Frank Zappa's Raunchy Rock Opera "Joe's Garage" Debuts in L.A.

September 29, 2008 4:33 PM ET

Almost 30 years since the original release of Frank Zappa's unrealized stage play Joe's Garage, director Pat Towne has brought the Rolling Stone-dubbed "unproducible" musical to Hollywood's Open Fist Theatre. Joe's Garage imagines a world where music is banned — the plot follows its protagonist as he discovers the obscene powers of rock & roll, the lazy appeal of religion and the benefits of a nice yellow apron when having sex with a robot (Joe dons that ass-less costume for the bulk of the show).

The show debuted Friday during the first presidential debate, and the irony wasn't lost on Zappa's widow, Gail, who says the current political climate was no small factor in finally bringing the show to life. "[Joe's Garage] is made for people who love this country and love the Constitution," she told Rolling Stone after the premiere, which she attended with a crew that included daughter Diva. "It's just so relevant...these are desperate times and people are trying to convince themselves that information is knowledge, and it's not."

Joe's Garage has no shortage of vulgarity, charade fellatio or STDs (one of the songs, "Why Does it Hurt When I Pee," is performed in a Styrofoam toilet with chomping teeth). But the effect is signature Zappa, balancing brilliant arrangements that manage to be at once dissonant and melodic with a satirical use of shock value. At the end, though, it's one to many shocks for Joe — after uncovering his love of rock & roll, turning to religion for redemption, having sex with appliances and being raped by the music industry (literally) in prison, he goes mad. "As you can see," says the Central Scrutinizer, narrator of the show, "music can get you pretty fucked up."

"I never thought it would get off the ground," said Gail. "Frank tried many times in his lifetime and there were many people that would talk to me about [producing the show]. But they were always concerned about the language." Gail herself has held a notoriously tight fist on everything Zappa, fighting to ensure the artistic integrity of her husband's songs. But now, the timing and people felt right. The show runs through November 22nd.

Related Stories:
Live Action: David Fricke on "Zappa Plays Zappa"
The Immortals - Frank Zappa by Trey Anastasio
All Frank Zappa Album Reviews

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

Music Main Next
Around the Web
Powered By ZergNet
Daily Newsletter

Get the latest RS news in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the Rolling Stone newsletter and special offers from RS and its
marketing partners.


We may use your e-mail address to send you the newsletter and offers that may interest you, on behalf of Rolling Stone and its partners. For more information please read our Privacy Policy.

Song Stories

“Try a Little Tenderness”

Otis Redding | 1966

This pop standard had been previously recorded by dozens of artists, including by Bing Crosby 33 years before Otis Redding, who usually wrote his own songs, cut it. It was actually Sam Cooke’s 1964 take, which Redding’s manager played for Otis, that inspired the initially reluctant singer to take on the song. Isaac Hayes, then working as Stax Records’ in-house producer, handled the arrangement, and Booker T. and the MG’s were the backing band. Redding’s soulful version begins quite slowly and tenderly itself before mounting into a rousing, almost religious “You’ve gotta hold her, squeeze her …” climax. “I did that damn song you told me to do,” Redding told his manager. “It’s a brand new song now.”

More Song Stories entries »