Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Warts and All Zappadan

Although Zappadan is a celebration of many aspects of Zappa's life, like every other human, sometimes Frank was full of shit.

He was notoriously "anti-drug". I remember a Saturday Night Live appearance when he declared "I don't do drugs, man", and all the kiddies laughed because he looked like a long haired hippy, and he's a musician, and my god, did you hear those lyrics, he must be on drugs!

The truth is, Zappa was a drug addict, and his drug of choice was Tobacco. I think it was in The Real Frank Zappa Book (it's been 15 years or so since I read it, so correct me if I'm wrong) where he tried rationalizing his addiction to nicotine, calling it "like a food, it's part of my metabolism." Spoken like a true junky! Take away his fix in the middle of a tour and see how well he performs during all the withdrawal symptoms.

At Ketchup Is A Vegetable, Brady posted about Zappa and Unions.

This little clip is a gentle reminder that, although Zappadan is celebrated by a cadre of “liberal” bloggers, Frank Zappa’s politics were not always so cut and dried. Zappa considered himself a businessman before anything else and believed (rightly so, I reckon) that he would not be able to do what he did unless he could make money at it. True things, all. As this clip reminds us, though, Zappa also thought of himself as management, and he was not fond of (nor, I think did he actually understand) unions.

"Well, the fact of the matter is, I am The Dictator", says Zappa, before backpeddling on his own characterization, calling himself The Referee between The Band and The Audience. What a load of bullshit! Referees are neutral parties, and Zappa is obviously a participant with a vested interest.

Zappa says in the video that the people who find his attitude and work ethic toward the band (firing under performers) baffling are people with a "Union Mentality" of "Too many people do too little work for too much money and go on strike to get more days off." What a load of bullshit!

In The Real Frank Zappa Book (I gave my copy away 15 years ago to a hippy named Troll, so I can't look it up), Zappa devoted a few chapters to "Orchestral Stupidities", where he attempted to hire orchestras to play and record some of his compositions. Maybe it was the london orchestra, maybe it was in New York, but the musicians were unionized, and so Union contract rules were in effect, and that evidently rubbed Zappa the wrong way. I imagine he wanted to keep rehearsing something until they go it the way he wanted, until they got it "right", but you know, if the union says we're taking a 10 minute break every hour and a half hour break every 3 hours, and an hour for lunch, etc. that probably pissed off Frank to no end.

I can only imagine what other Union Atrocities Frank had to put up with. Did he hire Teamster Truckers to haul a semi full of band equipment, and they were booked one night in Denver and the next night in Minneapolis, and the truckers had the gall to stop driving after 10 hours and go to sleep for 8 hours, and they were late getting to the gig because they were following DOT regulations and Union Rules, not like the old days when some palooka named Larry rode the bus straight through from Memphis to Salt Lake without stopping?

In the song "Stick Together" Zappa trots out the old Unions=Mafia stereotype

This is a song about the union, friends
How they fucked you over and the way they bends
The rules to suit a special few
And you gets pooched every time they do

You know we gotta stick together
You know we gotta stick together
You know we gotta stick together
You know we gotta stick together

Once upon a time the idea was good
If only they'd a done what they said they would
It ain't no better, they's makin' it worse
The labor movement's got the Mafia curse

You know we gotta stick together
You know we gotta stick together
You know we gotta stick together
You know we gotta stick together

Don't be no fool, don't be no dope
Common sense is your only hope
When the union tells you it's time to strike
Tell the motherfucker to take a hike

You know we gotta stick together
You know we gotta stick together
You know we gotta stick together
You know we gotta stick together

Unions, like any other organization, are going to have their share of corrupt bastards, but "The Union" doesn't tell "The People" when to strike, "The People" are "The Union", and they vote on whether or not they will strike. Maybe if they have a Benevolent Referee Dictator for a boss, the workers don't feel a need for a union, but if your boss is a prick like Rupert Murdoch, perhaps you want to "Stick Together".


Fearguth said...

Now this is an example of what is truly 'fair and balanced'. Zappa was wrong about a lot of things. He scoffed at music-themed t-shirts, for example, claiming that people who wore them were 'insignoramuses'. But it's the things he was right about which made him great.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

I did not know this, zencomix.

It doesn't make me think less of Zappa's music, but it does make me think more about how fucked we are and how it's still getting worse, etc.

zencomix said...

Agreed, Fearguth. The art is not the artist, and we all have our shortcomings. I'm reminded of the Vonnegut biography, And So It Goes. Player Piano is one of my favorite books, but why would the guy who lived through Dresden and write about it in Slaughterhouse 5 have investments in Dow Chemicals, the makers of napalm?

ITTDGY, I don't think any less of Zappa's music either, but I also don't like every note he ever wrote or played, though. I think it was Mark Hoback a few years ago who poked a little fun at the colossally mediocre-to-bad album "Studio Tan". I love Zappa to death, but he's not immune to criticism.

Fearguth said...

Re: Vonnegut - There is a hypocrisy gene and we all have it.

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