Earlier today I received notice that a video of my band “DOOT” received a takedown notice on YouTube. The requester was Zappa Family Trust. I don’t even remember if the video had any Zappa content, but it was a performance at the Zappanale festival, and Andre Cholmondeley was part of the band for that gig. Andre is the guy behind the band project/object, and his “project” has been a consistent “object” of scorn from Gail Zappa. Gail is of the opinion that nobody gets to perform, interpret, or reference any of Frank Zappa’s compositions without her express authorization. I have expressed my opinion on this subject before… it’s archived here somewhere. I believe that while the Zappa Family Trust can protect Zappa’s actual works, and the products that they have released since Zappa’s death, they can not enforce a selective moratorium on his influence on contemporary music. Zappa himself “cut his teeth” covering popular popular music, orchestral music, experimental music… all written by someone else… and specifically rubbed the music industry’s nose in it by pointing out that by changing one note in “Louie Louie” it was now an original composition (Plastic People, YCDTOSA 1).
The past week or so has seen an uptick in the ZFT’s takedown notice activity. To be clear, the media in question were not Zappa recordings, videos or performances. They were live performances that involved thematic material from the Zappa catalog, references to the composer, homages to the composer, and lyrics based on Zappa’s lyrical concepts. Gutless organizations like YouTube know it is far less expensive and less involved to take down videos at the drop of a hat and let the account owner and the takedown notifier deal with the particulars in a court of law. So the ZFT gets what they want up front. Gail couldn’t ask for more. I have been witness to a decade where the ZFT went from non-participant in the Zappa legacy, to employing anti-democratic tactics that would make Goerbels blush. The ZFT’s hypothesis that they can stuff Frank Zappa’s music legacy back into the bottle and dispense it on an ad-hoc basis MUST be challenged in a court of law, and challenged successfully. Until then the musical world will be a poorer place, and the freedom of expression that Zappa himself enjoyed will be denied to generation after generation of artists and the public at large.
This is my immediate reaction to the recent events:
nobody can take away the importance that the man and his music have had on my life, but equally, i can not be compelled to participate in what his legacy has become. everything that has been done in his name since december of 1993 has been less than what the man himself did. no musician or composer has effectively enhanced the legacy that zappa created during his life. homage has been paid, some fine music has been made, souls have been stirred…. but none of it has moved the needle in comparison to the actual works that zappa oversaw during his lifetime. nothing that the zft ever does will enhance his legacy. nothing that his lox of a son tries to do with his cute little cover band. and frankly, nothing that *any* of the people playing zappa’s music since his death will *ever* do will matter one iota in comparison to the actual legacy of zappa’s own work. i’m content with that, and content with taking the odds that there is a chance that i might live to see zappa’s music set free to inspire the world in an active way. but ironically, in the 21st century, his widow has forced musicians around the world into the same situation endured by those living under the communist regimes of the soviet union, china, czechoslovakia, east germany, and other oppressive regimes where zappa’s music was spoken of in hushed tones and played out of earshot in secret locations. it is officially ILLEGAL to perform certain music without a dispensation from the authorities.