Saturday, December 8, 2012

Was Frank Zappa a Libertarian?

Short answer: No.

Long answer: Frank Zappa was a proponent of capitalism, having owned his own business throughout the 1980s until his death, partly funded by lawsuits against his former labels. He said that recording artists could make more money by running their own record companies than collecting royalties from someone else. He had two record labels, Zappa Records, and Barking Pumpkin Records, formed after leaving Warner Bros. Records. Previously, he had a vanity label, Discreet, which appeared as a subsidiary of Warner Bros.

Zappa was correct here, and in observing this and running his own label, he was effectively a trendsetter for the current independent music movement. Many artists are now running their own labels, either devoted exclusively to their own music, or becoming moguls themselves and keeping an eye out for new talent. Zappa's labels, however, were mostly devoted to his own music, but he sporadically released the occasional album by another artist, such as Touch Me There, an album by violinist L. Shankar, which was released on Zappa Records in 1979.
"A drug is neither moral nor immoral -- it's a chemical compound. The compound itself is not a menace to society until a human being treats it as if consumption bestowed a temporary license to act like an asshole."
- Frank Zappa
In regards to drug use, Zappa was very openly anti-drug, helping contribute to anti-drug campaigns, and can be seen in his film Baby Snakes refusing a bong hit from a fan, jokingly referring to it as "one of those dope fiend devices". He was also selling buttons which read "Dope: You Are What You Use", and producing several notable anti-drug songs, particularly songs critical of cocaine and its users. However, his anti-drug stance did not extend to legislation, as he considered the War on Drugs to be a waste of time and equivalent to the prohibition of alcohol, conceding that neither worked, and that it would make more sense to tax and regulate drugs rather than to spend money on drug prohibition, offering that a limited government solution would benefit the United States Treasury. Zappa wasn't a big fan of alcohol, either: He liked to drink wine, but thought that consumption of beer led to pseudo militaristic behavior, expressing his preference thusly: "Winos don't march."

Additionally, Zappa said that LSD was engineered by the government to make young people have less of a desire to engage in political protest and express concern over what their government was doing to their civil liberties.  Despite disliking beer, LSD and marijuana, he felt that individuals should have the freedom to make their own decisions, as long as they did not infringe upon the rights of others. He fired musicians from his bands if they used drugs while touring, but did not require this anti-drug stance to be extended to the homes of these individuals.

Regarding communism, Zappa said that it "doesn't work" because "people like to own things", and opposed a system in which one is never allowed to declare something to be "mine". These individualist stances formed the basis for an album, Joe's Garage, where a collectivist society increasingly creates legislation to create a situation in which every person in the country has served prison time, "Based on the principle, that if we were all crooks, we could at last be uniform to some degree in the eyes of The Law." However, because many people do not want to be criminals, the government makes music illegal. This storyline parallels an earlier statement made by Ayn Rand involving the nature of government and legislation, though Zappa did not read her work, as he was not a fan of reading.

Zappa was a proponent of free speech, appearing on CNN to debate censorship, and testifying against the PMRC during a senate hearing where he said that the PMRC's proposals could potentially lead to censorship, did not benefit children, and infringed on the civil liberties of people that are not children. Throughout his career, Zappa encouraged fans to register to vote, particularly on the covers of his albums, and hosted registration booths at his concerts. So was Zappa a libertarian? While considering running for public office, Zappa was contacted by the Libertarian Party, and related his exchange with the party in a 1988 interview, stating:
They came here, and they wanted me to run for president on their ticket. And, I said, "Well, show me what your platform is ... And if I like it, I'll consider it." This guy flew here from Norman, Oklahoma, and we had, like, a 5 hour meeting right here in this room. That was about 3 months ago, just before their convention. And, I went through their platform, and I studied it, and I looked at it, and some of the stuff I liked, and some of it I didn't. And I said, "I can't really stand up and support your platform whole heartily because some the stuff you have in here is either wrong or stupid. And, in order for me to be a candidate for your party, would they, in fact, nominate me if I couldn't be an ideologue and go the whole 9 yards." And, he said it was doubtful they would support you at the convention if you didn't just spew the whole thing. And I said; "Well, I'm not your bot. Thanks a lot. Goodbye."
It was made official that year: Zappa was not a libertarian. The following year, he released his official biography, The Real Frank Zappa Book, in which he stated that he was a "practical conservative". Zappa has also expressed strong atheism and opposition to religion, as well as environmentalist stances, which are not typical of conservatism. His concern for the environment parallels Barry Goldwater's approval of policies which protected the environment. Goldwater also warned against the merger of religion and politics, which similarly contrasts Zappa's views. Goldwater and Zappa also shared views on marijuana: neither were in favor of cannabis use, but supported its legalization.

Zappa also differs from many libertarians in that he didn't mind the government providing certain services to citizens (like social security), as long as those who use such government programs paid for it themselves. Zappa was registered as a Democrat, but occasionally supported Republican candidates. He stated that the Republican Party stands for "raw, unbridled evil and greed and ignorance", while the Democrats stand for "nothing, except 'I wish I was a Republican'", indicating that while he hated the Republican Party, he had a much lower opinion of the Democratic Party. By all extensive evidence, Zappa was a conservative Democrat, and his views can reasonably be considered Goldwater conservatism. Zappa considered the platform of the Republican Party in the 1980s, which seemingly reflected the merger of religion, corporations and the state to be fascism, rather than conservatism, and that he was a conservative, not a fascist.

By all extents in purposes, Frank Zappa was a person who could have a reasonable and agreeable conversation with not only Barry Goldwater or Ayn Rand, but Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert. Zappa was open minded enough to hold friendships with not only Roseanne Barr, a liberal who recently ran for president with a left-wing political party, but also Republican rock stars Alice Cooper and Gene Simmons. While Zappa did not like John Lennon, it had more to do with not being a fan of Lennon's music, not because he disagreed with Lennon's political positions, although it was fairly clear that Zappa and Lennon were in diametric opposition politically. Zappa did not live to see the damage that was done to this country by Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. In this political atmosphere, we may have seen a libertarian Frank Zappa, but during his life time, Zappa was not a libertarian. His appeal with libertarians can relate to his philosophical position that "The most important thing to do in your life is to not interfere with somebody else's life."

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