Frank Zappa — Cynic, Satirist, Social Anthropologist

Frank Zappa had been referred to as a lot of things throughout his thirty year career – some complimentary (genius, iconoclast, family man) and some not so complimentary (misogynist, anti-semite, misanthropist) – yet all one need do is listen to some of the myriad of interviews Zappa gave during his life (beginning with an excerpt from the Mark Radcliffe BBC Radio 1 Interview, above) and evidence becomes overwhelmingly clear: besides being a musician and composer, Zappa was a life-long cynic, satirist, and a social anthropologist:

Dutch TV Interview – 05 Sep 1984

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Innerview Radio Show with Jim Ladd – KMET-FM, Los Angeles, 1976

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Ramalama May 1979

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Videowest 1980

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WPLR-FM New Haven, 1975

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As an interesting aside, I was first motivated to research this post when I came across this asinine statement at Zap (dot) com: “Frank Zappa was a mad scientist constantly pushing the boundaries of music, film, and video.” Personally, I find the description of FZ as “a mad scientist” usurps the man’s obvious, profound intelligence and replaces it with an image of cartoonish buffoonery. Makes one wonder what sort of brand they are attempting to create of FZ in the 21st Century?

10 Responses to “Frank Zappa — Cynic, Satirist, Social Anthropologist”

  1. Hugh says:

    You really get a sense of the frustration Frank felt back then listening to these radio clips. That’s what Zappa gets for being on “duty” while the masses were “out to lunch”.
    The last interview (with Vliet) has two great moments. The first is the acetate of “200 Years Old” (excellent version!) that Frank premieres and the line from the frustrated DJ, “That’s why I wasn’t talking to Captain Beefheart”, after a miserable attempt to interview him. Ha!

  2. urbangraffito says:

    I like the part in the last interview, Hugh, where Don confesses that he still likes Frank “a little”. Just priceless. One gets the feeling that when they were alone together, they were just two guys who shared a common bond of friendship and music – but when other parties encroached upon them, these two friends were each replaced by their professional persona. No wonder they could barely fit into the same studio with the radio DJ.

  3. Hugh says:

    Frank’s theory on the goverment involvement of the ’60′s LSD movement as an experiment here in the U.S. doesn’t sound so far fetched after reading this article today: http://www.slate.com/id/2245188/?GT1=38001

    What’s the line?
    “One day they’ll get tired and drop the curtains and then
    you’ll see the bars!”

  4. urbangraffito says:

    No, Frank was right on the mark.

    In the late 60s, the CIA were supplying large amounts of LSD to Dr. Ewen Cameron, director of the Allain Memorial Institute at Montreal’s McGill University, where he developed a bizarre and unorthodox method for treating schizophrenia: with financial backing from the CIA he tested his method on 53 patients at Allain. The so-called treatment started with sleep therapy, in which subjects were knocked out for months at a time. The next phase, depatterning, entailed massive electroshock and frequent doses of LSD designed to wipe out past behavior patterns.

    Read on: LSD and the CIA.

  5. Bob says:

    A quote from urbangraffito:

    …sleep therapy, in which subjects were knocked out for months at a time. The next phase, depatterning, entailed massive electroshock and frequent doses of LSD designed to wipe out past behavior patterns.

    those were the days…gawd, I miss them.

  6. Hugh says:

    A quote from urbangraffito:

    Read on: LSD and the CIA.

    Sick shit, if true. Overdose an elephant? Sounds so stupid it must be true! I guess messing with white mice can get pretty boring when you know there are some well adjusted sperm whales out there to fuck with.

  7. David Ocker says:

    Based on my direct observation I have always thought that the term “mad scientist” was not a bad description of Frank, one side of him at least. He wasn’t into world domination of course, but anything new and unusual, especially musical, would start him off on a quest to try find newer, weirder things he could twist out of it: what happens if we plug this into that, or can you play this fiendishly confusing music while listening to this other completely unrelated track. Yes, you could see the gleam in his eyes as these experiments unfolded.

    I’ve always suspected that the reason young Frank was attracted to that first album of Varese is that the cover picture made Varese look just like a mad scientist out of one of the B science-fiction movies which Frank loved.

    On the other hand, Frank was a lot of different things and many adjectives can be applied to him, some of those things are contradictory descriptions but they can still be true. So, along with mad scientist, he was a perfectly sane genius as well. Cynic and satirist are good descriptions of him. Social Anthropologist? I wonder. One of the things Frank was most clearly not was an academic of any sort.

  8. urbangraffito says:

    I recall being asked by a school psychologist once what I wanted to be when I grew up – I must have been in grade 2 – and I looked her straight in the face (why oh why are all elementary authority figures women, I wonder?) and said, “I want to be a MAD SCIENTIST!” “Why”, she asked? “Because they have more FUN!” Only when I realized I was lousy at math and science and chemistry did I turn to creative writing. I figure it was much the same with the young Frank Zappa. All we eight year old MAD SCIENTISTS can identify each other a mile off, right Barry? David? Alex? Balint? Bob…

  9. Bob says:

    A quote from urbangraffito:

    Bob…

    Is it up yet?

  10. Alex says:

    In first grade I said I wanted to be a scientist and go to Yale.

    A year before I had aspired to be an apple when I grew up…

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