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Comedic Crap Detection: Frank Zappa's "Broadway The Hard Way"
+
'''by Tony Palmeri'''
  
Described by the _Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music_
+
<p>Described by ''The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music'' (1992) as a "sophisticated, serious composer . . . with a remarkable sense of humor" (p. 2770), the late Frank Zappa added a comic touch to a collection of issue-oriented songs released in 1988 as "[[Broadway The Hard Way]]."  With biting satire throughout, the album takes on America's obsession with cultural icons ("[[Elvis Has Just Left The Building]]"), shallow executives ("[[Planet Of The Baritone Women]]"), Madison Avenue exploitation of women ("[[Any Kind Of Pain]]"), Republican party lies and liars ("[[Dickie's Such An Asshole]]"; "[[When The Lie's So Big]]"; "[[The Untouchables]]"), [[Rhymin'_Man#Notes_About_This_Song|Jesse Jackson]] as a "naughty Democrat" ("[[Rhymin' Man]]"), the AIDS mystery ("[[Promiscuous]]"), [[Michael Jackson]]'s inflated ego ("[[Why Don't You Like Me?]]"), government opposition to Zappa's political activities ("[[Bacon Fat]]"), double standards in prostitution- prosecution ("[[Jezebel Boy]]"), twisted music industry executives ("[[Outside Now]]"), homelessness ("[[Hot Plate Heaven At The Green Hotel]]", and the hypocrisy of television preachers ("[[What Kind Of Girl Do You Think We Are?]]"; "[[Jesus Thinks You're A Jerk]]").  Rock singer [[Sting]] also joins the band for performance of the [[Jimmy Swaggart]] condemned "[[Murder By Numbers]]." As a whole, the lyrical content of the songs reveal Zappa as one of the great "comedic crap detectors" in the tradition of [[Lenny Bruce]], [[Wikipedia:George Carlin|George Carlin]], and [[Wikipedia:Dick Gregory|Dick Gregory]].</p>
(1992) as a "sophisticated, serious composer . . . with a
 
remarkable sense of humor" (p. 2770), the late Frank Zappa
 
added a comic touch to a collection of issue-oriented songs
 
released in 1988 as "Broadway The Hard Way."  With biting
 
satire throughout, the album takes on America's obsession
 
with cultural icons ("Elvis Has Just Left The Building"),
 
shallow executives ("Planet of the Baritone Women"), Madison
 
Avenue exploitation of women ("Any Kind Of Pain"),
 
Republican party lies and liars ("Dickie's Such An Asshole";
 
"When The Lie's So Big"; "The Untouchables"), Jesse Jackson
 
as a "naughty Democrat" ("Rhymin' Man"), the AIDS mystery
 
("Promiscuous"), Michael Jackson's inflated ego ("Why Don't
 
You Like Me"), government opposition to Zappa's political
 
activities ("Bacon Fat"), double standards in prostitution-
 
prosecution ("Jezebel Boy"), twisted music industry
 
executives ("Outside Now"), homelessness ("Hot-Plate Heaven
 
At The Green Hotel"), and the hypocrisy of television
 
preachers ("What Kind Of Girl"; "Jesus Thinks You're A
 
Jerk").  Rock singer Sting also joins the band for a
 
performance of the Jimmy Swaggart condemned "Murder By
 
Numbers." As a whole, the lyrical content of the songs
 
reveal Zappa as one of the great "comedic crap detectors" in
 
the tradition of Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, and Dick
 
Gregory.
 
  
Zappa's music adds a dimension to his message not found in
+
<p>Zappa's music adds a dimension to his message not found in the straight comedy of the entertainers mentioned above. From the beginning of his career, Zappa surrounded himself with high-quality musicians.  The 12-piece outfit gathered for "Broadway" is no exception.  The band is comfortable in a variety of musical styles, including jazz, blues, rock, and even hip-hop.  Most of the songs employ styles in ways that help to emphasize the lyrical message.  For example, Zappa's indictment of Iran/Contra characters is spoken against Nelson Riddle's "Untouchables" theme.  Several songs also lend support to the Guinness Encyclopedia's claim that Zappa is " one of the great guitar players of our time" (p. 2770).</P>
the straight comedy of the entertainers mentioned above.
 
From the beginning of his career, Zappa surrounded himself
 
with high-quality musicians.  The 12-piece outfit gathered
 
for "Broadway" is no exception.  The band is comfortable in
 
a variety of musical styles, including jazz, blues, rock,
 
and even hip-hop.  Most of the songs employ styles in ways
 
that help to emphasize the lyrical message.  For example,
 
Zappa's indictment of Iran/Contra characters is spoken
 
against Nelson Riddle's "Untouchables" theme.  Several songs
 
also lend support to the Guinness Encyclopedia's claim that
 
Zappa is " one of the great guitar players of our time" (p.
 
2770).
 
  
  
FRANK ZAPPA: COMEDIC CRAP DETECTOR
+
<P>FRANK ZAPPA: COMEDIC CRAP DETECTOR</p>
  
In _Teaching as a Subversive Activity_ (1969), Neil Postman
+
<P>In ''Teaching as a Subversive Activity'' (1969), Neil Postman
 
and Charles Weingartner argued that "crap detectors" have
 
and Charles Weingartner argued that "crap detectors" have
played a key role in history:
+
played a key role in history:</p>
  
     One way of looking at the history of the human
+
     <P>One way of looking at the history of the human group is that it has been a continuing struggle against the veneration of 'crap.'  Our intellectual history is a chronicle of the anguish and suffering of men who tried to help their contemporaries see that some part of their fondest beliefs were misconceptions, faulty assumptions, superstitions, and even outright lies. (p. 3).</p>
    group is that it has been a continuing struggle
 
    against the veneration of 'crap.'  Our
 
    intellectual history is a chronicle of the anguish
 
    and suffering of men who tried to help their
 
    contemporaries see that some part of their fondest
 
    beliefs were misconceptions, faulty assumptions,
 
    superstitions, and even outright lies. (p. 3).
 
  
In the progressive educational spirit of the late 60s,
+
<P>In the progressive educational spirit of the late 60s, Postman and Weingartner hoped that crap detection could become a central doctrine of the "new education."  The new education never did come to dominate the schools, which is
Postman and Weingartner hoped that crap detection could
+
part of the reason why Zappa's common sense, comedic crap detecting is still perceived as "controversial."</p>
become a central doctrine of the "new education."  The new
 
education never did come to dominate the schools, which is
 
part of the reason why Zappa's common sense, comedic crap
 
detecting is still perceived as "controversial."
 
 
 
Zappa finds crap in America's most sacred institutions and
 
"respected individuals."  Of Jesse Jackson, he says:
 
  
 +
<P>Zappa finds crap in America's most sacred institutions and "respected individuals."  Of [[Rhymin'_Man#Notes_About_This_Song|Jesse Jackson]], he says:</p>
  
 
     They say when Dr. King got shot,
 
     They say when Dr. King got shot,
Line 75: Line 26:
 
     'Check me out, my name is Jess'
 
     'Check me out, my name is Jess'
  
 
+
<P>Of more "conservative" television preachers, Zappa warns:</p>
Of more "conservative" television preachers, Zappa warns:
 
 
 
  
 
     If you let those tv preachers
 
     If you let those tv preachers
Line 84: Line 33:
 
     And it will be true!
 
     And it will be true!
  
 
+
<P>Of the AIDS crisis, Zappa offers this opinion:</p>
Of the AIDS crisis, Zappa offers this opinion:
 
 
 
  
 
     A little green monkey over there
 
     A little green monkey over there
Line 92: Line 39:
 
     That's not fair!
 
     That's not fair!
 
     Did it really go that way?
 
     Did it really go that way?
     Did you ask the C.I.A?
+
     Did you ask the [[Central Intelligence Agency|CIA]]?
 
     Would they take you serious,
 
     Would they take you serious,
 
     Or have THEY been
 
     Or have THEY been
 
     Promiscuous
 
     Promiscuous
  
 +
<P>Zappa's songs assert his right of intellectual independence, to not be bound to any particular set of "left" or "right" ideas or icons.  Like all crap detectors, Zappa's message ultimately encourages behaviors not conducive to the maintenance of a couch-potato culture.  As a result, commercial radio and Music Television--two of the "keepers of the couch potato," effectively censor Zappa's comedic crap detecting.</p>
  
Zappa's songs assert his right of intellectual independence,
+
<P>CONCLUSION:</p>
to not be bound to any particular set of "left" or "right"
 
ideas or icons.  Like all crap detectors, Zappa's message
 
ultimately encourages behaviors not conducive to the
 
maintenance of a couch-potato culture.  As a result,
 
commercial radio and Music Television--two of the "keepers
 
of the couch potato," effectively censor Zappa's comedic
 
crap detecting.
 
  
CONCLUSION:
+
<P>Folk singer [[Wikipedia:Arlo Guthrie|Arlo Guthrie]] has said that he pictures the singing of social protest songs as a kind of holding of one's hand out into the future to join with someone reaching back into the past to locate an activist role-model.  Zappa clearly serves such a role.  His activism went beyond the making of political records: besides heavy involvement in voter registration, he was one of the major voices against calls for artistic censorship in the 1980s.  Much like the late [[Wikipedia:Paul Robeson|Paul Robeson]], Zappa the politician was much more respected outside the United States. Long admired by [[Václav Havel]], in 1991 Zappa became the Czechoslovakian "Cultural Liasison Officer" with the West.</p>
  
Folk singer Arlo Guthrie has said that he pictures the
+
<P>"Broadway The Hard Way", and many other Zappa works, deserve a much wider audienceAs the "right" gains wider control of America's sociopolitical institutions, Zappa's brand of crap detection is sorely missed.</P>
singing of social protest songs as a kind of holding of
 
one's hand out into the future to join with someone reaching
 
back into the past to locate an activist role-model.  Zappa
 
clearly serves such a roleHis activism went beyond the
 
making of political records: besides heavy involvement in
 
voter registration, he was one of the major voices against
 
calls for artistic censorship in the 1980s.  Much like the
 
late Paul Robeson, Zappa the politician was much more
 
respected outside the United States.  Long admired by Vaclav
 
Havel, in 1991 Zappa became the Czechoslovakian "Cultural
 
Liasison Officer" with the West.
 
  
"Broadway The Hard Way", and many other Zappa works,
 
deserve a much wider audience.  As the "right" gains wider
 
control of America's sociopolitical institutions, Zappa's
 
brand of crap detection is sorely missed.
 
  
 +
==References==
  
References
+
*Postman, N. & Weingartner, C. (1969).  _Teaching As A Subversive Activity_.  New York: Dell Publishing Co., Inc.
 +
*"Zappa, Frank" in _The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music_.  Chester, CT: New England Publishing Associates, 1992, 2768- 2770.
 +
*Zappa, Frank (1989). "Broadway The Hard Way".  Barking Pumpkin Records.
  
Postman, N. & Weingartner, C. (1969).  _Teaching As A
 
    Subversive Activity_.  New York: Dell Publishing Co.,
 
    Inc.
 
  
"Zappa, Frank" in _The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular
 
    Music_.  Chester, CT: New England Publishing
 
    Associates, 1992, 2768- 2770.
 
  
Zappa, Frank (1989). "Broadway The Hard Way".  Barking
 
    Pumpkin Records.
 
  
http://www.uark.edu/depts/comminfo/www/zappa.html
+
[[Category:Press Reviews]]
 +
[[Category:1992]]

Latest revision as of 07:55, 23 November 2021

by Tony Palmeri

Described by The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music (1992) as a "sophisticated, serious composer . . . with a remarkable sense of humor" (p. 2770), the late Frank Zappa added a comic touch to a collection of issue-oriented songs released in 1988 as "Broadway The Hard Way." With biting satire throughout, the album takes on America's obsession with cultural icons ("Elvis Has Just Left The Building"), shallow executives ("Planet Of The Baritone Women"), Madison Avenue exploitation of women ("Any Kind Of Pain"), Republican party lies and liars ("Dickie's Such An Asshole"; "When The Lie's So Big"; "The Untouchables"), Jesse Jackson as a "naughty Democrat" ("Rhymin' Man"), the AIDS mystery ("Promiscuous"), Michael Jackson's inflated ego ("Why Don't You Like Me?"), government opposition to Zappa's political activities ("Bacon Fat"), double standards in prostitution- prosecution ("Jezebel Boy"), twisted music industry executives ("Outside Now"), homelessness ("Hot Plate Heaven At The Green Hotel", and the hypocrisy of television preachers ("What Kind Of Girl Do You Think We Are?"; "Jesus Thinks You're A Jerk"). Rock singer Sting also joins the band for performance of the Jimmy Swaggart condemned "Murder By Numbers." As a whole, the lyrical content of the songs reveal Zappa as one of the great "comedic crap detectors" in the tradition of Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, and Dick Gregory.

Zappa's music adds a dimension to his message not found in the straight comedy of the entertainers mentioned above. From the beginning of his career, Zappa surrounded himself with high-quality musicians. The 12-piece outfit gathered for "Broadway" is no exception. The band is comfortable in a variety of musical styles, including jazz, blues, rock, and even hip-hop. Most of the songs employ styles in ways that help to emphasize the lyrical message. For example, Zappa's indictment of Iran/Contra characters is spoken against Nelson Riddle's "Untouchables" theme. Several songs also lend support to the Guinness Encyclopedia's claim that Zappa is " one of the great guitar players of our time" (p. 2770).


FRANK ZAPPA: COMEDIC CRAP DETECTOR

In Teaching as a Subversive Activity (1969), Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner argued that "crap detectors" have played a key role in history:

One way of looking at the history of the human group is that it has been a continuing struggle against the veneration of 'crap.' Our intellectual history is a chronicle of the anguish and suffering of men who tried to help their contemporaries see that some part of their fondest beliefs were misconceptions, faulty assumptions, superstitions, and even outright lies. (p. 3).

In the progressive educational spirit of the late 60s, Postman and Weingartner hoped that crap detection could become a central doctrine of the "new education." The new education never did come to dominate the schools, which is part of the reason why Zappa's common sense, comedic crap detecting is still perceived as "controversial."

Zappa finds crap in America's most sacred institutions and "respected individuals." Of Jesse Jackson, he says:

    They say when Dr. King got shot,
    Jesse hatched an evil plot,
    Dipped his hands in the Doctor's blood
    and rubbed his shirt like playing with mud
    Looked round for all the press, and said
    'Check me out, my name is Jess'

Of more "conservative" television preachers, Zappa warns:

    If you let those tv preachers
    make a monkey out of you
    I said Jesus will think you're a jerk!
    And it will be true!

Of the AIDS crisis, Zappa offers this opinion:

    A little green monkey over there
    kills a million people?
    That's not fair!
    Did it really go that way?
    Did you ask the CIA?
    Would they take you serious,
    Or have THEY been
    Promiscuous

Zappa's songs assert his right of intellectual independence, to not be bound to any particular set of "left" or "right" ideas or icons. Like all crap detectors, Zappa's message ultimately encourages behaviors not conducive to the maintenance of a couch-potato culture. As a result, commercial radio and Music Television--two of the "keepers of the couch potato," effectively censor Zappa's comedic crap detecting.

CONCLUSION:

Folk singer Arlo Guthrie has said that he pictures the singing of social protest songs as a kind of holding of one's hand out into the future to join with someone reaching back into the past to locate an activist role-model. Zappa clearly serves such a role. His activism went beyond the making of political records: besides heavy involvement in voter registration, he was one of the major voices against calls for artistic censorship in the 1980s. Much like the late Paul Robeson, Zappa the politician was much more respected outside the United States. Long admired by Václav Havel, in 1991 Zappa became the Czechoslovakian "Cultural Liasison Officer" with the West.

"Broadway The Hard Way", and many other Zappa works, deserve a much wider audience. As the "right" gains wider control of America's sociopolitical institutions, Zappa's brand of crap detection is sorely missed.


References

  • Postman, N. & Weingartner, C. (1969). _Teaching As A Subversive Activity_. New York: Dell Publishing Co., Inc.
  • "Zappa, Frank" in _The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music_. Chester, CT: New England Publishing Associates, 1992, 2768- 2770.
  • Zappa, Frank (1989). "Broadway The Hard Way". Barking Pumpkin Records.