Frank Zappa is probably the most cynical person who has ever lived. He did not seem to believe in anything. You set it up and he knocked it down. He had his own views on freedom and was deeply suspicious of the great American society he was brought up in. He despised its hypocrisy. Not that he found much solace in the sixties counter culture either.
Frank came out of the desert near Los Angeles. He went to school with Don Van Vliet (Captain Beefheart) and they hung out together listening to music and working on early projects. Frank recorded and made films. He set up his own studio at an early age. He reputedly got busted for making shows that were considered pornographic.
Frank believed in sexual liberation, detested censorship and considered the American attitude towards sex repressive and hypocritical. He thought that all the repressed sexuality resulted in the violence, aggression and sado-masochism that was prevalent under the surface.
His early records did display an aligning with the new counter-culture but he rapidly became disparaging of that as well. He saw it as a bunch of kids getting stoned and looking to get laid. He parodied it unmercifully.
Frank went his own way and was an individual in every sense of the word.
The main focus of his political stance was that he considered American values and the American dream phoney and shallow. He saw it as a way the establishment had of exerting power and maintaining grossly unfair inequality. He saw religion as superstitious nonsense pushed by wealthy money grabbing cynics. It was all about power and control.
He even considered standing for President himself. I would have voted for him! It’s about time we got somebody intelligent and independent.
When it came to music his two passions seemed to be fifties Doo-Wop and modern classical composers like Stravinsky and Edgard Varese. Frank saw himself as a classical composer. He operated mainly in the field of Rock though he incorporated all kinds of electronic sounds and experimental structures. As for the content – everything was fair game. He sent it up, parodied it, used humour and satire.
Once you’d cracked the code it was easy to understand. The society was plastic. The morals were empty. It was all run by the establishment with profit being the only motive and the status quo being maintained. Most people were mindless vegetables slotted in to their pigeon-holes, brainwashed, mindless and going through the motions in the American Dream. The whole thing was a self-perpetuating game.
The band was always the weirdest around. Even when the first album came out, which sported some fairly standard tracks, the band were the strangest group of individuals ever and the album descended into extreme weirdness. But it was a wonderful, thought-provoking type of weirdness. I loved it.
The best album in my opinion was the wonderful ‘We’re only in it for the money’ which is unclassifiable. The cover was a send-up of Sgt Peppers featuring the Mothers in drag. The music was unconventional interrupted with asides, breaks, scratches and songs crashing into each other. Yet it all held together, had amazing songs, brilliant musicianship and was like nothing else.
In the seventies Frank decided to take up the guitar and made himself into something of a guitar hero. The live shows were perfectly orchestrated, incredibly complex, full of the same interruptions, theatre, interjections and non-stop flow of songs, asides and commentary – all delivered in Frank’s laconic style.
I have a great number of favourite Zappa compositions. They are like nothing else. They include ‘Help I’m a rock’, ‘Call any vegetable’, ‘What’s the ugliest part of your body’, ‘Cosmic debris’, ‘Titties and Beer’, ‘Who are the brain police?’ ‘Concentration moon’, ‘Who needs the peace corps?’ and the uncensored ‘Harry you’re a beast.’
I love Frank. His humour kills me and there’s always a serious intent lurking in those lyrics. He makes you think. In the end he is unclassifiable and I guess that is just how he wanted it. The world needs more intelligent critics like Frank.