|Subject: Archive: Frank Zappa, Dec. 4, 1993
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Date Posted: Monday, December 04, 04:53:34pm
Frank Zappa, a composer, guitarist, band leader and producer who was rock's most committed iconoclast, died Saturday evening at his home in Los Angeles. He was 52 years old.
The cause was prostate cancer, The Associated Press reported.
Mr. Zappa was a quintessential 20th-century American composer, a maverick within popular music and an outsider among classical composers. His huge body of work -- more than 60 albums since 1966 -- embraces doo-wop, big-band suites, heavy metal, jazz-rock, blues-rock, orchestral music and every pop fad he decided to mock. The stage shows of his band, the Mothers of Invention (renamed Zappa after 1978), were renowned for precise musicianship and uninhibited, sometimes scatological humor.
His classical chamber and orchestral compositions have been conducted by Zubin Mehta and Pierre Boulez, and the Lyons Opera Ballet of France commissioned choreographers to create dances to his music. But as his instrumental music gained recognition, he gave up classical composition, he wrote in his 1989 autobiography, "The Real Frank Zappa Book" (Poseidon Press), because "the incentive to continue was removed by having to deal with symphony orchestras." A Study in Contradictions
Mr. Zappa's work was uneven. He was praised for his sweeping eclecticism and his idiosyncratic balance between absolute control and a Dada esque celebration of the repressed. At the same time, his pieces were widely criticized for juvenile humor and for a cold, mechanical quality. From the beginning, he was an accomplished user of recording technology, creating sonic montages in the studio, and taping and filming many of his performances.
Mr. Zappa was an angry satirist, and some of his songs were topical and perishable. But even as his targets changed, his work through the years shows a consistent anger at complacency, inhibitions, slipshod thinking and self-delusion, inside and outside popular music, whether he was attacking hippie optimism on "We're Only in It for the Money" in 1967 or the censorious Parents' Music Resource Center on "Frank Zappa Meets the Mothers of Prevention" in 1985.
His bands, the Mothers of Invention and Zappa, were schools for musicians. Mr. Zappa demanded hyperfast execution, as well as the ability to improvise and to shift idioms in a split-second. Former sidemen include the guitarist Lowell George and the bassist Roy Estrada, who founded Little Feat; Adrian Belew, who went on to play guitar with David Bowie, Talking Heads and King Crimson; Terry Bozzio, the drummer who founded Missing Persons, and the guitarist Steve Vai. In 1982, the single "Valley Girl" introduced Mr. Zappa's daughter Moon Unit, who made California slang nationally known.
Mr. Zappa himself was a distinctive guitarist, playing solos that moved in irregular, conversational fits and starts. In 1981, recognizing the interest in his guitar solos, he released "Shut Up 'n' Play Yer Guitar," a three-album project. Entrepreneur and Ambassador
In the 1980's Mr. Zappa became an entrepreneur, releasing albums on his own Barking Pumpkin label and overseeing archival releases through Rhino Records (which put out authorized versions of bootlegged recordings) and Rykodisc (which reissued early albums and a series of live recordings, "You Can't Do That on Stage Anymore").
After Vaclav Havel, a fan of Mr. Zappa's music since the 1960's, became President of Czechoslovakia in 1989, Mr. Zappa was invited to advise him on building businesses in the capitalist marketplace. For the first months of 1990, Mr. Zappa was Czechoslovakia's representative to the West on matters of trade, culture and tourism.
In the 1980's, Mr. Zappa worked against efforts to censor popular music. He testified before a Senate subcommittee in the 1985 hearings on "porn rock" and repeatedly tangled with those who advocated warning labels on albums, a tactic he compared to "treating dandruff by decapitation." Reshaping a Band
Frank Vincent Zappa was born on Dec. 21, 1940, in Baltimore and was 10 years old when his family moved to California, settling in Lancaster in Southern California. In the 1950's, he immersed himself in rhythm-and-blues and doo-wop, as well as the classical music of Igor Stravinsky and Edgard Varese. He played various instruments in school groups and taught himself to play guitar. He began recording in 1960, writing scores for B movies. With the singer Ray Collins, he wrote a song called "Memories of El Monte," which was recorded by the Penguins, a doo-wop group.
In the early 1960's, according to Mr. Zappa's autobiography, a detective from the San Bernardino, Calif., vice squad commissioned him to make a tape of sexual sounds, then arrested him on pornography charges. Mr. Zappa spent 10 days in jail and was on probation for three years.
Mr. Zappa joined Mr. Collins's band, the Soul Giants, in 1964 and reshaped the group to play original material. The group was renamed the Mothers as it played clubs around Los Angeles. After the group signed a contract with Verve Records in 1966, the record company insisted that the band call itself the Mothers of Invention. Its first album, the double LP "Freak Out," already hinted at Mr. Zappa's range, from sardonic pop tunes to unaccompanied vocal collages.
Through the end of the 1960's, his albums grew steadily more ambitious. In 1967, the band took up residence at the Garrick Theater in Greenwich Village. More Rock, Then a Movie
In late 1968, Mr. Zappa returned to Los Angeles and, with his manager, started two labels, Straight and Bizarre, distributed by Reprise Records. The labels signed Alice Cooper, later to become a theatrical rock hitmaker, and Captain Beefheart, whose "Trout Mask Replica," produced by Mr. Zappa, has influenced innumerable experimental and punk-rock groups.
After five years of losing money, Mr. Zappa disbanded the Mothers of Invention in 1969 but re-formed it with a new lineup in 1971. In 1970, Zubin Mehta conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic in excerpts from Mr. Zappa's score for his own film, "200 Motels"; the film was released in 1971.
Through the 1970's, Mr. Zappa juggled relatively commercial rock albums, like "Just Another Band From L.A." and "Overnite Sensation," and more experimental projects.
In 1977, he filed suit against his manager, Herb Cohen, and ended his contract with Reprise. He established Zappa Records through Mercury in 1979 and renamed the band Zappa. His first album through the new label, "Sheik Yerbouti," included a disco parody, "Dancin' Fool," that became a hit single. It also included "Jewish Princess," which brought complaints from the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith. In response, his next album, "Joe's Garage, Act I," included the derogatory "Catholic Girls."
When Mercury refused to release a single, "I Don't Wanna Get Drafted," in 1980, Mr. Zappa left the company and started his Barking Pumpkin label. A surreal documentary film, "Baby Snakes," was also released in 1980. Organizing a Legacy
Through the 1980's, Mr. Zappa's recording and performing groups were a thriving cottage industry; he also started Honker Video to release his films and videotapes. "Jazz From Hell," a 1988 album composed on the Synclavier synthesizer, won a Grammy for best rock instrumental performance.
In the late 1980's, Mr. Zappa began organizing his recorded legacy, remastering (and partly rerecording) his 1960's albums for compact disk, and choosing material for six double-CD sets of "You Can't Do That on Stage Anymore." In November 1991, a series of concerts at the Ritz in New York City brought together an orchestra and rock musicians (including his son Dweezil on guitar) in a program called "Frank Zappa's Universe," a selection of his large-scale works and rock songs. The concerts were taped for release by Polygram records. Mr. Zappa was too ill to attend.
He is survived by his wife, Gail, and two sons, Dweezil and Ahmet, and two daughters, Moon Unit and Diva, all of Los Angeles. THE FATHER OF INVENTION
Frank Zappa was a progressive-rock innovator since his days with the Mothers of Invention in the 1960's. This is a partial list of his recordings. Freak Out 1966 Absolutely Free 1967 We're Only in It for the Money 1967 Lumpy Gravy 1967 Cruisin' with Ruben and the Jets 1968 Uncle Meat 1969 Burnt Weeny Sandwich 1970 Hot Rats 1970 Weasels Ripped My Flesh 1970 Chunga's Revenge 1970 Waka Jawaka 1972 Grand Wazoo 1972 Overnite Sensation 1973 Bongo Fury 1975 Orchestral Favorites 1979 Sheik Yerbouti 1979 Joe's Garage, Act I 1980 Joe's Garage, Acts II and III 1980 Shut Up 'n' Play Yer Guitar 1981 Tinsel Town Rebellion 1981 Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch 1982 Them or Us 1984 London Symphony Orchestra (two volumes) 1983, 1987 Jazz From Hell 1988 Broadway the Hard Way 1988
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