Joe's Garage is a 1979 Rock Opera by Frank Zappa that follows the trials and tribulations of Joe, a guitarist in a world where music has been made illegal. It is told through the eyes of the Central Scrutinizer, who reminds us throughout how music can mess you up. Originally, it was released as two albums: Joe's Garage Part I (a single album) and Joe's Garage Parts II and III (a double album). On CD, the first disc consists of Part I and the first half of Part II and the second disc contains the rest of the album.The story starts with the Central Scrutinizer introducing the premise of the tale: this is a government-sponsored album about how music can mess you up. It then moves on to tell the tale of Joe, who started a rock band as the government was planning to outlaw music, and what happened after he got arrested for disturbing the peace. Soon enough, his girlfriend Mary leaves him and turns into a slut, his priest becomes an MC at a Florida bar, and he contracts an STD from a girl he met named Lucille. With nowhere to go, he eventually turns to the Church of Appliantology and pays them 50 dollars to learn that he is apparently a latent appliance fetishist. This in mind, he learns German and dresses up as a housewife before going into a bar called "The Closet" that apparently caters to appliances. After picking one up, he takes it home and ends up breaking it. For this, he is arrested and taken to jail. Specifically, he is put in a special jail for people in the music business, as the government has just enacted a law banning music.While in prison, he is raped many times, and when he eventually gets out, has gone somewhat insane, a condition not helped by the fact that music is illegal and he so has nothing to do. Instead, he becomes sullen and withdrawn, and decides to "dwindle off into the twilight realm of my own secret thoughts", wherein he dreams of imaginary guitar notes that he knows would irritate all the music executives that tortured him. He continues to wander around town, dreaming of guitar notes, until eventually he realizes that the notes only exist in his mind. As such, he goes into his room, plays one last imaginary guitar solo (Watermelon in Easter Hay), and then hocks his guitar in order to get a job at the Utility Muffin Research Kitchen. The album closes with the Central Scrutinizer pointing out once again that yes, music can really mess you up, and singing the last song on the album in order to prove it.
The White Zone is for troping and un-troping only. If you have to trope, go to the White Zone. You'll love it. It's a way of life.
All Men Are Perverts: They gangbang groupies, organize wet t-shirt contests, have sex with robots or rape fellow prisoners.
All There in the Manual: The story is easier to understand if you read the liner notes. This is especially true of the reasoning behind the premise, which is found in said notes.
All Women Are Lustful: "And Mary is the kind of red-blooded American girl who'll do anything... [I said anything!]... for fifty bucks."
Antiquated Linguistics: The lead vocals in "Dong Work For Yuda", which are an imitation of Zappa's bodyguard John Smothers' strange way of speaking.
Arc Words: "The White Zone is for loading and unloading only. If you have to load, go to the White Zone. You'll love it. It's a way of life."
Armoured Closet Gay: Subverted, Joe is told to get into the closet to have sex with a plooking robot.
The lines "The White Zone is for loading and unloading only. If you got to load or unload go to the White Zone" are heard all throughout the album, during "The Central Scrutinizer", "Joe's Garage", "A Token Of My Extreme" and "He Used To Cut The Grass".
Mrs. Crabgrass can be heard near the end of the song "Joe's Garage" and "He Used To Cut The Grass".
The line "What is that? Musk?" in "Packard Goose" is a reference to "Dental Hygiene Dilemma" from 200 Motels.
The lines "Hear the steam, See the steam, Hear the steaming hot black screaming, Iridescent naugahyde python gleaming steam roller") from "Stick It Out" are a throwback to "Latex Solar Beef" from Zappa's "Fillmore East, June 1971" (1971).
In "Crew Slut" and "Sy Borg" a thing that "looks just like a TeleFunken U-47" is mentioned.
The line "That looks like that stuff Freckles lets out once a month" in "Dong Work For Yuda" would later reappear during "Won Ton On" from "Thing-Fish" (1985).
A magical pig, named Squat, is mentioned during Stick It Out and Sy Borg.
The Utility Muffin Research Kitchen in "A Little Green Rosetta" is a throwback to "Muffin Man" from "Bongo Fury".
The robot with whom Joe has intercourse looks like a cross between a vacuum cleaner and a chrome piggy bank. Vacuum cleaner imagery appeared earlier on albums like Hot Rats (1969), Chunga's Revenge (1970), Two Hundred Motels (1971) and One Size Fits All (1975).
Chrome, a popular thing in Zappa's lyrics, can be heard here again:
During "A Token Of My Extreme": "That looks like it's a cross between an industrial vacuum cleaner and a chrome piggy bank with marital aids stuck all over its body..."
During "Stick It Out": "See the chrome, feel the chrome"
"Sy Borg": "This is exciting, I never plooked a tiny chrome-plated machine..."
"Packard Goose": The liner notes mention that "enormous flabby short cloth neck ornaments" work their "hidden chrome snap attachments" as they resurge in the direction of the White Zone seeking snack material near the Utensil Shrines of Greater America.
Leather, mentioned during 'Crew Slut (I'm into leather...) and Sy Borg (Little leather cap and trousers) is a conceptual continuity example mentioned earlier in Zappa's work, during Carolina Hard-Core Ecstasy (Plastic leather 14 triple D.) from Bongo Fury (1975) and Broken Hearts Are For Assholes and We Gotta Get Into Something Real from Sheik Yerbouti (1979).
The entire monologue from the end of Dancin' Fool from Sheik Yerbouti (1979) is repeated again near the end of Stick It Out. The phrase What's a girl like you doing in a place like this? was used earlier during What Kind Of Girl Do You Think We Are? from Fillmore East, 1971 (1971).
Make way for the iron sausage in Dong Work For Yuda, references the night of the iron sausage in The Torture Never Stops from Zappa's Zoot Allures (1976). Sausage imagery also appeared during St. Alphonso's Pancake Breakfast on Apostrophe (') (1974).
On The Bus evokes tour bus imagery, as happened before on A Pound For A Brown On The Bus from Uncle Meat (1969) and Hah! Good God! Get off the bus! in St. Alphonso's Pancake Breakfast from Apostrophe (') (1974).
A frenzy is mentioned at the start of Watermelon in Easter Hay. Frenzies were referenced earlier on the albums Over-Nite Sensation (1973) (during Dirty Love), Apostrophe (') (1974) (during Father O' Blivion), Zappa In New York (1978) (during Honey Don't You Want A Man Like Me?) and You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore, Volume 4 (1991) ((during Smell My Beard)
The line "Beauty is a French phonetic corruption of a short cloth neck ornament currently in resurgence." in "Packard Goose" refers to a bow-tie, imagery that appeared before in Zappa's music, most notably "Bow-Tie Daddy" from We're Only In It For The Money (1968).
"Sounds like an elegant gypsy" in Packard Goose refers to gypsy imagery that appeared earlier in Zappa's work, like Who Needs The Peace Corps? from We're Only In It For The Money (1968) and "Gypsy Mutant Vacuum Cleaner" from Chunga's Revenge (1970).
Corpsing: Zappa clearly finds the word "plooking" hilarious. Every time he says it he cracks up.
Corrupt Church: The First Church of Appliantology is basically demanding fees for giving pretty worthless advice. Father Riley B. Jones in "Dong Work For Yuda" also sings songs to the other prisoners, while some of them are gangraped by other men. And the Catholic Girls in Catholic Girls are apparently not that chaste.
Dedication: "A Little Green Rosetta" is dedicated to the people of France, Spain, Mongolia, the Third World, the Fourth World and Taiwan.
Downer Ending: Joe gives up at the end, and simply retreats into his room so he can play one last imaginary guitar solo before he comes back to sanity and gets a job at the Utility Muffin Research Kitchen.
Epic Rocking: "Packard Goose" (11:34) is the longest example, but much of the album counts, including "Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up" (7:17), "Sy Borg" (8:56), "Keep It Greasey" (8:22), "He Used to Cut the Grass" (8:35), "Watermelon In Easter Hay" (9:09), and "A Little Green Rosetta" (8:15).
Evil Laugh: The Central Scrutinizer at the start of "Water Melon In Easter Hay".
Overly Long Title: Watermelon in Easter Hay was originally titled: Playing A Guitar Solo With This Band Is Like Trying To Grow A Watermelon In Easter Hay, thus said Zappa during his Star Special radio appearance on BBC Radio 1, 1980.
Police Brutality: The band is arrested for noise pollution on orders of Officer Butzis.
The Power Of Music: Information is not knowledge, knowledge is not wisdom, wisdom is not truth, truth is not beauty, beauty is not love, love is not music, music is the best!
Prison Rape: "Dong Work for Yuda" and "Keep It Greasey" are all over this. Also, to a lesser extent, "Outside Now".
Product Placement: A Dodge car, Fender Stratocaster and Beatle Boots are mentioned during the title track. Ronald Mcdonald from Mcdonalds is mentioned during Packard Goose.
Protest Song: In "Packard Goose" Zappa lashes out against music critics.
Zappa too was once jailed for "conspiracy to make pornography" (just a tape full of sex noises) and spent much of his prison time imagining guitar solos in his cell.
Zappa regularly traveled by plane and while waiting in the lobbies of many American airports he would hear the announcement The White Zone is for loading and unloading only. If you got to load or unload go to the White Zone! over and over again. (For non-American readers: this phrase informs passengers and travellers that they can load or unload luggage in the white curb of the airport.) One can imagine how tedious listening to the mind numbing pointless phrase could get. Zappa included it during many songs on this album.
The plot of this Concept Album about a society where music is made illegal was directly inspired by the 1979 coup in Iran by ayatollah Khomeini. During a radio broadcast aired on July 23rd, 1979, Khomeini called for a ban on any form of music, however no specific law was edicted at the time. Khomeini said: Music should not be broadcast over the radio and television. Music is something that everybody is attracted to naturally, but it takes them out of reality to a futile and lowly livelihood. Like opium, music also stupefies persons listening to it and makes their brain inactive and frivolous" It was only some months later that the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, adopted by referendum, granted the Leader full power to appoint and dismiss the head of the Radio and Television (Chapter XII [Article 175]). Zappa even mentions this fact in the liner notes of the album.
"Dong Work For Yuda" is full of inside jokes and anecdotes regarding Frank's then bodyguard John Smothers and his strange way of talking. His wife Freckles is referenced to. In a 1990 interview with Zappa named "They're Doing the Interview of the Century, Part 3" he explained: "Once upon a time, on his first trip to Copenhagen, we were playing at a place called the Falkoner Center (...) and we didn't have a limousine. I had to take a cab to the place. We get in the car. It's just this little tiny car, (laughter) not a Fiat, but maybe, slightly larger than a Fiat. You know how big John is ...(...)and it's a cab, and the driver is Danish, and he doesn't speak English. I get in the back, and John gets in the front, and the cab driver is just sittin' there, 'cause he doesn't know where to go, and John finally realizes that he must tell the driver where to go, so, he just turns to him, and goes, "FALCUM." (laughter), and the guy looks at him, y'know, kinda lookin' up like this, and John goes, "FALCUM." (...) and the guy DOESN'T KNOW WHAT'S GOING ON. And then, John gets vehement. He goes, "TAKE ME TO THE FALCUM!".
"Catholic Girls" refers to "Catholic boys'' and namedrops Warren Cuccurullo and Vinnie Colaiuta, two Zappa band members.
In "Sy Borg" the robot sings he'll go "aaaaalll the waaaaay!" This is a reference to Frank Sinatra's song "All The Way". In the same song he also claims Joe is "pushin' too hard, pushin' too hard on me", which is a reference to "Pushin' Too Hard" by The Seeds.
In the liner notes for Outside Now the following line can be read: "And sure enough JOE dreams up a few of those guitar notes that every executive despises: those low ones. Every exec knows it's only the records with the high squeally ones that get to be hits, except for Duane Eddy."
In "A Little Green Rosetta," Zappa references both "Jamming" by Bob Marley and "I'm The Japanese Sandman" by The Cellos. He also mentions Steve Gadd, at the time one of the highest paid session drummers of all time ("Hey! And we've flown in, at great expense - triple scale, no less, ladies and gentlemen. Steve Gadd's clone to play the out-chorus on this song. Heís really outa-site, in spite of the fact that the click track is totally irrelevant to what he's doing now. Iím listening to the click, yes I'm suffering with the click track right now. This guy is totally out of sync with it, but what the fuck! Ed Mann will call him up later, show him the sign.")
Spoken Word In Music: The Central Scrutinizer narrates. The shouting by Mrs. Borg and police officer Butzis are also spoken. Also the track Wet T-Shirt Nite is more or less a spoken word sketch, with some singing narration.
STD Immunity: Averted with Lucille and Joe in "Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?"
Surprisingly Gentle Song: Between all the comedy songs about rock bands, male prison rape and sex with robots Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up is a quite sweet love song and Watermelon In Easter Hay is a moving tragic guitar solo.
Take That: This album pokes fun at rock bands, heavy metal, glitter rock, disco, new wave, the music industry, catholic girls, groupies, Scientology (under the disguise of Appliantology), the government, the band Toto (referred to as Toad-O), music censorship, rock critics and journalists, punk and Zappa's bodyguard John Smothers.
Too Dumb to Live: Mary in "Crew Slut" has no idea what kind of "present" the boys in the crew have for her. In "Wet T-Shirt Nite" she's not particularly bright either.
Waxing Lyrical: During "Sy Borg" Joe is having sex with a robot, but gets too excited, causing the robot to malfunction and shout: "You're plooking too hard! Plooking too hard on me!" This is a reference to the 1966 song "Pushin' Too Hard" by The Seeds.
Wolf Whistle: Can be heard several times during "Wet T-Shirt Nite".
Why Do You Keep Changing Jobs?: Father Riley goes from being a Catholic priest at the start of the story (Catholic Girls) to an MC at a Bikini Bar (Wet T-Shirt Nite) to being the chaplain at the prison Joe is sent to (Dong Work For Yuda).
Information is not knowledge, knowledge is not wisdom, wisdom is not truth, truth is not beauty, beauty is not love, love is not music, music is the best!