Normally, I don’t mark the date my favorite artists passed away. But some, it seems, leave a deeper mark than others. As such, you can’t help but mark the loss.
Frank Zappa flew from this world (as Robert Fripp would say) 28 years ago today. He was 52, and just a couple of weeks shy of his birthday. The passage of time is staggering. First of all, how has this man been gone for nearly three decades? Secondly, I turned 55 last month. I hadn’t thought about it until just now: I have outlived Frank Zappa. That doesn’t make any sense!
I wrote a good-sized chapter about Frank and his music in my book. He represents a third of my musical Holy Trinity (along with Miles Davis and King Crimson). I wish I could’ve told him that. I was fortunate enough to be able to tell his son Dweezil when he visited my fair city for a concert. His quiet reaction of humility and pride was more than enough for me.
Few things are more intense than when I go into what I call “Zappa Brain.” It happens five or six times a year. For a few days, the vast majority of notes I can hear and absorb were written by Frank and played by the small slew of immensely talented musicians he saw fit to bring those notes to life. To absorb these notes takes a level of mental dexterity only a select few seem to possess. (I’m well aware of how snobbish that sounds, and I stand by that statement.) I have no problem declaring Frank one of the greatest and most important composers of the 20th century.
Like-minded souls have created a celebration of sorts around this day. They call it Zappadan. I’m not sure how long it’s been going on, but this is the first year I’ve felt deeply compelled to celebrate with everyone else. Perhaps because I find myself surrounded by new friends with the same mindset, now that my very unrelated career is behind me. In fact, those new friends and I are planning a gathering and celebration as we speak.
In the meantime, I’ve started pulling CDs off the shelf and letting the music wash over me.
Where does one even begin? Early works? Live releases? Favorite bands? I don’t know. The well runs so deep. And it’s hard to make a bad choice. The good news is, regardless of what gets played, I will learn something new. Why? Because it happens every time! I’m sure I’m not alone.
I came to Frank’s music late in his career, during the summer of 1986. So I never had the privilege of seeing him perform live. I did get to experience Dweezil’s band a couple of times, along with some Zappa band alums (Don and Bunk, along with Mike Keneally and Ike Willis) at Progtoberfest in Chicago in 2017. It was truly a joy to catch the Zappa Band when they warmed up for King Crimson outside of Chicago earlier this year. The passion coming off the stage from that band defies description. I’m just glad I was there.
One can’t help but tip his cap to anyone brave and talented enough to take on Frank’s music. I’d like to try it, but my attention span just doesn’t have the endurance. That made watching a group of young musicians led by Chicago-based guitarist Chris Siebold tear through Frank’s Hot Rats album live a few weeks ago truly special.
Like many others, I wonder what Frank would have done with today’s technology to bring his music forth. But then again, I always say that musicians bring forth the exact amount of music they were meant to. Still, I think Frank might be the exception to that rule.
So, let the celebration begin! This music should never fade into the either. But I think we all know that is a virtual impossibility. There will always be someone around to protect the legacy. Of that I am certain.
Thank you, Frank.
You can follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (cirdecsongs) My book, I Can’t Be the Only One Hearing This: A Lifetime of Music Through Eclectic Ears, is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other fine book dealers. I’m currently working on my next book, The Wizard of WOO: The Life and Music of Bernie Worrell
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