“jesus thinks you’re a jerk” – frank zappa (1988)

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The election season is gearing up to be in full swing. In just a few months, both the Republican and Democratic conventions will have chosen their candidates after what has become one of the most bizarre campaign seasons seen to date.   The circus that has been created in Washington and exacerbated by the media has been fascinating to observe, and a little frightening admittedly. It is just a very exciting time to be of voting age.

Illinois held their primaries on Tuesday. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was declared the primary winner over Senator Bernie Sanders. As a Bernie supporter, I was a bit disappointed. In the last few months, Chicago has been a political hotbed of racial and social issues. The unjustified murders of several black men combined with the systemic corruption within the police department to cover up these hate crimes has made the people of Chicago’s anger so palpable. Mayor Rahm Emmanuel has been the focus of this criticism and many people are urging him to resign. Emmanuel has also backed Clinton in her presidential campaign. I though the people of Chicago were sick of “politics as usual” and wanted something different. I was wrong. Witnessing this, I’m becoming aware of the fact many of our politicians do not have their constituent’s best interest at heart. At this point in my life, I’m ready for someone to shake things up; a true iconoclast.

I have a lot of respect for people who fight against the status quo in order to expose hypocrisy. Frank Zappa is exactly that person. Despite being a famous musician, he is largely unknown to most people and has many misconceptions attached to his career. Many saw the long-haired guitar virtuoso and assumed he was a hippie or abused drugs. Neither was the case. He abhorred the Love Generation and was staunchly against the use of any illegal substances. He was also a Conservative in the truest sense of the word. He believed in free enterprise and upheld the economic values associated with conservative principles; he was definitely a “pull up your bootstraps” kind of guy who valued hard work and earning your own way.

Zappa was not a conservative as they are defined today; people who use religion to manipulate voters into supporting them. During the 1980s, Zappa became very political and this was reflected in both his studio recordings and on stage. His orchestrations became sardonic and parodied the religious and political leaders of the day. He singled-out television evangelists for stealing funds from their supporters as well as politicians who criticized sexual promiscuity but then would be caught in a career-ending sex scandal. Zappa’s wit and hardened principles took his music in strange and interesting directions; themes that were a departure of his earlier work.

I became a Zappa fan around 2007. He was a figure I had heard of and had seen around, but never had the opportunity to listen to him. When I did, I was hooked. While many people gravitate toward the career highlights of his work with the Mothers of Invention such as Freak Out! or solo albums like Hot Rats, I really love his work in the late 1970s and 1980s. I liked the departure from the psychedelic rock of the late 1960s and enjoyed his work on the synclavier. The sounds were incredibly interesting to me. Also, I was always a fan of political humor, so his musical commentary was welcomed.

In 1988, Zappa released a heavily over-dubbed live album entitled Broadway the Hard Way which contained a lot of tracks criticizing various religious and political leaders. Sting also joins Zappa for a jazzy rendition of The Police’s “Murder by Numbers” after Sting declares Reverend Jimmy Swaggart called him a son of Satan for writing this song. Broadway the Hard Way is an incredibly funny, political album complete with Zappa’s own orchestral style with hints of jazz and hip-hop.

The track “Jesus Thinks You’re a Jerk” was an early Zappa discovery for me. Though I cannot remember how I came across it, I checked it out because the title was fantastic. Despite being a lengthy song, it goes by really quick and is the highlight of the album for me. It’s full of cultural and social references from the late 1980s with orchestral instrumentation that contains some polka elements and random noises like dogs barking. Musically, it is a bit of a mess in that it abruptly changes frequently. However, that was Zappa’s style. While a lot of other tracks from the album have better musical compositions, the allure of the track are Zappa’s vocals and commentary.

Zappa and I do not align much politically. I’m more of a leftist than he ever was. However, I truly respect him for his commitment to his ideals. He valued freedom of speech and a person’s right to express themselves without their rights taken away by people with a skewed and uninformed agenda. He fought against the “Washington Wives” who helmed the PMRC and demanded censorship in music. Before his death, he was also gearing up for a presidential run during the 1992 campaign. Based on his interviews and debates on shows like Crossfire, that truly would’ve been a site to see. Here’s to a strange and exciting election in 2016!

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“i’m the urban spaceman” – the bonzo dog doo dah band (1968)

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The ultimate purpose of every single member of the human race is to experience as much joy as they possibly can during their short life. Part of that is never being afraid to try new things. Take a chance on new ideas, people, food, and anything else that may strike your fancy. If you’re lucky, there is a good chance your pursuits will take you someplace strange and magical; a small segment of reality unnoticed by the populace where the strange and surreal reside.

Very few bands give me as much joy as the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band. Just a collective of weird British musicians, the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band masterfully crafted their own brand of anti-pop for whoever was willing to listen. Their avant-garde approach to contemporary music created an atmosphere of humor and artistic freedom. Why worry about getting a hit on the radio when you can do just whatever the hell you want?

As with last week’s entry, I struggled to find a particular song to discuss. There are so many great tunes for this band. “The Intro and the Outro” is a great track of musical introductions perfectly overdubbed piece by piece to create a mosaic of rhythmic noise. “Death Cab for Cutie,” which is best remembered as being featured in the Beatles’ film “Magical Mystery Tour,” is a clever nod to lounge acts (and even inspired the name of a famous band). And “We Are Normal” is anything but!

“I’m the Urban Spaceman” became the band’s most successful single. Produced by Paul McCartney (under the pseudonym Apollo C. Vermouth), “I’m the Urban Spaceman” is easily the most conventional, and therefore accessible, single in their catalog. Though being a novelty record, there are a lot of great things about this tune.

The best way I can describe this song is that it is the sound of a lumbering fool stomping through an orchestra pit. There is a lot happening musically amidst the madness of the musicians. The record is the most dominant instrument in the back track. The melody is crisp, jovial, and keeps the song lighthearted and fun. Aiding the rhythm section, the tuba is another prominent feature of the song and is actually my favorite aspect of the instrumental section. Though low, it carries a lot of power in the song and makes it sounds as if the Bonzos are on the march; don’t bother trying to get away, but they are coming whether you like it or not. The lyrics, as expected, as silly and nonsensical at times. There’s no point in trying to decipher a deeper meaning. Just try to accept this abstract humanoid that manages to be loved and exists as a contradiction.

There is so much joy to this song and band. I think a big part of that comes from not taking yourself seriously and living by the standards of others. The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band didn’t invent the idea of creating surreal anti-pop. The Mothers of Invention started out a few years ago out of L.A. and with even more stranger, and even less radio friendly, approaches to music. And you have countless psychedelic bands that took pop and added their own unique brand to further broad scope of what rock music could be, but those bands are often pretentious and take themselves way too seriously. What separates the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band from those guys is the fact kept it light, funny, and free. They embody the urban spaceman waking up with a smile on their faces and their natural exuberance spilling everywhere. Take a page from their book and live to create as opposed to creating to live. Have fun doing you.