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December 21: Frank Zappa

Frank Zappa (1940)

Frank Zappa

It was on this date, December 21, 1940, that American musician and satirist Frank Vincent Zappa was born in Baltimore, Maryland, of French, Sicilian, Neapolitan, Greek and Arab ancestry. Before going into the rock music business, Frank Zappa earned his living as a greeting-card designer, window dresser, copywriter, and door-to-door salesman. He began to play drums at the age of 12, played with R & B groups by high school, switched to guitar at 18, barely graduated, and later dropped out of college.

But what he didn't learn in school he picked up from life. Zappa's credentials from the 60s through the 90s included orchestral composer, filmmaker, music producer, smart businessman, and perceptive political and social iconoclast. From his work with the Mothers of Invention from 1965 to 1975, to his solo efforts afterward, Zappa expanded and redefined rock as social and cultural criticism. Zappa was the first artist to be inducted into both the Jazz (1994) and Rock and Roll (1995) Halls of Fame.

Frank Zappa's iconoclasm extended most notoriously to religion. In his Real Frank Zappa Book he says, "If you want to get together in any exclusive situation and have people love you, fine — but to hang all this desperate sociology on the idea of The Cloud-Guy who has The Big Book, who knows if you've been bad or good — and cares about any of it — to hang it all on that, folks, is the chimpanzee part of the brain working."[1]

Furthermore, Zappa says,

The essence of Christianity is told us in the Garden of Eden story. The fruit that was forbidden was on the tree of knowledge. The subtext is, "All the suffering you have is because you wanted to find out what was going on. You could be in the Garden of Eden if you had just kept your fucking mouth shut and hadn't asked any questions." ... Anybody who wants religion is welcome to it, as far as I'm concerned — I support your right to enjoy it. However, I would appreciate it if you exhibited more respect for the rights of those people who do not wish to share your dogma, rapture or necrodestination.[2]

Zappa also has some advice about children: "My best advice to anyone who wants to raise a happy, mentally healthy child is: Keep him or her as far away from a church as you can," and "Children are naive — they trust everyone. School is bad enough, but, if you put a child anywhere in the vicinity of a church, you're asking for trouble."[3]

Of course, Zappa included some of his trenchant criticisms of religion in his lyrics. From the song "Dumb All Over," from the album You Are What You Is, Zappa writes,

Hey, we can't really be dumb
If we're just following God's Orders
Hey, let's get serious...
God knows what he's doin'
He wrote this book here
An' the book says:
He made us all to be just like Him," so...
If we're dumb...
Then God is dumb...[4]

And in his song "Heavenly Bank Account," from the same September 1981 album, Zappa writes,

And if these words you do not heed
Your pocketbook just kinda might recede
When some man comes along and
claims godly need
He will clean you out right through your tweed
That's right, remember there is a big
difference between kneeling down
and bending over...
He's got twenty million dollars
In his Heavenly Bank Account...
All from those chumps who was
Born again.[5]

Zappa married his wife Gail, who survived him, in a civil ceremony. He died in Laurel Canyon, California, of prostate cancer on 4 December 1993. In September 2010, the citizens of Baltimore dedicated a statue to him in the downtown section of his city of birth. Frank Zappa once said, "Reality is what it is, not what you want it to be."

[1] Frank Zappa and Peter Occhiogrosso, The Real Frank Zappa Book, Chapter "Church and State," p. 301. [2] Ibid. [3] Ibid. [4] You Are What You Is (Frank Zappa solo album), September 1981. [5] Ibid.

Originally published December 2003 by Ronald Bruce Meyer.

Ronald Bruce Meyer

Our Fearless Leader.

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"[O]nly in popular education can man erect the structure of an enduring civilization."

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