Chapter 12: Zappa and Death

Here is the final chapter from Zappa and the And – by Paula Hearsum – Zappa and Death. This is in fact the only chapter that is any sort of chronological order – but I felt it was difficult to avoid putting this one at the end. So that’s it – the book will be published at the end of this month – so watch this space for news of its publication. I may even be offering some free copies in a competition 🙂

The need for rituals throughout dying and death transcends cultures, religions and time. It is an innately human response to aid making sense of this part of the life cycle to turn to both words and music – funerals, for instance, use both. As Zappa was a verbally articulate and outspoken musical performer, the mediation of his dying and death offers a potent possibility to examine the perception of his musical legacy through his obituaries and coverage of his death. They yield more than data and statistics, offering a dual reflection: both how Zappa is held within the musical arena as well as a societal snapshot of views on death. This chapter explores the extent to which journalistic coverage, through the examination of Zappa’s dying and death, reflects and shapes the reality of a life-lived and sheds light on social views of death culturally and historically. The chapter will also examine the social functions of journalism’s coverage of Zappa’s death through news and obituaries, sample broadsheet and music press articles, in addition to considering the utilisation of news values and ideologies that create our collective memory of Zappa’s legacy.
Zappa’s famous quotation to Rolling Stone, about the music press, was indicative of his position on the role of the media in general and music journalists specifically.

‘Most rock journalism is people who can’t write, interviewing people who can’t talk, for people who
can’t read’.

Whilst his opinion of journalism was often less than favourable, it is questionable whether he would find the irony that his death and continuing legacy has been documented for posterity within the press. Popular music’s more generic relationship with the subject of death has been extensively intertwined – not only in terms of its content but also within the statistical spike that forms the basis of the live fast die young cliché to which journalists use as a metaphoric device. The desire and increasing curiosity for a critical insight into the mediation of this final rite of passage is however, a relatively recent phenomenon in terms of academic engagement. Through an analysis of the news articles of Zappa’s last years living with prostate cancer and his obituaries, the chapter will seek to demonstrate how a life is renegotiated in the re-presentation of a particular type of death and how that in turn, is a reflection of society.


About Paul Carr

Academic working at the University of Glamorgan
This entry was posted in Frank Zappa and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Chapter 12: Zappa and Death

  1. freakdaddy says:

    the modern day composer refuses to die…


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