Surveillance is again the focus of our [MUSIC & …] series. Today we enter Frank Zappa‘s 1979 ‘Joe’s Garage‘ to explore criminalization and sameness as a political objective. This rock-opera, which could be labelled funeral music for the presumption of innocence, sees a Central Scrutinizer tell the story of Joe, a young American who forms a rock band in a dystopian society and is eventually pushed towards the edge of insanity.
The record presents the idea of ‘total criminalization’, which would consist in rendering everybody equal before the law by regarding everybody as (equally) criminal. Laws are manufactured to serve the interests of the powerful, hints Zappa, who imagines a world where music is outlawed.
Originally edited as an LP and a double LP, the complete ‘Joe’s Garage’ is since 1987 available in a double disc, comprising a total of nineteen convoluted songs that can exhaust even the most pro-music and Zappa-tista of listeners. Not just a satirical rock opera but also a prog-funk assemblage, it takes pride in mixing vulgarity and pomposity, has song titles such as ‘Crew slut’ and ‘Why does it hurt when I pee?’, and advances as its great musical innovation its reliance on xenochrony, a recycling technique that nowadays we would just call self cut’n’paste.
These tensions are actually just a few of the many that punctuated the immense discography of Frank Zappa, an artist that, for instance, devoted in 1985 a whole album to freedom of expression as a crucial element of a free society (see ‘Frank Zappa Meets the Mothers of Prevention‘), but penned for ‘Joe’s Garage’ a pledge against music reviewers where the nicest lines are: ‘Journalism’s kinda scary, and of it we should be wary’. Music submission by Serge Gutwirth, text by Gloria González Fuster