Frank Zappa, American composer and musician

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Date: 1965

Region: North America

Subject: Language Explicit Sexuality

Medium: Music


Artist: Frank Zappa (1940 - 1993)

Confronting Bodies: Various

Dates of Action: 1965+

Location: The United States of America

Description of Artwork: Frank Zappa's music and professional career have always suffered as a victim of society's unwillingness to laugh at its own weaknesses. Satire is no fun when nobody is spared the whip of Zappa's tongue and the sting of his fiery, imaginative guitar playing. In 1965, when Zappa and his group, called The Mothers, were about to release their first LP "Freak Out" on MGM Records (featuring the song, "Who Are the Brain Police?"), the label told the group to change its name. "Out of necessity, we became the Mothers of Invention," Zappa writes in his autobiography, "The Real Frank Zappa Book," an indispensable tome for anyone interested in the master's colorful career. Rather than try to describe Frank Zappa's 50-album oeuvre, here's the artist on how he works:

"It's like being a cook. And if you were a really good cook, and you had a lot of money for really excellent ingredients and really good equipment, then you could cook just about anything. But if you don't have all the gear . . . and you don't even own a cookbook, but you still want to eat, and nobody's going to cook it for you, then you better find some other way to improvise that dish. And that's kind of the way the stuff gets put together."

(Quote from Zappa! magazine; interview by editor Don Menn.)


The Incident: During a Dutch music awards ceremony in 1968 (for the LP "We're Only In It for the Money") Zappa heard the album for the first time since he turned it into the record company. "I noticed that whole chunks of songs were missing. Someone at MGM had been offended by the lyrics and had arbitrarily chopped portions of them out. On September 19, 1985, Zappa appeared before a Congressional hearing on explicit lyrics in popular music. The hearing was called at the behest of Top Government Officials whose wives included Susan Baker and Tipper Gore, founders of the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC), which eventually waged a campaign of lies and pressure that forced the record industry to agree to "Warning Parental Advisory" stickers on certain albums.

"If the goal here is total verbal/moral safety, there is only one way to achieve it: watch no TV, read no books, see no movies, listen to only instrumental music or buy no music at all." Ironically, one of Zappa's instrumental albums was stickered by a retail chain, many of which have strict "18 to buy" regulations on albums with "Tipper stickers."


Zappa further ridiculed Gore's assertion that certain types of music could promote deviant behavior saying, "I wrote a song about dental floss but did anyone's teeth get cleaner?"

There are many, many more censorship cases in Zappa's history, involving record companies, radio stations, TV stations, governments and retail stores.

Results of Incident: Frank Zappa died December 4, 1993, of complications resulting from prostate cancer. He remains one of America's most respected contemporary musicians and free speech soldiers. "Zappa was dealing with questions that [George] Orwell dealt with in another era -- questions about conformity and the flow of information in a free society," music journalist Bill Paige told the Madison, Wisc., Capital Times following Zappa's death. "I can't think of any artist today who so truly carried on in that tradition of social satirism. You'd be hard pressed to find someone who spoke so much truth about what was wrong in society, in government, in the music industry itself."

Source: Bill Paige