Frank Zappa Statue Dedication

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

Dweezil

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.

Head First WordPress Book Signing Tonight!

Well – this is post #300, and as luck would have it, a significant post for a significant event. I had my first book signing this evening at Barnes & Noble for the book I worked on as a technical editor – Head First WordPress.

The signing didn’t go quite like I expected. It seems the staff didn’t know I was coming. But, no worries – I carried on!

Photo credit: B&N Security Guy

ArtScape 2010

More than 350,000 people were expected to attend this year’s ArtScape, now in its 29th year and the biggest yet. ArtScape is America’s largest free Art festival and generates more than $25 million in revenue. Every year, the citizens of the east coast unite to collectively bake our brains under an atomically hot sun.  Here are some pics from this year.

We made circus peanut shirts, as a family, using left over paint from the giant peanut. Making shirts has become a tradition.

There is something really cool about watching people hug art. I watch a guy actually LICK the circus peanut, but couldn’t get my camera out in time. There are no teeth marks. Yet.

I received some much needed Art Therapy on the Charles Street bridge from Cocoa, while Leezle manned the phone.

The girls and I visited our comics at the Comic Strip exhibit at Penn station (previously discussed).

Here’s the Midway banner on the Charles Street bridge.

The girls illustrated messenger bags at the Target tent.

The art cars were amazing, as was the air guitar exhibition.

I tried to glue circus peanuts to the Throne of Glory, but it was in constant use.

Me and my baked brains.

Here are a few of my favorite Sondheim finalists in the Fox building gallery.

Here, There, Anywhere.

I’m sad it’s over, and relieved everything went well. Now it’s back to the drawing board.

The Giant Circus Peanut

The GIANT Circus Peanut is finished. It’s installed on Mount Royal Avenue in Baltimore, by MICA, and will be on display through November as part of the Here, There, Anywhere exhibit. This is the  “making of” post.   I had some help and thank the following peeps.

  • My friends who lent their ears, ideas and support. I promise to stop talking about circus peanuts soon. Very soon. I swear.
  • Kim Domanski and ArtScape 2010
  • RJ spent a hot afternoon in the July sun moving it.
  • My little peanuts helped paint it, and provided a lot of company, interest and opinions.


My initial thought was to use a metal pipe in the center, and build an armature from chicken wire that I could then “paper mache” with house wrap, Baltimore City Papers and the like. My concern was that I’d have to shred the house wrap into slices so thin that it would take weeks to get it smooth, and also that it would be too heavy.

Here’s what I ended up doing instead.

I made a template by piecing together paper into an 8′ x 4′ sheet. I cut out the shape of the peanut and taped the edges with packing tape.

I made the base of the peanut from 2×8’s, held together with decking screws.

I put half-inch PVC pipe in the base for support – very light, and very strong. And, as a bonus, I put some actual circus peanuts into the pipe before gluing the pieces together.

I was going to have three pairs of pipe support, but it was too much, so I removed the center section.

Once the base was assembled, I cut out the “slices” from sections of Owens Corning foam insulation. I used vinyl gutter downspout sections as spacers, held in place with heavy duty foam safe construction adhesive. The bottom vinyl spacer is screwed and glued to the base, and then glued to each section of foam. It ended up being very sturdy.

The original idea was to sculpt the sides to be somewhat rounded, but it proved too difficult to accomplish (well) in the time I had left, so I removed them. I used bamboo skewers as supports between the layers. They are cheap, strong and I needed something to hold the foam spray in place until it hardened.

I’ve used this foam in my home before – it was satisfying playing with it here. Once it cured, I carved the exterior shape, and the divots on the face.

The girls and I  did most of the spackling.

I’m pretty sure it weighs over 300 lbs – it was difficult to move and harder to install. :) Just ask RJ.

Please come to ArtScape and see it in person!

UPDATE

If you’re interested in what happened with the peanut, there’s more to read here and here.