Robert Rankin meets Zappa!

Issue 22 of T'Mershi Duween (p12) introduced me to the wonders of Robert Rankin, as Bill Lawson wrote to extol the virtues of "Armageddon The Musical", which included numerous Zappa and Beefheart references.  I've since read the rest of the Armageddon Trilogy and the Brentford Trilogy, and a few other of his books, and the references keep on coming.  So in an obsessive-compulsive manner I've listed the key references below for your amusement. I may have missed a few, either by accident or because I wasn't entirely sure if it was a definite reference, so feel free to let me know anything I've missed.

I would describe Rankin's writing as starting where Douglas Adams ends, before diverting to a completely different galaxy of humour.
Visit the excellent Sproutlore page for more details of the Author and his books.

Armageddon the Musical

Plot in a nutshell

The Earth is a soap opera, watched by aliens, who decide to re-write the plot by persuading Elvis to dodge the draft and reverse a whole chain of events, including Vietman, etc.  Earthers spend their post-holocaust lives building credits by watching TV for as long as possible all the time on one of 3 networks run by religious groups.  Rex Mundi  unearths the fact that the head of Buddahvision is actually the anti-christ, and saves the day with the help of Elvis.  

Direct References

Chapter 1:
"There are only five great men and three of them are hamburgers"  Don Van Vliet
Chapter 11:
The name of the 'Big-Brother'-type computer system is 'MOTHER'
Chapter 17:
"Let's get serious, no let's don't, let's mime the hard bits." Frank Zappa
Chapter 25:
"You're probably wondering why I'm here, well so am I, so am I." Frank Zappa
Chapter 26:
L. Ron Hubbard the 23rd bears a "striking resemblance to the late and legendary Andy Divine"
Chapter 28:
"The way I see it, Barry," said Elvis, addressing the Time Sprout. "This could be a very dynamite show."
Chapter 33:
"All the universe is composed of a single note. All atomsand all molecules are but vibrations of a single note.  The big note."

General Similarities

The whole book extrapolates our current viewing trends into a future where watching TV is the only way to survive.  The whole World is tied to one of the big three networks, and the book regularly mentions various shows the Earthers watch. The idea that the whole of human history was developed by alien influence to aid their own viewing figures pushes this further - an area Zappa has delved into on many occasions.

The book then tackled another of FZ's favourite hates - TV evangelists - here we have the natural extension - 3 competing networks, run by Pope Joan, The Dalai Lama and L. Ron Hubbard 23rd respectively.  The latter of these has been highly satirized by FZ in Joe's Garage, or course.

There are many references to one of FZ's earlier fascinations - vegetables.  The alien race use biotechnology - plants or any kind are used as cameras to send TV signals from Earth.  A key player in the plot is a time-sprout called Barry who takes up residence inside Elvis's head.

References to other Zappa-ish stuff include Ollie North and Eric Dolphy, as well as numerous turns of phrase that FZ has used, but which I couldn't say were directly linked.


They Came and Ate Us: Armageddon II

Plot in a nutshell

The Earth has become an Eden, but Rex is whisked away from domestic bliss to the past, prior to the 'Nuclear Holocaust Event' by Jack Doveston who discovers demons loose on the 'internet'.   Meanwhile time keeps jumping back a few steps as the great flywheel powering the Earth keeps resetting as Earth approaches the NHE.  Rex meets up with Elvis who has dedicated his life to destroying the anti-christ  (now risen to the post of US President) before he can start the NHE with the aid of rich whizz-kid Jonathan Crawford.  The latter turns out to be the son of the flywheel controller who has gone missing.  The flywheel is fixed, and everything returns to normal.

Direct References

Chapter 1:
Rex's (talking) dog is called Fido - umpteen FZ links to choose from!
Chapter 6:
Jack's daughter is called Moonchild (a beefheart track from the A&M Sessions)
 Chapter 8:
One of the Zen Terrorists is called Ella Guru (another Beefheart track - 'Trout Mask Replica' this time)
There is also mention of a character who resembles Rondo Hatton
Chapter 9:
More evidence of Jack's love of Beefheart - he hides the secret carbon between 'Bat Chain Puller' and 'Trout Mask Replica'
Chapter 16:
"take the advice of Francis Vincent Zappa and 'mime the hard bits'".
Chapter 18:
The trucker "might well have been one of the original Mothers of Inverntion, Roy Estrada perhaps"
The trucker's CB handle is "The Duke of Prunes".
He says to Rex "I used to play with Frank Zappa.  But I found the Lord."
Chapter 23:
"The past sure is tense.  The past sure is now" - Captain Beefheart
Chapter 27:
Wormwood's art collectionn includes pictures by Don Van Vliet
Chapter 28:
The trucker "still looked like one of the original Mothers of Invention, possibly Bill Mundi"


The Suburban Book Of The Dead: Armageddon III

Plot in a nutshell

Elvis travels throughout time, making a impact wherever he goes, so that people start uncovering statues & paintings of him from ancient Egypian times, the Roman Empire, etc.  Rex gets involved when he digs up a statue of Presley, and subsequently it gets stolen by two hoods building a collection of Presliana from throughout history.  We then cross plots with Lazlo Woodbine who teams up with Rex to save the day.  Jonathan Crawford returns, along with a two-headed kid called Harpo/Chico, and there's an alternative universe in there too...

Direct References

Chapter 3:
Laura Lynch (anyone for Twin Peaks/Zappa references?) lives at 1010 Van Vliet Street
Chapter 9:
One of Rex's many sexual fetishes involves a trout mask filled with lard
 Chapter 14:
Rex eats a 'Burnt Weenie Sandwich' - this has a footnote to point out that it is a FZ lp
Chapter 15:
Harpo tells Woodbine that the two guys who were collecting Presliana were called Frank and Don

The Garden of Unearthly Delights

Plot in a nutshell

Max Carrion ends up in the future, a time when the age of technology has been replaced by the age of myth & legend.  He tries to use his skills as an 'Imagineer' to help people who have become settled into a rustic/feudal way of life - and ends up in trouble.  His soul is removed and he must carry out a task to retrieve it...

Direct References

Chapter 1:
Max's local hostelry is called the 'Tengo Na Minchia Tanta'
Chapter 2:
Danbury Collins, psychic investigator, is wearing a tee-shirt with the words 'FAST AND BULBOUS' on the front
 Chapter 22:
Waldeck says that 'gun powder is as safe as milk'
Chapter 27:
Max signs a letter as 'Captain Beefheart of the magic guards'


Throughout the later chapters, Max constantly refers to his plan to regain his soul in the form 'PHASE ONE', 'PHASE TWO', etc.


Waiting for Godalming

Plot in a nutshell

God's been killed in an insurance scam, his 3rd son Colin is implicated and Lazlo Woodbine's on the case. He teams up with Icarus Smith who's aim in life is to relocate things to their proper places (not like stealing at all, no-siree). Together they solve the case and set everything back to rights.

General Similarities

Not much Zappa-specific stuff in this one, really. Chapter 3 has a reference to Rondo Hatton, and that's about it!