Independence Day 2020, Frank Zappa Style: Outside Now

Can we appreciate a home that we’ve perhaps never truly known? Would we recognise it if we found it? What would it look like?

Of course, we can address the question figuratively, wax existential for a quick minute; but in 2020, we can now address the issue experientially. In a time when our homes have been displaced by COVID-19, our daily lives derailed, I submit these questions in observance of another Zappa-fied American holiday: this time a fire-works-free Independence Day.

Amid a world-wide pandemic that crosses borders without concern for human conventions, we’re beginning to appreciate our homes quite differently in isolation. This year we’ll have to imagine history’s shadows illuminated on the backs of our eyelids from a distance, do without the smell of sulphur lingering in the air, a noxious aphrodisiac to obscure a domesticated dream.

A restless revisionist to the end, musician Frank Zappa approached his craft the way one approaches a borderless home. Never satisfied for what has comfortably settled into place, he wandered fluidly between the probable and the possible, returning to his older songs throughout his life, willing, with each passing performance, to see what he heard differently.

On “Outside Now,” Frank’s soulful prog-rock soundscape reflects his adaptability with invigorating energy. Like all of Frank’s music, each version of its performance frames its own vision. Yet they all share a wry sense of humor and contagious grooves, reminding us to look closely at the world (including ourselves) and see it all askew (if not anew) from another side.

Despite the national weather or the latest public health crisis, hope remains in 2020. There’s no need to light a fuse to illuminate what we believe in. Wherever we find the prospect of a brighter future, we are welcome to celebrate it our own way, with or without an amplifier, individually or collectively, but always courageously, and with as much zest for life that we can muster.

“Outside Now” studio recording from Joe’s Garage Acts I, II & III
“Outside Now” live from München, Germany, 3-31-79
“Outside Now” live from Rotterdam Broadcast, 1980
A moving cover of “Outside Now” by the Zappa tribute band, The Band from Utopia, performed after Frank’s death — Stuttgart Jazz Open, July 94

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