As the political season heated up, the mass media delightedly revived a favorite clash-of the-titans saga from the mid-1980s: the supposed battle between outspoken rock star Frank Zappa
and Tipper Gore over nasty lyrics peddled by the music industry. With Tipper Gore much in the news, and then with the selection of the high-minded Joe Lieberman as Al Gore's running mate, media minds reeled back to the war between the righteous and the raunchy that began with Tipper's establishment of the Parents Music Resource Center in 1985 and ultimately led to the recording industry's adoption of "Tipper stickers," labels that warn parents about record contents. Back in those days, Frank Zappa--whose comically foul songs often seemed designed to peeve parents--took on Tipper and the "wives of Big Brother," memorably lampooning their proposals during U.S. Senate hearings. Zappa also added a mock "warning/guarantee" label to his albums, reading in part, "The language and concepts contained herein are guaranteed not to cause eternal torment in the place where the guy with the horns and pointed stick conducts his business."
Now Zappa--who died in 1993--has been cast by the media as Tipper's adversary in an eternal celebrity stand-off. In recent weeks, newspaper after newspaper has reported how Zappa once labeled Tipper a "cultural terrorist," the sound bite that came to define their rivalry. The wrinkle is this: Since the 1980s, the Zappa and Gore families have become close. Zappa's widow Gail, who now runs her husband's company Intercontinental Absurdities, describes the Gore-Zappa relationship as "enthralling. A mutual admiration society." She says any antagonism has long been overstated. Even during the 1985 Senate hearings, a cross-examining Tennessee senator named Al Gore told Zappa, "I respect you as a true original and as a tremendously talented musician."
Today, Gail Zappa is a fervent Gore supporter and a top Democratic Party donor; she was a California delegate to the Democratic national convention in August. And she says she's tired of media misrepresentation. "I don't believe for an instant, nor did Frank believe for an instant, that Tipper Gore was actually for censorship," she says. "Now that he's dead, it's really disgusting to me that the media still uses Frank Zappa against Tipper Gore." As for the endlessly repeated "cultural terrorist" quotation, she says, "I do object to, in the name of fair journalism, misappropriating statements made by Frank and using them inaccurately against friends of mine, thank you very much."