Monday, August 27, 2007


Frank Zappa and the Freak Subculture

In the United States of the 1960s, especially during the heyday of the hippie counterculture on the west coast, many teens and young adults disillusioned with the austere confines of the postwar, suburbanite American way of life and the resultant countercultural and New Left movements--many of which were equally narrow in mindset--defined themselves as "freaks". Legendary American musician and composer Frank Zappa and his band The Mothers of Invention were central to the freak scene in the mid to late 1960s, both in the Los Angeles/San-Franciso Bay Area music scene and in New York, where the band had a now infamous residency at the Garrick Theatre.

The freaks, by Zappa's reckoning, resisted the binaries of right versus left, dominant culture versus counterculture, or squares versus hippies, preferring instead to align themselves with an aesthetic not narrowly defined by fashion or political leanings. (There is a certain irony here in that a freak was someone who resisted labeling, while the idiosyncratic individuality of people who deemed themselves freaks resulted in a shared identity among members of the subculture). It also allowed them to celebrate the freak identity, which until then was used to describe perversions of nature or carnivalesque sideshows.

At the first Mothers of Invention concerts, audience members were invited to "freak out!" (also the title of the band's first album), which meant to express themselves freely, be it through dancing, screaming, or letting a band member spray them with whipped cream. In terms of concert culture, the freak mentality influenced similar bands of subsequent musical generations, such as the Butthole Surfers.

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