American singer/songwriter Frank Vincent Zappa, born on December 21, 1940, was one of rock music’s most dedicated iconoclasts. The composer and guitarist blazed new trails in the genre. Zappa, who was also a record producer and film director, was too imaginative and ambitious to work within the confines of the genre and during his lifetime would embrace everything from heavy metal and doo-wop to orchestral and big band music.
Whenever a new musical trend or fad arose, Zappa would always be there to put his own sardonic spin on it. His lyrics were sometimes a bit bizarre and his musical directions would sometimes border on chaotic. Still, that wasn’t really the point. Zappa’s true objective was to push the envelope into the recesses of any and every area of music in an attempt to discover what lay beyond.
Oddly enough Zappa’s first foray into music was as the drummer for his high school marching band. When he was caught smoking under the bleachers his stint as percussionist ended. Somehow he managed to recover from that setback and in 1966 Zappa and his band, The Mothers of Invention, released their premiere platter, Freak Out.
It was one of rock’s first true concept albums. It would be quickly followed by Absolutely Free and the famous We’re Only In It for the Money. To varying degrees these works would all become underground anthems for the counterculture of the 1960s.
The next 25 years would witness Zappa’s release of 60 more albums and his production of several films. He developed a noteworthy catalog of music although some critics would say it was “uneven”. Some rock journalists would also claim Zappa’s first trio of recordings was his best and it is no secret that Zappa was never quite a commercial success. Then again, that was never really the point of what he did anyway.
Zappa’s biting, satirical songs and oft’times lascivious lyrics managed to offend many political and social groups. Indeed, songs like “Catholic Girls” made it obvious that nothing was sacred. Zappa generally ignored criticism for the most part. However in 1985, when the Parents Music Resource Center suggested voluntary album content labeling, Zappa was concerned that artists might possibly be prevented from freely expressing themselves.
He traveled to Capitol Hill to accuse a Senate committee of actually promoting censorship. The proposed tactic of using warning labels was, to Zappa, like “treating dandruff by decapitation”. Unfortunately, while Zappa truly appeared to be successful back then, such content labels are de rigueur today. (Then again, he would probably laugh at how today these labels actually help promote sales rather than deter them.)
His musical innovations garnered him a two –time rejection for induction into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Still, after laying down the tracks to a pair of projects with Pierre Boulez and the London Symphony Orchestra, Zappa was honored at the 1992 New Music Festival in Frankfurt, Germany. (It would not be until 1995, however, that the powers that be would get their act together and posthumously induct Zappa into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame.)
In the spring of 1990, Zappa was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He would hold out until December 4th, 1993 when he would finally succumb to the disease at home with his wife and kids. The next day, in a private ceremony, Frank Zappa, age 52, was buried in an unmarked grave at the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Westwood, Los Angeles. On Monday, December 6 Zappa’s family would announce to the public that: “Composer Frank Zappa left for his final tour just before 6:00 pm on Saturday”.
People wishing to visit Zappa’s grave may park on Wilshire Boulevard and walk to the cemetery behind the office complex at 10850 Wilshire Boulevard. From the office, one simply walks into the central lawn area and counts up 8 rows to the flat, bronze marker of Charles Bassler. Frank is buried in the unmarked plot right above Bassler. In the end, now that Zappa is at rest perhaps he really is Absolutely Free.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.