The Frank Zappa album that rails against censorship

Frank Zappa was open about his disdain for censorship, in any form, especially in the music industry. He fought profusely for his own right to freedom of expression, and Zappa’s journey began in 1979 with his rock opera, Joe’s Garage.

The record was initially released in two parts but was later re-packaged as a triple album in 1987. It follows the protagonist, Joe, who forms a rock band in his garage and is unlucky in love. He eventually becomes imprisoned after giving away his money to a government-powered religion. While he was in jail, society descended into a dystopian mess, and music was criminalized, which caused Joe to lose his mind.

Through Joe’s story, Zappa explored the dark side of censorship and got across his personal libertarian perspective to his fans. Additionally, in the album’s liner notes, the musician aimed at the censorship of contemporary music in Iran, which saw the dystopian nightmare in Joe’s Garage come to life.

The notes read: “Eventually it was discovered, that God did not want us to be all the same. This was Bad News for the Governments of The World, as it seemed contrary to the doctrine of Portion Controlled Servings. Mankind must be made more uniformly if The Future was going to work. Various ways were sought to bind us all together, but, alas, same-ness was unenforceable.”

“It was about this time, that someone came up with the idea of Total Criminalisation. Based on the principle, that if we were all crooks, we could at last be uniform to some degree in the eyes of The Law. […] Total Criminalisation was the greatest idea of its time and was vastly popular except with those people, who didn’t want to be crooks or outlaws, so, of course, they had to be Tricked Into It… which is one of the reasons, why music was eventually made Illegal.”

Six years later, Zappa stood up in court against the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC). They aimed to prevent children from hearing music they deemed violent, drug-related or sexual themes by labelling albums with parental advisory stickers.

A month after record companies agreed to put ‘Parental Guidance: Explicit Lyrics’ labels on the covers of albums to warn consumers of explicit lyrical content, Zappa appeared in court to fight against the censorship.

During his statement, Zappa said, “the PMRC proposal is an ill-conceived piece of nonsense which fails to deliver any real benefits to children, infringes the civil liberties of people who are not children, and promises to keep the courts busy for years dealing with the interpretation and enforcement problems inherent in the proposal’s design.” Despite his persuasive argument against the sticker, the music industry decided to roll it out anyway, much to Zappa’s frustration.

1 comment
  1. On top of that, Zappa’s album “Jazz From Hell” was given such a sticker. The album is completely instrumental!

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