Frank Zappa Robert A. Rosenstone - Essay

Robert A. Rosenstone

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The most successful song depicting the situation of the Negro was "Trouble Coming Everyday," written by Frank Zappa during the Watts uprising in 1965. Though the song does not go so far as to approve of rioting, it paints a brutal picture of exploitation by merchants, bad schooling, miserable housing, and police brutality—all of which affect ghetto-dwellers. Its most significant lines are Zappa's cry, "You know something people, I ain't black, but there's a whole lots of times I wish I could say I'm not white." No song writer showed more empathy with the black struggle for liberation than that. (p. 135)

The image [of inauthenticity, of plasticity,] recurs most frequently in the works of the Mothers of Invention. In one song ["Uncle Bernie's Farm"], they depict the country as being run by a plastic Congress and President. Then, in "Plastic People," they start with complaints about a girl-friend who uses "plastic goo" on her face, go on to a picture of teen-agers on the Sunset Strip—who are probably their fans—as being "plastic," too, and finally turn on their listeners and say "Go home and check yourself / You think we're talking about someone else." Such a vision is frightening, for if the audience is plastic, perhaps the Mothers, themselves, are made of the same phony material. And if the whole world is plastic, who can be sure of his own authenticity? (p. 138)

Robert A. Rosenstone, "'The Times They Are A-Changin': The Music of Protest," in The Annals of The American Academy of Political and Social Science (© 1969, by The American Academy of Political and Social Science), Vol. 382, March, 1969, pp. 131-44.∗