Wednesday, May 19, 2010
#39 WTF is this??? Oh, it's Frank Zappa! Ok, carry on then.
In my years of being a hardcore rock and roll fan, I have never encountered anything as strange as the works of Frank Zappa. At first listen to many of his songs, your first impulse may be to turn it off as fast as you can hit the power button, or that being unavailable, to run screaming for the plug before you are assaulted further. This is a fairly normal response to the man who had posters printed for his fans featuring himself, buck naked, sitting on the toilet. If you have the courage to stick it out however, you will find the true Zappa underneath that initial horror. This voyage is not easy but I would equate it with sushi in the way that it is an acquired taste. If anything in rock was that way, it is Zappa.
In the mid sixties, Frank formed the group 'The Mothers of Invention' and released the début record 'Freak Out' which is rock and rolls first debut album that was also a double album. This record, as well as their next few releases, shocked the burgeoning underground of the sixties into an early sort of self recognition. If you were really into Zappa and the Mothers in the mid sixties then you were definitely one of the underground and you probably knew it. 'Freak Out' was this bizarre masterpiece of ironic pop art, and social commentary fused with rock and roll that somehow combined and worked really well. This grand mutation came to fruition through Zappa's unique avante-garde view of life in late twentieth century America.
Throughout his multi decade career, Zappa challenged the status quo on many fronts. Never afraid to hop up on the soap box and tell it like it was, he confronted the corrupt politics of the ruling class in America and held the banal and decadent lifestyles of his countrymen to totally unforgiving and unheard of amounts of scrutiny. He pioneered the artist-run independent record label, launching his Straight and Bizarre imprints back in 1969 and later founding the Zappa, DiscReet and Barking Pumpkin labels. In the Sixties, he mocked middle-class morality in tracks such as “Brown Shoes Don’t Make It” (from Absolutely Free) and sang about the climate of racial inequality and discord on “Trouble Every Day” (from Freak Out). In the Seventies, he satirized everything in sight, including disco music (“Dancin’ Fool,” from Sheik Yerbouti) and new-age movements (“Cosmik Debris,” from Apostrophe). In the Eighties, he enjoyed his one and only Top Forty hit, “Valley Girl,” and took on the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC), delivering memorable testimony about the First Amendment at a congressional hearing.
He has left us with such a staggering body of work that at the time of this article, there are a total of 87 albums to his credit and more are on the way, leaving him in the running for the title of most prolific rock musician of all time. With an unswerving conviction in his own rectitude, Zappa remained an often brilliant voice of dissent to the end of his career. When the music industry began branding albums with voluntary warnings about offensive content under pressure from the PMRC in the mid-Eighties, Zappa wrote a disclaimer of his own, which he stickered on his releases:
“WARNING! This album contains material which a truly free society would neither fear nor suppress. The language and concepts contained herein are guaranteed not to cause eternal torment in the place where the guy with the horns and pointed stick conducts his business. This guarantee is as real as the threats of the video fundamentalists who use attacks on rock music in their attempt to transform America into a nation of check-mailing nincompoops (in the name of Jesus Christ). If there is a hell, its fires wait for them, not us.”
To further his hatred of censorship, his estate released the posthumous album "Have I offended Someone?" which was a compilation record featuring some of Zappa's most notoriously offensive songs including "Catholic Girls", "Jewish Princess" and "He's So Gay".
All in all, Zappa is not for everyone but I think most people would have to admit that the sheer level of his talent is staggering and his imagination and ability to write in such a bizarre fashion are almost unbelievable, especially when you factor in that Frank was a staunch opponent of drugs and critic of anyone who even tried them. Clearly this was a man who didn't need to take drugs. Other people needed to take drugs to be more like Frank Zappa.
If you have the courage, try taking a spin through some choice Frank Zappa cuts that I have selected for your listening pleasure!