Frank Zappa was known for his engagement in social and political issues. His catalogue practically bursts of his comments on all kind of subjects. In the 1980s Zappa’s career was strongly influenced by his vendetta against the right wing political forces and Christian fundamentalists in the USA. Not only did he seek to open his audiences eyes towards what was really going on in American politics (as far as he could see), and encouraged them to register to vote. But he also went into battle with a group of women from Washington DC (wifes of US Senators and their fucked up friends), called the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC). The PMRC, led by Tipper Gore (Al Gore’s wife) was on a mission to establish a rating / labelling system for rock & roll albums.
Their original demand was that albums should be divided into the following categories: ‘X: profane or sexually explicit’, ‘O: occult’, ‘D/A: drugs or alcohol’ or ‘V: violent’! Despite the fact that the PMRC strongly emphasized that they wanted ‘voluntary labeling’, Zappa argued that this was a form of censorship, and thus a violation against the First Amendment of the US Constitution. (After all, which American music store chain will sell an album with any one of those labels, when they won’t even sell Zappa’s instrumental records?) He managed to persuade the people in charge to turn down the demands of the PMRC after the first round, but eventually they managed to introduce the ‘Parental Advisory – Explicit Lyrics’ sticker.
Ironically, the sticker now functions more as a promotion scheme than anything else. And even more ironically; when Frank’s youngest daughter Diva Zappa made her first recording (a song about finding someone to sleep with at new years eve 1999-2000), Tipper Gore played drums, and her daughter Kirsten did backup vocals. Figure it out…
Zappa released several albums that dealt with the issue of censorship; Joe’s Garage, You Are What You Is, Thing-Fish and Frank Zappa Meets The Mothers of Prevention.
But censorship is not only a problem in America (obviously). Nor is the groups that like to enforce their own views and opinions, through making it difficult for people with conflicting perspectives to draw attention to themselves, unique for the USA. Stupidity exist everywhere! In Germany, an author by the name of Michael Schmidt-Salomon wrote a musical called the Maria-Syndrome some years ago. The piece was supposed to have it’s premiere on May 28th, 1994. But on May 27th , Salomon and his collaborators was informed that the piece had been forbidden. They were not allowed to perform. And still today, the Maria-Syndrome, (incidently dedicated to “the balls of Frank Zappa”) is VERBOTEN.
The reason for this was that certain clerical groups, fronted by what Salomon calls the “Catholic mafia”, Opus Dei, did not like the story of the musical and got a court to declare that it shouldn’t see the light of day. In Germany they have a stupid law called § 166 StGB – the blasphemy paragraph. The above-mentioned clerical groups characterized the Maria-Syndrome as ‘an almost brutal form of Satanic blasphemy’, and once again the paragraph that has also been used to ban works by artists like Brecht, Tucholsky, Grosz, Panizza and others, came into effect.
It probably didn’t surprise anybody that religious groups reacted in a negative manner to this musical. First of all it presents a critical view on religion. It makes fun of the phenomenon of virginal birth, the Messiah etc. The storyline is bound to provoke a whole lot of people, and presumably, that was one of the ideas behind it. (If you want to know more, you’ll find a rough summary of the plot at the end of this article.)
But does is really matter if the Christians are offended? Is that reason good enough to ban this musical? Or any work of art? Is this becoming of a modern European democracy? Fortunately this kind of intellectual and artistic restrictions is not something that happens every day Germany. In fact, Salomon tells me that the case of the Maria-Syndrome is one of the hardest interventions of this kind in the history of post was Germany. Since the musical was banned, Salomon & co. have gone through all the legal instances in order to get the decision changed – withouth any luck.
– The interesting question, says Salomon, is; Why did modern politicians and lawyers follow the arguments of Christian fundamentalists?I think this has a lot to do with the radical change in modern societies. The churches recognize that people cannot believe anymore in their myths.Some politicians – so it seems – don’t know how to handle the vacuum of values. So both groups sometimes behave like little children. But I hope (that) the process of enlightenment cannot be stopped by this kind of stupid behaviour.
When it became clear that they weren’t getting anywhere in the legal system, they changed the strategy. The Maria-Syndrome libretto was published on the Web and information events were arranged in Germany. The first public reading of The Maria-Syndrome happened at the Frankfurter Buchmesse in 1998. (Surprisingly, nothing was done to prevent it.) Hopefully, a recording of the musical will be done in the near future, and released on CD. Meanwhile, the Campaign Agains Censorship (Kampagne Gegen Zensur) contitues. The main goals of this campaign is to lift all restrictions that has been put on the Maria-Syndrome, and to omit the obsolete blasphemy paragraph, § 166 StGB.
Groups like the Washington Wifes (and their ugly husbands) in America, the Catholic Mafia in Germany and other morally retarded elements will probably continue to pose threats to basic human rights, to art and freedom. As the wave of right wing extremism gushes through Europe and resides in the White House, artists and other intellectuals must watch out for new schemes designed to make us all docile and ignorant. Remember, there’s a big difference between kneeling down and bending over!
These Brothers of Prevention will lose out in the end, leaving the people itself to decide whether the Maria-Syndrome is worth spending time on. Meanwhile, the Hungry Freaks Society declare their unreserved support to the Kampagne Gegen Zensur and all other campaigns that seeks to defeat censorship and defend the freedom of expression.
The Plot of the Maria-Syndrome (as explained by M. S. Salomon)
The Comical starts with an introduction of John, a man with a strong libido but a less strong mind. Bored of family talks (he is invited to the birthday party for his uncle Henry) he masturbates in his uncle's bathroom, what is not so easy, because a) he has to forget the PINK FLOWER TILE ATMOSPHERE around him, and his VIRGINAL COUSIN Ann-Marie, a young novice, is waiting behind the door.
Nine months later the psychoanalyst Henry Beuys tries to explain why Ann-Marie became pregnant, still pretending, that she never had impure contact with a man. The psychoanalyst thinks that Ann-Marie has amnesia. In his eyes Ann-Marie surely had SEXUAL CONTACT, but that experience did not fit to her neurotic world construction, so she forgot everything about it. He calls the phenomenon: MARIA-SYNDROME, witch leads Ann Marie to an absurd thought: She praises God, sings three times "Hallelujah", then she falls down to the floor. The birth begins.
Thirty years later Ann Marie's son Me-Ti is a BIG star and a lot of people believe that he is the promised MESSIAH. In fact Me-Ti is a clever man, but he has strong difficulties to do any wonder. Escaping his foolish followers' Me-Ti meets John the first time. John, now a proud owner of a fetish sex-shop, suddenly remembers the situation thirty years ago. So things happen, as they must happen. The mass Medias begin to joke about Me-Ti, who is no longer seen as a Son of God, but as a Toilet Seat's Son. The people laugh at him and burn his works. Me-Ti escapes to the Himalaya. But even there he can't find peace. His desperate "Ommmms" don't help at all. Running around and howling like a dog, Me-Ti has got real serious mental problems. But then in a moment of absolute desperation and madness God appears in form of a MYSTERIOUS ILLUMINATED FLYING TOILET SEAT. Suddenly Me-Ti knows how to fulfil his HOLY MISSION.
He founds a sanitary firm, specialized on public lavatories. He's loved by his employees, but one thing they don't understand at all. Each time they finished a project, Me-Ti encloses himself in the ladies toilet. Half an hour later he comes back, exhausted and quoting the parable of the sower. If you talk to him, he gives strange answers, but his smile...his smile is gently reflected by an ocean of pink flower tiles.
Well, that's the nucleus of the story. Around that some VERY obscure things happen, especially some strange reflections about the roots of mankind, religion, state and ideology “It's all between our legs!”
The Original Interview
Q: Who are you? Age? Profession? Have you written anything besides Das Maria-Syndrom? Other relevant information…
A: Name: Michael Schmidt-Salomon (shorter M.S.Salomon) Born: 1967 in Trier (oldest town of Germany) I studied education science, philosophy, sociology etc. and wrote a dissertation about Postmodernism, Humanism and Theory of science (So, you can call me doctor, hehe...) I’ve worked many years as a lecturer at the university and written dozens of articles and one book about science, society and religion. Last year I finished a novel, called "Stollberg´s Inferno", something like a critical update to Dante’s "Comedia Divina". (see www.schmidt-salomon.de ) As a musician and composer I wrote many songs and some stuff for orchestra (that probably will never be played ;-)) Today I work together with the ex-musicians of "Guildo Horn & Die Orthopädischen Strümpfe", who were quite famous in the German speaking countries some years ago. Together we started a political rock project. (Musically much more commercial than "Das Maria-Syndrom" (see www.salomon-music.de )) For the next years I have plans to record a "Maria-Syndrom-CD". (Maybe with another title, for example "Salomon’s Flying Toilet Show", so religious fools will not be offended by first sight...)
Q: Does Das Maria-Syndrom contain direct references to Frank Zappa or his work?
MSS: No direct quotations. But the piece is very much in the style of FZ. It’s eclectic, ironic, sarcastic and – of cause - some parts of the music are really hard to play. For that reason the musical needs well trained musicians, witch – of course - costs some money. That’s the biggest problem in the present situation. The risks of producing the piece are quite high, because we don’t know, how Justitia will react next time.
Q: The idea of direct censorship in a western country in the 90s seems kind of peculiar. What lead to the banning of Das Maria-Syndrom? Who was behind it? And what were their motives?
MSS: “Das Maria-Syndrom” was cancelled one day before world premier, witch was planned for May 28th, 1994. There were several reasons for this direct form of censorship. Clerical groups (especially the “catholic mafia” Opus Dei) said, this piece was an “almost brutal form of satanic blasphemy”. Some of them knew me as a philosopher and scientist, who had criticized religion in a very sharp form. So they wanted to prevent that anyone outside the academic ghetto could get in contact with this bad anarchistic ideas. They simply feared this rock comical could become quite popular and people will laugh at their holy madness. (“Laughter kills”, said Nietzsche. I think that’s right. Laughter kills the fear, witch is the base of all the mad religious world constructions. So it’s not a wonder that religious fools all over the world fight against the power of secular laughter)
Q: Is this kind of artistic/intellectual restrictions common in Germany?
MSS: No, of cause. The case of Das Maria-Syndrom represents one of the hardest interventions of censorship in the history of post war Germany. The interesting question is: Why did modern politicians and lawyers follow the arguments of Christian fundamentalists? I think this has a lot to do with the radical change in modern societies. The churches recognize that the people cannot believe anymore in their overcome myths. Some politicians – so it seems - don’t know how to handle the vacuum of values with results of that situation. So both groups sometimes behave like a little child, but I hope, the process of enlightenment cannot be stopped by this kind of stupid behaviour.
Q: Since it was banned, have you made any attempt to get the decision changed?
MSS: Surely. First we went through all legal instances, but the fundamentalists won all the processes. This was a little shock. We didn’t expect that lawyers could be so simple minded. (Well, I should have known better. FZ did make similar experiences, as you know…) After losing the legal fight we changed the strategy. We published the Maria-Syndrom libretto in the WWW and made some information events in Germany. In the end of 1998 I read “Das Maria-Syndrom” first time in public at the “Frankfurter Buchmesse” And – surprise!-: “The Mothers of Prevention” didn’t do anything against it!
Next plans. For the near future I want to record a CD with the full Maria-Syndrom text and some pieces of music. If the censors do not react (I hope so), I will make the next attempt to produce the whole work. (Maybe for the 10 Year Jubilee of Banning “Das Maria-Syndrom”…)
Q: What is the "Kampagne Gegen Zensur" about?
MSS: The “Campaign against Censorship” has two main goals: 1. No legal restrictions for “Das Maria-Syndrom”! There are no reasons for banning the piece! 2. Omission of § 166 StGB! Even the new version of the old blasphemy paragraph does not fit to a modern society. This paragraph was used in history to ban works of Brecht, Tucholsky, Grosz, Panizza and many others. The Campaign declares: No ideology should have legal privileges. Art is free. If Christians don’t like artistic productions, OK, that’s their problem. No one orders them to consume “Das Maria-Syndrom” or similar productions…
Q: Why do you think Ken Russell lost interest in the project after the musical was banned?
MSS: Oh, Ken Russell wasn’t the problem! He was still interested in making the film, but we had no chance to find producers. No one wants to invest money in a product that possibly will be banned from the market place.
Q: Do you have any plans or wishes for the musical for the future?
MSS: Yes, as I told: I want to see it on stage and in the Cinema. But first I have to record the Audio-CD. I hope to find enough time for that in the near future. So after all I can say the piece is not dead, it only smells funny… ;-))