Frank Zappa and the And: Chapter 6 – Zappa and Resistance

I got some good news from Ashgate today – the Frank Zappa and the And: A Contextual Analysis of his Legacy was given the final green light for publiction – so the book will be out this year. So – here is the into to Chapter 6. This essay is by Prof. Claude Chastagner from the University of Montpelier, and he is investigating an important aspect of Zappa’s legacy – his relationship with resistance. Here is the start of the essay –

Artists are in a privileged position to voice the grievances of the silent, helpless, anonymous citizen. They can articulate the disapproval of objectionable legislation, obnoxious leaders, insufferable social policies, or ruthless economic plans. They can testify in court against censorship, write paeans to the rainforests, organise concerts to fight famine, or persuade people to register to vote. I am obviously alluding to the much publicised actions of artists like Sting, Bob Geldof, Peter Gabriel, Bruce Springsteen, George Harrison, R.E.M., and many others, including Franz Zappa. There are so many ways to disagree with one’s contemporaries, and so many reasons to do it. However, Sting’s or Bob Geldof’s agendas were probably different from Frank Zappa’s when he testified against censorship in popular music at the Parents Music Resource Centre (PMRC) Senate hearing in 1985, or when he wrote ‘don’t forget to register to vote’ on the sleeve of his Fillmore East, June 71 album. As a rule, rock musicians have opted for two main strategies, which have by now become quite familiar. One is overt protest, in the form of rebellious anthems, crowd-arousing slogans, angry riffs, or defiant postures. This has been the case with some late 1960s bands (from Country Joe and the Fish to Jefferson Airplane), numerous punks bands, among them, most prominently, The Clash, and more recently groups such as Rage Against the Machine, The Agitator, or Lethal Bizzle. The other has been to devote oneself to a cause, organise and federate fellow artists, and raise money and consciousness by staging worldwide events. Frank Zappa is a stranger to both, with few of his songs relying on straightforward rebellious riffs, save in a tongue-in-cheek manner, and lyrics rather meant to make people think, laugh, or frown, than yell slogans. Likewise, Zappa was never concerned by charity rock, though he often opposed the advocates of censorship. Zappa, however, could easily stand as protest incarnate. His pedigree is indeed irreproachable: 10 days in jail in 1964 for what was considered as pornographic recordings, the patronage of Václav Havel, his public indictment of the PMRC agenda, etc. His lyrics often read as violent satires of Middle America, scathing attacks on all kinds of religious bigotry, rednecks, and televangelists, while his compositions have consistently challenged moral and musical norms, including those of rock music. Hence his iconic rebellious status, which in the seventies and eighties stretched behind the Iron Curtain.

 

About Paul Carr

Academic working at the University of Glamorgan
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