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 that 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.