The Tao of Zappa

The cover of "Absolutely Free": Zappa and his pumkin

I suppose this should be filed under Nostalgia: In yesterdays post, I mentioned the late, great Frank Zappa. It got me to thinking about him, and while looking around on the Internet, I discovered that Sunday was the 44th anniversary of the release of the first Mothers of Invention album, Freak Out!

This was a landmark record, one of the very first rock concept albums, as well as one of the earliest double albums. A mixture of pop/rock and experimental music with satirical lyrics that was unlike anything you had ever heard before. Produced by the legendary  Tom Wilson, who had produced three albums and one single (“Like A Rolling Stone”) for Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel’s debut album, and The Velvet Underground for the Velvet Underground.

Freak Out! was followed a year later with  Absolutely Free, the one I especially liked, featuring songs like “Plastic People,” which I mentioned yesterday, “Brown Shoes Don’t Make it” (“Quit school, why fake it?”) and “Son of Suzy Creamcheese” (“Oh, mama, now, what’s got into ya?”). The Mothers’ third album, released in 1968, was We’re Only in it For the Money (“Hi, I’m Jimmy Carl Black, the Indian of the group!”). Those were the ones I had and listened to over and over again.

Zappa was an iconoclast in an iconic era. He poked a big hole in the tapestry of the counter-culture, put his head through and stuck his tongue out at anyone so hip they were lame. The Beatles, San Francisco, the hippies, represented the idealist, optimistic flavor of the ‘60’s. Dylan left that all behind even as he was becoming its ultimate figurehead. The Rolling Stones reflected the dark underbelly of peace-love-dove but that was mainly because it had always been their business plan to be the opposite of the Beatles. To my mind, only the Velvet Underground came close to what the Zappa and the Mothers were doing. However, instead of sarcastic humor, the Velvet Underground, a product of Andy Warhol’s Factory scene (the antithesis of the California hippie vibe) wrote lyrics full of dark poetry tinged with a sense of fatalism.  Not that the VU lacked humor, but it was very, very dry.

A self-taught musician, Zappa’s tastes ran from ‘50’s Rhythm and Blues to avant garde composers such as Edgard Varèse. He mixed rock music with jazz and classical, and those lyrics held nothing sacred.

He was very intelligent guy, and courageous, more than willing to fight for what he believed in. I remember his testimony before the US Senate Commerce, Technology, and Transportation committee in 1985, when he attacked the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC),  co-founded by Tipper Gore, and denounced their plan to label records with  “sexual or satanic content” as a form of censorship. He was angry but not bitter. I seem to remember he and Tipper liking each other.

He died much too young, at age 52 in 1993, a victim of cancer, and as I think about ‘ol Frank, I wonder would he have thought of the Clinton scandal, George “Dubious” Bush, 9/11, Osama bin Laden, Barack Obama. What about this somewhat depersonalized Internet age? Would he dig Lady Gaga, or just gag? Who knows?

Anyway, here is a tip of the hat, and a look back, at the Tao of Zappa:

Beware of the fish people, they are the true enemy.

Well, I believe that those energies and processes exist. I just don’t think that they’ve been adequately described or adequately named yet, because people are too willing to make it all into something that supports a religious theory of one flavor or another. If you start defining these things in nuts-and-bolts scientific terms, people reject it because it’s not fun, y’know. It takes some of the romance out of being dead. . . because of people’s desires to have eternal life and to extend their influence from beyond the grave. . . all that Houdini type stuff. . . but basically, I think when you’re dead . . . you’re dead. It comes with the territory.

The whole foundation of Christianity is based on the idea that intellectualism is the work of the Devil. Remember the apple on the tree? Okay, it was the Tree of Knowledge. “You eat this apple, you’re going to be as smart as God. We can’t have that.”

The essence of Christianity is told to us in the Garden of Eden history. The fruit that was forbidden was on the Tree of Knowledge. The subtext is, all the suffering you have is because you wanted to find out what was going on. You could be in the Garden of Eden if you had just kept your fucking mouth shut and hadn’t asked any questions.

I searched for years I found no love. I’m sure that love will never be a product of plasticity.

My best advice to anyone who wants to raise a happy, mentally healthy child is: Keep him or her as far away from a church as you can.

Scientology, how about that? You hold on to the tin cans and then this guy asks you a bunch of questions, and if you pay enough money you get to join the master race. How’s that for a religion?

The only difference between a cult and a religion is the amount of real estate they own.

I think it is good that books still exist, but they do make me sleepy.

Communism doesn’t work because people like to own stuff.

It has never mattered to me that thirty million people might think I’m wrong. The number of people who thought Hitler was right did not make him right . . .  Why do you necessarily have to be wrong just because a few million people think you are?

I don’t give a fuck if they remember me at all.

Some of us remember.


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