Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Was Frank Zappa a rocker?

For better or worse, we love to categorize music. On the one hand, it helps us to sort between the thousands upon thousands of songs that are out there. On the other hand, these categories can be awfully constraining.

Back when I was a Boy Scout in the early 1970s, Frank Zappa released an album entitled Apostrophe. If you were to go into a record store at the time, it would probably be filed in the rock section. Zappa had long hair at the time, so he looked like a rocker. He played guitar, so he really looked like a rocker.

Recently I had the opportunity to listen to the song "Don't Eat The Yellow Snow" again. (Yes, The Sound made it from the B's to the D's.) Now from my dim memory of my Boy Scout years, I only really remembered the chorus. But when you take some time to actually listen to the song, it becomes very clear that labeling Zappa as a rocker unfairly constrains what he was about.

In some ways it's difficult to judge Zappa because of the nature of some of his lyrics. Just when you start considering the jazz influences in his work, you hear him singing about dog doo snow cones. Or perhaps you fast forward a few years to his three-album epic about the evils of the music industry, which includes songs such as "Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?"

Well, that's why Zappa is missed by almost everyone - even Tipper Gore.

P.S. Via a Steven Hodson post, I happened to find the perfect illustration for this post. Unfortunately the artist, Viktor Hertz, chose to copyright the image rather than sharing it under Creative Commons. So I had to use this picture instead.
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