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  • December 21st, 2017

    Using Frank Zappa’s Wisdom to Be Absolutely Free

    Words by: Olivia Viana

    77 years ago today, legendary rocker Frank Zappa was born. While his music enabled him to create waves in the turbulent ‘60s and ‘70s, he extended his passion for social change beyond his guitar and became one of the most independent activists of the late 20th century. To celebrate the birthday and life of a man who rocked out for freedom, take a look at what we can learn from Frank Zappa as individuals and as a world.

    1. “Music is always a commentary on society.”

    Beyond his guitar chops, Frank Zappa used the power of lyrics to question social norms and regularly practiced his freedom of speech. He created music based on what he saw in the world, and drew attention to the different constructs that affected everyday life. While Freak Out! is considered one of his most satirical albums to date, much of his work is heavily satirical and teaches us to listen to music as social commentary. By being active listeners, we can’t help but to reflect on the world as we know it, and how music can make a difference.

    2. “The world sure looks different… there’s hardly anything fun to do since they made music illegal.” —He Used To Cut The Grass

    Zappa deeply valued the freedom of speech, most particularly in the form of musical expression. He fought to defend it for himself and for others, both in his music and in the public eye. His most famous endeavor took place in 1985, when he stood his ground in court to defend artistic expression against the censorship of modern music. His actions taught us to speak up for what we believe in as individuals, and to understand the influence that we can have in the world.

    3. “I never set out to be weird. It was always other people who called me weird.”

    If Frank Zappa lived any life in particular, it was certainly his own. He valued both artistic and individual freedom, and rather than having one role in life, he took on several; his roles as a rock musician, social satirist, and film score composer are just a few. He led by example that anyone can have multiple ways of expressing themselves, and he didn’t let anyone limit his individuality.

    4. “Most folks are just liable to buy any line, any place, anytime.”—When The Lie’s So Big

    Zappa regularly wrote songs that challenged listeners to suspend what they know and think for themselves. This was often why his music was sometimes considered controversial, but with open-mindedness and reflection listeners could appreciate its thought-provoking qualities, and they still do to this day. Through his music Zappa stressed how important it is to approach the world and our own mindsets with honest reflection.

    5. “The Tinsel Town aficionados come to see and not to hear.”—Tinsel Town Rebellion

    It’s all to easy to get absorbed in spectacle, and Zappa clearly saw this happening all around him in his lifetime. Being one to not let distraction keep him from the truth, he used his music as a tool to help others understand the world around them. From music to current events, Zappa teaches us to listen, and to focus in on what’s happening around us.

    6. “Whoever we are, wherever we’re from, we should’ve noticed by now our behavior is dumb.”—Dumb All Over

    Beyond his music, Zappa also made a difference by creating more activists. By running voter registration drives, he recognized the power of the individual to make a difference in the world, and sought to make a difference through his fans, general public, and the world as a whole. His activism not only teaches us to take initiative, but also to encourage others around us to make positive change.

    7. “Art is making something out of nothing and selling it.”

    While he believed in himself as a musician, he also believed in the abilities of other people. Frank Zappa recognized the art that others had to offer and formed his own record labels to help bring their work to life. From brief projects to the larger endeavors of Barking Pumpkin and Zappa Records, these labels allowed him to take an active role in supporting the musical expression of a variety of artists. Believing in the power of music and the necessity of individuality is something that Zappa held to strongly throughout his life. We all have the ability to create.

    8. “Without deviations from the norm, progress is not possible.”

    In a world where being different is all to often frowned upon, Zappa saw the true value in deviating from the norm. Daring to live and to make a difference is something that he fought for in his day-to-day life, and we can all learn to embrace ourselves and the differences that we all share. Don’t be afraid to live your own story; Zappa did, and its shared with the world in his autobiography, The Real Frank Zappa Book.

    9. “It’s such an absurdity to take anything really seriously.”

    Zappa’s music is so timeless because he lived freely through it. From frustrated satires to jovial rockers, his songs reflect his ability to let go and express himself. Sometimes we get the most done and enjoy life the most when we allow ourselves some breathing room.

    10. “You know we gotta stick together.”—Stick Together

    Above all, Frank Zappa teaches us that we’re stronger together. No matter what we face as individuals or as a world, we’re all in it together. Let’s celebrate his birthday by helping each other and being the light that we want to see in the world.