Perhaps the most interesting new data slowly emerging about Frank Zappa—world-class iconoclast, rebel, genius, and artist—is the fact that he was, in among his many highly admirable incredible traits, a monumental hypocrite. For the most part, you have to read a bit between the lines to understand this as timid critics and film-makers approach the matter tangentially, slowly, hesitantly, rightly fearful of audience backlash. Decades ago, I asked of friends: "What the hell is Zappa on about? He excoriates drugs and pretty much bans them from his retinue…yet he's totally addicted to the two most dangerous drug substances on Earth: nicotine and caffeine. Wassup widdat???" This question wasn't appreciated among idolaters, of which I was and still am one.
Later I noticed he spent, while married to the drop-dead gorgeous Gail, a hell of a lot of time among groupies yet badinaged about loose morals on stage and in his songs, drawing down on philandering Republican hypocrites. "You're too damn suspicious, Tucker!", acquaintances and fellow crits would admonish. My reply? "Ask Gail why she won't talk about Nigey Lennon". And, indeed, Nigey was and still is an extremely touchy subject among those in the know (ain't that right, o journalistas 'n auteurs?). The matter was dropped by my catcallers, all and sundry moving on, muttering…but the truth is the truth, right? I would hope so. And, hey!, going against Establishment behavior and business bullshit, exposing lies as a chief trait among both, was paramount in rock 'n roll, RIGHT???
Maybe not. Maybe a lot of what we think was thus-and-so was actually not the case, and that's where the new wave of rock docs is coming in as extremely useful, a matter of returning to those one is enamored of in order to perhaps know them for the first time. In From Straight to Bizarre (here), the Sexy Intellectual (SI) imprint, a prime player in the transformation of music documentaries, provided a key moment, revealing that Frankie had advised Capt. Beefheart, his high school mutual-freaks-club buddy, to screw his musicians, grab the cash, and run. In this SI DVD Freak Jazz, Movie Madness & Another Mothers: Frank Zappa: 1969 - 1973, the very weird instance of Zappa spying on his tour group is explored…under the rubric of Zap's being a 'socio-anthropologist', a nice bit of rhetoric conveniently conflating Frankie out of his ironic bedeviling of Republican hypocrisies and various social phenomena, though not quite Kosher semantically, I think we can safely say.
For decades, I'd pondered what was shown in 200 Motels, a film well covered in this DVD and a decidedly twisted and perplexing exposition of what seemed to be the outing of FZ being paranoid as hell, secretly taping his comrades without their awareness or permission, frantic to know what they truly thought of him. As a mere listener way outside the orbit of the band, I could never decide whether the negativity portrayed was wholly fictitious and servicing satire…or perhaps partly, mostly, or all real and a trifle unsettling. The later release of Psychotic Pineapples, containing more of the Nixonianesque tapings, only aggravated the annoying dubiety. What the hell, I scratched my head, had really gone on there?
Well, thanks to Frank Zappa: 1969 - 1973, now I know. Frank was almost psychotically paranoid, and rightly so: the musicians' sentiments were decidedly not contrived. They had very valid gripes, as did a lot of FZ's various crews, especially the original Mothers. A good deal of them centered in Frank's highly questionable handling of pay and other monies. But, whoa!, wait a minute! Wasn't Frank volcanically excoriative of the industry's exact same shyster money practices, fulminating against them ceaselessly? Yeah, and here we see he was most likely doing the exact same thing, so, uh-oh, that had to be squelched.
Zappa couldn't afford to let his public know what was actually transpiring, as that would present a VERY different picture from what was extent PR-wise, the story consumers were buying into. Once discovered in his tapestering, the guy raced to hastily excuse himself as…well, as said, taking the role and practice of 'socioanthropology' and, of course nuevo 'artistry'. Boy, it sure helps to have a good vocabulary and a quick mind; almost anything can be excused. Doubt me on this? Well, Heironymous, get this video, watch that section and all the rest, trace back to the Straight to Bizarre DVD, then inspect the internet for a welter of past Mothers' comments and sentiments, and see if your protest will hold up.
However, more importantly, does knowledge of all this damage what Zappa achieved? It does not, not in the least. It affects his legacy in whole perhaps, tarnishes that shining ethical rebel posture he held, no doubt about that, but isn't it time we got past Jack 'n Jill brainless adulations and became adults? I think so, and that's precisely what DVDs like this accomplish and why they're exceedingly valuable—along with the concurrent fact that a lot of new info is forwarded. Such work is not revisionist, a term tossed around too lightly, but actually sets history correctly for the first time.
It's well past time the giddy, blindered, groupie-esque rock 'journalism' of the past few decades was set right. From Day One forward, it followed the dictates of evil genius Edward Bernays' formula of 'truth + truth + truth = lie'. All that had to done was to omit key data and fantasy arose, which was frequently enough truthful but, now cohered without the rest of the backscatter, we can see was a damnable lie. That's been standard practice in rock 'journalism', especially since the Rolling Stone opened its doors.
I'm done with my rant. Here's the rest: there's a lot of great material captured in this essential DVD: two and a half hours' worth of rare photos; equally rare in-concert footage; a wealth of comments and criticisms from critics and ex-band alumni, George Duke's and Jeff Simmons' the most interesting; a smooth narrative voiceover; and pacing that makes this outing more like reading an engrossing book than watching MTV-styled flashbang. There are many deep insights and a vocal history looking into the most difficult phase of Frank Zappa's long and brilliant career, revelations on what really went on behind Chunga's Revenge, Just Another Band from L.A., Waka Jawaka, and so on.
So, yea and verily, I came not to bury Caesar but to praise him, I merely want the record set forth truthfully, and that's slowly happening in rock 'n roll annals, gratis SI and others. We're in an age where the grinningly persnickety old Firesign Theatre's adage, Everything You Know Is Wrong, is a verity. That can be a little tough to live with, I know, but what would you rather have? If fantasy, read the Bible. I'd much rather truth. At one time, that was what drove the rock…or at least seemed to.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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