Friday, March 14, 2008

Let's be Frank

Continuing on about the Aloud talk, 13 March 2008, by Robin Wright. The moderator for the presentation made some mention that "some people think Rock and Roll brought down the Iron Curtain". This triggered a memory.

I was at a party some time in the late 80's. A woman asks if I've done anything important lately. My response, ~"I saw a Frank Zappa concert". Her response - eyes begin to bug out, face changing color, with a look of total outrage, "Well, I hope you *Rocked Out*....." and a tirade of abuse vented till it ran out of steam.

I want to go on record now, before the world, for all time. I not only glad I saw Frank Zappa while he was alive, I consider it at least on par with touring the Getty Museum or Rome/Vatican. I'd say the same for Carlos Santana, Wynton Marsaillis and Miles Davis, but those are other articles to be written. I understand there are college classes/symoposium to study Frank Sinatra and Madonna - Zappa is at least as worthy.

Producer Tom Wilson thought he'd latched onto an American equivalent of the Rolling Stones, some white guys forming a blues band, when he heard "Trouble Every Day" (about the Watts Riots of the 60's). This idea was greatly changed when he heard "Any Way the Wind Blows" and "Who Are the Brain Police". The list of ~"people who have made this possible. Please do not hold it against them" on one of their first albums was a cultural education most colleges barely begin to match.

Besides dealing with musicians from Edgard Varese, Zubin Mehta, Pierre Boulez to Johnny "Guitar" Watson, Zappa created satire on the level of Groucho Marx and H.L. Menken simply by singing about topics from the Illinois Enema Bandit to Senate hearings:

"Government is the entertainment division of the military industrial complex."

(rock journalism is) "people who can't write interviewing people who can't talk for people who can't read."

and on and on....

But just google "Vaclav Havel" and "Frank Zappa", and you'll get hundreds of hits. Zappa's "question authority" outlook, coupled with his free use of traditional and avant-guarde elements of Central and Eastern European music, putting it in a context of where freedom held sway, provided an inspiring alternative to the "Socialist Realism" the public was expected to buy into during the period between the 60's Czech crisis to the final fall of Communism in Europe. He was labeled "Underground" in the U.S.A. when the public noticed him, but fueled the real "Underground" in societies where the problems were much more serious then some of the silliness he lampooned.

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