like to acknowledge Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Tim Cook and Apple.



- Michael Robinson, September 2015, Los Angeles

© 2015 Michael Robinson All rights reserved


Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer and writer (musicologist).