By Frank Zappa

   Life, June 28, 1968, pages 82-91
   Transcription: Roger Maurice
   (Note of the editors) Frank Zappa is the leader-composer for the
   Mothers of Invention and an oracle-philosopher of the rock scene. An
   iconoclast and a satirist, Zappa specializes in deliberately
   outrageous statements to expose what he sees as society's hangups.
   "To deny rock was to deny sexuality" -- FZ
   "Parents saw a danger in that lewd black music" -- FZ
   "The big beat matches the body's rhythms" -- FZ
   Rock music is a necessary element of contemporary society. It is
   functional. It is healthy and valid artistically. It is also
   Educational (how to ask a girl for a date, what love is like). It has
   all the answers to what your mother and father won't tell you. It is
   also a big business. This is a brief history of rock and its
   relationship to our society.
   LO: PFF PFF. A nifty questionnaire to get you interested so you'll
   read the rest of the article:
   Who remembers beer? White port and lemon juice? For 10 points, what
   was the name of the guy in your school who used to buy your juice for
   Who remembers making out and getting hot? For 10 points, how old were
   you when it happened...
   Who remembers duck tails, peggers, leather jackets, bunny shoes,
   brogans, tight sweaters, teardrops, full skirts with a million starchy
   petticoats, Sir Guy shirts and khakis? For 10 points, how much did you
   pay for your St. Christopher medallion...
   Who remembers gang fights, tire chains, boys with razor blades in the
   toes of their wedgies, girls with razor blades in their hair, blood
   and sickening crunch? For 10 points, tell why the cops were afraid of
   your gang...
   Who remembers speed? Smoke? Acid? Transcendental meditation? For 10
   points, name your conn5. Wection or guru...
   Who remembers getting stoned and having an orgy? For 10 points, how
   old were you when you learned you were incapable of relating to others
   in a tender, personal way and finally discovered you had become
   Who remembers electric hair, bell bottoms, plastic jackets, sandals,
   high boots, bulky knit sweaters, Guccis, miniskirts, De Voss shirts
   and velvet pants? For 10 points, look around the house, find your
   beads and bells, and recite Hare Krishna without laughing...
   Who remembers demonstrations, truncheons, Mace, police dogs, the
   Pentagon, Century City, blood and sickening crunch? For 10 points,
   tell why you were afraid to cut your hair, infiltrate the
   establishment, and do it the easy way...
   Our present state of sociosexual enlightenment is, to a certain
   extent, attributable to the evolution of rock and vice versa. Our
   story begins back in... the good old days, at the recreation centers,
   no Levis or capris please. "School functions" and "teen hops" were
   real swell and keen and acceptable to Mom and Dad. They were also dull
   unless you liked to dance a foxtrot as the high school swing band
   fumbled through an evening of Combo Orks and reprocessed Glenn Miller.
   The kids would be holding on to each other desperately and sweating.
   The chaperon would come along and say, "Seven inches apart please,"
   and hold a sawed-off ruler between you and the girl.
   Society was very repressed, sexually, and dancing was a desperate
   attempt to get a little physical contact with the opposite sex. Free
   love, groupies, the Plaster Casters of Chicago and such bizarre
   variants as the G.T.O.'s of Laurel Canyon in L.A. didn't exist then.
   Preoccupation with sexual matters accounted for a disproportionate
   amount of the daily conscious thought process and diverted a lot of
   energy from school work.
   This, and the low quality of teaching in many schools, caused kids to
   seek education in the streets. Youth gangs with marvelous names and
   frightening reputations cruised the streets at night, searching for
   ways to compensate for the lack of sexually approachable girls.
   Vandalism and assorted manglings became acceptable substitutes for
   "teen sex." Young men would compete, like cowboy gunfighters, to be
   "the baddest cat." This dubious honor would generally entitle its
   bearer to bust the gang and in some instances, preferential treatment
   from those few daring girls who would go "all the way."
   Parents, unfortunately, have a tendency to misunderstand,
   misinterpret, and, worst of all, ridicule patterns of behavior which
   seem foreign to them. When they noticed a growing interest among
   teenagers in matters pertaining to the pleasure-giving functions of
   the body, they felt threatened. Mom and Dad were sexually uninformed
   and inhibited (a lot of things wrong with society today are directly
   attributable to the fact that the people who make the laws are
   sexually maladjusted) and they saw no reason why their kids should be
   raised differently. (Why should those dirty teen-agers have all the
   fun?) Sex is for making babies and it makes your body misshapen and
   ugly afterward and let's not talk about it shall we?
   In the Abnuceals Emuukha Electric Symphony Orchestra album Lumpy Gravy
   there is a section on side two where several unidentified characters
   discuss the origins of the universe. One of the characters explains
   the concept of the Big Note: everything in the universe is composed
   basically of vibrations--light is a vibration, sound is a vibration,
   atoms are composed of vibrations---and all these vibrations just might
   be harmonics of some incomprehensible fundamental cosmic tone.
   How important is sound? I participated in a conversation recently with
   Herbie Cohen (our manager) about rumors of a government research
   project. The project, it seems, has been going on for several years.
   What does sound do to plants? According to Herbie, a field of corn
   increased its yield--the individual ears even got bigger--because the
   research team set up loudspeakers in the field and pumped in some
   music. According to Herbie, the next step is to find out what kind of
   music the vegetables like the best.
   The ways in which sound affects the human organism are myriad and
   subtle. Why does the sound of Eric Clapton's guitar give one girl a
   sensation which she describes as "Bone Conduction"? Would she still
   experience Bone Conduction if Eric, using the same extremely loud
   thick tone, played nothing but Hawaiian music? Which is more
   important: the timbre (color-texture) of a sound, the succession of
   intervals which make up the melody, the harmonic support (chords)
   which tells your ear "what the melody means" (Is it major or minor or
   neutral or what), the volume at which the sound is heard, the volume
   at which the sound is produced, the distance from source to ear, the
   density of the sound, the number of sounds per second or fraction
   thereof... and so on? Which of these would be the most important
   element in an audial experience which gave you a pleasurable
   sensation? An erotic sensation? Look at kids in school, tapping their
   feet, beating with their fingers. People try, unconsciously, to be in
   tune with their environment. In a variety of ways, even the most
   "unconcerned" people make attempts to "tune up" with their God. Hal
   Zeiger (one of the first big promoters of rock entertainment during
   the 50s) says, "I knew that there was a big thing here that was basic,
   that was big, that had to get bigger. I realized that this music got
   through to the youngsters because the big beat matched the great
   rhythms of the human body. I understood that. I knew it and I knew
   there was nothing that anyone could do to knock that out of them. And
   I further knew that they would carry this with them the rest of their
   In my days of flaming youth I was extremely suspect of any rock music
   played by white people. The sincerity and emotional intensity of their
   performances, when they sang about boy friends and girl friends and
   breaking up, etc., was nowhere when I compared it to my high school
   Negro R&B heroes like Johnny Otis, Howlin' Wolf and Willie Mae
   But then I remember going to see Blackboard jungle. When the titles
   flashed up there on the screen Bill Haley and his Comets started
   blurching "One Two Three O'Clock, Four O'Clock Rock..." It was the
   loudest rock sound kids had ever heard at that time. I remember being
   inspired with awe. In cruddy little teen-age rooms across America,
   kids had been huddling around old radios and cheap record players
   listening to the "dirty music" of their life style. ("Go in your room
   if you wanna listen to that crap... and turn the volume all the way
   down.") But in the theater, watching Blackboard Jungle, they couldn't
   tell you to turn it down. I didn't care if Bill Haley was white or
   sincere... he was playing the Teen-Age National Anthem and it was so
   LOUD I was jumping up and down. Blackboard Jungle, not even
   considering the story line (which had the old people winning in the
   end) represented a strange sort of "endorsement" of the teen-age
   cause: "They have made a movie about us, therefore, we exist..."
   Responding like dogs, some of the kids began to go for the throat.
   Open rebellion. The early public dances and shows which featured rock
   were frowned upon by the respectable parents of the community They did
   everything they could do to make it impossible for these events to
   take place. They did everything they could to shield their
   impressionable young ones from the ravages of this vulgar new craze.
   (Hal Zeiger: "They did everything they could to make sure their
   children were not moved erotically by Negroes.")
   From the very beginning, the real reason Mr. &Mrs. Clean White America
   objected to this music was the fact that it was performed by black
   people. There was always the danger that one night-maybe in the middle
   of the summer, in a little pink party dress-Janey or Suzy might be
   overwhelmed by the lewd, pulsating jungle rhythms and do something to
   make their parents ashamed.
   Parents, in trying to protect their offspring from whatever danger
   they imagined to be lurking within the secret compartments of this new
   musical vehicle, actually helped to shove them in front of it
   whereupon they were immediately run over. The attitude of parents
   helped to create a climate wherein the usage of rock music (as a
   pacifier or perhaps anesthetic experience) became very necessary.
   Parents offered nothing to their children that could match the appeal
   of rock. It was obvious to the kids that anyone who did not like (or
   at least attempt to Understand) rock music, had a warped sense of
   values. To deny rock music its place in the society was to deny
   sexuality. Any parent who tried to keep his child from listening to or
   participating in this musical ritual was, in the eyes of the child,
   trying to castrate him.
   There was much resistance on the part of the music industry itself.
   (Hal Zeiger: "I remember a conversation with M--D--, a very famous
   song-writer, who has written many of our all-time favorites, wherein
   he chided me for being involved with this kind of music and
   entertainment and I said to him, 'M--, you are just upset because it
   has been discovered and revealed that a song written by some young
   colored child in a slum area can capture the fancy of the American
   public more effectively than a song written by you, who lives in a
   Beverly Hills mansion.")
   Every year you could hear people saying, "I know it's only a phase...
   it'll poop out pretty soon. The big bands will come back." Year after
   year, the death of rock was predicted... a few times, as I recall, it
   was even officially announced: "Rock 'n' roll is dead, calypso is all
   the rage...
   The function of the drums in a rock music ensemble is to keep the
   beat. ("It has a good beat... I give it 10 points, Dick.") On early
   R&B records, the drum part was usually executed with brushes. All
   the arrangements required, generally, was a dull thud on the second
   and fourth pulse of the bar. There were very few "breaks" or "fills."
   When the drum fill (a short percussion outburst, usually at a cadence
   or resting point of a musical phrase) became popular in rock
   arrangements, it most often took the form of groups of triplets
   (three-note rhythmic figures, squeezed into the space of two beats...
   sounding like: ya-da-da ya-da-da ya-da-da ya-da-da- whomp). For a
   while, during the mid- 50s, it seemed like every record produced had
   one or more fills of this nature in it. Eventually, with the
   improvements in studios and recording techniques, the drummers began
   to use sticks on the sessions and the cadence fills became more
   elaborate but, before and after the fill, the drummer's job was still
   to keep the beat... that same old crappy beat... the beat that made
   the kids hop around and scream and yell and buy records. A long
   process of rhythmic evolution has taken place since the early 50s. It
   is laughable now to think of that dull thud on the second and fourth
   as lewd and pulsating.
   Hal Zeiger: "The problem at the time was basically this: trying to
   make the music acceptable, or, to try to get the right to expose it,
   and that took some doing. I knew the kids were listening to the radio
   stations... it was just a matter of how to merchandise this to get
   their dollars, too I told Bill Graham (founder of the Fillmore and
   former manager of the Jefferson Airplane), 'You've got to understand
   when these things are underground, that's one thing. But the minute it
   goes over ground, the minute, you see, it looks like money, everyone
   wants in'
   So to make R&B acceptable, the big shots of the record industry
   hired a bunch of little men with cigars and green visors, to
   synthesize and imitate the work of the Negroes. The visor men cranked
   out phony white rock Highly skilled couriers then delivered the goods
   to American Bandstand along with a lot of presents (tokens of their
   esteem) to Dick Clark for all his marvelous assistance in the crusade
   to jam these products down the kids' throats Pat Boone was notable,
   too, for his humanistic activities (bleaching Little Richard and
   making him safe for teenage consumption).
   One of my favorite Negro R&B groups during the 50s was Hank Ballard
   and the Midnighters. Their work was some of the most important
   sociosexual true-to-life commentary of that era, for instance: Stingy
   Little Thing (a song in protest about girls who wouldn't "put out"),
   Work with Me Annie, and Annie Had a Baby. Songs like these got played
   on the air every once in a while--the kids would hear Annie Had a Baby
   and say, "Hey, here's a song about a girl getting pregnant," and rush
   to tune it in--but an official of the station (with teen-age children
   of his own to protect) would "lay a pink memo on it," and the song
   would sort of "disappear."
   The visor men, meanwhile, were magically purifying all this stuff.
   Work with Me Annie ("Please don't cheat/Give me all my meat") through
   the wisdom of their craft became Dance with Me, Henry ("If you want
   romancin'/You better learn some dancin' ").
   White rock, overproduced and shiny, nearly slickened itself to death.
   (Remember Fats Domino with Strings?) The music industry was slumping a
   bit. Was this to be the end of rock? Were we doomed to a new era of
   country &western tunes smothered in Vaseline? Then, just in the nick
   of time, Beatlemania New hope. There they were: cute, safe, white. The
   kids took to them immediately. Their music had real energy; it was
   sympathetic to their life style. It was music made for young people by
   other young people. No green visors. It seemed to radiate a secret
   message: "You can be free. You can get away with it. Look, we're doing
   I'm sure the kids never really believed all the Beatles wanted to do
   was hold your hand. And the girls were provided with "kissable
   closeups" (enlarged views of their idols' lips, teeth and gums) which
   they could kiss, touch, rub and/or hang on the bedroom wall. Girls
   forgot Elvis Presley. He was too greasy, too heavy business: sullen
   pouting and all that stuff The Beatles were huggable &cute &mop &tops
   &happy &positive. Beatlemania was fun to be involved in.
   The record companies were at a loss to compete with the British
   threat. Zeiger relates another droll incident: "I remember Mike
   Maitland who was then vice president and sales manager of Capitol
   Records. He was decrying the fact that they couldn't get any hit
   singles, and I said to him, 'Well, Mike, tho reason is because you
   have the wrong people working for you.' 'Well, what do you want me to
   do? Get some of these fellows with the tight pants to produce these
   records?' I said, 'Exactly. Two button records can't be produced by
   guys with three button suits. It's all a matter of buttons.' Look at
   Mike Maitland now. He's president of Warner Brothers Records and look
   at the kind of thing they're putting out... fellows with tight
   pants... or no pants... are producing the records."
   It might be interesting at this point to discuss the evolution of
   recording-studio techniques. In the very oldenest of days, the
   recording engineer's main function was to stand behind the singer
   holding him by the shoulders, and either push him forward or pull him
   away from a large funnel-shaped object attached to a bent pin or
   something that used to function as a primitive microphone to gather
   sounds to be transcribed on a wax cylinder.
   During the early stages of R&B, most recording was done on very
   large acetate discs. Then came tape. Monaural recordings gave way to
   stereo... then to threetrack... then fourtrack. Fourtrack recording
   was the "standard of the industry" for a while until some of those
   tight pants, no pants producers Zeiger mentioned put pressure on
   companies and manufacturers to obtain eight-track machines which would
   allow more creative freedom to the young musicians who were playing
   this wonderful new money-making form of music. Today, eight-track
   recording is common and the adventurous new breed of "pop
   experimenters" are hustling to get 12-track machines, 16-track
   machines, 24-track machines (the Beatles, I hear, are setting up a
   nifty studio with 72 tracks).
   There seems to be a trend in today's music toward eclecticism. The
   people who make this music are examining a wide range of possible
   musical and nonmusical elements to incorporate into their bags.
   Through rock music, the audience is being exposed to an assortment of
   advanced musical and electronic techniques that five years ago might
   have sent them screaming into the street. Amazing breakthroughs have
   been made in the field of "audience education." These improvements
   have been made almost against the will of the mass media. Suppression
   for racial and sexual reasons doesn't go on as much but radio stations
   still do not program progressive rock in proportion to the market
   which exists for it. Specific songs which seem most threatening to the
   established order don't get on radio and TV. Example: Society's Child
   by Janis Ian about interracial dating. (Mass media does more to keep
   Americans stupid than even the whole U.S. school system, that vast
   industry which cranks out trained consumers and technician- pawns for
   the benefit of other vast industries.) It is something of a paradox
   that companies which manufacture and distribute this art form
   (strictly for profit) might one day be changed or controlled by young
   people who were motivated to action by the products these companies
   The level of involvement with today's music is quite amazing. One
   example: Groupies. These girls, who devote their lives to pop music,
   feel they owe something personal to it, so they make the ultimate
   gesture of worship, human sacrifice. They offer their bodies to the
   music or its nearest personal representative, the pop musician. These
   girls are everywhere. It is one of the most amazingly beautiful
   products of the sexual revolution.
   Hendrix is one of the most revolutionary figures in today's pop
   culture, musically and sociologically. His success is a curious
   paradox in view of the historical prejudices outlined earlier.
   Hendrix is 24 years old. He dropped out of a Seattle high school in
   the 11th grade. He was raised strictly by his parents: "They taught me
   to have manners." He is reasonably sincere and humble: "We are lucky
   to be listened to." He is apparently very happy with his commercial
   success. Partly because it allows him to act out some of his childhood
   fantasies (in his clothing, for instance): "I always wanted to be a
   cowboy or a hadji baba or the Prisoner of Zenda..."
   His strongest appeal is to the white female audience ranging in age
   from about 13 to 30, with the highest concentration of victims between
   19 and 22. "I just carry advantages with me in my back pocket when I
   go off at a gig." His charisma also extends to a white male audience,
   15 to 25.
   He is realistic about his market appeal: "The black people probably
   talk about us like dogs... until we play." "When I see some of them in
   the street, they say, 'I see you got those two white boys with
   you.'... I try to explain to them about all this new music. I play
   them some records. First I play Cream and when they say, 'Hey that's
   great, who is that playing the guitar?', I tell them it's Eric Clapton
   and he's an Englishman. Then I might play them some of what we do.
   Sometimes they still think we're crazy."
   Hendrix's music is very interesting. The sound of his music is
   extremely symbolic: orgasmic grunts, tortured squeals, lascivious
   moans, electric disasters and innumerable other audial curiosities are
   delivered to the sense mechanisms of the audience at an extremely high
   decibel level. In a live performance environment, it is impossible to
   merely listen to what the Hendrix group does... it eats you alive (He
   is concerned about his live performance image: "I don't want everybody
   to solely think of us in a big flash of weaving and bobbing and
   groping and maiming and attacking and...")
   In spite of his maiming and groping, etc., the female audience thinks
   of Hendrix as being beautiful (maybe just a little scary), but mainly
   very sexy. The male audience thinks of him as a phenomenal guitarist
   and singer Boys will bring girls backstage for autographs. While
   signing their scraps of paper, shoulder blades, handbags and pants,
   Hendrix will frequently be asked: "Do you think of any particular girl
   while you're playing, or do you just think of sex itself?" Meanwhile,
   the boys will ask, "What kind of equipment do you use? Do you get high
   before you go on stage?"
   The boys seem to enjoy the fact that their girl friends are turned on
   to Hendrix sexually; very few resent his appeal and show envy. They
   seem to give up and say: "He's got it, I ain't got it, I don't know if
   I'll ever get it... but if I do, I wanna be just like him, because
   he's really got it." They settle for vicarious participation and/or
   buy a Fender Stratocaster, an Arbiter Fuzz Face, a Vox Wah-Wah Pedal,
   and four Marshall amplifiers.
   The loud sounds and bright lights of today are tremendous
   indoctrination tools. Is it possible to modify the human chemical
   structure with the right combination of frequencies? (Frequencies you
   can't hear are manifested as frequencies you can see in a light show.)
   Can prolonged exposure to mixed media produce mutations? If the right
   kind of beat makes you tap your foot, what kind of beat makes you curl
   your fist and strike? Do you cry if the violin is playing the melody
   molto vibrato?
   Manifestations of response to music will vary according to the
   character of the music and the audience. Swooning to Kay Kyser is
   roughly equivalent to squealing for the Monkees or drooling over Jimi
   Hendrix. In each case the swoonee, squealee, or droolee is responding
   to the music in a manner which he feels is reasonably acceptable by
   current social standards in his peer group.
   If you were drunk, and it was the middle of summer, Saturday night
   about 11:30, and you had your comfortable clothes on, and you were in
   a small beer joint dancing, and it's crowded (temperature about 82),
   and the local Rock &Roll combo (Ruben and The Jets) is playing Green
   Onions (or something that sounds just like it... all full of parallel
   fifths moving monotonously through a root progression I, IIb, IV,
   IIIb... or something like that, over & over again), and the guitar
   player goes to take a solo and stomps his fuzztone into action and
   turns his amplifier all the way up so his guitar squeals and screams
   and sounds absolutely vicious, and he bends and mangles the strings
   &starts to really get it on, gyrating and going totally berserk and
   playing his ass off and everythin'... if you were drunk, and all this
   was going on, and you were out there dancing and sweating and really
   feeling the music (every muscle &fiber of your being, etc., etc.) and
   the music suddenly got louder and more vicious... louder and viciouser
   than you could ever imagine (and you danced harder and got sweaty
   &feverish) and got your unsuspecting self worked up into a total
   frenzy, bordering on electric Buddha nirvana total acid freak cosmic
   integration (one with the universe), and you were drunk &hot ¬
   really in control of your body or your senses (you are possessed by
   the music), and all of a sudden the music gets EVEN LOUDER... and not
   only that: IT GETS FASTER &YOU CAN'T BREATHE (But you can't stop
   either; it's impossible to stop) and you know you can't black out
   because it feels too good... I ask you now, if you were drunk and all
   this stuff is happening all over the place and somebody (with all the
   best intentions in the world) MADE YOU STOP so he could ask you this
   question: "Is a force this powerful to be overlooked by a society that
   needs all the friends it can get?" Would you listen?