Thursday, April 30, 2015

Z is for Zappa


There's no telling how many people saw the Warren Zevon post and wondered why I didn't save him for Z. The answer: he'd crowd out Frank Zappa! We can't abide by that. 

Frank Zappa did it all and with flair. I've yet to see a label that truly fits his talents and range. Jazz, rock, orchestral, film, production and actual talent for guitar, check. He could write lyrics that were unforgettable and music that worked in new and complex ways. Frank loved freedom of speech as much as he hated censorship. Religion and politics were criticized and lampooned. On his son Dweezil's birth certificate he stated his religion was "music." 

Self-education, social awareness and intelligence was lifted up like a beacon of hope. You always knew what Frank thought about issues.

Zappa was born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1940 to Francis and Rose Zappa. His father was a chemist and mathematician who worked for the Department of Defense. The family moved often, following Dad's job, eventually landing in California.

Two incidents from his childhood seemed to have an affect on Frank's views. His father worked at an arsenal where mustard gas was stored; the family lived near by. Due to the potential for accidents at the arsenal, the family had to keep gas masks in the home. Young Frank suffered from asthma, sinus problems and earaches. To treat this, a doctor insert radioactive pellets in each ear. It was a different time and radiation therapy was in the early stages. Frank blamed the mustard gas plant for his childhood health issues. Many of his later albums have art work that includes nasal imagery. Mistrust of those in charge isn't so hard to imagine in light of such events.

By high school, he was composing and arranging his own music. In the early 60s, he created music for others and began experimenting with multi-track recording, overdubbing and constant experimentation. 

By 1964 or 1965 (sources vary), Zappa had assembled a group and persuaded them to play his music. With the Mothers of Invention, his serious recording career took off. His lyrics expressed his opinions with smart-snark; non-conformity, anti-establishment and anti-authoritarianism viewpoints were the clay he worked in. Frank embraced the musical avant-garde. Though they produced some gems, in-fighting and a rumored lack of effort on the behalf of the band members led to Frank disbanding the group.

Though I'm in awe of his musicianship, I love the funny side of Frank Zappa, too. One of my favorite television clips concerns Frank's appearance on The Monkees, where he changes places with Mike Nesmith. The "jabs" they took at each other are funny. A smarter person would edit this video and just show the Zappa portion...if you know someone like that, I guess I need their number. If you want to see it, click on this magic LINK.

As I looked for clips, I realized I'd forgotten that Frank Zappa really was an excellent guitarist, in my opinion, equal to the greats - like Santana (I'd say Vai, Malmsteen, Homme or Bonnamassa, but I'm not allowed to be relevant or contemporary, according to everyone under 25...cause I'm a geezer). Check out this duet with Steve Vai:



Two songs address tragic events in Frank's life. The first involved a fire onstage that destroyed all their equipment during a performance in Switzerland. The song "Smoke on the Water" by Deep Purple was inspired by the event. The second event occurred in London during another performance when an audience member pushed Frank offstage. This time, the damage was to Zappa personally. A hard landing on concrete resulted in head trauma, as well as multiple fractures of the back, leg,and neck. His larynx was crushed and changed his voice. He spent a considerable amount of time in a wheelchair and when he was finally ambulatory, he discovered that one leg was shorter than the other. The Zappa song, "Dancing Fool" memorializes that terrible accident.

Frank continued to record, produce, write and stir the pot till his death from cancer in 1993. He left behind his wife, Adelaide, whom he had been married to since 1967. He was old fashioned about something, it would appear. They had four children: Moon, Dweezil, Ahmet and Diva. 

A blog post can't come close to describing the legacy of this creative genius. 

Frank was not just another disco boy:




Some great Zappa quotes:

"I believe that people have a right to decide their own destinies; people own themselves. I also believe that, in a democracy, government exists because (and only so long as) individual citizens give it a 'temporary license to exist'—in exchange for a promise that it will behave itself. In a democracy, you own the government—it doesn't own you."

"There is more stupidity than hydrogen in the universe,
 and it has a longer shelf life."

"Art is making something out of nothing and selling it."


"Music is always a commentary on society."



The 2015 Round of 
Blogging from A-to-Z
is doneThanks for visiting!





40 comments:

  1. And here I was CERTAIN that "Z" was going to be for...
    Charles Mingus.

    When I was quite young (5th grade), my friend up the street, Greg, turned me on to Frank Zappa. He was always playing that "Suzy Cream Cheese" thing and... to be honest... Frank creeped me out and I never quite got over it. (Sorry, Cherdo.)

    However, speaking of Greg, I recall that he traded me his 'Incense And Peppermints' LP by The Strawberry Alarm Clock for my Monkees album. ...Looking back on it, I realized he got the better deal, but my Mommy "made it all better" by re-purchasing the Monkees CD for me decades later.

    Batman and The Monkees - my two favorite TV shows when I was a little kid in the late 1960s.

    Well, not feeling too good, and Zappa ain't helpin' so... I'm gonna drink my medicated milkshake and go to bed. ("Medicated Milkshake"... sounds like it could have been an album title by The Strawberry Alarm Clock, or Jefferson Airplane, or... Frank Zappa.)

    ~ D-FensDogG
    'Loyal American Underground'

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    1. You can't win 'em all!

      My musical tastes cross most of the genres, and Zeppelin would have been the go-to for a lot of people...which is why I didn't do Zeppelin...

      We agree on Batman and the Monkees! That's is how you can tell we are the same age, ha ha. Every kid loved Batman and the Monkees. In elementary school, I had a friend who lived nearby (Hi, Duane!) and he had a Bat Cave in his basement. I think it was made of paper mache, but I really don't remember because at that age, I was certain it was made of 100% awesome.

      Off to bed with you, old man. Rock and roll will wait (it never forgets, you know).

      Delete
    2. Oh, DOCTOR CHERDO ~
      I just woke up ("literally"!) 8 minutes ago and I feel so much better. I had been feeling kind of ill for several days.

      Now, as soon as I get my teeth brushed and a cup of coffee made, I'm heading over to GEM JULIE's place to tell her about my dreams before I forget them. You are invited to stop by and check them out because there's something there for you, too.

      And by the way... Led Zeppelin never even entered my mind as a possible "Z", if you can believe THAT! Ha! I was seriously mentally leaning more toward ZZ Top.

      Thanks for the "medicated milkshake", as I think it really did the trick. (And great line about Rock 'N' Roll never forgetting! That has great lyric possibilities. You should write it down somewhere so you... never forget it!)

      ~ D-FensDogG

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  2. So L goes by. Now Z goes by and no Led Zeppelin. Am I going to have to do my own A to Z? ..... Naaaa. Funny thing is that Zappa's last single was 'Stairway to Heaven'.

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    1. It's a crime, right? And YES, next year you have to do your own A to Z. I'm not going to do the same thing twice...but I could just do songs...hmmmm...

      Selfishly, I would miss the jokes...you're my favorite joke blogger.

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  3. Good morning dear Cherdo!

    First I want to congratulate you for doing a superb job with the A to Z challenge, shining the spotlight on some of the greatest singers, bands and musicians of our lifetime. Your music series attracted so many readers and generated so many comments that it has inspired me. I have decided to take your idea and run with it. Starting tomorrow, I will begin posting music on my own blog. :)

    You saved the best for last. This is the Mother of A to Z, your best post of the series, the most thought provoking and the most loving.

    Billy (Dennis Hopper's character in Easy Rider): Hey, man. All we represent to them, man, is somebody who needs a haircut.
    George Hanson (Jack Nicholson's character): Oh, no. What you represent to them is freedom.
    Billy: What the hell is wrong with freedom? That's what it's all about.
    George Hanson: Oh, yeah, that's right. That's what's it's all about, all right. But talkin' about it and bein' it, that's two different things. I mean, it's real hard to be free when you are bought and sold in the marketplace.

    I admired Frank Zappa for being a whistle blower, exposing practices and policies of government and industry that are designed to control the masses, make them think a certain way or, better yet, not think at all. The last video you posted touches all of the bases and is a real eye opener. It hit home when the topic turned to television news. I was determined to get out of that business when I became increasingly aware that is was becoming a PR tool for large corporations and that the emphasis was on style over substance. As a producer I received a steady supply of VNR's to be used in my newscasts. These video packages amounted to free advertising and promotion disguised as investigative news reports. Companies supplied the script to be voiced by local news reporters making it appear to be objective journalism. It wasn't. Later, when I worked in entertainment television, I still had to make commercials and butt heads with stubborn, unsophisticated company reps and our staff of obsequious account reps who bent over backward to please them. (Think Mad Men because it was exactly as is depicted in many episodes of that series.) Both of those factions routinely tried to thwart my creativity and tell me how to practice my craft. I can't count the number of times I was asked by those reps to produce a TV commercial disguised as a "breaking news bulletin." Time and time again I had to explain to them that it was a very bad idea and so was their idea that you can sell practically anything by featuring a shapely girl in a bikini and a guy in a gorilla suit hopping around in the background.

    The PMRC warning labels placed on recorded music backfired because they actually boosted sales of the controversial albums. People, especially the young, want what they think they can't have.

    Zappa's "Disco Boy" single made Billboard's Bubbling Under chart, halting at #105 in the spring of 1977. "I Don't Wanna Get Drafted" reached #103 on that chart around the 4th of July 1980. A record I owned, "Valley Girl," featuring his daughter Moon Unit, cracked the top 40 in September 1982.

    Thank you, dear friend Cherdo, for saluting Frank Zappa, rock music's leading satirist.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Yeah, music...that might work for you, Shady, ha ha. It's so ...YOU.

      I said this more than once, but the challenge is to do a small post and I failed miserably at keeping mine in the 100-300 range, but I wasn't the only one, ha ha. That sized post can just touch on a few things, so I leaned toward the bits of info about where they started.

      There are too many Zappa songs that I like to mention only one.

      But, if you like Frank - go see Dweezil!!
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pOtuqYzJTsM

      Dweezil is touring with Zappa plays Zappa: http://www.zappaplayszappa.com/tourdates.html - he was in my town two weeks ago. I always like Dweezil when he did VJ duties.

      "The Man" ruins everything...not to be confused with Van the Man. I'm just talking about the corporate, heart squashing, creative bludgeoning man of fiscal legend. The one who hands off the phoney VNRs to a seasoned Shady. That Man!

      Take care, thank you once again for your kind words, dear pal.

      Delete
  4. Frank Zappa was a logical choice for Z.

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  5. Frank Zappa also testified before a Congressional committee against music censorship.

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    1. He had his hands in more things than I can name.

      Love the name, by the way. ;-)

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  6. Frank Zappa was, and continues to be, one of the most intriguing, intelligent, and creative forces in music; I would very much like to see a renaissance of his music, and his views.

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    1. Go see Dweezil! He is trying to make it happen.
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pOtuqYzJTsM

      Dweezil is touring with Zappa plays Zappa: http://www.zappaplayszappa.com/tourdates.html

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  7. Great way to finish out with Zappa!! He was such a creative genius of sorts. You got to think that he had the most say in the matter with naming his kids Moon Unit and Dweezil. Maybe his wife named Ahmet. I TOTALLY remember the song Valley Girl by Moon Unit. Like gag me with a spoon! I used to have a vinyl album of Frank Zappa but it eventually warped and I had to toss it. Frank did a lot for music and I always admired his passion.

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    1. Thanks, Holli! I'm so glad I got to know your site, too - we are cut from the same cloth and I look forward to seeing your future posts.

      Delete
    2. Oh Gosh I wish you wouldn't have toss the vinyl. You could have warmed it and made a dish from it.
      All my vinyls were lost in the wildfire so I have nothing left of all my old music.
      le sigh

      cheers, parsnip

      Delete
  8. So interesting to read more about him. I heard his name a lot growing up but I never really knew who he was. I remember watching him on a rerun of SNL and thinking, "Why is he acting like that?" There was something very awkward about the whole thing. Apparently he was a pompous ass throughout the week and was subsequently banned from the show. He's been named one of the worst SNL hosts in history. (Most of the worst hosts ever were during the 70s and early 80s, actually! I guess the show was still finding its way and some of the hosts felt they were doing the show a favor by appearing.)

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    1. I remember reading about some of the banned guests. Elvis Costello, one of my top ten favs, was one of them. He switched songs ... started one, then did another. Just makes me like him more.

      Frank Zappa was very opinionated, I've heard; in a in-your-face kind of way at times.

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  9. I'd heard the story behind Smoke on the Water. Never saw him play, but saw his son and band Zappa on Zappa open for Dream Theater.

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  10. Cherdo, outstanding job on this challenge. I've enjoyed every day, every letter. Who else but Zappa for the final letter?

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    1. Thanks, Linda, you are the kindest commenter in blogosphere. And yeah - it's got to be Zappa!

      Delete
  11. I don't recall Frank Zappa or his music. Maybe I know his stuff and just don't know it. I have to agree with Mike that Led Zeppelin would've been a good choice too. :)

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    1. Sometimes, you have to keep 'em guessing...

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  12. Although he's famous and I know his face and name, I can't say I'm familiar with his music.

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    1. I'll bet you're not the only one, Stephen.

      Delete
  13. What was interesting about your A to Z was trying to guess what your would chose for each day. Zappa was the one I would have picked for Z.
    I am not that knowledgeable about music as you are but I enjoyed all of your choices and the history behind them.
    Plus you forgot to mention his ability to pick out interesting names before the rash overkill of today.
    Moon Unit
    Dweezil, wonder if he is happy or sad he only has one name ?
    Ahmet Emuukha Rodan
    Dive Thin Muffin Pigeen

    cheers, parsnip

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    1. I just knew the first names!

      When I named my children, my requirements were 1) it can't be crazy and 2) it can't be a name of a living relative.

      I'm pretty basic.

      Delete
    2. I look at what the initials looked like together also.
      Sometimes they can be devastating.

      Delete
  14. This was another great write up! When I was a kid i never liked him but as I got a bit older I truly respected the man. It is a shame he died so young and I wonder if the cancer was from where he lived and what was placed in his ears. This was great to read all the way through-I did film stars and you did rock stars:) We did it! Finished the A to Z

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    1. Yeah, we did, Birgit!! We survived! I really enjoyed the film stars - fantastic job on your picks for the A-to-Z.

      Much as I enjoyed it, I felt like I couldn't keep up with the folks I follow AND visit the new ones. It was like cramming for a test, ha ha.

      I'm definitely doing it again - how about you??

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    2. I did visit new ones but my evenings were long trying to read as much and respond. Of course I will do it next year:) I'm into punishment

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  15. When I was in high school, I heard some really nast-ay stories about Zappa. He seemed a freak. It took me a long time to learn he was a great guitarist and was devoted to his family. You've done a great A - Z, Cherdo. I'm impressed.

    Love,
    Janie

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    1. Thank you, Janiepoo. I never heard the stories, but I always go the impression in early interviews that he was not warm and cuddly to the person asking the questions.

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  16. I wasn't familiar at all with his "story," so this was interesting.

    Congrats on a fabulous A to Z, Cherdo.

    (Like StMc said above, I kinda thought you might go with ZZ Top. What do I know, eh????)

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    1. Remember, I only chose one a day...I can like 'em, regardless, ha ha!

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  17. A perfect end......congrats on finishing!!

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    1. Thanks, Sharon! Enjoyed your blog and I'll be back!

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  18. Zappa was an apt choice for finalizing the April Challenge. I was a Zappa fan from early on as were a good many of my friends. The guy was a genius. It's good to seem him getting due recognition from symphonies and classical artists world over. He was a wacky satirist but also a very serious and talented musician.

    I saw him in concert sometime in the '80's at the Fox Theater in Atlanta. It was a disappointing concert. He had top rate musicians and the whole concert was very slick, but it seemed to lack any real feeling. It was like they just professionally performed their set and got out of there. Not sure what more I was expecting but I did feel let down. In fact there is little I remember from this concert as opposed to the many concerts I attended and don't remember for entirely different reasons.

    Still I'm a Zappa fan. I still listen to his music.

    Great A to Z! Congratulations on meeting the Challenge we set before you.

    Arlee Bird
    A to Z Challenge Co-host
    Join us on May 4 with your post of Reflections about this year's A to Z.
    Tossing It Out

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  19. I thought your A-Z was fabulous!! Congratulations on surviving! (smile)

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Thanks for your personal yada, yada, yada,
Love, Cherdo