I’d just like to urge everyone with a brain in their head and genuine spark in their soul to catch EAT THAT QUESTION: FRANK ZAPPA IN HIS OWN WORDS (in theaters now).
You want a rebel hero who made the art he wanted, every step of the way, in total fuck-you defiance of every corporate, political, religious, cultural, and aesthetic obstacle slammed in his path? You want a man so deeply in love with music, and all its possibilities, that he’s probably the only guy with a deeper archive of unreleased music than Prince (despite releasing over 60 ALBUMS in his 30-plus year professional career)? You want a dude who spent his whole life unafraid to tell you precisely what he thought, in the clearest possible terms, no matter how painful those truths might be, with razor wit, mind-boggling virtuosity, and a genuine desire to make the world a less docile, complacent, excellence-deprived and entirely stupid place?
Frank was that guy. And it was SUCH a pleasure to trace his path through this excellent film, which combines televised interviews with concert footage spanning his career and time on Earth. It was particularly exciting to see beautifully-shot footage of the original 1960s Mothers of Invention at play (shit I’ve never seen anywhere). Wonderful to track so many of his excellent bands (and symphony orchestras, toward the end) in chronological fashion.
But there’s something about watching him speak his mind, in interview after interview as the years fly by, that just grounds you and grounds you and grounds you again in the fact that this was an artist carving a life for himself that had no maps beyond the ones he was drawing on the fly. With one lifelong, unwavering battle plan. (He says, toward the end, that every piece of music he ever wrote was one long composition, sliced only by time and the necessity to release it in album-length slabs.)
It was really hard to watch how much the cancer aged him, in those final years. How hard it was for him to accept the fact that pain and weakness were snuffing his fire. But how resolute he was to do as much as he could, for as long as he lasted. Uncompromising, unstoppable, and unrepentant to the end.
He said that he honestly didn’t give a shit whether anyone remembered him or not. BUT I DO. And nothing makes me happier than seeing his blistering genius chronicled in such a concise, historic, and loving way.
Flat out: I would not be the artist or human being I am without Frank Zappa. I was maybe ten years old when FREAK OUT, his first album (and the first double-disk in rock history), invaded my ears. From the opening mockingly-primitive rock of “Hungry Freaks, Daddy” to the mind-bending avant-garde mania of “Help, I’m a Rock” and “Return of the Son of Monster Magnet”, I was jaw-dropped every speck of the way. Couldn’t believe how hard he was subverting the normal shit I was hearing, while introducing me to sonic soundscapes I was both totally unprepared for and utterly understood.
Because his message was: you live in a world that doesn’t want you to think. The more you think – the more deeply you examine what’s actually happening, with an open mind so open it threatens to shatter in the process – the more you’ll come to realize that UTTER BULLSHIT IS RUNNING THE WORLD. That people who don’t give a shit about you have decided you’re either a tool or a problem. If you’re a good tool, you will do what they say, for however much or little money they can get away with. And they will entertain you with whatever entertainments help keep you in line, AND YOU’LL BUY IT, as long as doing so keeps a roof over your head.
But if you’re not a good tool, then you’re a problem. Best ignored. And only crushed as needed.
Frank was an outsider freak who refused to be ignored. So outside that he mocked both the Establishment AND the hippie hordes, who he found equally clueless. He was an equal-opportunity impaler of bullshit, wherever he saw it. And somewhere between those 60-plus albums and a shit-ton of stunning live performances, he managed to both support his art and family and keep pushing forward, forward, forward. Never stopping till he died.
I fucking love that guy. Can’t believe how many people he helped along the way, both as band members who launched amazing careers and as simple fucking fans like myself. Who grew up going, “I wanna be like that, when I grow up.”
I could go on and on. About how much I wish he were still here, to comment on THIS century’s clusterfuck. About how I can’t believe I outlived him, both in years and lifespan. About every song and composition he left behind, most of which I can sing along with note-for-note and insanely-syncopated beat-for-beat. Because they’re so burned into my memory I remember them better than the last meal I just ate.
If we forget Frank Zappa, we’re forgetting a huge part of the secret history of the entire late 20th century. I refuse to die accepting that possibility.
There has never been a more Bizarro motherfucker, declaring all boundaries open, or leaving a harder mark on the hindbrain of creative evolution, pushing forward.
THANKS, FRANK!!! Every Fungasm from here to eternity has your ruthlessly joyful and cunning grin etched large upon it, whether they know it or not.
Ever since, all I ever wanted was to live and die like that.
Or, at least, get as close as I can.
— John Skipp