Zappa: Coffee & Cigarettes

Frank Zappa’s image as a popular icon is some what an anomaly. He is widely regarded as one of the most misunderstood men in the history of popular music. Having been a part of the Rock ‘n’ Roll scene during the 60’s and 70’s, Zappa has been assimilated with the image and values that accompany the Rock ‘n’ Roll lifestyle. The highly experimental psychedelic era in music brought about the Beatles acid fuelled album “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band”, and portrayed the genre as being chemically influenced. Frank Zappa having a rather unique sound and approach; a characteristic of psychedelic music, was inadvertently linked to this way of life. It isn’t until now, in his death, that we are able to clearly understand and gain perspective on who the real Frank Zappa was.

Frank Zappa did not take drugs or drink alcohol , like many people undoubtedly assume. In fact, he took an aggressive anti-drug approach to the drug culture of the 60’s, which evolved from LSD to heroine to cocaine. He believed that taking drugs would transform people and mutate their personalities and values. In believing this, he was very adamant in promoting a no drug policy among his band members, ensuring that there was no drug use while on the road touring. His hard nosed stance led to the dismissal of fellow band members Lowell George and Ike Willis over the years. Many people are sceptical of Frank Zappa’s stance on drugs, finding him to be hypocritical, after all he did have a well known addiction to nicotine and caffeine. On one hand he was this anti-drug advocator, but on the other he smoked and drank copious amount of cigarettes and coffee. Perhaps Zappa did apply double standard in demanding complete sobriety of his musicians, while he himself took to his own remedies. However, coffee and cigarettes can’t be placed into the same category as drugs because they don’t share the same altering effects on the mind and body. “To me, a cigarette is food,” said Zappa in his autobiography, The Real Frank Zappa Book. “I live my life smoking these things, and drinking the ‘black water’ in this cup here.” As depicted in this quote, coffee and cigarettes were a normal function of life, and had little deterrent on his musical production and creativity. Thus, Frank Zappa’s truculent stance on drugs and alcohol are justified and admirable.

As an individual, Frank Zappa was very dogmatic. He felt everyone was entitled to his opinion, and he had a point of view on everything. While he was largely conservative and against the use of drugs, he admits to trying marijuana perhaps ten times during the sixties, but didn’t find it appealing. So, it’s hard to say he didn’t understand the use of drugs, when he had tried it for himself. He understood, he just didn’t believe there was a place for them in his own life. He took his music very seriously, working day and night without sleep, getting his relaxation through his work. For him to be classified as narrow minded for his personal outlook on drugs would be unjust and irrational. Frank Zappa was simply just a workaholic who would not bring play into his place of business, for him the music came first.

The theory thatFrankZappa.jpg Frank Zappa image by douglasbass Zappa’s attitude and views on drugs are a direct result from his time spent in incarceration for audio pornography, seems too far fetched. He served a ten day sentence for his actions, during which time he visualized hard guitar cords, so loud that they could break the prison walls surrounding him. This experience may have served to be a learning lesson, but was not instrumental in forming his opinion on drugs. He has been stated as saying he had tried drugs throughout the 60’s, meaning he had tried marijuana following his 1962 incarceration. This leads us to believe that he was not at all entirely taken back by the notion of the drug following his time served.


9 Responses

  1. It was great reading this and funny too. I met Frank once after a lecture in Pittsburgh (CMU). We sat and drank coffee and got into a nice debate about bootleg records.

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  3. I would argue that caffeine is a legitimate mind altering drug, using my experience and Frank’s words as examples. I read in an interview once where he was talking about doing some jams as opposed to straight rehearsals and said “…we would lots and lots of coffee and get really wired and just play for hours.” (that’s an approximate quote). In my personal experience, I had to quit drinking coffee because it was affecting my professional life. The last time I drank coffee they sent me home from work. I used to drink 2 – 3 pots just by myself. That day I had more and apparently was really annoying everyone. I did it cold turkey and realized later that I was very glad I never tried speed, because I would have been a speed freak. I would have loved it.

  4. His favorite wine was ZinFandel !

  5. The article is wrong to state that Frank didn’t drink alcohol. From the interviews with his wife, photos of him on tour and from his own mouth I believe Frank was not opposed to a drink. He seems to always have been in control of himself and expected that of the people he hired. That doesn’t mean he was a teetotaler.

  6. I used to smoke cigarettes, it’s tough quitting them but one thing I can’t give up is my coffee. Coffee and cigarettes go together like peanut butter and jelly, black beans and rice, chicken and biscuits, spaghetti and meatballs. It’s hard to have one without the other. I understand Frank very well, drugs suck. When you ingest recreational substances, they possess you and you act dumb. Then you feel depressed when they wear off, then you want to eat everything in the icebox, not fun. I prefer sobriety…. and lots of Wawa’s dark roast.

  7. All drugs have their downsides, some far more down than others….in Frank’s case tobacco’s downside more than likely promoted his early death via Prostate Cancer (500 extra chemicals on those “foods” as he called them).

    Nicotine does improve concentration and productivity, as does caffeine, in the early periods of use, although tobacco drops plenty of Cadmium (a very toxic metal in high amounts) into the prostate and other tissues, as wells as a cartridge belt of carcinogens (cancer promoting compounds) such as polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH’s),

    As one ages, the side effects of overuse of the sympathetic nervous system via coffee, and the incredibly health raping effects of smoking commercial tobaccos, accumulate and their toll becomes more noticeable in one’s 40’s & 50’s, let alone later on, when you might need some health strengths to fend off the wear and tear of older age.

    Were a pharmaceutical “Frank Zappa” to retort to the above, more or less “Hannah Montana” view of drugs, one might be inspired to look into the actual science of mind altering drugs like tobacco (which also contains a Monamine Oxidase Inhibitor which has anti-depressant effects, part of why folks are so strung out on it) which might result in a realization that the most easily obtainable and cheapest drug, tobacco, kills 500,000 (or so) in the US every year (wonder who pays for the hospital bills? Check out your health insurance rates for more…).

    Further, Frank admitted to drinking wine with meals (check out the various FZ biographies), contrary to your assertion above.

    Nearly all mind altering drugs (legal or otherwise) do not qualify for being “smart” to take, in view of their downsides / side effects, long or short term.

  8. Frank Zappa was a musical genius in the realm of Mozart or Beethoven in the scope and breath of his compositions. His preferring socially acceptable ‘drugs’ such as coffee and cigs, was a wise move during a time in the late 60’s early 70’s when many musicians were winding-up face down in a pool of blood and vomit at the end. Think Janis Joplin. Think Hendrix. Accidental or not, folks died from their addiction back then. And while it can be argued that Zappa indulged in some health damaging habits, his music never suffered from a lack of clarity, imagination, or propitiatory chops due to smoking or guzzling coffee.
    Now as to Ike Willis. I wager he could out play 99 percent of his detractors posted on this site, regardless of his mental or physical state. The man has a extraordinary gift. Other’s will always be jealous. Thus the ‘he was so wasted’ crap. Let he who is without sin, cast the first guitar!
    No. I say musicians like everyone are human and subject to the same addictions and bad trips of working a club gig that everyone else is.

    They just happen to have a grasp on their given instrument or craft…that is far above the regular mortal. For this, they sometimes wander off the path of controlled behavior; as the rest of society sees it. Not ax murderers, mind you.
    But musicians. They retain a certain innocence through their thought process;
    that prohibits the straight and narrow approach to anything.

    Condemn not the cat who walks this route.
    Embrace the artistic spirit of such a person.
    And find your’e own inner voice to create.
    That way, you won’t have time to let the silly
    rumors of people’s demise get you.

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