High Times Greats: Frank Zappa, In Memoriam

In the April, 1994 edition of High Times, writer Nate Eaton remembers musician Frank Zappa, who died December 4, 1993.


When word of Frank Zappa’s death (on Dec. 4) hit the news, I couldn’t help but feel American music had suffered a profound loss. More than any other artist over the past 30 years, Zappa never equivocated over the issue of freedom of expression. In the mid-’80s, during the peak of the Reagan years, he put his butt on the line against the pro-censorship Parents Music Resource Center, a powerful (and loud) group of U.S. senators and senators’ wives headed by now-Second Lady Tipper Core. He even made an incredible album using sampled tapes from the hearings: Frank Zappa Meets the Mothers of Prevention. His lone voice of reason and dissent in this struggle against the tyranny of the mind exposed, for the record, America’s institutional tendency to whitewash reality with censorship (i.e. witness the Gulf War, the first televised war in which 170,000 people were killed without any signs of bloodshed). He reminded America’s parents it is they who ultimately should be responsible for what their children may or may not watch or listen to, and not the Federal government.

If Zappa was rock’s most ardent defender and spokesperson, then he was also its most prolific composer with more than 60 albums to his credit. (My favorites were Hot Rats, Tinseltown Rebellion, and the Shut Up and Play Your Guitar series.) Zappa had the will to provoke and occasionally offend, but he always made you think. In his dynamic music universe there were many peaks and valleys, many surprises. He could be bluesy, jazzy, hard-rocking—’cause there wasn’t a musical style he couldn’t Zappify if he wanted to. Even if one wasn’t mentally prepared for the inspired lunacy of his lyrics, there was no denying his guitar jams—those intense, improvised, extended journeys through the soul. So many of us have been enlightened by the eclectic genius of Frank Zappa.

We miss you, Frank.

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