Today in Pop Culture: We Said Goodbye To Frank Zappa

Published on December 4th, 2015 in: Eulogy, Music, Today In Pop Culture |

By Jeffery X Martin


Frank Zappa died today in 1993.

Calling Frank Zappa “influential” is like saying ghost peppers will leave a mild burning sensation in your mouth after you eat them. It’s like saying water is wet. The sky is blue. The legend and legacy of Frank Zappa are elemental. He took music and made it his bitch.

His beautiful, happy, gleaming and weeping submissive bitch.

You know the song, “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple? It’s the song your nephew who just got his first electric guitar tries to play over and over. Nuh nuh nuuuuh nuh nuh, NUH-nuuuuh. That one. That song is about when the recording studio Zappa was sharing with Deep Purple in Montreaux caught on fire. All Zappa’s equipment was destroyed. Now how’s that for influence on pop culture? Not only did he write songs, he was in songs. I mean, shitty that it happened like that, but damn. Zappa was everywhere.

Subversive and cynical from the beginning, Zappa graced us with songs like “America Drinks and Goes Home” and “Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?” His sense of humor, which always bordered on the vulgar, helped to soften the often brutal blows he rained down upon American society and the values they held. He also railed against censorship of the arts, even testifying before Congress against placing parental advisory stickers on albums. How bad-ass is that? He said this in his testimony, where he lambasted the Parents Music Resource Center, which was led by former Second Lady Tipper Gore.

“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?”

Suck it, Conservatives! Zappa spoke with intelligence and pointedness, like a calmer, less buzzsaw-ish Jello Biafra. And when he wasn’t roasting them on their own barbecue spit, he was roasting them in his music. He tackles creationism in the song, “Dumb All Over,” in which he relates all the dumb things humans do, then loops it around to conclude that since God created humans, and humans are dumb, then God must be dumb (and perhaps a little ugly on the side).

He made a lot of people angry. But they were people who needed to be made angry, so they could look at themselves and search for the hypocrisies that ruled their everyday lives.

Zappa’s masterpiece might be the gigantic concept album, Joe’s Garage. It starts with a garage band getting signed to a label, and ends in a horrible futuristic society where music is outlawed. In between, he pokes fun at Catholicism, sexual mores in America, Scientology, anal sex, and so much more. He probably makes fun of you on that album. He probably makes fun of me.

I realize as I’m writing that this article is a bit of a babble. I am also writing this to an audience that I think has never really listened to Zappa outside of “Valley Girl.” I hope I’m wrong. I want to be wrong.

But I want to remember Frank Zappa with a heaping helping of exuberance and a little bit of awe. He deserves that. I talk about him the way you talk about heroes. In my mind, he is one. He did what he could to help keep the world free for the open-minded. He warned us about the coming cultural apocalypse, and a current music scene so mindless, even Michael Bublé is disgusted.

Let me repeat that.

Michael fucking Bublé is disgusted.

My gods. What have we become?

If at all possible today, listen to a Frank Zappa album. Listen to two Frank Zappa albums. Listen to ten of them. I don’t care which ones. It doesn’t matter. Just let that music soak into your brain pan, the music of a sane genius who used madness a means to an end, and that was a better world for any person with a creative bone in their body.

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