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Roll of Honor: Frank Zappa

Zappa statue in Lithuania   cover of Zappa's album Apostrophe

1994 FTRF Roll of Honor inductee Frank Zappa

Donate to FTRF's Frank Zappa Memorial Fund.

About Frank Zappa

From Frank Zappa memorial from March 1994 Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom, copyright American Library Association: 

[Born December 21, 1941,] Zappa, who died December 4 [1993] at the age of 52, gained national prominence in the late 1960s when he led the experimental band the Mothers of Invention and eventually released almost fifty albums which blurred the lines between rock, jazz and classical music.  The most talented iconoclast of the rock era, he was also known for speaking out of First Amendment issues, testifying before Congress on censorship and violence in the industry.  Zappa led the music industry's charge against the labeling of albums with questionable lyrics, going head to head with Vice President Gore's wife, Tipper, and the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) during a round of Congressional hearings and talk show appearances.

Zappa made nonconformity his credo, experimentalism his methodology, satire and social commentary his weapons, and the American middle class way of life his target. "My job," he once said, "is extrapolating everything to its most absurd extreme."

"He was an all-purpose gadfly and maverick," wrote Richard Harrington of the Washington Post, "the I.F. Stone of rock, though he sometimes came across as its Alfred E. Neuman with long, stringy black hair and the omnipresent mustache and goatee."

Zappa won a Grammy in 1988 for his album Jazz From Hell. His recordings won him a large, cultish following, that included many jazz and classical musicians and composers. He often picked up a baton to conduct his bands through classical compositions, which also were performed by major symphony orchestras. He recorded several albums with Pierre Boulez and the London Symphony Orchestra and was honored, along with Karlhinz Stockhausen and John Cage, at the 1992 New Music Festival in Frankfort, Germany. Conductor Zubin Mehta once called Zappa "one of the few rock musicians who knows my language."

Before the fall of Communism, Zappa's records were smuggled into Czechoslovakia and became underground favorites. The Zappa song "Plastic People" became an anthem of the Czech dissident movement. Vaclav Havel, the playwright dissident who became President of the Czech Republic, was so enamored of Zappa's music that he wanted to appoint him a special ambassador for culture, but the nomination was derailed by the U.S. State Department, then headed by James Baker, whose wife, Susan, was a co-founder of the PMRC.

Zappa's testing of the boundaries of free speech and his use of outrageous and what some called offensive wit drew numerous critics, however. Some gays were offended by the song "He's So Gay." Another song, "Jewish Princess," drew a complaint to the FCC from the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith. His 1979 epic, Joe's Garage, dealt with what would happen if music were illegal.

Zappa's (sic) took on Tipper Gore over her effort to curb access to records with sexually explicit lyrics. In Congressional testimony in 1985, he ridiculed Mrs. Gore's assertions that lyrics could promote deviant behavior. Zappa accused Gore and her supporters of fostering censorship and branded them "a group of bored Washington housewives" who wanted to "housebreak all composers and performers because of the lyrics of a few." Zappa later memorialized the encounter in Frank Zappa Meets the Mothers of Prevention, which included the twelve-minute "Porn Wars" using sound bites from the hearing.

In 1986, he appeared before a Maryland Senate subcommittee considering a bill to ban the sale of obscene records and tapes, arguing that there was no scientific evidence that rock lyrics cause antisocial behavior.

News & Features official website of Frank Zappa and the Zappa Family Trust

Zappa obituaries in Time, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and UK Independent

Baltimore Sun article on dedication of the Zappa statue at the Enoch Pratt Southeast Anchor Library

Frank Zappa testifies before the Senate on record lyric labeling


Frank Zappa on Crossfire, 1986


Zappa TV obituaries compilation

Roll of Honor Citation

THANK YOU, Frank Zappa, for your uncompromising, principled stand on First Amendment rights. Thank you for your wit, which was so effective in exposing the absurdity of censorship. Thank you for your music, which stands as a permanent monument to the power of the freedom to create. Thank you for your legacy, of family, friends and fans, through whom your artistic spirit and your commitment to freedom live on.

Gordon M. Conable, President
Judith F. Krug, Executive Director 

Miami, Florida • June 1994

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