Frank Zappa and the And: Chapter 7 – Zappa and the Story Song

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Chaper 7 of Frank Zappa and the And is by Geoff Wills. Geoff’s chapter covers loads of interesting cross references that influenced Zappa’s musical idiolect.I have copied the first few hundred words below to give you a feel for the subject matter. Also – Geoff is an accomplished artist – and the attached drawing will be incorporated for the cover of the book.

The era in America after World War II was an especially rich one with regard to cultural phenomena. In the area of music, Arnold Schoenberg and Igor Stravinsky had moved to the USA, and were wielding considerable influence. Charles Ives was finally achieving recognition after his second symphony was premiered by Leonard Bernstein in 1951. In jazz, the bebop experiments of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie had emerged, as had the orchestral innovations of Stan Kenton, Boyd Raeburn and Claude Thornhill. In Cinema, the 1940s created the bleak atmosphere for Film Noir, while in the 1950s a fear of Communism was obliquely reflected in a wave of Science-Fiction movies such as The Thing from Another World[1] and Invasion of the Body Snatchers.[2] American art made a worldwide impact with Abstract Expressionism, as did American literature with the Beat writers. Comedy was also transformed by a group of satirical stand-up comics, such as Shelley Berman and Lenny Bruce, not to mention the emergence of Rock n’ Roll. This was the era in which Frank Zappa grew up and, sponge-like, he soaked in all the cultural influences around him, stored them, and ultimately regurgitated them in an original synthesis. This chapter will focus on one approach that Zappa used to present his synthesis, namely the story-song. It will attempt to make parallels between themes in his work and those in the wider area of American culture. It will also examine the way that Zappa developed the trade-mark sound of his voice to frequently present these story-songs.


[1] Christian Nyby and Howard Halks, The Thing from Another World, Winchester Pictures Corporation (1951).

[2] Don Seigel, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Allied Artists Pictures (1956).

About Paul Carr

Academic working at the University of Glamorgan
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