Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention, 1969… (featuring from
left to right: Ian Underwood, Franky Z., Don Preston; back row: Bunk
Gardner, Jim “Motorhead” Sherwood, Roy Estrada, Jimmy Carl
Black - “the Indian of the Group,” & Art Tripp…)
You Are What You Is, much like Sheik Yerbouti, two years prior, compiled a veritable smorgasbord of Frank Zappa’s rock-and-pop-oriented material onto four, bulging sides of vinyl, indiscriminately jamming together unrelated styles with barely any help from his uniformly satirical themes to ease the transitions.
But whereas Sheik’s songs generally aimed their insolent humor and pointed satire at relatively broad and vague targets, You Are What You Is more often engaged in ruthless stereotype assassinations, which no amount of immature comedy could make excuses for.
But Zappa and his band of horny men (a.k.a. touring musicians) arguably crossed the line into needlessly mean-spirited attacks on suicides (“Suicide Chump”) and women, of the groupie persuasion or otherwise (see the ultra-misogynist “Goblin Girl,” “Jumbo Go Away”) .
Maybe this focus on mostly defenseless victims, as compared to the deeper social commentary Frank engaged in during the ‘60s and ‘70s, was a reflection of Reagan’s dawning, 1980s America, and Frank’s increasing disgust with it all, but that doesn’t make them any easier to accept.
At this point, I should probably clarify that I do love this album, and I stand by Zappa’s legacy as an “equal opportunity offender.”
I am a child of Truly Tasteless Jokes and the pre-political correctness era, so the fan in me can still appreciate You Are What You Is without modern hang-ups, and it’s just the critic in me who feels the need to reassess it through a modern perspective.