You Are What You Is

Album: You Are What You Is (1981)

Songfacts®:

  • Zappa shot a highly surreal, low-budget video for this song, which was shown on MTV extremely rarely. For one thing, the video depicted a Ronald Reagan-lookalike (Reagan was then President of the US) sitting in a device resembling an electric chair; for another, the song itself contained an ethnic slur and strong racial themes. (These facts did not stop the video from resurfacing nearly 15 years later on MTV's show Beavis and Butthead.) >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Matt - Voorhees, NJ

Comments: 5

  • James from Columbus, InEarly on in his muscal career Zappa had a number of inter-racial bands. At least once that I read of he and his bandmates were about to have violence bestowed on them when some Hispanic individuals intervened and evened the odds that sent the rednecks away looking for easier targets. Many of Zappa's bands had people of color in them. One thing about him was he was truly blind to everything except musical talent. Every day if I am somewhere and see a car with rap music thumping, the gents inside with their baggy pants hanging below their butts, oversized athletic jerseys, gold chains and backwards baseball caps will be White. If they get out they call each other "my N****", and act more Black and Ghetto than the actors in any Blaxploitation/Ghetto Drug Dealer gang banger movie I ever saw. It's sad they are so empty they have to pretend that way.
  • Thegripester from Wellington, New ZealandWell, certainly Zappa was not a racist - case in point, if the thrust of this song had been in any way racist, the 2 or 3 black members of his band would not have participated in recording it.
  • Greg from Alsip, IlSometimes the "N-word" can actually be poetic, beleive it or not. The Persuasions, an all black accapella gospel group, did an album of covers and on it they do this song. It certainly means something when they sing it, not that Zappa didn't bring meaning to it on his own.
  • John from Overland Park, KsA somewhat cleaned-up version of this song was on the B-side of the "Valley Girl" release, with a lot of the language cleaned up and much of the racist-sounding references refined. It was also on the "Thing Fish" album, if I recall correctly.
  • Razor from London, EnglandReason for the "racist slur" (the n-word) - the song is about people being inadvertently racist by imitating another race.
    In one verse, a white man wants to sing the blues, but he thinks he can only do this if he lives the lifetsyle - i.e looks, behaves and talks like an outdated stereotype of a black man. In the second verse, a black man who used to be a radical of some sort (hence the mention of a daishiki) is trying to insulate himself from racism by "becoming a caucasian", which means rejecting an arbitrary selection of black lifetsyle icons (i.e not eating pork and greens!) and mixing with the worst of white society (whilst playing golf).
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