07/15/16

Frank Zappa For President! … Or Vice!

The Great Presidential Puzzle, Republican Candidates,1880, illus James Albert Wales, Library of Congress.

The Great Presidential Puzzle, Republican Candidates,1880, illus James Albert Wales, Library of Congress.

I once met a physicist from Oxford. (That’s it for his limerick unless something rhymes with “overbearing.”) He was a nuclear physicist at that, and hopefully better at managing neutrons than women. I can recall only one amusing exchange with him aside from dodging his radioactive advances – a conversation about the American presidential elections. Since the alleged leader of the free world influences global matters so significantly, he surmised, why shouldn’t the entire world be allowed to vote in the election?

The Sultanette believes that politics (and certain physicists) are best kept out of bedrooms and harems though I’ll boast that a harem member is now working on the Hillary campaign. (He’s even schmoozed with the presumptive First Dude, Bill!) But given that this blog is “a contrarian view on the rules of engagement” I believe it’s my civic duty to nominate The Sultanette presidential candidate. After all, we have a Democratic, a Republican, and a Libertarian on the ballot. So where is the contrarian?

Suffragists,1920 Republican Convention, Nat’l Photo.

Suffragists,1920 Republican Convention, Nat’l Photo.

The answer came to me after seeing Eat That Question: Frank Zappa in His Own Words, director Thorsten Schutte’s inspired documentary, now in an open run at New York City’s Film Forum.

Eat That Question tells a contrarian’s story in his own words,” writes Tom Cole in Music News interview with the director. Schutte discovered Zappa’s music at the age of thirteen and relates to Cole that what hooked him was not just “the beauty of the melody, but also the dissonance of it and the noise and the cacophony.” You see, he’ll fit right into this campaign!

Zappa had been composing since high school before he started the Mothers of Invention in 1964 at twenty-seven. But besides his chops as a prolific composer whose avant operas were performed at London’s Royal Albert Hall, the film reveals Zappa as unflappable in his convictions, unpandering to authority, and a sexy beast. Need more specific presidential qualities?

Southern Pacific RR Nixon WhistleStop Menu,1952, Nixon Pres’l Library&Museum.

Southern Pacific RR Nixon WhistleStop Menu,1952, Nixon Pres’l Library&Museum.

Okay, here he is managing congress at a 1985 Senate Committee obscenity hearing on “porn rock”: A prim senator attempts to expose his lewd character by attacking his parenting skills. When he refuses to take the bait she squares off, “I’d be interested to see what toys your kids ever had, Mr. Zappa.” He shoots back, “Well c’mon over to the house, I’ll show ‘em to you!” and breaks up the chamber.

And Zappa’s foreign policy relations: In 1990 he is invited to meet with Vaclav Havel – writer, philosopher, dissident and president of the nascent Czech Republic. Zappa’s music had been smuggled into communist Czechoslovakia since the late-sixties. Now Havel appoints him “Special Ambassador to the West on Trade, Culture and Tourism” inspiring Secretary of State James Baker to declare, “You can do business with the United States or you can do business with Frank Zappa.”

Louis Abolafia Nudist Party, Pres’l Campaign Poster, 1968.

Louis Abolafia Nudist Party, Pres’l Campaign Poster, 1968.

As for Zappa taking on gender politics, I can hear a stump speech poaching unpolitically correct lyrics from “Bobbie Brown” like, “Am I a boy or a lady? … I don’t know which.” Not to be one-upped by the Soviets, the US censored “Bobby Brown” but the complete lyrics, including the golden shower bit, can be found on his 1979 album with fave Sultanette title … Sheik Yerbouti.

I know what you’re thinking, Zappa passed away in 1993. But how crucial is that? I’m ready to wager that our self-serving, blinkered, hidebound congress wouldn’t even notice that their commander in chief was a dead man.

It’s all brilliant I know but I can’t take full credit because … news flash! According to “the official website of Frank Zappa and the Zappa Family Trust” the album Frank Zappa for President! is set to be released on July 15 (that’s today!) to the world of voters and non-voters alike!

ABC TV Pres’l Convention Coverage, 1956.

ABC TV Pres’l Convention Coverage, 1956.

That’s just in time for the opening salvos of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland on July 18 (unless its greasy participants create another oil slick fire on the Cuyahoga River (see “Burn On” on Randy Newman’s 1972 album Sail Away). Including previously unreleased cuts and excavated early tracks like “If I Was President …” and “When the Lie’s So Big” it ought to be required listening for delegates of both parties.

If that doesn’t get your patriotic juices flowing, head to the Frank Zappa For President page on Facebook which as of this writing has 18,441 people talking about it. A July posting of the “Grandmothers of Invention” featuring two matronly vixens in house dresses jamming on electric guitars before decidedly non-psychedelic flocked wallpaper, is worth the visit.

And if the upcoming conventions leave you feeling like you’ve had Chinese takeout – stuffed but unsatisfied and knowing whatever isn’t immediately consumed will congeal in hours – feast on Eat That Question.

Musical score fragment, Black MIDI, IanTrobsky, 2016.

Musical score fragment, Black MIDI, IanTrobsky, 2016.

At the end of the film, now showing signs of wear from the cancer that will end his life at fifty-three, Frank Zappa is asked what he’d like to be most remembered for. With calm certainty he looks straight at his interviewer. Being remembered means nothing to him, he replies. She presses him. It’s his story and he’s sticking to it. If fierce conviction, searing discernment, roguish charm, and a life that refused to be censored, categorized, or immortalized is all that matters, that’s quite a platform. Come to think of it, Zappa’s too good to be President.