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A man for all defects: an introduction to the music of Frank Zappa


The man. The legend. The mustache.

Ahoy, folks. This is Eric Keihl speaking, Pittsburgh Video Game Examiner and long-time friend / collaborator of Jon Marquis. After he wrote a guest article for me, Jon asked me to return the favor while he's away in Connecticut, and seeing as how I had nothing better to do, I was reasonably happy to oblige. Enjoy!

Baltimore native Frank Zappa is, without a doubt, my favorite musical artist of all time, and I try my best to spread the word of his long and brilliant career to anybody who's nice enough to listen, as well as anyone that I can easily overpower and tie to a chair. Of course, for a man with a portfolio encompassing around 100 albums, it can be a little difficult to suggest a starting point, which brings me to the purpose of this article.

Now, I could have just suggested the greatest hits album Strictly Commercial and called it a day, but that wouldn't be fun for anyone. Instead, I've decided to go a little deeper and suggest a few different songs that work will with various personal problems. Like the old saying goes,  "everybody's got problems, and the quicker we accept them and use them as a cross-reference to access the music of Frank Zappa, the sooner we'll get well."

Warning: Some music samples contain explicit language, so don't listen if you're offended by that kind of thing. You've been warned.

Paranoid schizophrenia: "Who are the Brain Police?" (Freak Out!)

If you're the type of guy or gal who suspects that the government is putting radio transmitters in your swiss cheese, then you'll enjoy the warped vocal harmonies and droning guitar of this iconic track from Zappa's debut album. You might even be able to come up with some of the answers to the song's long list of questions, including "What would you do if we let you go home?" "What would you do if the people you knew where the plastic that melted and the chromium too?" and of course "Who are the Brain Police?" If anybody can provide a worthwhile answer to questions like that, it's surely a schizophrenic.

Listen to the song here

Major depressive disorder: "Tryin' to Grow a Chin" (Sheik Yerbouti)

Anyone who's perpetually depressed will identify with the protagonist of "Tryin' to Grow a Chin," a 14-year old boy who is unable to find happiness before and after he acquires a prominent frontal mandible. When you hear the immortal chorus "I wanna be dead / In bed / please kill me, / 'cuz that would thrill me," you'll know you've found a kindred spirit. You might even find yourself just a little cheered up by Terry Bozzio's screechy vocals and furious drum work. Stranger things have happened.

Listen to sample

Sadism / Masochism: "The Torture Never Stops" (Zappa in New York)

For those into serious leather (and serious chains,) "The Torture Never Stops" might be a 12-minute odyssey of painful pleasure, detailing the sinister adventures of an "Evil Prince" in his "Dungeon of Despair." Okay, maybe the song isn't really supposed to be sexually charged, but look at it this way: while Zappa goes off on his 4-minute long, completely improvised guitar solo, you can feel free to write your own verse describing whatever sick, twisted fantasies you want. That's the power of freedom, folks. Savor it.

16 The Torture Never Stops - Frank Zappa

Psychopathy: "Weasels Ripped My Flesh" (Weasels Ripped My Flesh)

A person with no empathy and no remorse will definitely get a kick out of this "song," a full two minutes of squealing guitar feedback, followed by a storm of applause. Get yourself a powerful stereo system and blast this on full volume at 3 AM, and I promise you lives will be destroyed.

Listen to sample

Dissociative identity disorder: "Tinsel Town Rebellion" (Does Humor Belong in Music?)

Got multiple personalities? Well, as usual, Zappa has you covered. "Tinsel Town Rebellion," a track about the asininity of the music business, has a little something for everyone, flipping unexpectedly from blistering rock to punk to new wave to whatever Devo is to the theme song from Woody Woodpecker without ever missing a beat.

Smelly feet: "Stink-foot" (Apostrophe ('))

Well, we can't all have serious psychological disorders, so if your problems go no deeper than the occasional case of foot odor, I encourage you to take in this jazzy little ditty about a man suffering from bromidrosis, otherwise known as the eponymous stink foot. And when the song changes into a discussion about the importance of the apostrophe (and an argument with a talking dog,) you just might be driven to some form of insanity, which of course will lead you right back to this list. Is it nice when all of the pieces come together?