The Peculiar Frank Zappa


Frank Zappa was an American singer, composer, arranger, 
guitarist, bandleader, and all around musician who was one of the 
greatest iconoclastic musicians of the 20th Century. He also produced 
over 60 albums in 30 years. Some considered him to have demonstrated a 
mastery of pop idioms ranging from jazz to rock of every conceivable 
variety. As astute an entrepreneur as he was a musician, he was 
impatient with any division between popular and high art; he combined 
scatological humor with political wit, required of his players an 
intimidating skill, and displayed consistent innovation in 
instrumental and studio technology. "I knew there was a big thing here 
that was unique, because the beat matched the great rhythm of the 
human body." (Frank Zappa, The New Rock; p.1)

 He was born in 1940 in Baltimore where his Sicilian-born, 
Greek-Arab meteorologist father was employed by an arsenal that 
manufactured poison gas during World War II. The eldest of four 
children of a guitar-playing government scientist, Frank Zappa moved 
with his family at age ten to California. At the age of twelve Zappa 
became interested in drums, learning orchestral percussion. By 1956 he 
was playing drums in a local R&B band called the Ramblers. "I was 
extremely suspect of any rock music played by white people. The 
sincerity and emotional intensity of their performances, when they 
sang about boyfriends and girlfriends and breaking up, etc., was 
nowhere when I compared it to my high school Negro R&B heroes like 
Johnny Otis, Howlin' Wolf and Willie Mae Thornton." (Frank Zappa, The 
New Rock; p.1). Early exposure to a record of Ionisation by avant 
garde classical composer Edgard Varese instilled an interest in 
advanced rhythmic experimentation, which lead to the fascination of 
the electric guitar. "Enlightenment is , to a certain extent, 
attributable to the evolution of rock and vice versa." (Frank Zappa, 
The New Rock; p.1). 

 In 1963 Mr. Zappa wrote a score for a Western called Run Home 
Slow and with the money built a studio in Cucamonga, California. But 
along with success come some misfortune in which Zappa was charged for 
conspiracy to commit pornography by the San Bernardino Vice Squad 
after an undercover policeman requested some sex "party" tapes. Zappa 
delivered tapes of faked grunting, and served ten days of a six-month 
jail sentence. In 1964, Zappa joined a local R&B outfit, the Soul 
Giants and started writing songs for them. Eager to gain a heavier 
image Flo and Eddie joined up with Zappa for the film 200 Motels.

 But once again misfortune struck Zappa. On December 4,1971 there 
was a fire that destroyed the bands equipment and a crazy accident in 
which Zappa was pushed off-stage at London's Rainbow theatre. He 
crushed his larynx (lowering his voice a third), and damaged his 
spine, which kept him wheelchair-bound for the best part of a year. 
Apostrophe (') showcased Zappa's talents as a story - teller in the 
Lord Buckley tradition. I reached number 10 in the Billboard chart in 
June 1974. In 1975 Captain Beefheart joined Zappa for a tour, Zappa 
overdubbing most of the instruments himself. He was experimenting with 
what he termed "xenochronicity" (combining unrelated tracks to create 
a piece of non-synchronous music) and produced intriguing results on 
'Friendly Little Finger'. "Through rock music, the audience is being 
exposed to an assortment of advanced musical and electronic techniques 
that five years ago might have sent them screaming into the street." 
(Frank Zappa, The New Rock; p.3).

 In 1976, Zappa filed a lawsuit against Herb Cohen, which in 1977 
severed ties with Warner Bros., moving to Mercury two years later. 
There he set up Zappa Records and retired the Mothers name, calling 
all later groups Zappa. In 1980 Zappa recorded a single, "I Don't 
Wanna Get Drafted," which Mercury refused to release, prompting him to 
leave the label and eventually establish his own Barking Pumpkin 
Label. In 1981 Zappa released his first Barking Pumpkin album, and 
that year, some ex-Mothers, including Jimmy Carl Black, Don Preston, 
and Bunk Gardner, united to form the Grandmothers. "They did 
everything they could to make sure their audience was moved 
erotically." (Frank Zappa, The New Rock; p.2).

 In 1984 he was quite outrageously prolific: he unearthed the an 
18th century composer named Francesco Zappa and recorded his work on a 
synclavier. Two releases, Shut Up 'N Play Yer Guitar and Guitar, 
proved that Zappa's guitar playing was unique; Jazz From Hell 
presented wordless compositions for synclavier that drew inspiration 
from Conlon Nancarrow; Thing-Fish was a 'Broadway musical' about AIDS, 
homophobia and racism.

 In November of 1991, in New York on the eve of a tribute concert 
entitled "Zappa's Universe," Moon Unit and Dweezil Zappa announced 
that their father had been diagnosed with cancer of the prostate. A 
lifelong teetotaler and abstainer from drugs (Zappa, however, smoked 
cigarettes and drank coffee incessantly), the composer continued a 
rigorous work schedule. And in May 1993 Zappa, clearly weak from 
intensive chemotherapy, announced that he was fast losing the battle 
as it had spread into his bones. At the age of 52, shortly before his 
53rd birthday, at his Los Angeles home Zappa succumbed to the disease.

 Zappa's career in perspective shows a musical perfectionist using 
only the highest standards of musicianship and the finest recording 
quality. "It has been discovered and revealed that song can capture 
the fancy of the American public efficiently." (Frank Zappa, The New 
Rock; p.2). History will certainly recognize Zappa as a sophisticated, 
serious composer and a highly accomplished master of music. Zappa was 
one of the most exotic, original and complex figures to have emerged 
from rock culture. Guitar hero, satirist, and political commentator, 
Zappa managed to avoid being easily categorized for over three 
decades. And to show their appreciation the Critics elected Zappa 
into the Down Beat Hall of Fame.

 "It's not important to even be remembered," he said, "I mean, the 
people who worry about being remembered are guys like Reagan, Bush.. I 
don't care."


"Frank Zappa-Biography." Yahoo. Online.
Yahoo Online. 7 April, 2000

"Frank Zappa." Yahoo. Online.
Yahoo Online. 7 April, 2000

"Frank Zappa Tribute." Yahoo. Online.
Yahoo Online. 7 April, 2000

"The New Rock.." Yahoo. Online.
Yahoo Online. 7 April, 2000

"Zappa BR Home Page." Yahoo. Online.
Yahoo Online. 7 April, 2000

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