Unfortunately for Joe, his cry of poverty only gets him carted off to a rather dismal location. Explains the Central Scrutinizer:
Central Scrutinizer:Hello there…this is the CENTRAL SCRUTINIZER… Joe was
sent to a special prison where they keep all the other criminals from the music
business…you know…the ones who get caught…it’s a horrible place, painted
all green on the inside, where musicians and former executives take turns
snorting detergent and plooking each other…
Joe is soon forced into a life of being “plooked” unmercifully by the denizens of the prison, a population comprised of deviant musicians and industry executives. His existence, behind the green walls of the prison that has become his world, is about as grim and cheerless as an existence can be. Joe puts forth a valiant effort to rebel against the world he now finds himself in…but, alas, the struggle is strictly internal.
Joe: (somewhat exhausted)These executiveshave plooked thefuck out of me. And
there’s still a longtime to go before I’ve paid my debt to society. And all I ever
really wanted to do was play the guitar ‘n bend the string
I’ve got it
I’ll be sullen and withdrawn
I’ll dwindle off intothe twilight realmof my own secret thoughts. I’ll lay
on my back here ’til dawn, In a semi-catatonic state
And dream ofguitar
notesThat would irritatean executivekinda guy…
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…
Up until this point in the critique, I have not endeavored much to describe the music that accompanies the lyrics of Joe’s odyssey; but the music in the next segment warrants description.
The band is playing a slow two-note blues-like dirge; a pocket groove that never drags, but instead pulls the listener down into its swirling miasma of orchestrated despair. Then Zappa plays the imaginary guitar-solo that is audible only within the confines of Joe’s mind. What Zappa plays is not overly complex, but the way it is played conjures up images that would simply never exist if the guitar were in the hands of a lesser instrumentalist. It aches with pain of heart, flares with the anger of disillusionment, swells with the remnant of subdued pride, chills with the lack of hope, and cries with the end of potential. But somewhere within all of this, in between the actual notes played, one can still grasp a strand of hope. Not a hope of a physical release from bondage, nor for the optimistic expectation of any return to normalcy; instead, it is the simple dream that some part of Joe which lies within the deepest recesses of his very nature, his very being, might actually survive after all that he has been through. As the imaginary guitar-solo comes to an end, Joe (with the tattered shards of a spiteful bitterness worn on his demeanor like a foul and sullied cloak) continues his thoughts:
Well, I guess thatone did the trick, If they only couldaheard it half-a-dozen of
’em woulda strangled while they was suckin’on each others’ dicks. But that was only
a bunch of imaginarynotes I played. Just a little extra somethin’ to keep me
goin’ from day to day . That’s okay, I’ll be gettin’ outta here pretty soon. Then I
won’t have to live in this ugly fuckin’ room. Can’t wait to see, I can’t wait to
see what it’s like On the outside now…
Eventually, Joe finishes out the rest of his prison sentence and he finds himself once again in the outside world. But, as he wanders the streets he finds out that Music has been made totally illegal. Unable to do the thing he loves the most, he now makes up imaginary guitar-solos to the beat of the loading-zone mantra of the Central Scrutinizer, which echoes hollowly through the streets he now wanders.
Joe is now constrained within the malevolent grip of the “system”. And, as the old adage goes, “You can’t fight City Hall”, so Joe has apparently resigned himself to trying to follow the rules that have been laid out before him. But he still retains the soul of a revolutionary, illustrated by the imaginary guitar notes the he weaves around the loading-zone announcements.
The liner notes of the album continue the narrative:
JOE wanders through the world which by then has been totally epoxied over,
carefully organized, with everyone reporting daily to his or her appointed place
in a line somewhere in front of a window somewhere in a building somewhere in
order to collect his or her welfare check, which, when cashed, made it possible
for the young ones to continue the payments for the obsolete and irreparable
appliances their parents had purchased on the installment plan years ago,
providing as security the future incomes of their children. The rest of these
checks were used by the young recipients to buy fun things of their own on
credit, most of which broke down or failed within moments of purchase and seemed
to be stacking up everywhere.
This bleak vision of a possible future seems to be the focal point for the ideals presented within the album itself. It seems that Zappa is sharing with us the grave concerns he had in 1979 about too much government control in our lives; and the fear that we will become a consumer based society with no soul – creating nothing, dreaming nothing, simply existing to keep the economy going, and to continuously funnel money (and with it, power) into the hands and coffers of those who would be emperors upon our world.
The Central Scrutinizer watches Joe as he, “…stumbles over mounds of dead consumer goods formed into abstract statues dedicated to the Quality of American Craftsmanship, dreaming his stupid little guitar notes”. Then, the Scrutinizer says:
This is the CENTRAL SCRUTINIZER… Yes…he used to be a nice boy…He used to
cut the grass…But now his mind is totally destroyed by music. He’s so crazy
now he even believes that people are writing articles and reviews about his
imaginary guitar notes…
The Scrutinizer watches Joe, dwells on who Joe had once (should have) been, and comes to a definitive conclusion about why Joe ended up in this sorry state. It was not the government, the girl, the religion, the prison or the rape that occurred there, nor the state of the country that Joe has recently become a part of once again. It was all because of the music.
Zappa is making a very powerful statement with these ideals that he is presenting. He seems to be saying that we, as a culture, are apparently able to blame the things that we consider subversive or counter-culture (Zappa uses music as the example, but various forms of expression that have come under attack in our country – writing, dance, painting and sculpture, speech, and journalism – can all be used to illustrate the point Zappa was apparently trying to make) for all that goes wrong in our society. But we seemingly, for the most part, reserve little scorn for others who betray our trust as long as they have a haircut, wear a nice suit, and talk to (at) us from a pulpit or dais.
As the album comes to its finale, the Scrutinizer leaves us with this thought:
This is the CENTRAL SCRUTINIZER…As you can see, MUSIC can get you pretty fucked up…Take a tip from Joe, do like he did, hock your imaginary guitar and get a good job…Joe did, and he’s a happy guy now, on the day shift at the Utility Muffin Research Kitchen, arrogantly twisting the sterile canvas snoot of a fully-charged icing anointment utensil. And every time a nice little muffin comes by on the belt, he poots forth…
This final thought reaffirms the notion that is was the music that ruined Joe’s life. But now that he has conformed to societies expectations of a good, productive citizen, he has found happiness. We know from the strength of Joe’s internal fortitude that he likely retains the burning flame of individuality, although it is now hidden from view and kept far away from the prying eyes of governmental scrutiny. But is this truly a better end for poor, beleaguered Joe? Would it not have been better for him to stick to his guns and fight for what he believed in (and possibly die, or be forever “plooked”, in the trying), than to relegate his existence to a thick, opaque shell that hides the truth of his being? Is Zappa trying to let us know that it’s all right to wear the coat of subservience and predictability, as long as we keep the though of our dignity alive inside of us? Or, perhaps, he’s showing us that to not fight for your beliefs and rights is akin to a spiritual suicide? Or maybe, he just wants us to know that Joe is no different from the rest of us – a troubled man in troubled time; and, in the end, no more or less than human? Then again, aren’t we all?