Chapter 9 of the Zappa book is by David Sanjek – who sadly passed away only 2-3 weeks after sending me the finished chapter. David was an outstanding academic with an encyclopaedic knowledge of popular music. I am really proud that Zappa And The And features a chapter by this fabulous academic. He will be sadly missed.
No one ever accused Frank Zappa of lacking a sense of humour. Most people would characterise the thrust of Zappa’s wit as being, amongst other things, snarky
and sarcastic. Throughout his career, he conducted himself like an equal opportunity
tweaker of taboos and remained convinced that whatever a person’s ideological disposition, all of us potentially can succumb to the batons of those forces of coercion that Zappa dubbed the ‘brain police’.This predilection to interrogate authority potentially met its match when the composer found himself figuratively attached to the establishment: for the first time, he was in a position to call his own shots, rather than simply be an employee of a recording company. In 1968, Zappa left Verve Records and signed a new distribution deal with Warner Brothers/Reprise, one of the preeminent companies of the day and now. Whereas Verve seemed to perceive Zappa as nothing more or less than a marketable reversion from the mainstream, his new employers appeared to believe the composer could potentially disengage from his long-time ‘no commercial potential’ rallying cry, without evacuating his material of the idiosyncrasies that made it stand out from the work of his contemporaries.
Furthermore, an inevitably attractive portion of the contract permitted Zappa to operate two boutique labels that the corporation would promote and distribute; the recordings would feature solo material by the composer as well as the ensemble efforts of Zappa’s band, The Mothers of Invention, in addition to performances by other artists he appreciated and wished to produce and promote. One can only imagine that his choice of names for the concerns reflects Zappa’s recognition of the inescapable ironies embedded in his situation. He named the first, inaugurated in 1968, Bizarre, and the other, initiated the following year, Straight. Not only did the titles evoke his appreciation of his potentially disjointed affiliation with the major players in the record industry, but they also echoed the antagonistic energies unleashed throughout much of society during this tumultuous period of time. Like a number in his audience, Zappa recognised that the country had fragmented along ideological fault lines that appeared incapable of reconciliation. The pressure cooker of polemical contention revealed a society just barely under control, such that when any excess amount of enthusiasm, whether emerging from the right or the left, became unhinged, the consequences could be lethal. The bashing of protestors on the streets of Chicago during the democratic convention or the brutalising of the audience at the Altamont Speedway during the appearance of the Rolling Stones reinforced
Zappa’s admonition that there was, as the title of a song on Freak Out! indicated, ‘trouble every day’ amongst us and we placed ourselves at risk whenever we endeavoured to test the limitations of those opportunities when we inhabit the sphere embodied by the title of The Mothers of Invention’s second album: Absolutely Free.