"Twist ‘n frugg in an arrogant gesture": Frank Zappa and the Musical-Theatrical Gesture

Richard Hand, Paul Carr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Frank Zappa’s ability to fuse diverse styles into a unifying idiolect, make him a fascinating case study in intertextuality. Zappa’s work not only represents an extraordinary confluence of styles that was profoundly ironic in nature, but a prolonged and considered interchange of musical traditions. These gestures represented the beginning of a long-term unwritten contract Zappa forged with his audience, which presented him with an unparalleled amount of artistic freedom. Additionally, Zappa’s concerts achieved a legendarily theatrical status in which dramatic gesture was immensely important. This essay is concerned with examining how a multitude of musical and theatrical gestures influence the implementation and interpretation of Frank Zappa’s music, and hopes to present an explanation into the processes that underlie his complex multifaceted performances and recordings. How and why was Zappa’s music described as rock despite its numerous incongruous influences? How and why were the more “serious” aspects of his music usually juxtaposed with humour and frivolity? How and why did “non musical” gestures such as comic and absurdist theatricality in performance, dress code, album packaging, concert promotion, and political views influence the way his music was received? Throughout this essay, the word gesture will be used to describe any artistic activity that communicates “meaning” between Zappa himself and an external source. These paradigms range from the innovative “conduction” techniques Zappa employed on both musicians and audience, to the stylistic parameters of his music, to the often “absurdist” theatricality of his stage shows.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPopular Musicology Online
Issue number5
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 1 Mar 2008


  • frank zappa
  • popular music
  • musical theatre
  • gesture


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