Frank Zappa is iconic for his look: long hair, mustache and soul patch, and well-known in popular culture for the offbeat names of his children Moon Unit, Dweezil, Ahmet Emuukha Rodan, and Diva Thin Muffin Pigeen. His kids are embroiled in a bitter and decade long struggle over their late father’s estate and legacy for Frank Zappa left the world to soon at the age of 52. He died of prostate cancer (and an espresso machine and cayenne pepper were buried with him in his coffin.) The New York Times said of the iconoclast, with his “genre-shattering experiments, technical virtuosity and staggering productivity, (he) deserves to be considered a central figure of late-20th-century American culture.”
A musician’s musician, Zappa a self-taught guitarist was astoundingly prolific and produced 62 studio albums of genre bending all-inclusive music that included rock, modern jazz, synth, symphony, avant-garde composition, doo-wop, and R & B. Rolling Stone Magazine described his trademark sound as, “complex-meter jazz-rock fusion.” Zappa worked on remixing and remastering his entire extensive catalogue, including live performances so fans could access the immense discography.
Born in 1940 in Baltimore, Maryland, Zappa was raised in California. In 1959 Zappa enrolled in college to study music theory, but dropped out after six months. In the early 1960s he scored movies, including a Western, and used the money to build his first recording studio. At the time he also performed a “bicycle concerto” on the Steve Allen show. His first breakthrough was with his band the Mothers of Invention, and their pioneering landmark double record concept album Freak Out!
Zappa came to prominence in the 1960s, but he did not embrace drug culture, and was a lifelong teetotaler. He enforced these believes as a bandleader, and had strict expectations for his musical personnel. There is a popular story that as a teenage guitar prodigy John Frusciante of the Red Hot Chili Peppers was too intimidated by the band’s antidrug policy to audition for Zappa.
An ardent fan of Stravinsky and French composer Edgard Varèse, Zappa’s eclectic musical style infused with improvisation, humour, and biting social satire wasn’t for everyone, but he reached the masses with the top 40 hit, Valley Girl, a song voiced by his 14-year-old daughter Moon that popularized the catch phrase, “Gag me with a spoon.” He never shied away from controversy, and his satire included criticizing Christian hypocrisy with the song, “Jesus Thinks You’re a Jerk.” Zappa crafted rock operas, made advances in studio technology, and pioneered new uses for the Synclavier synthesizer, and his innovative symphony and orchestral works are performed by ensembles and orchestras around the world to this day.
The unconventional composer, guitarist, and vocalist had many fans, and won a posthumous lifetime achievement Grammy award, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Music wasn’t Zappa’s only interest. The versatile provocateur was also an artist and filmmaker. He designed his own album cover art, and co-wrote, and directed 1971’s 200 Motels starring Ringo Starr, and Baby Snakes a documentary that featured behind the scenes concert hijinks and clay-figure animation.
Zappa was also a fierce advocate for freedom of speech, and fought against censorship. The social activist gave senate testimony on music censorship. He spoke out against the Parents Music Resource Centre and their mission to plaster parental advisory stickers on album. Zappa also campaigned to increase voter registration. In 1990 he was made Czechoslovakia’s trade tourism and cultural liaison to the West, an appointment quickly quashed by the Bush presidency.
The subject of numerous biographies and documentaries, Frank Zappa wrote his own account in the autobiography the Real Frank Zappa Book.
There are so many things to be learned from Frank Zappa. The sky is the limit for cultivating multiple artistic interests, and inspirations. Don’t worry about how your art will be packaged or categorized. Use your voice to be a critic of the culture. No matter what the circumstances are, be true to your voice and what you believe in. Be bold with your choices. Never back down from what you know is right.
10 Inspiring Frank Zappa Quotes:
“Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.” ― Frank Zappa
“A mind is like a parachute. It doesn’t work if it is not open.” ― Frank Zappa
“Interviewer: ‘So Frank, you have long hair. Does that make you a woman?’ Frank Zappa: ‘You have a wooden leg. Does that make you a table?” ― Frank Zappa
“Music is the only religion that delivers the goods.” ― Frank Zappa
“The most important thing to do in your life is to not interfere with somebody else’s life.” ― Frank Zappa
“A composer is a guy who goes around forcing his will on unsuspecting air molecules, often with the assistance of unsuspecting musicians.” ― Frank Zappa
“One size does not fit all.” ― Frank Zappa
“Any sort of political ideology that doesn’t allow for the rights, and doesn’t take into consideration the differences that people have, is wrong.” ― Frank Zappa
“I feel very strongly about my point of view, I think there are other people who might agree with it if they heard it, and I’ll do whatever I can to say my point of view wherever it can be said.” ― Frank Zappa
“I don’t do it for political leaders, I don’t do it for unions, I don’t do it for organizations, I do it for music. I do my music for people who like music.” ― Frank Zappa
Author Bio: Tara Collum
Tara Collum lives in Toronto and grew up in Muskoka. She is the volunteer social media coordinator for the Death Row Support Project @COB_DRSP and co-writes a web serial at splitsvilleblog.wordpress.com. She is all about tea, books, mumblecore, music, long walks, and self-improvement. Follow Tara on twitter @99percentsun
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