Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Frank Zappa -- Birthday Tribute



Frank Zappa (born 21st December 1940) was way ahead of his time. A great composer, musical visionary, anarchist and extremely quirky guitar player, Zappa's music is beyond description.  Combining rock n' roll sensibilities with modern classical and avant-garde, he also peppered his music with liberal doses of sometimes explicit humour. You were either a fan or you weren't.  In Zappa's own words, "I never set out to be weird.  It was always other people who called me weird."

His music was legendary for being fiendishly difficult to play, but his sidemen were often an unlikely combination of conservatory-trained and unschooled, feel musicians.  And as bandleader of his Mothers of Invention, the roster of musicians who have been through the 'School of Zappa' is staggering.  It was Zappa who discovered Steve Vai as a budding guitar virtuoso, crediting him with the 'stunt guitar' parts on albums.  Zappa's impact on Vai's playing concept is undeniable.  And according to Vai, the best single piece of advice he received from his mentor was "Don't give up your publishing."

Because of the explicit humour in his music, Frank was no stranger to controversy. He battled the censorship of his music as well as the move to start labelling CDs with Parental Advisory stickers.  In the hearings before the US Senate that followed, Frank, a virtual army of one, took on no less than Tipper Gore (wife of former presidential hopeful Al Gore) and her music censorship lobby group Parents' Music Resource Center (PMRC).

Baltimore, where Zappa was born, has declared December 21st 'Frank Zappa Day', and are honoring him with a bust outside a public library.  Not bad for a guy who once stated, "I think it is good that books still exist, but they make me sleepy".

You were quite a character Frank.  Happy belated Birthday, wherever you are.

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