Eat that question
October 11, 2016
Something other than the wispy, hours-old contrail residue wafting just above the valley's southern horizon was in the air. Earlier, the day broke pristine with nary a cloud and just a small bite removed from the Fahrenheit. On Mount Timpanogos, only northerly exposures above 11,000 feet retained skiffs of white.
It all started innocently enough. There had been no memo to inform one as to the direction the day might be heading, unless one wanted to attach omen qualities to the fact that the neighborhood horses had taken it upon themselves to hand out fresh apples to their wranglers.
I couldn't believe how light afoot it all seemed. There was that second Presidential debate in the offing come early evening to be sure and, with the dual ballyhoos over previously unreleased videos and emails driving up the entertainment value, I felt I had to prepare. Get my game face on, so to speak.
As with most others who still partake of distilled spirits and had been following the current election cycle via mainstream and social media, I had planned on knocking back a good stiff belt prior to the candidates in question entering the cage. But, when it came right down to it, feeling it would be a waste of good booze, I opted out.
Rather, sensing a need for more in-your-face abstract truths than would be available from either the networks or the liquor cabinet, I defaulted to the cultural gospels of one of my personal founding fathers. Sliding a disc of "Eat That Question: Frank Zappa In His Own Words" into the somewhat patiently awaiting DVD player, my preparation began.
The biopic, a French/German film collaboration that had screened in the Documentary Premiere category this past January at the Sundance Film Festival, had, at the time, eluded my frantic last-minute ticket acquisition scramble — but had finally, and only recently, shown up in my Netflix DVD queue.
A better anecdote for the current pre-general-election political state of affairs would be hard to imagine. Frank's rather improvisational avant-garde cerebral acuity would sail right over the heads of Trump true believers, of course, not to mention a representative amount from the other side. And, to be honest, it's not like he never tossed one just out of my reach.
Back in the day, a goodly-sized quorum of Lynwood/Compton tribal sorts would make the pilgrimage whenever Mr. Zappa and his Mothers of Invention symphonic orchestra scheduled one of their, not few, cultural debriefings in their expanded LA neighborhood. Most often, the performances took place within the iconic Shrine Exhibition Hall.
With Zappa, it became quite evident early on that if you hadn't checked your "faux-hipness" at the door, you stood a good chance, before the evening had run its course, of ending up in his cross hairs. You learned quickly, for your own erudition, not to interrupt his train of thought. Accents, inflections, and innuendos would be mostly of the 50-caliber persuasion.
Musically, his compositions took on a quite modern classical flavor. As did his asides. A "freak" without the normal drug attributes of a hippie, he wasted little time in pandering to the countercultural touchstones of the day. "Aesthetic enrichment is not a major consideration in the United States" became one of his oft-noted mantras.
When publicists initially hailed the film as being "Sharply edited! Fiercely intelligent! Brutally honest!" they pretty much had it right! As they did when they referred to its subject as "Unconventional! Irreverent! Irrepressible!" Frank Zappa certainly was all of that and more. When you adjourned from one of his shows, you felt well scrubbed.
During his heyday (he passed at 52 in 1993 from prostate cancer) his intellectual rants against the Reagan/Bush mindset became compositions unto themselves. No doubt, he'd also go to the mat with this bunch while finding the Trumpsters totally without prospects. What we expected and respected most from a live Zappa session was that he would cut us similar slack.
Admittedly, debate-wise, by either manipulating the channel gizmo or wandering about my humble digs re-questioning my selective sobriety, the often-embarrassing banter onscreen would lose its grip on my cognitive centers. I could only imagine Zappa as a moderator, well, maybe more as an instigator.
I can see him now, with his ample brows unfurled, lecturing Trump. "Information is not knowledge. Knowledge is not wisdom. Wisdom is not truth. Truth is not beauty. Beauty is not love. Love is not music. Music is THE BEST!" I can also envision the synapse revolution taking place within The Donald's skull as he attempts to digest The Frank. It wouldn't be a pretty picture!
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social and political scenes for more than 40 years.