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Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco, California

Who Needs the Peace Corps by Frank Zappa

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I'm hippy and I'm trippy
I'm a gypsy on my own
I'll stay a week and get the crabs
And take a bus back home
Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco
It was 1968, about a year before Woodstock and a year after the Beatles turned loose Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. That album was hailed forever (sometimes still today) as "the first concept album," despite the fact that Zappa had released concept albums before and Paul McCartney was insisting to the media that Zappa had, in fact, inspired Sgt. Pepper's. Well, Zappa was a big enough guy to let the slight go, so he decided to out-Beatle the Beatles: he would cut a concept album that would simultaneously talk to the hippie culture and be ten times as audacious as the Beatles were.

He succeeded with We're Only in It for the Money. Boy, did he ever. In spite of the fact that Sgt. Pepper was the top of the charts and getting the Beatles onto all kinds of fancy talk shows, We're Only in It for the Money was what was blaring out of the speakers in the head shops and record stores on the street corners of Haight-Ashbury. Sure, it only made it to #30 on the charts, but any true tie-dye flower child was telling you that Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention was where it was really at, man. Zappa understands us hippies in a way that those commercialized British invaders don't.

There's just one detail that all of this doesn't take into account: Frank Zappa hated hippies. With a passion.

You think your conservative, yuppie dad with his tie and briefcase and BMW hates hippies, but Zappa really, really hated them. He hated their drugs, their over-commercialized "rebellion," their smelly lifestyle, their communes, their loose morals, and their puffed-up self-importance. Let us repeat for the slow of hearing: Zappa. Hated. Drugs. He himself was, in fact, a teetotaler. Yes, We're Only in It for the Money nailed the sound of psychedelic rock so surely that even acid-heads today will swear that it must have been "made on 'shrooms." And no, Zappa never did anything in his life harder than tobacco and coffee.
Shops on Haight Street
(thanks, Mila Zinkova)
Even some of his fans who were hippies knew this - and that made them love it even more. The ones who took themselves too seriously rejected Zappa for making fun of them, while the rest of the scene, which had enough of a sense of humor about themselves, could laugh along with how bogus and funny the tropes of their own culture were. By being both anti-establishment and anti-rebellion at the same time, the deep message was that one side was nearly as wrong as the other and there were no easy answers, in exactly the way that every young generation, rejecting the values of the previous generation, has had to learn the hard way again and again.

Follow the voice-over of the hippie protagonist at the end of "Who Needs the Peace Corps?": "I will ask the Chamber of Commerce how to get to Haight Street, and smoke an awful lot of dope. I will wander around barefoot. I will have a psychedelic gleam in my eye at all times." Sure, it's easy to know now that the intersection of Haight and Ashbury streets in San Francisco, California, was Ground Zero for the hippie movement; but Zappa and the Mothers knew this in 1968. Big difference.

Which makes the official song for the Haight-Ashbury district "Who Needs the Peace Corps?" and no other. So why not head on down and buy some feathers and bells and a book of Indian lore? And when you get there, be sure to tell them "Hi boys and girls, I'm Jimmy Carl Black, and I'm the Indian of the group."
~ "Penguin" Pete Trbovich

Comments: 3

  • A Baron from San FranciscoWent to the Human Be In at the Panhandle in '67 with my whole family. I was 12. It was all about love and flower power with an underlying anti-war theme. I was too young to benefit from the free love aspect. I tried to make up for it later. I really tried.
  • Mike from Vista, Ca.Zappa's satire is the greatest. The album cover was a classic.
  • Sean from MassachusettaI was under the impression a lot of people knew Haight Ashbury was the "hippie spot" by 1968. Acid tests and grateful dead shows had been going on for a couple years already.
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