Essay, Research Paper: Frank Zappa


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Frank Zappa was an American singer, composer, arranger, guitarist, bandleader,
and all around musician who was one of the greatest iconoclastic musicians of
the 20th Century. He also produced over 60 albums in 30 years. Some considered
him to have demonstrated a mastery of pop idioms ranging from jazz to rock of
every conceivable variety. As astute an entrepreneur as he was a musician, he
was impatient with any division between popular and high art; he combined
scatological humor with political wit, required of his players an intimidating
skill, and displayed consistent innovation in instrumental and studio
technology. “I knew there was a big thing here that was unique, because the
beat matched the great rhythm of the human body.” (Frank Zappa, The New Rock;
p.1) He was born in 1940 in Baltimore where his Sicilian-born, Greek-Arab
meteorologist father was employed by an arsenal that manufactured poison gas
during World War II. The eldest of four children of a guitar-playing government
scientist, Frank Zappa moved with his family at age ten to California. At the
age of twelve Zappa became interested in drums, learning orchestral percussion.
By 1956 he was playing drums in a local R&B band called the Ramblers. “I
was extremely suspect of any rock music played by white people. The sincerity
and emotional intensity of their performances, when they sang about boyfriends
and girlfriends and breaking up, etc., was nowhere when I compared it to my high
school Negro R&B heroes like Johnny Otis, Howlin’ Wolf and Willie Mae
Thornton.” (Frank Zappa, The New Rock; p.1). Early exposure to a record of
Ionisation by avant garde classical composer Edgard Varese instilled an interest
in advanced rhythmic experimentation, which lead to the fascination of the
electric guitar. “Enlightenment is , to a certain extent, attributable to the
evolution of rock and vice versa.” (Frank Zappa, The New Rock; p.1). In 1963
Mr. Zappa wrote a score for a Western called Run Home Slow and with the money
built a studio in Cucamonga, California. But along with success come some
misfortune in which Zappa was charged for conspiracy to commit pornography by
the San Bernardino Vice Squad after an undercover policeman requested some sex
“party” tapes. Zappa delivered tapes of faked grunting, and served ten days
of a six-month jail sentence. In 1964, Zappa joined a local R&B outfit, the
Soul Giants and started writing songs for them. Eager to gain a heavier image
Flo and Eddie joined up with Zappa for the film 200 Motels. But once again
misfortune struck Zappa. On December 4,1971 there was a fire that destroyed the
bands equipment and a crazy accident in which Zappa was pushed off-stage at
London’s Rainbow theatre. He crushed his larynx (lowering his voice a third),
and damaged his spine, which kept him wheelchair-bound for the best part of a
year. Apostrophe (‘) showcased Zappa’s talents as a story - teller in the
Lord Buckley tradition. I reached number 10 in the Billboard chart in June 1974.
In 1975 Captain Beefheart joined Zappa for a tour, Zappa overdubbing most of the
instruments himself. He was experimenting with what he termed
“xenochronicity” (combining unrelated tracks to create a piece of
non-synchronous music) and produced intriguing results on ‘Friendly Little
Finger’. “Through rock music, the audience is being exposed to an assortment
of advanced musical and electronic techniques that five years ago might have
sent them screaming into the street.” (Frank Zappa, The New Rock; p.3). In
1976, Zappa filed a lawsuit against Herb Cohen, which in 1977 severed ties with
Warner Bros., moving to Mercury two years later. There he set up Zappa Records
and retired the Mothers name, calling all later groups Zappa. In 1980 Zappa
recorded a single, “I Don’t Wanna Get Drafted,” which Mercury refused to
release, prompting him to leave the label and eventually establish his own
Barking Pumpkin Label. In 1981 Zappa released his first Barking Pumpkin album,
and that year, some ex-Mothers, including Jimmy Carl Black, Don Preston, and
Bunk Gardner, united to form the Grandmothers. “They did everything they could
to make sure their audience was moved erotically.” (Frank Zappa, The New Rock;
p.2). In 1984 he was quite outrageously prolific: he unearthed the an 18th
century composer named Francesco Zappa and recorded his work on a synclavier.
Two releases, Shut Up ‘N Play Yer Guitar and Guitar, proved that Zappa’s
guitar playing was unique; Jazz From Hell presented wordless compositions for
synclavier that drew inspiration from Conlon Nancarrow; Thing-Fish was a
‘Broadway musical’ about AIDS, homophobia and racism. In November of 1991,
in New York on the eve of a tribute concert entitled “Zappa’s Universe,”
Moon Unit and Dweezil Zappa announced that their father had been diagnosed with
cancer of the prostate. A lifelong teetotaler and abstainer from drugs (Zappa,
however, smoked cigarettes and drank coffee incessantly), the composer continued
a rigorous work schedule. And in May 1993 Zappa, clearly weak from intensive
chemotherapy, announced that he was fast losing the battle as it had spread into
his bones. At the age of 52, shortly before his 53rd birthday, at his Los
Angeles home Zappa succumbed to the disease. Zappa’s career in perspective
shows a musical perfectionist using only the highest standards of musicianship
and the finest recording quality. “It has been discovered and revealed that
song can capture the fancy of the American public efficiently.” (Frank Zappa,
The New Rock; p.2). History will certainly recognize Zappa as a sophisticated,
serious composer and a highly accomplished master of music. Zappa was one of the
most exotic, original and complex figures to have emerged from rock culture.
Guitar hero, satirist, and political commentator, Zappa managed to avoid being
easily categorized for over three decades. And to show their appreciation the
Critics elected Zappa into the Down Beat Hall of Fame. “It’s not important
to even be remembered,” he said, “I mean, the people who worry about being
remembered are guys like Reagan, Bush…. I don’t care.”

Bibliography“Frank Zappa-Biography.” Yahoo. Online. Yahoo Online. 7 April, 2000
 “Frank Zappa.” Yahoo. Online. Yahoo Online. 7 April, 2000 
“Frank Zappa Tribute.” Yahoo. Online. Yahoo Online. 7 April, 2000 
“The New Rock..” Yahoo. Online. Yahoo Online. 7 April, 2000 
“Zappa BR Home Page.” Yahoo. Online. Yahoo Online. 7 April, 2000
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