Frank Zappa was a lot like Yoda. For example, he said the best things. This weekend’s statue dedication was opened with the following FZ quote:
“If you want to get laid, go to college. If you want an education, go to the library.”
Gail Zappa offered it might be possible to do both, bless her. And this quote, in part, is why the new bust of Frank Zappa has come to rest in front of the new Highlandtown (Southeast Anchor) branch of the Enoch Pratt library in Baltimore City. Zappa was born in Baltimore, adding to the impressive list of unique creative geniuses from this town.
Gail Zappa, the Zappa kids (Diva, Dweezil and Ahmet) and Zappa archivist Joe Travers kindly spent some time answering questions at the Creative Alliance in Patterson Park. Tom Hall from WYPR was on hand to help get things started.
Here’s what I learned.
- Gail and Frank met in an airport in LA. Their first date was a packed Zappa show. At the time, in the mid 1960’s, Folk music was hugely popular and Gail thought to herself, “This is the ballsiest music I’ve ever heard!”
- What did Frank like to do when not making music? Write MORE music and tickle people
- Frank loved Christmas trees and tinsel (not necessarily Christmas, though). Aside from the huge tree in the living room, he had fully decorated trees in his studio, his office and the kitchen
- Ahmet’s favorite Christmas present was a pair of stilts
- It was asked if the presence of Do-Whoop vocals in his music was a parody, or did he genuinely like it. Frank truly loved Do-Whoop music.
- He had a station wagon he called the yellow submarine (this was pre-Beatles, too). He went to renew his drivers license and was asked to take both a driving test AND written test. He left, and never renewed it
- He often asked the kids when they were upset “Do you want a beer?”
- Uncle Meat will be re-released
- Diva is super cute and a die-hard knitter
- There are a lot of die-hard Zappa fans in this world
The real surprise for me today was Dweezil.
I’ve always had a lot of respect for Dweezil. He was the wittiest VJ on MTV and a crazy-good guitarist. As a kid, I was a little dismissive, though – he had access to the best lessons and gear, his dad helped shape the careers of Steve Vai, Terry Bozzio, Warren Cuccurullo, etc. I mean, how could he NOT be awesome?
What I failed to notice as a youngster is how hard he worked to be great. Talent is only a small part of what it takes to be good at anything.
In his adult life, Dweezle has turned into an articulate, super nice guy. And he still has amazing hair. All the Zappas were approachable, gracious and very sweet. But, especially Dweezle. He seems like a truly genuine guy.
Dweezle described how he took two years off to undergo a process most people wouldn’t want to do. He set out to learn how to play as Frank did, ignoring 25 years of musical instincts and developing new ones. While nothing Zappa wrote is easy to play, Dweezle said the real challenge was a mental one – to learn how to think and anticipate like his dad. Frank was an improviser on stage – he would see shapes in his head and express them musically with his guitar. He got choked up while talking about this – I was moved (wiping eyes on sleeve) and can imagine what this must have been like. Not just the task of learning to play like someone else, but learning how to do it like your father.
Dweezil also gave some insight into Frank as a (musical) dad. He said that Frank let him pursue whatever musical path he wanted to, and was eager to office advice and help if asked for it. He said that Frank would advise people to examine what motivated them to make music, and follow their inner musical ear where ever it leads. He wasn’t concerned with academia, or being labeled as a composer, guitarist, producer.
The Statue & Dedication
The statue is a replica of an original that sits in Vilnius, Lithuania. In an act of true democracy, the people of the city signed a petition to have the statue installed there.
It’s very tall, sitting about 20′ off the ground looking out onto Frank Zappa way.
Gail spoke without notes. Dr. Carla Hayden of the Enoch Pratt and mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake proclaimed this a huge win for libraries (Baltimore used to be the city that reads, didn’t it?) and Baltimore. Today will always be Frank Zappa day in Baltimore, and the mayor hinted at future Highlandtown music events to commemorate it.
A faculty member from Peabody was on hand and told the story of how Frank had once reached out to Peabody, and Peabody didn’t know how to react. Pierre Boulez has since proclaimed that Frank Zappa is one of the greatest American composers. Dr. Faculty explained that Peabody would now know how to react. Love it.
There were a lot of wet eyes during the dedication – it was very moving, and the Zappas seemed truly honored.
Finally, Dweezil gave a concert with Zappa plays Zappa. So good. It was a great, great day.