Zappa, Frank, BBD

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Entry From Baker's Biographical Dictionary Of Music (1992)

Nicolas Slonimsky (1894-1995) was not only the foremost musical lexicographer of his time; he was also a friend and sometime stage colleague of Frank Zappa's. This entry was written after the two met and reflects Slonimsky's bemused vision of Zappa and his work.

Zappa, Frank (F. Vincent), seeded American rock artist; b. Baltimore, Dec. 21, 1940, of Italian descent (Zappa means "hoe" in Italian). The family moved to California. From his school days he played guitar and organized groups with weird names such as The Omens and Captain Glasspack and His Magic Mufflers. In 1960 he composed the soundtrack for the film The World's Greatest Sinner, and in 1963 he wrote another soundtrack, Run Home Slow. In 1965 he joined the rhythm-and-blues band The Soul Giants; he soon took it under his own aegis and thought up for it the surrealist logo The Mothers of Invention. His recording of it, and another album, Freak Out!, became underground hits; along with We're Only In It For The Money and Cruising With Ruben & The Jets, these works constituted the earliest "concept" albums, touching every nerve in a gradually decivilizied California life-style – rebellious, anarchistic, incomprehensible, and yet tantalizing. The band became a mixed-media celebration of total artistic, political, and social opposition to the Establishment, the ingredients of their final album, Mothermania. Moving farther afield, Zappa produced a video-movie, 200 Motels, glorifying itinerant sex activities. He became a cult figure, and as such suffered the penalty of violent adulation. Playing in London in 1971, he was painfully injured when a besotted fan pushed him off the stage. Similar assaults forced Zappa to hire an athletic bodyguard for protection. In 1982 his planned appearance in Palermo, Sicily, the birthplace of his parents, had to be cancelled because the mob rioted in anticipation of the event.

He deliberately confronted the most cherished social and emotional sentiments by putting on such songs as Broken Hearts Are For Assholes, and his release Jewish Princess offended, mistakenly, the sensitivity of American Jews. His production Joe's Garage contained Zappa's favorite scatological materials, and he went on analyzing and ridiculing urinary functions in such numbers as Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?. He managed to upset the members of his own faith in the number titled Catholic Girls. His Hot Rats, a jazz-rock release, included the famous Willie The Pimp, and exploited the natural revulsion to unclean animals. In 1980 he produced the film Baby Snakes, which shocked even the most impervious senses. He declared in an interview that classical music is only "for old ladies and faggots." But he astounded the musical community when he proclaimed his total adoration of the music of Edgar Varèse and gave a lecture on Varese in N.Y. Somehow, without formal study, he managed to absorb the essence of Varese's difficult music. This process led Zappa to produce truly astonishing full orch. scores reveling in artful dissonant counterpoint, Bob In Dacron and Sad Jane and Mo 'n Herb's Vacation, and the cataclysmic Penis Dimension for chorus, soloists, and orch., with a text so anatomically precise that it could not be performed for any English-speaking audience.

An accounting of Zappa's scatological and sexological proclivities stands in remarkable contrast to his unimpeachable private life and total abstention from alcohol and narcotic drugs. An unexpected reflection of Zappa's own popularity was the emergence of his adolescent daughter, curiously named Moon Unit, as a voice-over speaker on his hit Valley Girl, in which she used the vocabulary of growing womanhood of the San Fernando Valley near Los Angeles, with such locutions as "Grody to the Max" (repellent) and "Barfs Me Out" (disgusting). His son, Dweezil Zappa, is also a musician; his 1st album, Havin' A Bad Day, was modestly successful. In 1985 Zappa became an outspoken opponent of the activities of the PMRC (Parents Music Resource Center), an organization comprised largely of wives of U.S. Senators who accused the recording industry of exposing the youth of America to "sex, violence, and the glorification of drugs and alcohol." Their demands to the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) included the labeling of record albums to indicate lyric content. Zappa voiced his opinions in no uncertain terms, first in an open letter published in Cashbox, and then in one direct to President Reagan; finally, on Sept. 19, 1985, he appeared at the 1st of a series of highly publicized hearings involving the Senate Commerce, Technology and Transportation Committee, the PMRC, and the RIAA, where he delivered a statement to Congress which began "The PMRC proposal is an ill-conceived piece of nonsense which fails to deliver any real benefits to children, infringes the civil liberties of people who are not children and promises to keep the courts busy for years, dealing with the interpretational and enforcemental problems inherent in the proposal's design." Audio excerpts from these hearings can be heard, in original and Synclavier-manipulated forms, on his album Frank Zappa Meets The Mothers Of Prevention. Other recent recordings which make extensive use of the Synclavier include Francesco Zappa and Jazz From Hell. With P. Occhiogrosso, he publ. an unrestrained autobiographical vol., The Real Frank Zappa Book (N.Y., London, Toronto, Sydney, and Tokyo, 1988), rich in undeleted scatological expletives.