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Why Didn’t Frank Zappa Like Cannabis? – Cannabis | Weed | Marijuana


Why didn’t Frank Zappa like cannabis?

American composer Frank Zappa would have been 83 years old this December if he hadn’t died of cancer in 1993.

The frontman for the 60s’ era rock band The Mothers of Invention, Zappa continued into the 1970s and 80s as a solo artist, releasing multiple albums per year.

Zappa was more than prolific, however. These weren’t standard rock albums with 4/4 beats. Zappa incorporated jazz, blues, experimental and orchestral music into his discography.

Zappa’s music could range from the complex stylings of “Echidna’s Arf (of You)” to the comical (and catchy) “Dancing Fool.” And he was constantly stirring up controversy. Whether with his song “Jewish American Princess” or the instrumental “G-Spot Tornado.”

But what about Frank Zappa’s politics? Namely, his views on drugs and the drug war. It’s typical for musicians from the 1960s and 70s to be steeped in drug culture, mainly cannabis and psychedelics like LSD.

But Frank Zappa wasn’t interested in any of that. He didn’t drink alcohol, either. The only drug he did was tobacco, which he called his “favorite vegetable.”

As he wrote in his autobiography, The Real Frank Zappa Book:

I like tobacco. As a kid, I took cigarettes out of ashtrays and pulled them apart to see what was inside. I liked the way tobacco smelled; I didn’t care whether it was fresh or stale. Some people like garlic; I like tobacco. I like pepper, tobacco and coffee. That’s my metabolism. 

But what about cannabis? Did Frank Zappa like cannabis, and if not, why? 

What Did Frank Zappa Think About Drugs? 

Frank Zappa cannabis

In The Real Frank Zappa Book, Zappa writes about his experience with cannabis. 

Between 1962 and 1968, on maybe ten occasions, I experienced the ‘joys’ of socially circulated marijuana. It gave me a sore throat and made me sleepy. I couldn’t understand why people liked it so much. (If I had liked it, I’d probably be smoking it today, since I like to smoke.) 

Of course, THC levels in the sixties were lower than today. As well, cannabis hits everyone differently. While THC activates our cannabinoid receptors and produces a high, how one interprets this feeling is entirely subjective.

And Zappa seemed to understand this. He writes about “the magic of Altered Body Chemistry.”

Americans use drugs as if consumption bestowed a ‘special license’ to be an asshole. Whatever heinous act they might have participated in the night before can be instantly excused by saying they were ‘high’ while they were doing it. 

Frank Zappa wrote this in the 1980s. Forty years later, not only is this insight still relevant, but it’s a battle many of us are still waging. 

Addiction and recovery “experts” put drugs on a pedestal. As if drugs contain magical powers that change the content of our thoughts and compel us to keep using against our better judgment. Even cultural norms dictate that getting drunk gives you a special licence to misbehave.

Zappa, way back in the 1980s, recognized that this was bullshit. “I think the mutant behaviours exhibited by people’ under the influence’ should be studied more closely,” he wrote.

Forty years later, we have those studies thanks to the work of people like Dr. Carl Hart, Dr. Stanton Peele, or researchers from the Baldwin Institute.

Drugs, like cannabis, are active placebos. Cannabis can’t cause mental health problems any more than alcohol can cause you to become violent.

That’s not to say drugs don’t have their benefits. There are still physiological changes, and that’s one of the many reasons you may enjoy cannabis. And why Frank Zappa enjoyed smoking tobacco even though it eventually killed him.

Why Didn’t Frank Zappa Like Cannabis?

Frank Zappa cannabis

What’s up with Frank Zappa and cannabis? Why wouldn’t he let his band consume it while on tour? They were allowed to enjoy a beer after a show, and like Zappa, they could smoke as much tobacco as they wanted.

But why zero tolerance on cannabis? Zappa held libertarian political beliefs. He was against the drug war. He once told an interviewer, “What you do at home is your business.” 

So why not allow his bandmates to partake? Simply because it was illegal.

As Frank Zappa told Trooper Charles Ash of the Pennsylvania State Police:

When a person takes the job in the band, they understand that what they do in their private lives is their business. But if they’re on the road, they are representing me, they’re representing my music, and they’re representing the need for the audience to get entertainment on time. That means you don’t go to jail when you’re on the road, OK? So I ask them not to use drugs. If they want to do them when they get home – fine. But when they’re on the road, please don’t do it. Because aside from the chemical damage, there’s the legal risk that somebody’s going to take their freedom away, and I’m going to be sitting there, going, “where’s the drummer?” I have fired people for using drugs.

Odds are, if cannabis had been legal back in the 1980s, then Zappa would have permitted a joint after a show in the same he allowed moderate alcohol consumption.

It’s not that Frank Zappa didn’t like cannabis. Personally, it wasn’t for him. But his real issue was with the drug war. He advocated for the full legalization of cannabis, decriminalizing harder drugs, and a shift from criminalizing addiction to helping break free and move on.

To say he was ahead of his time is an understatement. Frank Zappa was also a free-speech absolutist. In the 1980s, he and others (including country singer John Denver) battled against the cancel culture of the religious right.

No doubt, today, he would be equally critical of the religious “woke” left and its cancel culture.

Top Ten Frank Zappa Albums to Pair with Cannabis

Music and cannabis have always been a great pairing. And since Frank Zappa’s music is weird, many may prefer a little cannabis before listening.

If you’re new to Frank Zappa and wondering where to start, look no further.

10. Roxy & Elsewhere

A classic 1970s-era live album, this was my introduction to Frank Zappa. It’s a healthy balance of rock, jazz fusion, and comedic lyrics. The energy of the crowd brings out the best in the band. Highlights include “Village of the Sun,” “Echidna’s Arf (of You),” and “Cheepnis.”

9. The Yellow Shark

Released a month before his death, The Yellow Shark comprises of orchestral music written by Zappa himself. Drawing from his classical influences, Zappa said this album was one of the most fulfilling projects of his career. Singer and Zappa fan Tom Waits lists it as one of his favorite albums, and we agree. Highlights include “Uncle Meat,” “Pound for a Brown,” and “G-Spot Tornado.” 

8. Sheik Yerbouti

Frank Zappa cannabis

If you’re looking for a more comedy-orientated album that still showcases Zappa’s musical prowess, Sheik Yerbouti is the album for you. Combined with some cannabis and Frank Zappa will have you laughing your ass off.

Sheik mainly contains live material with extensive overdubs that Zappa added in the studio. It includes parodies of musicians Peter Frampton and Bob Dylan, the concept of the American Dream, and Jewish female stereotypes. The latter of which attracted attention from the Anti-Defamation League. Highlights include “Bobby Brown,” “Dancin’ Fool,” and “Jewish Princess.”

7. Freak Out!

The one that started it all. Recorded with the original band, The Mothers of Invention, Freak Out starts off as straight rock music influenced by rhythm and blues. But the deeper you get into it, the more avant-garde it becomes. 

Rolling Stone magazine listed Freak Out! as one of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, and we agree. The opening lyrics to the first song (“Mr. America walk on by, your schools that do not teach.”) introduces Zappa as a social critic and multi-talented musician. Highlights include: “Hungry Freaks, Daddy,” “Any Way the Wind Blows,” “Trouble Every Day,” and “Help I’m a Rock.”

6. The Grand Wazoo

An instrumental jazz fusion album, this Zappa album is perfect for those more interested in Zappa’s music rather than his social commentary or comedic lyrics. Highlights include “The Grand Wazoo,” and “Eat That Question.”

Top Ten Frank Zappa Albums to Pair with Cannabis

5. Läther

Frank Zappa cannabis

In the 1970s, Zappa produced a four-LP box set called Läther. The record company said, “No one is ever going to buy that,” and broke the album into four different issues. In 1996, the Zappa Family Trust finally released Läther as Frank Zappa intended.

For those looking for the quintessential Zappa experience, Läther offers three hours of Zappa’s distinctive signature sound. The album includes rock, orchestral works, comedic lyrics, and complex jazz pieces. Highlights include: “Down in De Dew,” “RDNZL,” “The Black Page,” and “The Ocean Is the Ultimate Solution.” 

4. Overnite Sensation/Apostrophe

Frank Zappa cannabis

Technically these are two separate albums. But they were recorded together in the same studio with the same band and released only a few months apart. Both albums are only 30 minutes each, so they are a single album for this list.

This combo is probably the best introduction to Frank Zappa, whether you’re smoking cannabis or not.

While Zoot Allures may be Zappa’s most accessible rock album, Overnite Sensation/Apostrophe is Zappa’s most accessible rock-jazz album, combined with some hilarious lyrics. Highlights include: “I’m the Slime,” “Dinah-Moe Humm,” “Montana,” “Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow,” “Cosmik Debris,” “Apostrophe,” and “Uncle Remus.” 

3. One Size Fits All

If you’re a fan of Pink Floyd, Rush, Yes, or any of those progressive rock bands from the 1970s, this is the Zappa album for you. Like the above album combo, One Size is a rock album with jazz influences. But this album is textured and layered in ways that Overnite, Apostrophe, or Zoot lack. Many consider One Size to be Zappa’s best, and it’s hard to disagree. Highlights include: “Inca Roads,” “Andy,” and “Sofa No. 1 & 2.” 

2. Hot Rats

Whenever you find a list compiling the top jazz fusion records of the 20th century, Zappa often makes the cut for this album. Captain Beefheart appears on one of the songs on an otherwise instrumental jazz-rock album. Hot Rats contains plenty of Zappa’s unique guitar soloing.

In the liner notes, Frank Zappa calls the album “a movie for you ears,” and when combined with cannabis, we could not agree more. To this day, I have not found a single person who does not like “Peaches en Regalia.” Highlights include: “Peaches en Regalia,” “Willie the Pimp,” and “The Gumbo Variations.” 

The Best Frank Zappa Album to Pair with Cannabis

1. We’re Only in It for the Money

Frank Zappa cannabis

OK, so maybe this isn’t the best album for a Zappa beginner list. Especially if you’re smoking a particularly strong strain. This Frank Zappa album should be paired with cannabis only after going through the first nine albums.

So why include it? Simple. This is the best Frank Zappa album, period.

Recorded in 1968 with the Mothers of Invention, this album satirizes the hippie subculture, drug use, establishment politics (and anti-establishment politics). On first listen, the album sounds like the psychedelic rock from the era, albeit more experimental. But upon repeated listens, you pick up phrases and tunes from classical music and jazz.

The original cover (featured here) was censored at the time. While The Beatles gave their thumbs up, business managers didn’t. Capitol Records threatened legal action unless Zappa changed the cover. Recent releases have reissued the album with the intended front cover.

Highlights include: “Who Needs the Peace Corps?,” “Absolutely Free,” “Flower Punk,” “Let’s Make the Water Turn Black,” and “Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance.”


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