Zappa and Debbie

A Strange Ally

Frank Zappa (despite his many flaws) was a powerful musical force, particularly because of his love for 'classical' styles (he was a big fan of 20th century art music) and his masterful, if sarcastic, extension and lampooning of 'popular' music.

One of his main beefs with pop music in America was the homogenization of music, and the centralization of musical style/taste choices in the music industry (and thus the world). This approach can only "dumb down" music to the lowest common denominator ("Debbie," see below) and essentially destroys music.

A note on Frank: To my knowledge, he was not a Christian, and in fact received quite a bit of ire and press from conservative groups (including the PMRC http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PMRC) who were attempting to regulate the distribution of offensive content. Moreover, he often spoke out against organized religion. if you've studied his music, you'll get the sense that he was an uncouth, foul-mouthed, tasteless, dirty individual. You might be correct! Why include him in a blog like this?

Because:

  • Like it or not, his foul/profane/tasteless/dirty approach is actually the soil in which so much popular music grows,
  • His is one of the few voices in the world of pop music advocating a more intellectual approach to musical composition, and
  • His perspectives on the artistic ills spread by the music industry are worth considering.

So despite being un-Christian, he is our ally only in the sense that he clearly rejects the side-effects of the music industry, and speaks strenuously against dumbing down our music. His own works (though sadly, vulgar at times) incorporate a level of virtuosity, precision, and complexity that can often rival much of the rest of 20th century art music, while still sitting squarely in the 'pop' tradition.

Zappa on The Industry

Two points to consider:

  1. An interview with Frank (Adult themes, please feel free to skip or stop watching at 2:08)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KZazEM8cgt0

2) An extended quote from The Real Frank Zappa Book, where he laments the state of the American pop music industry.

(If you're interested in contemporary music, I suggest you buy this book. Your sensitivities may be offended by his crass and sometimes shocking perspectives, but hey, let's face it--this is rock and roll we're talking about.)

I know several professional musicians who personally enjoy listening to Frank Zappa and agree 100% with the sentiments below, yet they are compelled (by need or greed) to perform only commercial pop.

This was from an address given to a roomful of musicians and composers.


"Today, just as in the glorious past, the composer has to accomodate the specific tastes (no matter how bad) of THE KING- reincarnated as a movie or TV producer, the head of the opera company, the radio station programmers, executives, MTV, the lady with the frightening hair on the "special committee" or her niece, Debbie.

Debbie is thirteen years old...Debbie is incredibly stupid. She has been raised to respect the values and traditions which her parents hold sacred. Sometimes she dreams about being kissed by a lifeguard... She was immediatley chosen to become the Archetypical Imaginary Pop Music Consumer & Ultimate Arbiter of Musical Taste for the Entire Nation - from that moment on, everything musical in this country would have to be modified to conform to what they computed to be her needs and desires.

Debbie's "taste" determined the size, shape, and color of all musical broadcast and sold in the United States during the latter part of the twentieth century...Now, as a serious American composer or musician, should Debbie concern you? I think so.

Since Debbie prefers only short songs with with lyrics about boy-girl relationships, sung by persons of indeterminate sex, wearing hot, trendy, fashionable clothing, and because there is LARGE MONEY involved, the major record compaines (which a few years ago occasionally risked investment in the recording of new works) have all but shut down their classical, progressive, metal, and jazz divisions, seldom recording new music."

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