Frank Vincent Zappa

(1940 – 1993)

From his school days he played guitar and organized groups with weird names such as The Omens and Captain Glassplack & His Magic Mufflers.

In 1960 he composed the soundtrack for the film The World Greatest Sinner, 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 and The Jets, these works constituted the earliest "concept" albums, touching every nerve in a gradually decivilized California life-style – rebellious, anarchist, incomprehensible, and yet tantalizing. The band became a mixed-media celebration of total artistic, political, and social opposition to the Establishment. Moving farther, Zappa produced a movie, 200 Motels, glorifying itinerant sex activities.

In 1971, in London, Trevor Charles Howell climbed onstage and pushed Zappa into the orchestra pit. Zappa broke a leg and an ankle, damaged his spine, and fractured his skull. His larynx was crushed, which would lower his singing voice by a third of an octave. Similar assaults forced Zappa to hire a 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, they filed a protest about the song with the FCC, asking it to ban the song from radio play (as if that were necessary). The LP, Sheik Yerbouti, earned Zappa his first Grammy nomination.

In Joe’s Garage 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. He astounded the musical community when he proclaimed his total adoration of the music of Edgar Varèse. Without formal study, Zappa was able to absorb the essence of Varèse’s difficult music and this process led him to produce truly astonishing full orchestral pieces.

An accounting of Zappa’s scatological and sexological proclivities stands in remarkable contrast to his unimpeachable private life and total abstention of alcohol and narcotic drugs.

An unexpected reflection of Zappa’s own popularity was the emergence of his adolescent daughter, 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 LA. Zappa earned his second Grammy nomination for Valley Girl.

His sons Dweezil and Ahmet Zappa are also musicians, Dweezil (he joined his father onstage for the first time when he was 15 years old) released a solo album (Having’ a Bad Day). The brothers are together in a Band, Z. They have released two CD’s, Shampoohorn and Music for Pets.

In 1985 Zappa became an outspoken opponent of the activities of the PMRC (Parents Music Resource Center), an organization who accused the recording industry of exposing the youth of America to "sex, violence, and the glorification of drugs and alcohol." Zappa voiced his opinions in no uncertain terms, first an open letter to Ronald Reagan and a series of highly publicized hearings involving a Senate Committee. The album Frank Zappa Meets The Mothers Of Prevention (American Edition) contains excerpts from the Congressional hearing mixed with music.

In 1988 Zappa was taking a highly political approach, having voter registration booths set up in the lobbies of the halls and performing songs criticizing politicians, during the Broadway The Hard Way tour. Meanwhile he had another Grammy nomination with the Jazz From Hell album. He won the award for Best Rock Instrumental performance but did not attend the Grammy ceremony. In Zappa’s words "…I have no ambiguous feelings about the Grammys at all. I know they’re fake. I find difficult to believe that Whitney Houston is the answer to all of America’s music needs." Broadway The Hard Way was also nominated for a Grammy as Best Musical Cast Album, showing the incompetence of the Grammy nominating process.

In 1989 Václav Havel, President of Czechoslovakia and a fan, asked Zappa to represent Czech business interests in the US.

In 1990 was discovered that he had an inoperable prostrate cancer, the only possible treatment was with radiation. The illness forced him to hold all his activities, including his political career: was he serious about running for president?

In 1991 a tribute concert, Zappa’s Universe was planned at the Ritz in NY, with Zappa to be present, but, in his illness, he was unable to travel and the family announced that he was suffering from cancer. In the summer of 1991 the manager of the Ensemble Modern Orchestra, a German group, who wanted him to work together in music pieces for the 1992 Frankfurt Festival, contacted Zappa. The results of this ‘joint-venture’ is the Yellow Shark album, recorded alive from three first concerts. Zappa planned to attend (and conduct some pieces) all the eight concerts, but his illness forced to return home on September 22.

He passed away in December, 4 1993, or, according to the Zappa’s family statement, "Composer Frank Zappa left for his final tour just before 6:00 PM on Saturday, December 4, 1993…"


(Based on N. Slonimsky e W. Ruhlmann)