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In 1995, Frank Zappa was posthumously inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Lou Reed "One of the things I most regret is not knowing Frank better," Reed admitted --which no doubt caused some to wonder why Lou was on stage to begin with. Frank's daughter, Moon, gave a borderline-tearful acceptance speech, ending with "I am sorry my Dad's not here to receive this. He would have enjoyed it."
For many devoted followers of Frank Zappa's music and iconoclastic personality, the thought of Frank "enjoying" the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is dubious. Frank Zappa might have placed his induction in Cleveland's Rock Hall in the same category as other tributes by rock journalists, record executives, and radio station programmers that came very late in his career. Zappa fought these guys for years just to stay in the business and he knew they never really understood what he was up to musically.
"For each type of music," he once said, "there are listeners who think the reviewers don't know what they're talking about. These listeners, when excited about a certain group or style of music, will fight for it in their hometowns. These are the people who have made it possible for me to stay in music through the years -- and I thank them for it."
To some, Zappa remains an experimenter, a "fringe artist," or worse (as recently dismissed by a work friend as "60's drug music.") Zappa's mentor, the classical composer, Edgar Varese, summed it up when he disapproved of all the "isms," and called himself "One-all alone." Zappa certainly was that -- an individual.
Frank admired and promoted Varese throughout his career. Varese's quote -- "The modern-day composer refuses to die" -- was a motif on Zappa's record covers. Frank used that idea repeatedly in his interviews and publicity. (For a complete understanding of Edgar Varese -- and, specifically, why Zappa thought of him as his own musical hero -- listen to "The Complete Works" by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Asko Ensemble, conducted by Riccardo Chailly, on London) or visit Edgard Varese: his Life and Works)
I was 13 when Zappa's first record --The Mother's of Invention's Freak Out -- was released in 1966 . I bought it on the merits of its bizarre cover art alone. I knew nothing about this "group" and had never heard any of their music. I loved it at first listen. I immediately thought I understood Zappa. He was telling me that it was somehow OK to be me, to be human.
Beneath the outlandish schtick, disparate chordal structure, and poly-rhythms, there was a humanist here -- cutting through the pop culture with cutting-edge songs like "Who Are The Brain Police?" and "Trouble Coming Every Day." I was "hooked on Zappa" from the beginning.
For quite awhile I felt alone in my appreciation for these outrageous characters, as my parents really hated the "Mothers" and most of my friends were into the ultra-hip music of the 60's, not the retro "do-wop" of "Go Cry On Somebody Else's Shoulders" or the strange, seemingly unorganized sounds of "Return of Monster Magnet."
However, I was notalone and have since personally met a wide array of folks -- from a Swedish scientist visiting Georgetown University (who was an even bigger fan than me) to a fireworks vendor in North Carolina's "Outer Banks" (who had a bigger "live tape" collection) who agreed with me that Frank Zappa was one of the 20th Century's greatest musicians.
Of course, the sold-out crowds at Zappa's concerts spoke for his popularity -- but "greatest musician?" Isn't that stretching the Zappa hype beyond support?
Here are a few quotes from others who share my opinion of Frank Zappa -- a truly "one of a kind" artist, and, yes folks, a musical genius.
"I was surprised that someone could be so multi-talented, such a good writer, and so articulate a composer. Moreover, he was a virtuoso technician on guitar and had an incredible sense of humor. He had all those skills and the ability to conceive, write, and orchestrate very complex orchestral scores.
--- Kent Nagano, music director of the Opera de Lyon. Paris.
"It was important that Frank be shown to the world not as a rock star, but as a serious composer."
--- Dr. Dieter Rexroth, director of the Frankfurth Festival
"My first reaction was that I couldn't believe it. When I learned that Frank Zappa was a composer of serious classical music, I told my partners, "Okay, there's some of these pop stars who try to do this kind of stuff, but I am sure that he is just a beginner." I was really surprised when I saw the high quality of compositions like "Mo 'N Herb's Vacation."
--- Andreas Molich-Zebhauser, director of the Deutsche Ensemble Academy
"Frank was always respectful and very straightforward. If some problem came up, he'd ask what I thought could be done about it, because he didn't want to put any ideas in my head. He wanted to know what my thoughts were."
--- Aynsley Dunbar, former Zappa drummer, 1970-3
"Americans are really suspicious of anything cerebral, and Zappa didn't disguise his intelligence well enough. In addition to being a man of wide-ranging talent, one amazing thing that always struck me about Frank was his melodic dimension.....Frank Zappa was my Elvis."
--- Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons
"Never stop until your good becomes better, and your better becomes the best." --- Frank Zappa
Atlantic City NJ --- Atlantic City Race Track --- August 3, 1969 (w/ Ray Collins, Roy Estrada, Jimmy Carl Black, Billy Mundi, Ian Underwood, Don Preston, Bunk Gardner, Motorhead Sherwood)
Baltimore MD --- Lyric Theatre ---October 17, 1971 (w/ Mark Volman, Howard Kaylan, Jeff Simmons, Aynsley Dunbar, Ian Underwood, George Duke)
Washington DC --- DAR Constitution Hall --- November 11, 1972 (w/ Tony Duran, Jerry Kessler, Dave Parlato, Jim Gordon, Tom Raney, Ruth Underwood, Ian Underwood, Bruce Fowler, Malcolm McNabb, Tom Malone, Earle Dumler, Glenn Ferris, Sal Marquez, Ken Shroyer, Mike Altschul, Joanne McNabb, Jay Migliori, Ray Reed, Charles Owens)
Anapolis, MD -- Carr's Beach --- Summer, 1973 ( w/ Jean Luc Ponty, Tom Fowler, Ralph Humphrey, Ruth Underwood, Ian Underwood, George Duke, Bruce Fowler, Sal Marquez, Kin Vassey) Recently I received a tape recording of this concert from Bruce Bubier, along with some great notes, which I will post here in the near future. Thanks Bruce.
College Park MD --- Ritchie Coliseum, University Of Maryland --- April 3, 1974
Washington DC --- Constitution Hall --- May 4, 1974 (w/ Jeff Simmons, Tom Fowler, Chester Thompson, Ralph Humphrey, Napoleon Murphy Brock, Don Preston, George Duke, Bruce Fowler, Walt Fowler)
Largo MD --- Capitol Center --- November 4, 1976 (w/ FZ, Roy Estrada, Terry Bozzio, Napoleon Murphy Brock, Andre Lewis, Norma Bell)
College Park MD --- University Of Maryland, Cole Fieldhouse --- October 29, 1978 (w/ Patrick O'Hearn, , Denny Walley, Warren Cucurullo. L. Shankar , Arthur Barrow, Vinnie Colaiuta, Ed Mann, Tommy Mars, Peter Wolf)
Washington DC --- Warner Theatre --- February 8, 1988 (w/ Ike Willis, Mike Keneally, Scott Thunes, Chad Wackerman, Ed Mann, Bobby Martin, Bruce Fowler, Walt Fowler, Paul Carman, Albert Wing, Kurt McGettrick)
Highlights: At the 1969 Atlantic City Pop Festival ("King Kong") and in concerts at Baltimore's Lyric Theatre ("Mud Shark" and "Billy the Mountain" in one afternoon), Washington, DC's Constitution Hall midnight show with the Grand Wazoo orchestral line-up), at Carr's beach near Annapolis (where Frank sang a long, probably ad-libbed song about Godzilla roaming his birthplace, Baltimore), and at my alma matter, Maryland University in 1974-- where I finally got a chance to talk to the man backstage and tell him how much I admired him.
On that occasion, Frank and Don Preston -- one of the original Mothers of Invention, who toured with Frank in the 70's -- were drinking a beer in the arena locker room after the show. I went backstage and introduced myself as a fan. He listened to my gushing for about three minutes, shook my hand, and told me to get out and vote. It doesn't sound like much of a meeting of the minds, but it was enough for me. (For a "REAL" story about meeting Frank, please check Zappa expert Lewis Saul's adventure)
The last time I saw Frank in person was in 1988 at the small Warner Theatre, a few blocks from the White House. Frank played three nights with what would be his last group -- and last tour. He called it the "best band you NEVER heard" because the group disbanded early into the tour, falling short of it's cross-country US goal.
Thankfully, that last show was the best I ever saw Frank perform. He was relaxed and in a great, talkative mood -- and very funny. His wife, Gail, was "in the house" that night, although I couldn't spot her. Frank performed a fantastic "Zoot Allures" which is my favorite guitar instrumental in his catalog. He played the "Congressional" medley on his synclavier, and the band did two covers, "I Am The Walrus," and "Stairway to Heaven." Zappa and Ike Willis shared vocals with guitarist, Mike Keneally. Just outstanding all the way down the line. (Just recently saw Frank's Barcelona, Spain video which includes "Walrus." What's missing is the audience participation I recall at the Warner theatre. There, everyone was singing the chorus and the "coo coo cachoobs")
Over the years I have become completely convinced that Frank Zappa's musical genius was beyond genuine. Again, I am certainly not alone. I began playing guitar (also in 1966) and the deeper I get into the instrument, the more astonished I am at Zappa's unique, yet amazingly concentrated guitar riffing. Zappa is the only musical composer you can name that covered his bawdy, pseudo-porn "comedy" music ("Half a Dozen Provocative Squats" comes to mind) with the same dedication that he showered on his classical compositions (e.g., anything on "The Yellow Shark.")
From time to time I will be adding comments and information about FZ here, so please bookmark this page if you're interested. Your comments are enormously appreciated. I am especially interested in posting information from FZ fans who can articulate what the man and his music means to them today. Please e-mail SteveMoore.GU@gmail.com. Please send suggested links to other great Zappa websites, particularly the new and/or obscure sites that are not well-known. My understanding is that Frank has more websites devoted to him than any other American Composer. Now, that's "bitchen."
Here are some Zappa items for sale: