Walter Bargen Kansas Freaks

If I have to remember something about 1966,
let it be Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention,
their first record release, Freak Out. It was Christmas
vacation and looking for something
to set me apart from the dull Midwest
I bought the album for its psychedelic
neon cover before I'd heard the word psychedelic.
My favorite line, sung longingly, "With hair
growing out every hole in me," as if their one wild
moment had already fallen to the barbershop
floor. Perhaps they were right, thirty years later,
the band broken-up, Frank dead of prostate cancer,
my turntable up in a puff of smoke, signaling
the century's end, no more listening to scratchy vinyl.

In "Help, I'm a Rock," Frank always a little grandiose
and self mocking, snubbed the sentimental
Simon & Garfunkel "I Am a Rock." In falsetto he sings,
"It can't happen here." Of course it could, and it was,
and if it wasn't, where then might it happen,
in every hair follicle in Kansas, teasing me to join in
as I laid on the floor between hi-fi speakers.

Three decades later, at a luncheon held in juvenile detention,
I'm losing interest, it's not happening here.
I unfold a newspaper laid on a chair, read
that the state of Kansas, defined by geography not song,
reviewed all bronze roadside historical plaques.
State officials decided to remove the story
of "The Bloody Benders," on the high prairie
a mile northwest of the Mounds and thirteen miles
from the town of Parsons where the Bender family
built a one room house in 1871. As travelers sat
for a meal, they were bludgeoned, robbed,
and shoved through a trap door in the floor.
Eleven bodies, skulls crushed, were unearthed in 1873.

It's not the horrific, not the festering frontier,
but Kate, the Bender daughter, the "self-proclaimed
healer and spiritualist," who contacted dead relatives
for the locals, who lured men "with a tigerish grace,"
this "voluptuous girl" is officially offensive. Death can
only be flat and lonely as Kansas. This life of heat,
humidity, wheat, the official one. The dead left to God.
Mass murder to a bronzed plaque. And Frank sings
on remastered CD's, "Kansas, Kansas, it can't happen here."

Back to 44.1