Frank Zappa

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Zappa in Oslo, 1977-01-16.
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Frank governs with Elmore James on his left and Stravinsky on his right.
—Tom Waits, 2005[1]

Frank Zappa (December 21, 1940 – December 4, 1993) was a guitarist, composer, and independent music producer. Politically, he was an outspoken advocate of freedom of expression, and a vocal opponent of Christianity and the PMRC (headed by then-Senator Al Gore's wife, Tipper Gore).

Politics[edit]

Controversy[edit]

His lyrics were generally politically incorrect, which lead to some Frank fans distancing themselves a bit from Frank[2]. Starting with the anti-establishment/anti-war zeitgeist of the 1960s, the message of his music changed over time, criticizing the United States government, religious conservatism, and televangelists. His lyrics were generally more biting and offensive to people than his interviews (which were also politically incorrect). and Frank generally evaded questions about lyric content, stating he thinks his lyrics contain valid criticisms or mockery of groups of people.

Racism[edit]

The Anti-Defamation League asked Frank to apologize for his song, "Jewish Princess", a generally racist and sexist song listing out various stereotypes of Jewish women, and Frank refused.[3]

Homophobia[edit]

He was also criticized as homophobic (because of the songs "He's so gay", "Broken hearts are for assholes", and others) and criticized as being generally misogynist, which Frank categorically denied.

Criticism of the Women's liberation movement[edit]

Frank was a sexual libertarian[4], shyed away from calling himself anti-feminist[5], and he was also opposed to full-throated support of what was called, "women's liberation" in the second half of the 20th century. He seems to state he thought women were already liberated and that the only women that needed liberation were the prudes.[6]

You know what's funny about Women's Lib? Women don't need to be liberated. I think ladies do. There should be Ladies Liberation. I think the women should get together and liberate the ladies. Take the white gloves off them and straighten them out.

He also stated he thought the women's liberation movement was not ultimately bad, but just inconsequential and a temporary hobby for women. He also stated his opposition to traditional gender roles. As well as his belief that most women were stupid people.[7][8]

[Women's liberation] is just a fad also. Which is not to say it's bad if it keeps them off the street, keeps them occupied.[...] Some women are very badly suited to being in a home, some should be in a factory, or in a library as a librarian, or even doing something more exciting, like showbusiness [...] I hate to think of women as a big group because you can't judge them that way. But in most instances I find out that they're just really stupid people who just happen to wear dresses.

Franks Album, "Thing Fish", and his song, "Bobby Brown" were more pointed screeds against women's liberation. Both implied women's liberation had corrupting and overly-feminizing effects on men. Both works implied feminism promoted homosexuality, male incontinence, and sexual deviancy. A well-known quote from the song, "Bobby Brown", goes:

Womens liberation came creeping all across the nation

I tell you people I was not ready When I fucked this dyke by the name of Freddy

She made a little speech then Oh she drive and make me say when

She had my balls in her vice but she left my dick

In response to feminist criticism, Frank said[9]

I've been approached by Women's Liberation types and criticized about my lyrics and all I tell them is get fucked.

There was not much public outrage over Frank's music at the time, as Frank had the most radio airplay in countries that did not speak English. For example, "Bobby Brown". became a hit in 1980s Finland, with people considering it a love song, due to not understanding the English lyrics.

Party Politics[edit]

Zappa did not state or imply high regard for any political party, but stated admiration for then New York Democratic governor Mario Cuomo multiple times, as well as 1988 Republican Party primary contender Pete du Pont around the time of the 1988 US party political primaries[10]. Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan were favorite political targets of Frank. Two live albums, Broadway the Hard Way and Frank Zappa in New York, are good showcases of his politically-informed songs. His snark was not restricted to Republicans; Democrats like Jesse Jackson were also targets. That most of his political music criticized Republicans is more evident of the party's political dominance of the 1960s, 70s and 80s than any personal political convictions (he considered running for president in the 1980s)—the cause he championed was democracy.

Political Ideology[edit]

Zappa described himself as a "practical conservative"; and he leaned libertarian mostly[11]. He had a few non-libertarian stances, one of which was his strong desire to, "tax the churches".[12] He was also not known to self-identify as a libertarian and was a registered Democrat[13]. A delegate from the Libertarian Party once tried to convince Zappa to run under the Libertarian Party for president, and Frank responded that he found the party platform unworkable because some of it was, "either wrong or stupid", and he declined.[14]

Zappa was also a notable example of an artist who desired to be judged on his works, not on image or categorization. He never made any Sexiest Man Alive rankings, except maybe his own.

Anti-religion[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Christian right

Zappa was an outspoken opponent of the Christian Right from the outset, and in songs such as "Heavenly Bank Account" Zappa advocated removing the tax-exempt status from all religious organizations, regardless of politics. He was contemptuous of the hypocrisy of fundamentalists, as demonstrated in the song "Jesus Thinks You're A Jerk" (1988):[15]

With a Ku-Klux mumu in the back of the truck,

if you ain't born again they're going to mess you up
Saying "no abortion, no sir-ree,
Life's too precious can't you see."
What's that swinging from the neighbor's tree?

Well it looks like colored folks to me.

However, Frank did express explicit admiration of spirituality without religion.

Influence[edit]

Apart from the controversial nature of the lyrics, his compositions are extremely cerebral, many using alternate, changing or overlapping time signatures, strange chord progressions and unorthodox musical techniques. A throng of musicians toured and recorded with Zappa over his career, many of them making big names for themselves for having been "schooled" in Zappa's style of musical adeptness; these include Steve Vai, Terry Bozzio, and Mike Keneally. Bands or individuals citing Zappa's influence or admiration for his work include the funk-bluegrass band Primus, liberal documentarian Michael Moore, pop musician Kate Bush, the creator of the Simpsons Matt Groening, and the comedian Bill Hader.

PMRC[edit]

See the main article on this topic: PMRC

Zappa testified before the U.S. Senate in 1985 about the dangers of a mandatory "explicit lyrics" warning label on records and tapes, as it would establish a dangerous precedent in violation of the First Amendment. As such, he was an outspoken critic of any legislation or groups such as the PMRC.[16][17] Eventually the RIAA agreed to voluntarily place the warning labels on records, thus preventing the need for any government regulations, but Zappa was not a fan of this either, believing it to be just as bad. For a while in the 1980s and 90s, tapes and CDs featuring Zappa's music lacked the warning label. Interestingly enough, Zappa's 1986 album 'Jazz From Hell' is the only instrumental album since the hearings to carry the RIAA Parental Advisory sticker, due to some stores (allegedly Fred Meyer) objecting to some of the song titles:[18]

The PMRC proposal is an ill-conceived piece of nonsense which fails to deliver any real benefits to children, infringes the civil liberties of people who are not children, and promises to keep the courts busy for years dealing with the interpretational and enforcemental problems inherent in the proposal's design. It is my understanding that, in law, First Amendment issues are decided with a preference for the least restrictive alternative. In this context, the PMRC's demands are the equivalent of treating dandruff by decapitation … The establishment of a rating system, voluntary or otherwise, opens the door to an endless parade of moral quality control programs based on things certain Christians do not like. What if the next bunch of Washington wives demands a large yellow "J" on all material written or performed by Jews, in order to save helpless children from exposure to concealed Zionist doctrine?

Music[edit]

1950s[edit]

In 1959, Frank recorded his first known music recording. It was a blues song called, "Lost in a whirlpool"[19], and was recorded on school recording equipment. This was also the first recording featuring future R&B/psychedelic artist Captain Beefheart (Don Van Vliet) on vocals.[20].

1960s[edit]

Chaffey College[edit]

In 1960, Zappa joined Chaffey College (Alta Loma campus) to study music. The head of the music department there called him, “a very exceptional music student, extremely bright".[21] He also took a music composition course (without enrolling) at Pomona College and hosted a show on the college radio KSPC-FM. While attending college, sometime around 1962, Zappa was offered to score a movie directed and written by Timothy Carey[22]. Zappa recorded parts of it at Chaffey with the 52-member Pomona Valley Symphony Orchestra.[23]

Pal Recording Studio[edit]

Zappa struck up a friendship with Paul Buff, who owned Pal Recording Studios and Paul taught Zappa basic music recording techniques. Frank recorded his first Rock and Roll record there, which was called, "Breaktime" by, "The Masters".[24] A number of other novelty recordings were made there by Frank and his friend Ray Collins. Later, in 1964, Frank bought the studio and renamed it to, "Studio Z".

Frank also worked professionally on a few obscure doo wop songs around this time including composing and playing the vibraphone[25] on, "Memories of El Monte" performed by The Penguins.[26] He also played lead guitar on a song by The Hollywood Persuaders called, "Grunion Run"[27], in which the world saw the first Frank Zappa guitar solo, and a fuzz solo at that!

Soul Giants[edit]

After a few professional record companies rejections his recordings, Zappa joined an LA bar band called the, "Soul Giants", in 1964[28] which had an opening due to a lead singer leaving. Later, the leader and horn player also left the Soul Giants, and Zappa stepped up as band leader[29]/ He convinced the rest of the band to play his own, more experimental compositions. After Zappa took over, the band consisted of what later became, "The Mothers of Invention".

The band then changed it's name to the Blackouts and then to Captain Glasspack and His Magic Mufflers.[30]

Mothers of Invention[edit]

They then renamed to "The Mothers" as in "motherfucker", slang for someone good at their instrument. But they were persuaded to change the name to "Mothers of Invention", to be more family-friendly.

The band was eventually signed to MGM records and they released a two album set called, "Freak Out". This first album was low-fi, experimental, and arguably the only punk-sounding record ever associated with Zappa. Although their style from this time was largely psychedelic, satirical, experimental, avant-garde, and rock oriented. From then on, the Mothers of Invention moved onto more increasingly political and controversial topics in their 1960s song lyrics. Three of their subsequent 1960s albums hit the charts in 1968 (although not very high in the USA).[31].

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. Waits, Tom (March 22, 2005). "It's perfect madness". The Guardian (London). http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2005/mar/20/popandrock1. 
  2. http://forum.zappa.com/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=14092&start=25
  3. http://wiki.killuglyradio.com/wiki/Frank_Zappa._Interview_in_Playboy
  4. https://www.theguardian.com/music/2011/oct/03/frank-zappa-women
  5. https://www.afka.net/Articles/1975-12_Berkeley_Barb.htm
  6. https://www.afka.net/Articles/1976-12_Blast.htm
  7. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n5WEU30Iods
  8. http://amara.org/en/subtitles/rRQmAw3lYsIA/en/1/download/Frank%20Zappa%20on%20Fads%20%20Blank%20on%20Blank%20%20PBS%20Digital%20Studios.en.txt
  9. https://www.afka.net/Articles/1976-12_Blast.htm
  10. https://www.afka.net/Articles/1988-02_Buzz.htm
  11. The religions and political views of Frank Zappa The Hollowverse
  12. http://www.quotationspage.com/quote/30729.html
  13. web Interview with Mienfoking Films (4:50) on YouTube
  14. https://www.afka.net/Articles/1988-02_Buzz.htm
  15. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-79uI_u9Src
  16. Frank argues against censorship by self-appointed defenders of The American Way on Larry King Live in 1985.
  17. Again, Zappa argues about lyric rating with a clueless host on CNN.
  18. "Record Labeling. Hearing before the committee on commerce, science and transportation". U.S. Government printing office. September 19, 1985. http://www.joesapt.net/superlink/shrg99-529/p51.html. .
  19. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tRp2g-MAMjA
  20. https://dangerousminds.net/comments/what_frank_zappa_recorded_during_his_first_studio_session_1961
  21. https://www.dailybulletin.com/2015/12/19/frank-zappa-straight-outta-cucamonga/
  22. http://globalia.net/donlope/fz/videography/Worlds_Greatest_Sinner.html
  23. https://www.dailybulletin.com/2015/12/19/frank-zappa-straight-outta-cucamonga/
  24. https://rockandrollroadmap.com/places/studios-and-labels/los-angeles-area-studios-and-labels/pal-recording-studiostudio-z/
  25. http://wiki.killuglyradio.com/wiki/Memories_Of_El_Monte
  26. https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/frank-zappa-1940-1993-96912/
  27. https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/frank-zappa-1940-1993-96912/
  28. https://nostalgiacentral.com/music/artists-a-to-k/artists-f/frank-zappa/
  29. https://www.united-mutations.com/s/soul_giants.htm
  30. https://www.dailybulletin.com/2015/05/08/frank-zappas-mothers-of-invention-formed-50-years-ago-in-pomona/
  31. https://nostalgiacentral.com/music/artists-a-to-k/artists-f/frank-zappa/