The Words and Music of Frank Zappa

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U of Nebraska Press, 2007 - Music - 259 pages
The Words and Music of Frank Zappa moves beyond the details of Frank Zappa?s life (1940?93) toward a focused treatment of the rock and pop songs of this great American composer. Today Zappa?s music can be appreciated as a whole, emerging as a coherent, thoughtful, and innovative?if somewhat daunting?body of work. Author Kelly Fisher Lowe has left no aspect of that work unexamined, from Zappa?s role as a satirist of the highest order to his place in the genre of ?progressive rock? and his importance as an influential critic of American culture and society. The volume begins with discussions of Zappa's role as a satirist and his musical style, then proceeds to an in-depth examination of his albums. Through this extended engagement with Zappa?s music, a surprisingly clear perspective on his personal views emerges, shedding light on his treatment of such topics as the falsified notion of love in popular culture, the compromising influence of money on popular music, and the concept of freedom in a systematized society. The book includes an official discography and an up-to-date bibliographic essay.

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I have found this book to be an invaluable source on Frank's songs and music It's an excellent starting point for anyone interested in finding their way around Frank's enormous catalogue. You do not have to agree with Lowe's judgements but for me, as someone who lived and worked with Frank, they are balanced and fair.
If anyone is interested to explore Frank's life beyond the music and wishes to know what Frank was like at home with his family, then Freak Out! My Life with Frank Zappa by Pauline Butcher gives an insider's view of just that - Frank at home between 1968 to 1972. It follows from that lucky moment when I met Frank and he invited me to California to live and work in the log cabin with his entourage.

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The author spends so much space in the book doing rhetorical acrobatics to excuse just about every offensive lyric Zappa ever wrote, that halfway through he comes off as a Zappacratic Fundamentalist. He seems irrationally able to accept that the guy's politics just aren't on par with his music. His straw-grasping attempts to defend the 'political interpretation' of songs like 'crew slut' and 'easy meat' as being (get this...) odes to FEMALE EMPOWERMENT are so bizzarre they actually take the humor and libertine joy out of hearing the admittedly crass mysoginist lyrics. Its like listening to George Carlin joke about the suicide channel, then hearing some guy try and explain how Ol George is really just trying to express his 'compassion' for depressed folks instead of laughing and realizing the humorous nature of breaking taboos just to find humor in an unusual place. The sad thing is that the author seems to know a lot about the music and its history, but is more interested in treating Zappa as some sort of political visi'onary. Zappa may have had some interesting ideas here and there, but the author is blinded to the fact that he was not a liberal, and certainly no philosopher. You want leftist politics, read Zinn or Chomsky. You want amazing music with humor, a few interesting ideas and a grab bag of softcore Libertarianism... listen to Zappa... and be prepared for lots of mysoginy. I love the guy, but I ain't gonna be like fans of some super-pop-stars or athletes who let an appreciation for ethically irrelevant acheivments lead them to beleive they can do no wrong. 


You Call That Music?
Satire and the Art of Frank Zappa
The Mothers of Invention
Hot Rats the Last Two Mothers Albums
The DukeBrockProgressive Rock Bands
Bibliographic Essay

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About the author (2007)

Kelly Fisher Lowe is an associate professor and chair of the Department of English at Emporia State University in Emporia, Kansas. He is the author of 100 Years of Caring: The Centennial History of Alliance Community Hospital.

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