The creature, Phialella zappai was identified and named by Ferdinando ("Nando") Boero, jellyfish expert and Zappa fan from Genova (Genoa), Italy.
Nando had conceived a cunning plan:
"In 1982, after becoming a researcher in the University of Genoa, I asked for a work fund that could allow me to be for a long time in the Bodega Marine Laboratory of the University of California, Berkeley [now Davis]. The purpose was to study the taxonomy and the ecology of the local jellyfish fauna (yes, there exist people who earn a living studying jellyfish)."
Actually the true purpose was another one: to meet Frank Zappa!
"My strategy," he continues, "was a simple one: that fauna was (and is) not well known; I would find some new species for sure; once I had found them I would have to give them a name; I would dedicate one of them to FZ; I would tell him about it; He would invite me for a visit."
Simple, but brilliant! And that's exactly what happened.
"I wrote Frank that I wanted to dedicate a new jellyfish to him. Gail answered that Frank said: 'there is nothing I would like better than having a jellyfish with my name' and she invited me to pay them a visit. I spent two days in his house, and I saw him working at a version of The Torture Never Stops [Chad Wackerman's drum track]."
FZ and Nando met many times, both in Europe and at FZ's house in Laurel Canyon.
"I learnt a lot from Frank; our relationship was such that whenever we met we started to talk as if we met the day before, and he was a good listener, even though I always tried to have him talking. It is strange to be in a room with Frank Zappa and be 'interviewed' by him! He used to play his latest pieces to me, explaining the achievements he made, and he seemed really curious to know my opinion. I saw his concert with Boulez, in Paris, and the day before the concert he tried to explain to me the reason why the Ensemble Intercontemporain was playing part of his music incorrectly! To me that added even more to his personality. He was FZ, an absolute genius, and he was so serious and so humble."
"We had a very similar way of seeing the world. I have much fun with my work too and I like serious humor."
FZ too was evidently impressed. So much so that when the '88 Tour arrived in Genoa (June 9), Nando and his jellyfish were celebrated throughout the evening.
"It was the very last concert of that tour," Nando explains, "and the very last rock concert of Frank. The whole concert (well, most of it) was on me and the jelly. A very nice present from Frank (much better than having a jellyfish with my name, even if I have it: Boeromedusa auricogonia)."
"A big part of the concert was on "Nando" and the main theme was 'Nanananan..dododododo' which simulates the air bubbles of a regulator. What has been put on the record is just a short sample of the whole thing. I am very, very proud of this achievement in my scientific career."
The 'short sample' referred to is the song Lonesome Cowboy Burt, retitled for the occasion Lonesome Cowboy Nando, and released on You Can't Do That On Stage Any More, Vol.6.
Instead of the original "My name is Bertram, I am a redneck, all my friends they call me Burt (Hi, Burt!)", this evening's interpretation went like this:
"My name is Nando,
I'm a marine biologist.
All my friends,
They call me 'Do'.
All my family,(Stick it again in the bed!)"
From someplace in this area,
And they complain if I talk about this horrible pizza
During the show.
Come out here, to Californy,
Just to find me some pretty girls ...
Wanna love 'em all, wanna love 'em dearly.
Wanna a jellyfish, I'll even pay.
I'll buy 'em furs, I'll buy 'em pizza,
I know they like me, here's what I'll say ...
When I get off, I get plastered.
I swim till I fall on the jellyfish.
Then I find me some academic kind of illustrator,
I describe the little dangling utensils on this thing,
And tell him to draw it up
So it looks just like a brand new jellyfish.
I fuss an' I cuss and I keep on swimmin',
Till my snorkel puffs up an' turns red.
I drool on my shorts,
I do some water sports,
Then I take the jellyfish back to my house
And stick it in the bed!
(Stick it again in the bed!)
("The second line of the song 'but my friends, they call me Do' is there just for poetical reasons, nobody calls me Do."
Needless to say, the above-mentioned has nothing to do with Nando's known habits: in the normal fashion of these improvisations, it just fits in with the original lyrics. Sorta.
(e.g. "Stick it again in the bed," instead of "Kick him again in the head.")
On the subject of this performance, incidentally, Mike Keneally writes on his web page:
"My personal favorite MK contribution to a Zappa CD occurs in Lonesome Cowboy Nando, when I attempt to cram the line 'I describe the little dangling utensils on this thing and tell him to draw it up so that it looks just like a brand new jellyfish' into the same space where I would normally say 'stomp in his face so he don't move no more.' The first time I listened to this song with Frank, he applauded me after that section. One o' them priceless moments." [Quoted by Francesco Gentile in "Notes & Comments" on Vladimir Soletov's Arf Page])
"The day after the Genova concert (he [FZ] called it the 'jellyfish concert') I went to see him at the Hotel Splendido, at Portofino. He was grinning under his mustache (if you get what I mean) and he asked me if I liked the surprise he made for me. What do you say to FZ after he dedicated his last concert to you? He told me about his problems with the band, and that he would have to stop touring."
Phialella Zappai, Technical details
For more information on Cnidaria/Coelenterata, and an exlanation of some of the technical terms used here, see the Science page.
Phialella zappai had been written up by Nando, and published in the Journal of Natural History 1987, 21, 465 - 480. Here are some of the details:
P. zappai shows precocious gonad maturation and continuous growth, with the possibility of becoming sexually mature more than once in its life. An interpretation of these phenomena suggests that the hydroids are basic, less varied, larval stages, as the medusae are the adults.
Medusae sub-spherical on release, about 0.6mm in diameter, with four tentacles, four inter-radial tentacular bulbs deprived of tentacles and four radial canals with medial darker areas from where the gonads will develop; thickenings of the radial canals absent. Eight statocysts with 1 - 3 statoliths, on the inner edge of the ring canal, supported by a cushion of cells. Manubrium short (one third of the bell cavity), with four short lips. Umbilical canal present. No exumbrellar nematocysts. Small nematocysts on the lips.
The medusae grow rapidly, reaching 3mm in diameter in 10 days, dome-shaped with four well-developed inter-radial tentacles, and eight developing adradial tentacles. Gonads already well-grown and eggs clearly visible. Manubrium cruciform, lips more evident and starting to bend upwards. Tentacular bulbs still round, tending to elongate in conformity with the origin of the tentacles. Tentacles moniliform.
Development continuing with an increase in size and number of tentacles (36 the highest ever observed). Adult specimens dome-shaped, with gonads almost in the middle of the radial canals. Manubrium cruciform, with folded lips bending upwards, with four gastric pounches; four black spots may be present at its base.
The shape of the medusae is variable. Specimens examined after food ingestion were rounded, as were the tentacular bulbs; and the radial canals and ring canal almost tripled in diameter. The stomach, filled with food, almost reached the velar opening.
The reared specimens lived up to three months and continued their development also after reaching sexual maturity. Some specimens were already mature 10 days after liberation. They released their gametes and developed a new gonad.
The present species is very different from all the other known species of Phialella medusae, namely: P. annulata (von Ledenfeld), P. dissonema (Haeckel), P. falklandica (Browne), P. fragilis (Uchida), P. hyalini (von Ledenfeld), P. parvigastra (Mayer) and P. quadrata (Forbes).I have pleasure in naming this species after the modern music composer Francis (Frank) Vincent Zappa."
The News Gets Out
As well as sending the information to Frank, Nando wrote the story of the jellyfish for the fanzine Debra Kadabra, [Issues 14/15, published by the Italian FZ Research Kitchen], and sent an 'album' of material to Joe Black at Rykodisc. The phrase "Here's your jelly, Frank," was written on the top by Nando.
This may have been common knowledge in the world of Marine Biology, but it was due to David Ocker that most of us became aware of the new 'jelly', as Nando – and, I presume, those in the Marine Biology business – call a jellyfish.
It was at the time of the first Yellow Shark rehearsals in around 1991, that David and his wife visited Frank at home and saw a small frame sitting on the downstairs fireplace mantle. It was a biological description of the new species which Nando had sent to Frank.
Some time later – prompted by discussion in alt.fan.frank-zappa of the asteroid Zappafrank - David posted the story:
"If I were left to my own devices," says David ,"this is all I'd remember about this little beastie - but this was the one time I was there with my wife who just happens to be a biologist - actually she's a Marine Invertebrate Taxonomist.
She says this named-after-Zappa-creature was in the phylum Coelenterata which is also called Cnidaria (the "C" in "Cnidaria" is Csilent, in case you're wondering)." [Post to alt.fan.frank-zappa. Also quoted in Bill Lantz's Home Page]
Thus the world at large became aware of the happily named creature. At least, I think it's happily named: when asked how he felt about the name Dweezil, FZ's son was fond of saying that his dad had told him it would always be his last name that got him into trouble! Let's hope the same isn't true of Phialella zappai!
"It is sad for me to remember all these things. Whenever I go to the US I feel something missing. It was a ritual to go to LA and see Frank, and he was simple, yes, simple is the right word. We used to sit in his working room and he was excited to make me listen to his last things. He was really interested to see my reaction (he had nothing to expect from me, no positive critics or the like).
This happened every time, since the very first encounter. I remember being in the UMRK and he entered the room with a cup of coffee in his hand, willing to see the jellyfish and anxious, after having seen my show, to set up his. Movies, new songs, a recording session, scores. As I said, he was like a boy showing his toys to a friend who came over for a visit. I never met anybody like FZ." [Nando Boero, email to author]
Lyrics copyright the Zappa Family Trust.
Other natural phenomena named after FZ: