In my teenage years, I started to shift my heroes from
sports figures like Tom Seaver, Joe Namath and Sandy Koufax to the musical genius Frank Zappa. I think it
was my first true awareness of marketing as I knew he was doing something differently. I could always depend on Zappa to
follow the unbeaten path. He helped me to understand how and why different mattered so much. I never saw him as a publicity seeker- rather he was just following his inner Zappa.
When I was in
college at Penn, I got to photograph Zappa live on stage at Irvine Auditorium around
1977 as he regaled the audience with irreverence and laughter. It was a thrilling experience to be behind the scenes watching him perform. If you could have bottled the energy, you could have lit up a city.
But like a thread running through the tapestry of my own education, Zappa taught me some important things about branding and weaving my own material.
As a kid, Zappa’s father worked for the military industrial
complex involved in chemical gases. Themes around germs, warfare and the like
were ever present in his music. His father worked with mustard gas and I have
read that they kept gas masks in his home. Some of Zappa’s childhood illnesses
appear to be related to living so close to the manufacturing factory. I am
certain this has something to do with how he viewed the world and lived each
day. He wasn't just against the norm but he delighted in the way a creative spirit could shine a light and provide direction for a life's journey.
I learned the word avante-garde through listening to Zappa
as names like Edgar Varese, Igor Stravinsky and the doo wop bands all shaped
his music vision. Growing up in LA and with his own diverse background, Zappa
rejected all things mainstream in music and politics as he would quote from the
Mad Men era jello jingles or other commercials of the day. He made fun of everything and everything to him was fun.
Watching him perform was like seeing inside the mind of a joyful child who never left the playground.
His music was like nothing I had known. How he lived in the
world was so idiosyncratic and odd that it amused me beyond words. His music was always difficult to categorize
which was a clue to his marketing genius. He didn’t want to be seen in anyone
else’s mold or style. He was in his personal
and professional life an expression and realization of something completely
As a self-taught composer, musician and persona, it was
always near impossible to describe him. His first album, Freak Out! with The
Mothers of Invention was both rock and roll, improvisation, jazz-like and a
collection of sounds that interested him from the audio panels. To call him an iconoclast is an injustice to
his spirit as labels never fit. He was just Zappa.
So how does all this fit with marketing?
If I could sum it up, these 5 themes were baked into my
childhood and formed a key part of my own approach marketing. Thanks for jump start Frank and for setting off a a lifetime of creative sparks.
whatever is inside of you out and be proud of the way that you can uniquely
create something of beauty, of value and that delights a small tribe.
be the same as everyone else clamoring for attention. If the world is zigging,
don’t just zag but fly somewhere above the rest. Wiggle when everyone marches
straight forward. Make sounds with your hands when it is time to be serious.
go of judgment. The question isn't whether it is good or will anyone like it or will it be a success. The question is are you being truthful to your own world view. Enjoy the sheer pleasure of the creation process and realize that your
time on earth is so short that fear is just a bug on a windshield as you fly
down life’s highway. I'll bet Steve Jobs had Zappa as a soundtrack in his life.
blend, synthesize, try and fail and try and fail and fail and fail and fail
until you cry. But don’t just fall into lock step with everyone else. Be proud
of saying that you tried something novel.
Celebrate the joy of light, sound, movement, words and humor. Of all the
lessons about marketing that I channeled from Zappa, the key was to celebrate
and delight in the sheer joy of ideas and daily life. Find a voice that allows you to express the brilliance of your own life.
Zappa was an ever present hero of mine as I grew up in
suburban New Jersey and during my days in Philadelphia during college and
beyond. It was as if he gave me and my friends Jamie and Larry permission to express our creative self through
many forms. But it was always in the anti-establishment and irreverent way of
being that helped spark my own creativity in both business and life. Be frank...sort of a worldview urging me to find my own unique voice and approach.
And to this day, I still watch out where the huskies go and
don’t you eat the yellow snow.
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Labels: Frank Zappa, Marketing Moments, Mothers of Invention, Zappa and Marketing