Frank Zappa
By: Erik Davis | Categories: Haw-Haw, HiLo Heroes

zappa-Lumpy_Gravy

Of all the hilo heroes of American music, only FRANK ZAPPA (1940-93) turned the scramble of the brainy and the base into an aesthetic practice so strident it counts as an ethical philosophy. The dialectic defined his precocity — as a teen composing avant-garde scores in the late 1950s, he scarfed up doo-wop alongside Varese and Stravinsky. Zappa’s early music was characterized by a fusion of genre clichés and intense multitrack experiment, idiotic jingles and phenomenal chops; culturally, it helped define the West Coast “freak” vibe as an ethics of intense juxtaposition equally lost on squares and hippies. His hilo commitments also account, at least in part, for his notorious potty-mouthed snark — an adolescent nihilism indistinguishable from his iconoclastic refusal to lock into zones, rarified or not, of propriety and expectation. Though his crassness could congeal into schtick, and his brilliance reduce itself to a smart-ass bravura that would forever endear him to Eastern European males, Zappa revitalized art music by way of the margins of taste, while achieving something almost unimaginable on the electric guitar: a recondite obscenity.

***

Each day, HiLobrow.com pays tribute to one of our favorite high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes on that person’s birthday.

READ MORE about the Anti-Anti-Utopian Generation (1934-43).

READ MORE HiLo Hero shout-outs.

SUBSCRIBE to HiLo Hero updates via Facebook.

SHARE this post, by clicking on the toolbar below.

Share

MORE POSTS by

Erik Davis is the author, most recently, of The Visionary State: A Journey through California’s Spiritual Landscape and Nomad Codes: Adventures in Modern Esoterica. Davis also wrote the cult classic TechGnosis: Myth, Magic, and Mysticism in the Information Age, and a critical volume on Led Zeppelin’s fourth album. A frequent speaker and teacher at universities and festivals alike, Davis hosts a weekly net radio show called Expanding Mind (davis.progressiveradionetwork.org), and posts regularly at www.techgnosis.com.