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Music

John Lennon once criticised Frank Zappa for being a "f*ckin intellectual"

@SamWKemp

John Lennon and Frank Zappa: you’d be hard-pressed to find two musicians with bigger egos. I don’t know where all that confidence came from. Maybe they only read good reviews. Then again, maybe they really were just that good. Either way, both Zappa and Lennon shared a belief in the power of the artist. In their eyes, you were only truly valuable if you were an active participant in the world’s cultural development. At the same time, you were only truly individual if you lived within a world of your own devising.

Lennon once gave a long and meandering speech about the importance of the artist in the presence of Jann S. Wenner, who later recalled the conversation in the book Lennon Remembers. He expressed his hatred of critics while shunning those who did not respect his genius. To illustrate this far-from-modest point, he compared himself to Frank Zappa, who at that time was practically synonymous with artistic integrity.

Lennon said: “Zappa’s there screaming ‘Look at me, I’m a genius, for fuck’s sake, what do I have to do to prove to you sons-of-bitches what I can do and who I am and don’t dare fuckin’ criticize my work like that! You don’t know anything about it!’ Fucking bullshit!” John concluded, before adding: “I know what Zappa is going through! And a half! I’m just coming out of it now, just fucking’ hell. I just have been in school again. I’ve had teachers ticking me off and marking my work. If nobody can recognize what I am then fuck ’em.”

That comparison of critics to school teachers is a reminder that Lennon always had an issue with authority. A renowned troublemaker in his school days, Lennon was a semi-delinquent with a taste for bullying his teachers; perhaps out of an innate distrust of those who wielded power over him. In later life, that aggression remained, his frustration with those who saw themselves as somehow superior always simmering beneath the surface.

It is perhaps for this reason Lennon criticised Frank Zappa, who he was always cautious of despite being a fan. “I admire Zappa a bit,” Lennon said, “but he’s a f*ckin’ intellectual”. You’d be forgiven for thinking that a compliment, but Lennon always regarded intellectualism as anathema to rock music. In his eyes, rock was rooted in instinct and feeling, not theory and logic. Zappa was threatening the balance.

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