December 14, 2010

Zappadan 10

Was Frank Zappa homophobic?

This is a serious question that Zappa fans must face if we want to be honest with ourselves. And not just homophobic, was Frank a racist? A misogynist? Just plain hateful? Very serious questions all. Even he knew how he was perceived. He released a compilation called Have I Offended Someone? in case anyone had missed it. In later posts I intend to talk about some of this but for now lets stick with the gay question.

Frank always made fun of conformity so when. in the 70's he began to see "gay culture" appearing in the clubs he treated it like he had the hippies. He saw it as a cultural choice that otherwise straight men might adopt to fit in and seem cool. Bobby Brown is an example of this.

In the song Bobby is always popular and thinks he's so cute that no girl is good enough for him. His gayness is less about attraction to men and more about narcissism and being part of the scene. The outward trappings of his sexual preference are important to him because they announce to the world that he is a member of an "in" group.

Now, obviously Frank didn't know anything about the real lives of the gay scenesters. He generally supported people who rejected conformity so his attacks on homosexuality seem out of character. He either didn't know any gay people who weren't part of the scene or he simply didn't write about them and their experiences. It was much easier and funnier to write about extremely hip homos like Bald Headed John in Dong Work For Yuda.

Everything changed in the 80's with the arrival of AIDS. A lot of people didn't know what to make of so many gays and Haitians getting sick with some "mystery disease". In 1984's Thingfish Frank speculates that the government might create something to kill "all unwanted highly-rhythmic individj'lls an' sissy-boys". He refers to former experiments in which the government used poor black men for experiments involving syphilis. He wasn't the only person to think so, either.

By setting Thingfish on Broadway Frank was able to tie the two kinds of victims together as a dual threat to "beige-blandish citizens". "Fairies and faggots and queers are 'CREATIVE'; All the best music on Broadway is 'NATIVE' he tells us. That's why they must go.

Strangely enough, Thingfish also has a speculation about the roots of homosexuality (in men at least). His character Harry says "I lost all desire for intercourse with females when they started carrying those briefcases and wearing suits 'n ties" ... "that would be like fucking a slightly more voluptuous version of somebody's father!" It's obvious that Frank agrees but he still doesn't respect anyone who tries to live a "lifestyle".

So in the end it seems like Frank is not really homophobic. He sort-of understands why some men might not be attracted to women. He just can't stand seeing someone who's "got a role he wants to play". His advice would probably be "you are what you is" or just be yourself.


Brady Bonk said...

I've always thought that there's a direct straight line (no pun intended) between Bobby Brown and "Mr. America" who walks on by. I think he's got the same fella in mind for "Hungry Freaks Daddy" and "Bobby Brown Goes Down." Like, the former is Zappa's "Rabbit, Run," and the latter is his "Rabbit Redux."

irisclara said...

I hadn't thought of that. In that case, Status Back Baby might be the same guy even earlier. Hmm.