Person with dark eyebrows and mustache looking into the camera with one eyebrow raised.

Zappa Behind the Sneer: June 1995


Bo-dhi-satt-va n. (Mahayana Buddhism) a being who has attained Buddhahood, but forgoes entering Nirvana to help others by teaching them. 

Doing a story on Frank Zappa’s contribution to music would take up every page in this magazine, every month, for twenty years. So I’ll just concentrate on what he did to my generation: those who got it, and those who didn’t. The man who brought an era to an end at the Terrace Ballroom, and who later incited 10,000 at the Salt Palace to “Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em”. Frank welcomed himself to the Land of Zion, more than once. 

The Frank Zappa catalogue has just been released by Rykodisc. All FZ approved masters, everything from Freak Out! to You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore Vol. 1-6. That’s a span of over 60 albums. Apparently, 200 Motels is the only LP not being re-released. A battle over rights, most likely. This gives the public a chance to hear one of the most important musical voices ever. You can take Nine Inch Nails, Pearl Jam, Kurt Cobain and the rest of the so called musical minds of our time and toss them out the window, as they are incapable of seeing on the same level as Frank did. So, if you don’t know, you should ask somebody or find out for yourself. Or to quote Frank himself; “I don’t want to spend my life explaining myself. You either get it, or you don’t” 

First and foremost, Zappa was probably the only true genius of our time. What he did astounded, confused and went over the heads of most of the people who witnessed any of his accomplishments. Secondly, Frank was a brilliant composer, from his own twisted tunes to conducting the London Symphony Orchestra in 1983.

Thirdly he was an outstanding guitarist. Beyond the scope of any guitar heroes of our time, Zappa created guitar gods, like moms bake cookies. There was no egomaniacal soloing for speeds sake. Frank played for the love of the guitar, as is evidenced on his live performances, and on the Guitar and Shut Up In Play Yer Guitar albums. 

But to look at Zappa as solely a musician, is a great injustice. He changed the rules by challenging them, and then rewriting the to suit himself, and ultimately our generation. He wrote Joe’s Garage, a political satire on an American system that he thought was hell bent on censoring music. Oddly enough, a few years later, he confronted Tipper Gore and the PMRC, and appeared before the Senate Subcommittee investigating “rock porn.” Frank emerged a hero to the musician, fighting for the right of free speech. He fought with record companies. He didn’t like the way they did things, so he created his own. He continually did things his way, regardless of public acceptance or album sales. He played with the most gifted musicians of our time and forced them to play on another level, creating a beast that even he, sometimes, had difficulty fathoming. Zappa was so far ahead of his time that he found himself limited by technology. He was so far beyond other composers, that he had trouble finding people to play his music. 

In the years to come, the Zappa name will not go away, but will further astound. Thousands of hours of recorded material is sitting in the vaults of Zappa’s home studio, The Utility Muffin Research Kitchen, waiting to be released. His influence will live long past anyone alive today; the repercussions of which will be felt for decades after that. 

So, after all the things Zappa has done for music, (alas the Bodhisattva reference) you’d think he’d get more recognition than he did. But as always, we as a people persecute genius, instead of embracing it. 

How odd that the one thing most visibly recognizable about Zappa has permeated, mutated and become almost an ID badge moniker for this generation: the goatee. Probably not on purpose, definitely not planned, but never the less, a fact. You can almost hear him laughing at the thought of it now.

Read more from SLUG Archives here:
New Band Review: February 1995
Lou Barlow of Sebadoh: February 1995