Frank Zappa, Eat That Question: Remembering a Rock Icon Who Didn’t Care How He Would Be Remembered

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Frank Zappa - Eat That Question

Frank Zappa certainly filled his own niche in music. Showcasing his well-known biting social commentary, this video gives a rare (if ever) seen glimpse into the man that was much more than what most people today remember as the fighter who took on Tipper Gore and the PMRC.

Shown through archival interviews and concert/music “videos” from around the world (U.S., England, France, Germany Holland and Prague to name some), the video takes us progressively through his career, although not in a straight line; it was sort of “take two steps forward, take one back” as we are led through the history of the man.

At 93 minutes in length, this video by Thorsten Schutte and co-executive producers Gail and Ahmet Zappa for the Zappa Family Trust takes its time in showing extended coverage of several interviews, although not continuously. As I mentioned above, sometimes the interviews are cut back and forth between to show examples of what Frank and the interviewers were saying about his music/beliefs.

The two things I and you will get from this video are actually mentioned in the video: One reviewer in describing him and his music said that he will not bore you and may surprise you, and Frank Zappa himself, when asked what he was, described himself plainly as an entertainer.

That superciliously sums it all up, but it’s the trip he took everyone on that encompasses those descriptions that makes the video worthwhile.

If you were not part of the world, or were very young in those days, then you probably do not know much, if anything, of what you will learn about Frank and his music in this video: how he would never perform for a political movement or belief; that he performed only for people who loved music, so much so that he would never let anyone play in his band that was high when they performed (e did not care what they did on their own time, but when they were on the road he would not stand for it, admitting even having to fire some people for that reason); that he was a great interviewee, not only very articulate but also very funny and quick witted; and that he was a workaholic.

Through interviews we learn that his first paid gig was as a drummer in a band at age 15, and through archival footage we see he was once on THE STEVE ALLEN SHOW, still sporting short cropped hair and playing with Steve’s band and a bicycle! The music he played I can only think was more as a novelty act at the time, only to grow into an almost self-defining genre. He was even on WHAT’S MY LINE, and it was hilarious for me to hear Soupy Sales guess him in a relatively short time. He even appeared on CROSSFIRE. All this showed me that even though his music was not often heard on the radio, he was indeed very popular in the US.

I also came away with the notion that his music was thought of as somewhat obscene and subversive around the world. Communist countries banned his music, and England even canceled a show at the Royal Albert Hall to, as a representative of the Hall said at the time, “protect the integrity of the hall.”

It was interesting to hear talk about specific songs, explaining that every note, every sound, had a purpose for the song. One announcer for what I think was a music show in France even said his stage attitude may shock you, but it matches very well with his music. And to hear him speak of how much disdain he had for the record business, that record companies don’t pay artists anything and take everything from the artists, calling out MGM as an example for tampering with his music, changing things he sent them before releasing them, and calling out specifically the album WE’RE  ONLY IN IT FOR THE MONEY.

The first hour of the video leads up to the beginnings of Tipper Gore’s PMRC movement, and his battle with it, which takes us almost to the end, with the last 5 or 10 minutes taking us through the last stage of his life before succumbing to prostate cancer at 52. The PMRC time was the era I most remember about Frank Zappa and his music, so this part was very reminiscent for me (and in context with the earlier part, enlightening, tying together for me the person and music of Frank Zappa). He defiantly put his own warning label on his recordings before the PMRC made him, telling Tipper Gore and Senator Hawkins, “If it looks like censorship, smells like censorship, it is censorship.” His quick wit kept him from being penned into a corner that they tried so desperately to get him in, but could never do.

One thing I had always thought about his music was that it was somehow all related--and it was interesting the Frank himself even said the whole body of music could be thought of as one long composition. Indeed, the last four years of his life was spent composing classical music, which is sort of the way it started.

This is one of those videos that really tell us something about an artist that many might not know, as opposed to a video about an artist that is just a retelling of some other video about them with the rehashed videos rearranged. This is a 90-minute portrait remembering a man who, when asked how he would like to be remembered, flat out said he didn’t care, it was not important to him. That, he said, was important to people like Ronald Reagan and George Bush.

This video doesn’t have any extras included in it, but I don’t see how that would be important because all of the information here is from interviews and videos, so I do not know what could have been included as an extra. I don’t know if anyone would want to see an interview with the director. Maybe an old band mate, but I don’t see it as being any big deal not having any.

And, fittingly, in Zappa style the video ends after the credit with Frank looking at the camera telling people to put the spoon down from their nose, take the needle out of their arms and go and vote--vote like a beast!

Grade: 
4.5 / 5.0