From Counterculture to Consumer Culture

As early as the 1960s, Frank Zappa already knew that to get to the “real” truth one had to go to the underground, because the mainstream was just out to sell you something you probably didn’t need in the first place, or so says the article, “Going Underground” at Computer Arts:

“The mainstream comes to you, but you have to go to the underground,” said Frank Zappa, that extraordinary songwriter, singer and guitarist whose music spanned three decades and who was known for despising organized religion, was passionate about freedom of speech and advocated the abolition of censorship. Zappa understood that if you wanted to avoid the mainstream, the ordinary and the mundane, then going underground was where it was at.


The underground isn’t dead, it just smells funny…

17 Responses to “From Counterculture to Consumer Culture”

  1. bernard says:

    In my opinion ” going underground” means : deviating from the norm. It’s about innovation, ie stop having old ideas and dig into new ones.
    This can be very inspiring to others.

    In FZ case I just discovered a good example of this: the influence of FZ on… gardening, composing landscapes.
    It’s : http://gardenwiseguy.blogspot.com/2007/06/killer-combos.html
    Quote: “In the composition above, how much dark green does it take to balance ‘X’ amount of pale gray-green? The central upright clump of dark green repeats the rigid vertical of the foreground, but then, to create the contrast that any fine work of art needs, gravity pulls the outer leaves into a soft arch, then lays them nearly horizontal.
    If this composition were music, it would be about variations on a theme, in this case cylindrical forms in varying scales. And just to complicate things slightly, there are those tiny magenta flower buds topping the euphorb, sort of like random notes borrowed from a Frank Zappa musing.”

  2. bernard says:

    Another one on the same line : ” Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible. — Frank Zappa “. The quote comes from ….
    CESE: “Ensuring Quality Science and Math Education for All”
    It’s : http://www.cesame-nm.org/

  3. Roland says:

    Going underground might mean to use the London Transport System or just hide in a shelter …

    … don´t forget the toilet paper, we might use it !

  4. Roland says:

    “Underground” is a song from the soundtrack of the film Labyrinth, performed by David Bowie. Isn´t this funny?

  5. jonnybutter says:

    ” Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible. — Frank Zappa “.

    A rephrasing of Old Bernard Shaw’s ‘maxim for revolutionists’: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the conditions that surround him… The unreasonable man adapts surrounding conditions to himself… All progress depends on the unreasonable man.””

  6. bernard says:

    “Underground” was the name call it progressive rock in the sixties. FZ & Pink Floyd were the big stars of that scene.
    By the way I visited London ( school trip, I was 15) in 1969 when Hot Rats was just released. The streets of London were full of posters then. The most remarkable was a picture of FZ sitting on a toilet. Now : funny, then : shocking. The only one who experienced with people sitting on a toilet before FZ was the French filmmaker Bunuel( I was not aware of that, then).

    I went home endeavoring to discover that strange musician. Everything seemed weird: the guy & & it was very good music.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hot_Rats
    It was – in my mind – as weird as Le Sacre Du Printemps ( Strawinsky) which I had listened to in my local music academy ( 2nd year of Music History).

  7. bernard says:

    In the worst case FZ will end up like this :
    The Wagner Clan: The Saga of Germany’s Most Illustrious and Infamous Family.
    By Jonathan Carr. Grove Atlantic; 432 pages; $27.50. Faber and Faber; £20.
    The all-consuming story of the Wagners, their friends, their rivalries and the marvellous music they made while becoming the Sopranos of the opera world.

  8. Barry's Imaginary Publisher says:

    Underground? There are people who hate it, yet end up becoming one of its poster children, whether they like it or not. One such case (not seated before you alas!): Robert Crumb. He absolutely detested the whole 60s psychedelic music scene. Coming from a suffocating, typically defunct 50s family, he managed to — couldn’t but, tormented as he was — lay his finger on the sore ailments of his time. You don’t “become part” of the underground by merit of intellectual exercise. It is thrown upon you simply because you happen to be able to capture into art that which was up until then “hanging in the air”, unnamed and therefor unspeakable.

  9. bernard says:

    Yes. Great man.

    In music, possibly the same tribe: http://www.georgecrumb.net/
    Just listen to the Kronos Quartet recordings of his music.

  10. urbangraffito says:

    Strange how this article attempts to relegate FZ as something of a 60s counterculture artifact? As we all know, he was much, much more than that. Every generation, it seems, thinks they are re-inventing the wheel. Yet, this current generation seems blissfully unaware that “the wheel” itself has been stolen from them, repackaged, and sold back to them as something unique and original (no wonder vehicles are careening off the roads)…

  11. Roland says:

    In the beginning of the ´88 concert at the CCH in Hamburg, Zappa was given soft toys and cakes by people of the audience. A celebration called “audience participation”. There was a 12 piece band playing deluxe versions of selected songs. It was a bit puzzling, because the whole audience was so different to the former audiences in his concerts I visited. All that wasn´t underground! So can anybody explain the changes from the concerts and their target groups (to name them so) from NY Greenwich Village to the last concerts in 1988? What happened here?

  12. giantalbinopenguin says:

    Times change. People change. Simple, really.

  13. Roland says:

    This is an answer I could have given to myself “giantalbinopenguin”, but I am sorry, it is not that simple. And it´s a very global view to it as well. Just to say: Suddenly there were people who used to listen to odd pop music before. Was it the latest fashion to visit a Zappa concert? Was it always a fashion to listen to him, anyway? Did Zappa leave underground with certain releases? Was that deliberately? Did he play with the consumers mind in revolving things bit by bit to make him more popular?

  14. giantalbinopenguin says:

    Actually, I think it is that simple. But carry on.

  15. urbangraffito says:

    Roland Says:
    December 8th, 2007 at 8:56 am

    It was a bit puzzling, because the whole audience was so different to the former audiences in his concerts I visited. All that wasn´t underground! So can anybody explain the changes from the concerts and their target groups (to name them so) from NY Greenwich Village to the last concerts in 1988? What happened here?

    Zappa could only suggest to his audiences that they explore the underground media — the rest was up to them.

  16. zcommezappette says:

    By the way, where does the Zappa quote come from ? I’ve tried with google but couldn’t find its source. any idea ?

  17. Balint says:

    Hi zcommezappette,
    the quote is from The Real Frank Zappa Book:

    ‘Deviation from the Norm’
    One of the things I’ve said before in interviews is: “Without deviation (from the norm), ‘progress’ is not possible.”
    In order for one to deviate successfully, one has to have at least a passing acquaintance with whatever norm one expects to deviate from.
    When a musician comes into my band, he already knows sets of musical norms. The drummers know all the drumbeat norms (how to play disco, how to play a shuffle, how to play fatback, etc., etc.). Bass players know all the bass player norms (thumb pops, walking lines, ‘traditional’ ostinatos, etc., etc.). Those are today’s radio music norms. Part of the fun in preparing touring arrangements is nuking those norms.”
    etc.

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