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Frank Zappa

The Devil’s Music

by Tamlin Wightman / 13.10.2010

Warning: content may be offensive to Christians and disco dancers.

Frank Zappa was the devil’s advocate. “We have our own worshippers who are called groupies,” he said, “Girls who give their bodies to musicians as you would a sacrifice to a god.”

Rock and religion were long time enemies before, God help us, Christian rock emerged. Lennon said of the Beatles: “We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first – rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity?” Cue a spate of middle American record burning parties. Put primally: religion is about rules and rock breaks them. Repression requires rebellion. “Whenever society gets too stifling and the rules get too complex, there’s some sort of musical explosion,” says Slash of Guns ‘n Roses.

The Doors’ Jim Morrison was labelled Satanic in the 1960s. “Father, yes son, I want to kill you. Mother…I want to…fuck you,” he bellows in “The End”. Maybe the most Oedipal reference in rock. “Expose yourself to your deepest fear,” Jim said, “after that, fear has no power, and the fear of freedom shrinks and vanishes. You are free.” Yeah, baby.

Jim Morrison

The Devil’s Music does make sin happen. When it’s good. When it’s dirty and raw and right. Good rock can return you to the animal in you. Makes the lizard brain rise. But it’s repression that stokes the heat. Marilyn Manson didn’t cause the Columbine Killings. Repression did. Kids trapped in themselves. Their own limits. The limits of school and cliques and unacceptance.

Frank Sinatra was right when he dismissed rock ‘n roll as brutal, ugly, desperate and vicious. He didn’t like Elvis stealing his airtime. And that’s precisely what I love about it. Sure you get the odd idiotic head bitten off bats incident. Peanut butter smeared all over Iggy. GG Allin shitting onstage. But that’s not all there is to the music.

Rock festivals are vital. They’re restorative. From Rocking the Daisies to Oppikoppi. You’ll see lawyers, bank tellers, accountants and teachers roll in. And bands appear. All the hoary old rock elements in place. Still working. Phallic guitars. Microphone poles. The sweat. Electric riffs and crooning. The sex. Oh God yeah the sex.

Frank Zappa

Jazz, heavy metal, hip hop – most genres – have been condemned down the years by the righteous. The Blues was low-down music played by the rural poor scratching lives out of the dirt. Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads to play it. Hear him and you’ll know he got a bargain!

Rock is a “world of compromised values and diminished brain cells that you throw away like confetti,” says the mom in Richard Linklater’s wonderfully sun-kissed trawl through rawk culture in Almost Famous. She’s right. Get dirty. Get liquoured. As Ozzy once said: “All the bad things that ever happened to me were attributed to drugs and alcohol. I mean, I would never urinate on the Alamo at nine o’clock in the morning dressed in a woman’s evening dress sober!” You don’t need booze though to wake up covered in deep purple bruises and dried blood next to the bassist of some nameless band. On a stolen mattress. R1000 poorer with a splitting headache and lewd drawings on your chest in permanent marker.

Trust me.

I’ve seen some demeaning things at rock concerts. Bra throwing, streaking, brawls. Suicidal stage diving. Rampant promiscuity. Vomiting. The problem is when the music stops. When the booze and drugs run out. When the Come Down hits. Rock ‘n roll is not your life.

The singers, drummers and bassists who deflowered you say they have someone back home so you’d better not kiss and tell. Don’t expect some kind of follow up romance. This was your One Night Stand with the Devil. Now buy the CD.

Über groupie, Penny Lane, says it best in Almost Famous, “I always tell the girls, never take it seriously, if you never take it seriously, you never get hurt, you always have fun, and if you ever get lonely, just go to the record store and visit your friends.” Rock on.

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RESPONSES (36)
  1. numbskull says:

    Tell us something we don’t already know. That Slash quote is priceless and he should rather be pondering “Whenever music gets too stifling and its rules get too complex, there’s some sort of ???? explosion,”

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  2. Max says:

    What if the Come Down never hits?

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  3. Matthew Freemantle says:

    The anecdote about waking up next to the bassist can’t be true simply because it implies that a bassist got laid. Otherwise nice.

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  4. mick says:

    Ah, that there ol’ tractor-mobile pic is my all-time favourite snap o’ the Conductor of bizarre vibration hisself.
    .

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  5. mick says:

    Yeah, those poor deep-notes. Les Claypool, John Bonham, and Flea, oh yeah and Mingus, are the only bassists ever to have gotten squealing, fainty groupie action. An elaborate investigation and subsequent poll was undertaken in 2004; all other cases were attributed to mistaken identity or vicarious release.

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  6. mick says:

    ahem, John Paul Jones. Also, footnote iv indicated that Paul McCartney didn’t count (much like Milhouse, ahem).

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  7. Nas says:

    Maybe I’m misreading the article but are you saying Richard Linklater wrote “Almost Famous”? He didn’t: Cameron Crowe did. Besides that, and despite its sudden turn toward the moral finger-wagging of one of Aesop’s Fables just before the end, this is a pretty cool article.

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  8. random says:

    “Good rock can return you to the animal in you. Makes the lizard brain rise. But it’s repression that stokes the heat.”

    Fucking well said.

    But it was Cameron Crowe, not Mr. Linklater, who wrote and directed Almost Famous.

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  9. Anonymous says:

    Uhhhh…which part of this is meant to be offensive?

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  10. Anonymous says:

    “Repression requires rebellion.”

    Nice piece, but why does repression REQUIRE rebellion?

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  11. muerte says:

    its your basic manichean dyad there ah @anonymous: night/day light/shade mork/mindy – repression requires rebellion to justify its pervasiveness – conflict flares up – see all this watchful policing suspicion was necessary after all. 9/11 ushered in a virtual police state. the ‘swart’ and ‘rooi’ gevaar in this country in the past meant the white majority voted Nat. the recent flare up in hout bay and ultraviolence used by the cops ensures that the next clampdown will be even bloodier.

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  12. Anonymous says:

    @muerte

    With all due respect, I don’t quite understand what you’ve said. Won’t you explain a little more? what rebellion, for example, does sexual repression operate off? Repression of childhood trauma – what rebellion does that operate off?

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  13. Rachel says:

    OK groupie, who did you shag at Rocking the Daisies?! Heh heh … :0)

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  14. Mike Smith says:

    Read this excerpt from Wiki about the ’99 Woodstock festival in Rome, New York:

    Violence

    Some crowd violence and looting was reported during the Saturday night performance by Limp Bizkit, including a rendition of the song “Break Stuff”. Reviewers of the concert criticized Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst as “irresponsible” for encouraging the crowd to destructive behavior.

    Violence escalated the next night during the final hours of the concert as Red Hot Chili Peppers performed. A group of peace promoters led by an independent group called Pax had distributed candles to those stopping at their booth during the day, intending them for a candlelight vigil to be held during the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ performance of the song “Under the Bridge”. During the band’s set, the crowd began to light the candles, some also using them to start bonfires. The hundreds of empty plastic water bottles that littered the lawn/dance area were used as fuel for the fire.

    After the Red Hot Chili Peppers were finished with their main set, the audience was informed about “a bit of a problem.” An audio tower caught fire, and the fire department was called in to extinguish it.

    Back onstage for an encore, the Chili Peppers’ lead singer Anthony Kiedis remarked how amazing the fires looked from the stage, comparing them to a scene in the film Apocalypse Now. The band proceeded to play “Sir Psycho Sexy”, followed by their rendition of Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire”. Kiedis later stated in his autobiography that Jimi Hendrix’s sister asked the Chili Peppers to play “Fire” in honor of Jimi, and that they were not playing it to encourage the crowd.

    Many large bonfires were burning high before the band left the stage for the last time. Participants danced in circles around the fires. Looking for more fuel, some tore off panels of plywood from the supposedly inviolable security perimeter fence. ATMs were tipped over and broken into, trailers full of merchandise and equipment were forced open and burglarized, and abandoned vendor booths were turned over, and set afire.

    MTV, which had been providing live coverage, removed its entire crew. MTV host Kurt Loder described the scene in the July 27, 1999 issue of USA Today:

    “It was dangerous to be around. The whole scene was scary. There were just waves of hatred bouncing around the place, (…) It was clear we had to get out of there…. It was like a concentration camp. To get in, you get frisked to make sure you’re not bringing in any water or food that would prevent you from buying from their outrageously priced booths. You wallow around in garbage and human waste. There was a palpable mood of anger.”

    After some time, a large force of New York State Troopers, local police, and various other law enforcement arrived. Most had crowd control gear and proceeded to form a riot-line that flushed the crowd to the northwest, away from the stage located at the eastern end of the airfield. Few of the crowd offered strong resistance and they dispersed quickly back toward the campground and out the main entrance.

    Aftermath

    Police investigated four alleged instances of rape that occurred during the concert. Eyewitnesses reported a body-surfing woman being pulled down into the crowd and gang-raped in the moshpit during Limp Bizkit’s set. Seven arrests were made on the final night of the concert and, afterward, police reviewed video footage, hoping to identify and hold accountable rapists and looters who, amid the chaos, had not been arrested. Approximately 12 trailers, a small bus and a number of booths and portable toilets were burned in the fray. Six people were injured.

    Members of the National Organization for Women later protested outside the New York offices of one of the concert promoters. Several lawsuits by concert-goers against the promoters for dehydration and distress were announced.

    Critics later decried the use of the Woodstock brand name for such an event as “crass commercialization” and decried “concert organizers who gouged the kids with grossly overpriced water, beer, and food”. Tom Morello, the politically-active guitarist for festival performers Rage Against the Machine later “suggested an affinity between the looters at the event.’

    Rock on, party people.

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  15. tamlin wightman says:

    rachel, lets leave names for the next trip. x

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  16. rockgoblin says:

    i love the devil and his music. cooool article.

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  17. MoeJoe says:

    “Watch out where the huskies go, and don’t you eat that yellow snow”

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  18. biobot says:

    “Most rock journalism is people who can’t write, interviewing people who can’t talk, for people who can’t read.”

    Frank Zappa

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  19. SouthernSkeptic says:

    ‘When the music’s over, turn out the lights”.

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  20. Zanemvula says:

    Rock frees all. That’s all.

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  21. The Basement Rug says:

    Listen to Frank Garlock rant on about the evils of Rock and Roll in a special re-mix of his 1971 double-LP: The Big Beat: A Rock Blast – http://basementrug.com/589. Includes music by The Deadly Snakes, MC5, AC/DC, The Beatles, Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra, Bob Dylan, Jethro Tull, The Rolling Stones, The Doors, Tom Jones, Frank Zappa, and The Velvet Underground.

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  22. James Bondage says:

    Matthew Freemantle is just jealous. The bass guitar. Bigger, thicker, longer. Better by natural law. BOOM. That was the sound of an explosion I think. An explosion of passionate love goo. All up in your business. Goodness gracious me.

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  23. jolene says:

    Modern rockers, hide your lack of musical skill or talent behind that distortion pedal, three chords and a stage is all you need, groupie girls only want to fuck you because their moms thought it was cool in the 60s……. Desperate promiscuity is the new repression of sexual freedom… Robert Johnson’s fingers actually moved like he’d be able to make a woman come:)

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  24. numbskull says:

    jolene, you rock.

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