Reflections on Frank Zappa

Sometimes there are signs that life is improving, even in the face of long-lost tragedy. I’m speaking of course of the fact that, on the 10th anniversary of his death, Frank Zappa is on the cover of two major magazines. Mojo (UK, natch) and Downbeat both recently featured Frank on the cover of their magazines. God bless them. People need to be reminded of who Frank was.

Frank Zappa could have had no other name. “Frank” is a synonym for “honest,” and there is no other more honest musician in the history of popular music to my mind. Everything Frank did was unique, creative, and honest to who he was. He was incapable of inauthenticity. Of the many stories Steve Vai likes to tell of Frank, I have two favorites. The first was about a time when Steve was working as Frank’s transcriptionist and was working on a piece that could’ve been written in either 2/4 or 4/4 time. Publishing rates being dependent upon the number of bar lines, Steve asked Frank if he wanted to call it at 2/4 to make some extra bank. Frank said “do it the way it needs to be done. I don’t need to make money like that.” The second story was in the early 80’s when Frank was working in his studio and his secretary told him Rolling Stone magazine was on the phone and they wanted to put him on the cover. Frank said, “why should I help them sell magazines? Tell them no.”

What’s cooler than being on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine? Turning it down.

Here’s one of my favorite quotes from Frank, printed in the January issue of Mojo:

“Artistic and cultural taste in the US is dictated by a 13-year old named Debbie from a God-fearing, government-trusting family of white folk from the suburbs. As a result, any artist serious about their work might well pass around a jug of cyanide-spiked Kool-Aid, like they did at Jonestown, and kiss their art goodbye.”

We still miss you, Frank.