Frank Zappa takes on the U.S. Senate in 'Porn Wars'

By Rip Rense

The Los Angeles Times, December ??, 1985 [1]

Guess who "sings" on Frank Zappa's recently released "Porn Wars" recording?

None other than seven members of the U.S. Senate, including Paula Hawkins, R-Fla., Ernest "Fritz" Hollings, D-S.C., and Albert A. Gore Jr., D-Tenn.

Zappa has woven statements made by these lawmakers at the Sept. 19 Senate Commerce Committee hearing on so-called "porn rock" lyrics into a provocative 12-minute track that will appear on his upcoming "Frank Zappa vs. the Mothers of Prevention" album.

"You testify before one of those Senate hearings, and see how arrogant they are and what relative position they think they hold in the universe," Zappa said in an interview in Hollywood.

"They have blown themselves out of proportion to reality. There are a couple that are OK .... But there's no way I could have just walked away from Washington, D.C., and just laughed it off. It's too depressing."

The avant-garde "Porn Wars" is an ambitious collage that blends electronic music and statements actually made to the committee and to Zappa, who testified against the Parents Music Resource Center's campaign against sex, violence and drug references in rock music.

In the record, you hear:

  • Hawkins endlessly repeating the phrase, "Fire and chains and other objectionable tools of gratification in some twisted minds."
  • Hollings saying, "Outrageous filth" and "maybe I could make a good rock star, I don't know."
  • Sen. Paul S. Trible Jr., R-Va., chanting the word "Rape."
  • The Rev. Jeff Ling, consultant to the Parents Resource group, quoting "offensive" lyrics from an LP by the Mentors. Among the phrases: "I will drive my love into you."

The irony of the song, which was released Nov. 15 on Zappa's Barking Pumpkin label, is that officials who oppose what they consider obscene or pornographic images in rock find themselves describing many of those very images on a rock LP.

Poetic justice? Sweet revenge?

Neither, said Zappa; it is just art.

"There are aspects of phase music employed (on the record). It uses musique concrète techniques. It's kind of like a cubistic portrait of Congress at work ... 'Congress Descending a Staircase.' "

The new track, which is not likely to get much airplay because of its use of four-letter words, begins with preliminary comments from senators and then seems to break away dramatically into a series of voices swirling, growling, chattering, chanting and wailing.

After a pastiche of Hollings arpeggios and Trible trills, there is an abrupt quotation that was initially recorded for "Lumpy Gravy," Zappa's 1968 ballet: "This must be the end of the world. All the people (are) turning into pigs and ponies. I can't let it happen to me."

In reply to a senator's question about why the hearings are being held, Zappa's disfigured voice chants "sex ... sex ... sex," while Ling, again reading a Mentors lyric, declares, "Listen, you little slut."

One of the hearing's most celebrated moments – an exchange between Zappa and Hawkins over what kind of toys Zappa buys for his kids – is saluted in the recording, as well as a compliment to the rock musician by Gore, "I respect you as a true original and as a tremendously talented musician." The latter is punctuated by Hollings, at near-Chipmunk tone, repeating the line about his becoming a rock star.

The work concludes with Hollings' apparent aside into the open microphone at the end of Zappa's appearance: "We haven't got 'em whipped on this one yet. We've got a hear by the tail here. ..:" The remarks are followed by ominous, fading chords.

Are there any legal problems in using the voices?

Presumably not, Zappa said. "You bet I called a lawyer on it."

The founder of the Mothers of Invention said he was also producing an hour-long video for home use covering key moments in the hearings.

On "Porn Wars," Zappa programmed the voices into a digital computer system keyboard, which allowed him to "play" the voices in registers ranging from "gorilla" to "munchkin" to "mega-chipmunk" to "mosquito."

Does he think the humorous recording unfairly satirizes the senators' views?

"Not at all," he said. "You could (just read their remarks in) the Congressional Record and have gotten the same charge. I just did a little grunt work to dig up some of the more amusing lines and stick them in a package that will hopefully make sense to a rock 'n' roll consumer, and maybe make them concerned about what kind of people there are in Washington."

He chuckled.

"Hmm. Maybe a better name would be 'Congress Eats the Young.' "

1. The OCR source was a reprint in Pacific Starts And Stripes, December 30, 1977.

Read by OCR software. If you spot errors, let me know afka (at)