Friday, 9 October 2015

Garbage, Lady.

The GTOs (not to be confused with the male group who recorded for Parkway and scored a hit with a cover of the Beach Boys’ Girl From New York City) were a six or seven-piece girl ‘group’ consisting of Miss Pamela (Pamela Ann Miller, later to become better known as supergroupie Pamela Des Barres and author of the memoir I'm with the Band), Miss Sparky (Linda Sue Parker who, in 1976, would sing on Zappa’s Zoot Allures album), Miss Christine (Christine Frka, who would appear on the cover of Zappa’s Hot Rats album, was Moon Unit Zappa’s babysitter, helped boyfriend Vince Furnier become Alice Cooper  and who died tragically young after overdosing on prescription painkillers), Miss Sandra (Sandra Lynn Rowe, later Sandra Leano, who died of cancer in 1991), Miss Mercy (Judy Peters), Miss Lucy (Lucy Offerall, later Lucy McLaren), and Miss Cynderella (Cynthia Wells, later Cynthia Cale-Binion, at one point married to the Velvet Undrground’s John Cale and who died in 1997). Legend has it that the ladies were given their nicknames by Tiny Tim, who had a penchant for addressing all of the women he met (and the three he wed) as Miss something-or-other.

Although it is usually claimed that their acronym stands for Girls Together Outrageously (and indeed, that’s how it appears on the cover of their one and only album), according to Sid Hochman’s 1972 book Readings in Psychology, (which discusses the girls’ bisexual community and quotes several members of the commune), the GTOs began as ‘a community of seven girls between 18 and 21’ called Girls Together Only, living together in Frank Zappa’s Laurel Canyon log cabin. Miss Lucy (who does not perform on the album but who appeared in Zappa’s movie 200 Motels and sadly died in 1991 of an AIDS-related illness) stated in a filmed interview that Girls Together Only was their correct name.

Originally calling themselves the Laurel Canyon Ballet Company (and, for a short time, adopting the name of the legendarily awful, turn of the century vaudeville act The Cherry Sisters) the girls signed a contract with Zappa, who kept them on a retainer of $35 a week each. The GTOs toured with Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, appearing on stage as dancers and performing covers of songs as perverse as Getting to Know You from The King and I. According to Des Barres they ‘only played a few gigs, maybe four or five’, however, as well as appearing with Zappa and the Mothers they also performed with other Zappa-related acts including Alice Cooper and Wild Man Fisher.

Their only album, the Zappa-produced Permanent Damage, was released in 1969. And what a record it is.

Featuring contributions from Frank Zappa, Nicky Hopkins, Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart, Lowell George, Russ Titleman, Ry Cooder and Monkee Davy Jones (who co-wrote the album’s closing track I'm In Love With The Ooo-Ooo Man and the Beefheart–inspired The Captain's Fat Theresa Shoes), Permanent Damage is in parts naïve, charming and thoroughly horrible. Songs are mixed in with conversations between the members of the group, their friends, and other ‘stars’ including the infamous Cynthia Plaster Caster and Rodney Bingenheimer, known as the Mayor of the Sunset Strip and one of Davy Jones’ stand-ins on The Monkees.

Some of you will love this, some will hate it. Personally although I can see the charm, I find the voices grating and the humour stilted. I’m not a Zappa fan, although I have a lot of time for many of the projects and acts he was involved with. I appreciate him for his boundary pushing and for challenging censorship, but I’ve always found him a bit too clever for his own good. Does humour belong in music? You be the judge.

It’s telling that Frank famously eschewed drugs (apart from caffeine, nicotine and a moderate amount of alcohol), yet members of the GTO’s – and other musicians involved in Permanent Damage - have freely admitted that they were often out of their heads, and this album screams acid trip. “We only lasted a short time because of the drug use,” Miss Mercy told interviewer Steve Olsen of Juice magazine in 2008. “Frank was very anti-drugs, and because of our drug use, he had to get rid of the GTOs.”

Miss Pamela has claimed that Lowell George was fired by Zappa for smoking marijuana (on leaving the Mothers of Invention George formed Little Feat: he died of a heroin overdose in 1979). Zappa himself died of prostate cancer in 1993; he dismissed the idea that it was in any way linked to his smoking. “To me, a cigarette is food,” He observed. “Tobacco is my favourite vegetable.” Frank’s wife, Gail, died earlier this week after a long battle with lung cancer.

Here are three of the songs from Permanent Damage: the album's opener The Eureka Springs Garbage Lady, its closing track I'm In Love With The Ooo-Ooo Man and the ode to Captain Beefheart, The Captain's Fat Theresa Shoes. 


1 comment:

  1. 10/13/15 wrote:
    Originally issued in 1969 on the pink straight label, then re-issued in 1970 on Reprise/Straight with Warner brothers distribution. Frank Zappa definitely wanted this to be weird & freaky. He was a fan of the no-talent girl legends the Shaggs, and since he couldn´t get that group signed to his label imprint, he settled for these similar-sounding cateurwallers. Frank was a bit of a hypocrite with his no-drug policies, since he knew well that many of his artists and associates did drugs. Lowell George was indeed fired by Zappa, but not before George offered a song he composed originally designed for The Mothers Of Invention, titled ¨Willin´¨. Frank was so moved by the song, and suggested that George form a band of his own for that song. George did, by forming Little Feat in 1971.RIP Gail Zappa, who was as much as a heavy smoker as Frank.


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