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 easily 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 is inflected with 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 for us in 2020. There’s no need to light a fuse to ignite what we believe in. Wherever we find the prospect of a brighter future, we are welcome to celebrate it in our own way, with or without an amplifier, individually, 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) — München, Germany, 3-31-79
Outside Now (Live) — 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

Memorial Day 2020, Frank Zappa Style: Chunga’s Revenge

While we reflect on what freedom means to us during the COVID-19 quarantine, it’s a good time to celebrate where we can.

For zealous patriots and protestors alike, whatever flag we raise or trample upon the lawn, only fools wait for history to sanctify our losses. If politics, at its best, aims for unity, it can’t help falling short at the borders of our disputes. In contrast, music can remind us that we are all conduits for a different kind of message, the kind that vibrates in our chest—and spirit—and moves our feet to an unseen rhythm.

Fortunately how we move to the beat is beside the point. What’s important is that we keep on moving. In times of grief, like times of longing, we may drift out of step to the master rhythm, but we’re never alone, for long, on the dance floor of life.

So let’s pay some respect to the tolling hour this Memorial Day. Politics aside, each casualty of war is a tragedy.

Full stop.

Of course, there aren’t words or sounds powerful enough to revive a life beyond the grave. But before we grow too grim, let’s carry on in remembrance of those who no longer can.

Musician Frank Zappa’s legacy is more American than apple pie, raw and unapologetic, topped with a dollop of zest that only he could muster. Although his music can’t raise the dead, it can raise our spirits from a realm beyond the aftermath of humanity’s self-inflicted wounds.

Frank’s song “Chunga’s Revenge” captures the mood of the occasion with a certain somber gleam. A pulsing bass line marches beneath an electric guitar riff playing scales with the stars. Perhaps its the lively wardrobe? Maybe the heroic scale work?

Whatever it is, powered by hope and a fire for righting the wrongs that still confront us, we are all invited to put on our finest tropical shirt and shake it loose to some slick Zappa riffs. We can change the world, if we choose to, but only one note at a time…