The Conservatism of Easy Rider:
Zappa's Critique of Dumb Concepts of Freedom
paper addressed to ICE-Z (International Conference of Esemplastic Zappology) 16 January 2004 at Theatro Technis, Crowndale Road, Camden Town, London
One day during my staying in Armenia, when I was visiting my professor I saw his little video-tape library. It contained the original version of Easy Rider. This was interesting, because this happened in '99, thirty years after its release. It was shortly before Dennis Hopper announced that he was still of the opinion that Easy Rider was a revolutionary film. This struck me. I was wondering, how he could have said this. Up to this time I saw the film twice: In 1977 and in 1984 or 1985. So I took this original version to see what would happen now and to try to understand Dennis Hopper.
One may have to translate any text each five years anew. An interesting aspect, because this takes into consideration the fact that human beings are able to develop during their life-times. Also a Barbie-Puppie may change its face over the years, although for a lot of people in the Western world the recognition of this ain't possible. Thus it may give sense to look the film anew.
Now you perhaps may wonder ‘He has time to do this!’. In Bad Doberan, when I met Ben for the first time, I told him about my experience in Armenia seeing and writing about Easy Rider. Afterwards he wrote me, that ‘since you spoke to me I've noticed how everyone really STUPID thinks the film is a definition of freedom!!’ He encouraged me to report on this film. At first I was a little bit anxious to do it. Taking a film which is already 35 years old only to destroy it. Cheapnis. Maybe a better intervention at ICE-Z would be to talk about something more recent, more relevant. I also could have taken Schwarzenegger and his films or Donald Duck, another Austrian.
But I think the film Easy Rider is still of great significance, although today it seems to be only of historical value. Its content, its music swept over the ocean like the Mud Shark did, as we know. It has been integrated into a so called alternative world, being mystified the same way. I think it also tells us something about the US-American world of today and so it may be subject to special investigation.
In contradiction to the concerned mind of today, including that one of Mr Hopper, this film ain't revolutionary. It is more an example for making ‘re-evolution’, that means making a repetition of the same or similiar. The film is part of the machinery of culture industry, which it provides to get rid of. It is just a refreshing of the same.
This may be manifested by the film itself.
The two main actors of this film are called Billy (alias Captain America alias Peter Fonda) and Wyatt (alias Hopper). The names let remind on the so called outlaws Billy the kid and Wyatt Earp. In doing so one has to take into consideration that Kid and Earp are heterogenious figures in American perception history. In this respect Billy may both be the outlaw and a national heroe. This idea is emphasized by the jacket Fonda is wearing. On the back the stars and stripes can be seen, he also wears a helmet with the flag.
As we know, the two protagonists make a drug deal to get their ride financed.
Already in the beginning polarization is taking place. They aren't given hotel rooms, hostility in American county life is working against them. This framework of a strict opposition accompanies us throughout the film. This main opposition could be called ‘living alternative’ against ‘conservatism’. But one must not make the mistake to get blinded by this more external perception.
Let us look at the first larger sequence after the big drug deal. Bill and Wyatt have to mend the tyre of one of the bikes. They arrive at a farm. The farmer is working. He allows them to mend the tyre by saying: ‘Go into the stable’. One hears the sound of a hammer, a horse is being shoed. Just beside this the bikers are mending the Harley. So shoeing the horse suggests equivalence to the action mending the Harley. Already here we have embedded what follows throughout the whole film. An alternative is suggested, which however is part of the mainstream it claims to be opposing.
In the next scene they are sitting at a big table. The family, a couple with many children, is praying before eating. They thank God for the stuff he brought. Fonda is astounished: ‘You're living from earth. You harvest, what you sow. You are your own master. Who from us can do that?’
So these two hip guys from LA, the pinnacle of US consumerism and luxury, are impressed by people living close to the land - in a stormy county where everyone dreams of visiting LA once in their lifetime.
On the road again they take a hitch-hiker with them, who leads them to his family into a camp in the desert.
In a long shot we see hills, mountains, in between the bikers. And this sequence somehow recalls Marlborough county, the famous advertisement. Whereas the cowboys are smoking their cigarettes on their horses, by that smoking the fresh air of ‘free America’, the bikers are smoking joints on their Harleys.
Meanwhile the three have arrived in the desert at the hitch-hiker's locality. There we witness several couples with many children, mixed, one does not know, who is together with whom, the hitch-hiker is kissing several women one after another. By differentiating this relationship, we may call them Hippie-Mormons. They have a difficult life in the desert: In one scene we see the hitch-hiker together with Billy and Wyatt: Behind them we see other communards sowing something. The sun is burning. It's hot. Fonda is asking: ‘Does it rain here at all?’ The Hippie is answering: ‘For this we have to dance!’ Hopper is saying: ‘They never will make it!’ Fonda: ‘They're gonna make it. They gonna make it!’
In one of the next scenes we see the commune praying before eating: ‘We have sowed. We ask for being rewarded for our efforts. Thank you for the power to withstand. Amen!’
I think, here we have the construction of another opposition. In the beginning we have the both main actors at a farm visiting a normal big religious family. In the latter case we have them visiting the ‘other people’. The respected familiy at the well-ordered farm prays for that grows, what will grow anyway, and on the other hand the Hippie-Mormons are praying for that will grow something at all. But we have to respect what Mr. Fonda is saying: ‘They're gonna make it!’ Sylvester Stallone is watching you. From winding up at the gas station directly to the heart of Wall Street.
The seeming primitiveness of the Hippie - Mormons can not be isolated from the sacred aspect of their lives. Primitiveness here means origin, it means beginning. Here we have what I mentioned in the beginning as ‘re-evolution’. Origin is the condition and beginning of any evolution. The story in the desert is a description of the growth of a new social cell, which - of course - has religion as its basis. This sect begins its existence in dust. In dust it begins, in dust everyone of them will end.
The rain dancing in the Mormone-area recalls the anti-rain song by the crowd in the Woodstock - movie. But whereas the former is fictive, the latter actually happened. Standing and sitting in mud and rain they sang: ‘No rain!’ Both recall archaic actions. The difference is that the man responsible for making rain in archaic society does it if he knows that there will be or may be rain. If he fails, it may be bad for him. In Woodstock everyone is challenged by objective mud and sings ‘No Rain!’ This is obscure because it is illogical to roll in mud while praying against rain. But this, too, carries the same message ‘They're gonna make it...’. Thus, structural the peasant family and the Hippie-Mormons are on the same horizontal level. The so called alternative, the unconventional is the convention in itself.
In the next scene which is interesting for our purpose, we are challenged by deeply narrow-minded people from the country side. Jack Nicholson who acts as a lawyer, is helping them get out of jail. He decides to go with them for a while. He tells them a lot about the people living around in the county. We have one scene in a town bar, where people, among them the Sheriff, are looking suspiciously at the strange people. The latter aren't served. Nicholson is commenting the bad remarks from the people sitting around by the words ‘rural humour’. Some girls of the town are eager to be taken with them by their bikes. But they ride away - it would be too dangerous.
The same evening they are discussing the past day at the open fire. Nicholson says to Hopper: ‘They are afraid of what you represent for them.’ And this representation refers to freedom.
Nicholson somehow interprets rural life for the urban dissidents. The latter seem to be situated in an asymmetrical periphery, where the rural dweller is on top and the urban citizen is below. But the most striking point is the word ‘freedom’, by which the bikers are negatively ascribed. While entering the rural space, the bikers are demonstrating somehow another life, which shows to the rural people their own limited one. Thus by ascribing ‘freedom’ to the way the bikers are living, ‘freedom’ in itself is negated, because already negatively possessed. Thus nothing else than hate may arise out of this: Nicholson is killed in one of the next scenes. One could theorize that this violent way of producing negativity and projecting it on an imagined outer sphere is a fundamental principle for each sect we witness, especially in the case of the USA.
This supports the above mentioned general opposition ‘alternative - conventional life’, but on a vertical scale.
In the next important scene we see Bill and Wyatt going along with two prostitutes. They are visiting New Orleans. They are trying some special drugs, which the Hippie Mormone gave them as a present. They are in a somewhat lonely place, a cemetry or a park with a small lake. The drug is working, mumblings, incomprehensible words can be heard and cited bible verses - we are confronted with spiritual music. The pictures of the film are twisting around, thus showing us the state of mood of the men and women, but this immanently is connected to religious sphere by the music.
Later that day Hopper is saying to Fonda: ‘We are rich. Money... Florida...’ Fonda is responding: ‘We're duds.’
The last scene is the death of both of them on the road: Two men, obviously having changed their horses by an old lorry, are killing them.
Inner correspondences are working, which refer to the semantic connections between the chromium of the Harley and the plasticity of the horse in rural life. Direct transferences equate the farm familiy with the desert - Mormons. The latter already have got all elements, out of which a good peasant familiy is made: ‘They're gonna make it’ - in God we trust. Among all of them we have the new rising sect: the two bikers. They are seeking for an alternative. But any alternative in the market-place, if it wants to survive, has the target to find an economic niche or to create one to get profits. Thus in the USA they have got no other chances than to start a new sect.
But for us, the consumers, a Counter-World is confronted diametrically with an opposite world. In fact it is its an integral part of the world. All of the game is that the confrontation is only encoded by a binary system, where one element is strictly connected to its arbitrary chosen opposite other, what already Ben wrote in one of his articles. In doing so, any allusive action of this contradiction only has the reproduction of the contradiction itself as its consequence. There will be no allusion anyway. Thus the simple question is: why freedom in the sake of Wyatt and Billy, if we already have a quiet convenient life on the other side of the borderline? Thus the violence against our outsiders is needed by the ideological logic of the film, which just reproduces an American drama. Thus the death of our both Stars is not violence in the strict sense of the term. This death is a necessary condition - it is simply a positive action. As we know, Woodstock was the beginning for a worldwide running advertisement gag. Woodstock was dead, those who ruined and exploited its ‘idealism’ where the ones who lived and prospered. But in fact there was no difference between the idealists and the exploiters - they were all the same class of people.
More and more ‘any body is subject to the project of matrixes’, as Günther Anders is writing in his ‘Antiquity of man’. The task of the matrix as an imagined pattern is to form the world. Matrix is a constructed pseudo-picture, as such model of the new social reality.
Matrixes are characterized as follows:1) They form the real events, which now from the start are taking place as reproduction basis (Reproduktionsunterlagen), because they represent social reality only as reproduced ones, because they only become ‘real’ as reproduced ones.
2) This real itself now forms (as a ‘daughter matrix’) the souls of the consuments (Anders 1996:143).
The following is a nice illustration for that:
During his time in the the USA Günter Anders had the following experience:
Once he and two friends walked up Mount Washington, but for hours they heard music, resounding up from the valley hotel. The song, who insisted on the message that ‘Love is only possible in Honolulu’ pained Anders, but for the other two Americans it was very pleasant. Their mental state did not change until ‘the acoustic borderline’ was behind them. One of the both Americans said: ‘Sort of weird’. Anders answered: ‘Weird?’ Aren't we in the open?’ Answer: ‘I would rather say in a sort of social stratosphere’. After this they quickly wanted to enter again the acoustic sphere of music. Soon afterwards it was beginning to dawn on Anders, what they meant by their wish. ‘Because suddenly we heard music again; no, not only music, but the same monopolistic claim that love is only love in Honolulu.’ And this happened on top of Mount Washington, which had been equipped by a loudspeaker ‘covered the mountain like light from an acoustic lighthouse’, as Anders writes. And the acoustic darkness, the Nothing was behind them. One of the Americans said: ‘Wasn't it like crossing a river?’ The other answered: ‘Isn't it nice to be there again?’ And Anders is interpreting the ‘there’ like that: ‘ I am present (in the sense of being with it), thus I'm there, thus I am.’ Anders transfers this phenomenon onto some kind of an acoustic map, where the areas of acoustic are representing the unfree, because people let them put on the acoustic lead like a poodle is put on a lead, whereas the space of silence as freedom of the self is lying fallow. But for Anders this is a global problem.
We may retransfer this event to Easy Rider: the public, the members of the Freak movement are present and unpresent at the same time. This seems to be a cheap argument at first.
But one has to consider that the consumer himself is antiquated. He is serving the product, not the other way round. And the product is delivered into cinema or sitting - room in an alienated state.
By communicating in the space, the subject is interrupting it. Things are circulating by themselves. If man intervenes the movement things are arrested.
Fonda's jacket shows us that only the Stars and Stripes can underline their bid for freedom. Thus no real moment of opposition becomes evident. They are only bikers - by biking they are running roundabout.
Collective praying, feelings of being together in an obviously infertile desert seem to represent another people's life, in fact it is just another people's life, sustained by the slogan ‘They're gonna make it!’ They see their future in the sand of the desert, although it might be wasted time doing this.
Individualism is saved by membership of a community, which encompasses and penetrates the members of the same community. Town and church, praying at the table and around the sandy castell - in between, these two men who are looking for alternatives but by doing this they only show us the recurrence of the same. The end of both of the outsiders is the end of an arising sect, which got exterminated.
‘The instrument is its own employment’. In our context this means that in the very moment we have an instrument in our hand, we are not served by this instrument, but became its servants.
Thus the hippie-movement in the USA is a simple reproduction of systemic complexity. It is presented as something ‘new’, a proposed super-system. Let's have a look at the so-called science-fiction films which are leading us into a future world. But this future world is the present world transfered into the future. Those science-fiction films where you can see an unimaginable space vehicle, which still wears Stars and Stripes on its wings are very funny. In this respect Neil Armstrong is the real American Freak. He is riding an ‘alternative’ vehicle. Perhaps he may have more fans among the burgeoisie than our sectarians on their Harley or in the desert, but all of them are burgeois anyway.
Reality (‘Reality’) in itself can't be experienced, it is part of that reality (‘Wirklichkeit’), which is constructing it.
‘The real (das Wirkliche) - the alleged model - has to be adequate to its possible pictures, has to be changed according to the picture of its reproductions’ (Anders 1992: 190). (1) According to Anders reality (Wirklichkeit) itself becomes phantom, that means it is a fiction, thus no more subject to experience. ‘All real (Wirkliche) becomes phantomic, all fictitious real’ (Anders 1992:143). Referring to the perception of reality (Wirklichkeit) we already have become inexperienced. The actual strange or unknown, which normally has to be experienced, enters our sitting-room as alienated reality. Thus we become inexperienced. The German word for ‘inexperienced’ is ‘unerfahren’ Anders writes ‘un-erfahren’ in the sense of not having travelled the world. Another German word for ‘erfahren’ is ‘bewandert’. In former times those people, who wandered around the world, became experienced. Thus in the word ‘Erfahrung’ the wanderer's function is encompassed, who is only experiencing reality by travelling around. This gave way to its own antiquity. Thus the famous slogan ‘Home is where the heart is’ is not only ridiculous, it is antiquated. Heart is inexperienced, because the strange and the known are getting more and more indifferent. In this respect it is also ridiculous, when, after Berlusconi accused the Germans of being Nazis, the German Chancellor didn't want to go on holiday in Italy, but stayed at home in Hannover. But the strange is no more strange, it consists of all the things you already have at home for example, Mr. Schröder. The home is the alienated strange and vica versa. And to recur to the slogan above: Any body is heartless. There is no individual heart, because individual heart itself is the alienated strange.
‘Presence’ (Gegenwärtigkeit) of transmission means that in none of the cases of the delivered events has one any voice (Anders 1992:129f). This is also worked out by the young German writer Handtke in one of his poems from the 60's, where he is asked about the news from Vietnam and what he thinks about it. He gets angry and shouts: what should his opinion be? He is penetrated by news from outside. Thus the hearer can learn about the world, but he can not be heard by the latter (Anders 1992:130). Thus the sent events are present and absent in the same moment, real and apparent the same moment, there and not there the same moment, in short, because they are phantoms (Anders 1992:131).
TV, music and film are giving something without giving it in reality, because they're keeping it - they are keeping, while giving. Beyond that: in the same moment when keeping the given, it is already extinguished. Serial productions are born to die (Anders 1988:38) - not born to be wild. By the way, here we have the identity of what I mentioned above: The so-called ‘wild’ had to be killed in the end to give way to its successors.
Present-day virtuality of communication corresponds to the matrix state of communication itself. Let us take the world-wide newspaper forums, where people, who never have seen each other before, are discussing themes, which are provided by the newspaper. Thus the communication is already channeled by the newspaper itself, but passed off as ‘free discourse’. In this respect the individual mind is not individual, but depends on a theme provided for him or her by something else.
You may wonder about the similiarity of the word ‘Matrix’, used by Anders and those three little eternities of film named Matrix. The latter films only are an example for present - day situation, which is expressed by the former term.
Easy Rider was a big shooting star, which however was very fertile. But in any case, it was a shooting star. There exists a tendency of the rate of the shooting star to fall. It seems - I emphasize the ‘seems’ - that the constructing of shooting stars as children of culture industry is today's main program.
Obviously the European reception of Easy Rider followed a big PR-push. This is not a new story, as we know. But it is funny, how the decontextualization worked. In 1968, when the Mothers of Invention played some concerts in Germany, Zappa was confronted with the demand to connect with the Left Scene, which he refused. After that angry activists renamed the band as ‘Mothers of Reaction’.
As kind of an officially sanctioned contradiction to this the same activists probably welcomed the Easy Rider film with its Peace and Freedom message. I can't work out here exactly the reason for this blind activism. I think, this may be described by what Habermas said about its protagonists in those times: They confuse symbolization with reality, which, in medical terms is called a halluconation (Habermas 1968: 12,13). The film, like all American stuff, is simply integrated in an already existing sphere of reception and perception. Thus Zappas music was reflected as part of the German left scene and they were wondering why he didn't fit their myth.
But this were to reduce his work. What Anders calls ‘matrix’, Zappa calls ‘plastic’.
This again means: Neither is Easy Rider progressive nor the Mothers reactionary.
Let us take a few examples from the early records by the Mothers. This gives also the possibility to have a look at the time in which Easy Rider was produced. In the ‘We're only in it’ - album we have the song ‘Who are the brain police’, whose 1st and 3rd verse I want to cite: :
‘What will you do
if we let you go home
and the plastic's all melted
And so is the chrome
WHO ARE THE BRAIN POLICE?
What will you do if the
People you knew
Were the plastic that melted
And the chromium too?
The 1st part proceeds in the assumption of the manipulators of the industry, who release the clients into the real acoustical freedom, the autonomy of the self, which has melted plastic as its condition. The 2nd part focusses on the client himself, who is confronted with a new state, in which he must recognize that all he admired before was made of plastic. The sentence ‘Who are the brain police’ connotes the relationship among people in today's times, as described above.
The Chrome Plated Megaphone of Destiny (Zappa 1977: 130ff) is similar. Here also the monopolization of the individual by the system is the theme. It is an instrumental, as we know, but the text given by Zappa is the core. He tells listeners to read Kafka's story ‘In the penal colony’. For our purpose it is sufficient to notice that the prisoner in the story who is to be killed by the machine, does not know the reason for his punishment. He is inside the process and outside it in the same moment. In the words of Anders, the client is ‘present and absent’ the same moment. There is no personal relationship between him and the punishment he should suffer. Even between him and the machine, which will kill him, there is no relationship. In Kafka's text the traveller asks the commander, if the convict knows the reason for his punishment. The commander responds: ‘It would be senseless to say it to him. He will experience it on his body.’ But it is his back. That's the reason why by being alienated from the punishment, the punishment itself is alienating (the German: the first alienation means ‘Entfremdung’, the second ‘Verfremdung’)
And this is the striking point. On the one hand Zappa integrates the Hippie movement into the process by warning the listener about Camp Reagan, about the FINAL SOLUTION of the NONCONFORMIST (hippie?) PROBLEM. But on the other hand, and this refers to the sixth point of the advice in Zappa's text, he repeats Kafka's conclusion: ‘At the end of the piece, the name of YOUR CRIME will be carved on your back.’ Thus the reader as the potential member of the Hippie movement i s informed about the carving danger.
How is this apparent contradiction between Kafka's and Zappa's text is to be resolved? For me, it seems that we have here a parallel paradigm as in the case of the ‘Absolutely free’-song.
In an Interview Zappa was asked about the meaning of ‘discorporate’. He answers: ‘‘Discorporate’ is talking about not being part of the corporation. ‘Discorporate’ normally means to leave your body, but in the sense of that song, remember it also says ‘Unbind your mind, escape from the weight of your corporate logo’.
Looking at the Web Site of Ben, I read the article by Marco, where he mentions ‘hippie discorporate ideal’. This supports my idea that it is not a mistake to make an addition to the author's own interpretation of his song. One must keep in mind the normal definition of discorporate. This means to leave one's body.
In the song Zappa plays with this double meaning. By ‘discorporate’ the group's feeling is reflected by the other meaning of discorporation, leaving the group, the corporation. If you imagine the music of this very nice song, in the first case it is a parallel situation: the flower power feeling in the music is reflected by the text and vica versa. It seems that discorporation as ‘leaving one's body’ promises discorporation from society. But if you take the second case, the music is attached as rubbish- there is a hard irony taking place, whose result is that Hippie discorporation and Flower Power themselves is just another sectarianization.
Discorporate means leaving corporation means leaving the community. This emphasizes the role of the individual as an autonomous one. In our context this also means autonomy against sect and finally also autonomy against culture industry.
Being a Hippie is being a membership candidate in Reagan's plan. By the way and as we actually see, ‘Camp Reagan’ also could be called ‘Guantanamo Bay’. The bad is constructed by the self-constructed good to an excess. And the real discorporation here is to be used metaphorically: not to be servile to any collectivizing movement. Kafka is trying to unmask the possible totalitarian state. Zappa is trying to integrate the hearer into the possible action not to get into the trap of already existing totalitarianism of the culture industry.
Referring to our film all of this means that the rustic character of the dirty horseshoe is still reflected by the glittering Chromium of the Harley Davidson.
Michael Bakhtin in ‘Art and responsibility’ (Bachtin 1979:93f): ‘When man is in the sphere of art (wenn der Mensch in der Kunst ist), he isn't in life and vica versa. Between the both of them there is no unit and no reciprocal penetrating of the inner in the unit of personality.’
I called this relation ‘art is out of life’. This means that art is part of life and outside at the same time. It seeks to encompass life in an expressive way, but in fact it is its part, too. And the artist must recognize this.
So making art in itself is a deeply individual action, which leads one into another sphere, which enables one to transcend borders.
In this respect one can analyze Zappa's texts and music as multivocal, because they encode different perspectives of a given situation. That's the reason why in Zappa's music we find the treatment of a given univocal situation as only one theme among others.
The well-known sentence in ‘Joe's garage’, ‘Truth is not beauty. Beauty is not love’, may be used in connection with the prolongued shooting star Michael Jackson. The quotation means that Jacko is sold as beautiful as t h e truth. But in reality there is only a culture industrial motivation to construct, exploit and extinguish a matrix, a phantom.
The next sentence in Joe's Garage is ‘beauty is not love’. Beauty and love in themselves are totally heterogenous. Pop Industry sells love in the double sense of the word. By acoustical wrapping up, love itself is sold, betrayed.
In one sequence Zappa describes this relationship in a very funny manner. During a concert he unmasks Peter Frampton's ‘I'm in you’. He describes a fictitious, but probably real scene, in which a wet Teenie is drawing the dream of her life, the Pop Star into her bed. Zappa gives us a very plausible narrative: She is undressing herself, he is climbing on top of her, and then his little voice is screaming: ‘I'm in you.’ One has to take into consideration that this puritanic American culture industry does not just manufacture such pieces of music: it creates the conditions which the song describes. Only as an independent musician Zappa could publish this song.
Jackson is the very example for Matrix and Phantom in personal union. He is not only the music he arranged, physically he counts for what Anders wrote about 60 years earlier. Jackson underwent plastic surgery which gives his music a physical touch. Thus Jackson followed the plan to become both a phantom and a matrix. As phantom he reproduced certain given images - to be white for example which had the given face of Jackson as its consequence. In the same moment he is his own matrix, a copy, which has got its time, but then it will be thrown away.
And this is the process we witness now. It is a normal king's death which gives way to another Jacko.
The culture industry creates, conducts and exploits racism. Interesting enough to remark that in responding to white man's myth by disfiguring his face, Jacko himself is reproducing racism by his own action, personally. Thus he is subject to what he himself is reproducing.
There may be some claims by the fans. But from time to time catharsis is demanded. The leading state lawyer of Jacko's case pleased the people to report on possible other cases of sexual abuse in connection with the accused. There were thousands of calls so one gets to wonder, if Jacko had any time at all to play his music.
It would be no surprise if real Jackson fans were among those thousands of calls to allege sexual intercourse with Jackson, because they really love him. It would be no surprise, too, if there were any fans, preferably not above the age of 15, who put their red candles at the window to light the way for the matrix, the Zombie. Jacko is for peace, too.
Jackson is Plasticity in person, a fully styled thing, the prisoner in front of the killing machine: he either doesn't understand what is going on with him.
As you might have guessed, my story isn't finished yet. The thoughts I wrote down may be understood as the first steps for discussing cultural elements such as music or film. Thus a fully informed story about these elements referring to the USA would have to include much deeper thoughts about the sect system in the USA. For me, it was a striking moment when I realised that Easy Rider could be analyzed by using the sect structure. To understand present American culture one has to undertake further study into sects.
Referring to Zappa's music, I would rather like to put it - in analogy to what I said above - in just such a framework of US culture, of which it is a part. By the way, this also plays a role in those misguided interpretations in Germany, for example, where they integrated the Mothers of Invention into an alredy existing anti-American image. He is American and it is questionable, whether in Germany, we have a comparable example. Thus it would be interesting to look for the conditions, the platform, on which such music is made. For example, if we remember the ‘Jewish Princess’-Song on the Sheik-album, in Germany (1978), the question was whether there was any antisemitism in Zappa's lyrics and music. In the second songbook, which was released in Germany after Zappa's death, there is a small footnote, which states that in this song Zappa refers to middle-class Jewish women, who appear to be nasty enough to make a beautiful song about. It must have been a theme in the USA, too, because, as we know, hereafter Zappa made a song about ‘Catholic girls’, who do not seem to lead any better a life. Thus he has nothing to do with antisemitism.
The next point is the polyphonic aspect of the work, which is worth investigating. I tried this in a few examples, but these need to be completed by more musicological analysis, which I have as yet been unable to do.
I think it is possible to describe the contemporary situation in the USA. I started by analysing an old film, which one could, of course, relate to some texts by Zappa. The possibility of translating philosophical categories into these texts means it is possible to work scientifically with this material. But this does not imply that the work itself is scientific, for that would be to reduce art to science and science to art. So I would interprete the term ‘Zappalogy’ as a seriously worked out ironic stance vis-à-vis science, amongst other themes. I have a striking example for possible misunderstandings in this relationship. At the University of Mainz there is one Professor at the Department for German language who claims to be the chief interpreter of the work of German writer Heinrich Böll. Thus he may have worked out an ultimative pattern of interpretation, how to read, how to interprete the work of Böll. It is significant that at no point in his life did Böll take any notice of it - because he was an artist. On the other hand, one may ask, whether the German Professor does indeed do any sort of scientific work in obsessing over Böll‘s work using such strict categories. He reduces the possible welter of interpretations that the artist's work offers. This does not mean, that one can't understand art by using scientific instruments. But in the case of art one has to take into account the difference between art and truth. By the way, this also is part of a possible interpretation of the sentence ‘music is the best’, because the complexity of music serves as a transmitter, as a vehicle, as the expression itself of given thoughts, but it transcends the latter in the same moment in order to give way to other thoughts, which are in themselves restricted by what Charles Sanders Peirce called ‘infinite semiosis’. This infinite semiosis describes both scientific work and the work of an artist, but neither of them are compatible with each other.
Nietzsche‘s „We have art in order not to perish from the truth (KSA 13, S. 500)’ can be taken as a possible, I think a necessary sign on the road of interpretation.
(1) ‘Das Wirkliche - das angebliche Vorbild - muß also seinen eventuellen Abbildungen angemessen, nach dem Bilde seiner Reproduktionen umgeschaffen werden.’ (Anders 1996, S. 190)
Easy Rider 1969 feat: Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda, Jack Nicholson et. al.
Günther Anders 1992, 1988, Die Antiquiertheit des Menschen, Über die Seele im Zeitalter der zweiten industriellen Revolution, 2 Bd., München: Beck
Michail Bakhtin 1979, Kunst und Verantwortung, in: Die Ästhetik des Wortes, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, S. 93-95
Jürgen Habermas 1968, Die Scheinrevolution und ihre Kinder, in: Die Linke antwortet Jürgen Habermas, Frankfurt am Main: Europäische Verlagsanstalt, S. 5-15
Bob Marshall - Interview with Frank Zappa: Article 3479 of alt.fan.frank-zappa: From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Phineas Narco) Newsgroups: alt.fan.frank-zappa Date: 1 Aug 93 22:23:29 GMT
Friedrich Nietzsche 1988, Kritische Studienausgabe, KSA 13, München: dtv
Frank Zappa 1977, Plastic People, Songbook (Deutsch von Carl Weissner), Frankfurt am Main: Zweitausendeins-Versand
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