Barry Smith: Irrelativity
November 30, 2009
I used to be a regular guest on Steve Skinner’s “Frank Zappa Friday” on KSPN.
Each week it was my job to bring in some new Zappa to play during the morning drive segment, and to make sure that my selection was somewhat listenable.
(* I have one piece of art hanging on my office wall. A Frank Zappa poster.)
“Somewhat listenable” is pretty subjective, of course, and I may not be the best person to make this determination, as I’m a shameless fan (* As shown by the I’m-a-fan factoids scattered throughout this column). I own the entire Zappa catalogue – 70 plus albums. I think songs like “Evelyn, A Modified Dog” and “Sam with the Showing Scalp Flat Top” and “Penguin in Bondage” are the best songs ever written, and I tend to forget that they aren’t exactly radio friendly.
Still, against all odds, I brought new songs in each Friday and Steve managed to keep our weekly tradition going for more than a year. Hooray for lack of adult supervision.
One fine Friday morning I handed Steve a CD to play, having overlooked the fact that the song contained some, well … frank language. And not subtle, couched-in-a-Louie-Louie-like rock’n’roll-mumble frank language, either. No, this was blatant frank language spoken with clarity and purpose. Twice.
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As these jarring words spilled out over the KSPN airwaves and onto a still groggy Roaring Fork Valley, Steve Skinner quickly faded the music, switched on the mic and announced, “You’re listening to KSNO,” then smoothly brought the song back up.
A beautiful moment. In my life, at least.
(* I have a Frank Zappa beer bottle, with beer still in it. And a FZ comic book.)
So, a few years ago, when I read somewhere that Frank’s son, Dweezil (yes, his real name, stay with me), had locked himself in his studio intent on mastering the guitar challenges of his late father’s vast, complex, genius, inspirational (and on and on) music, I thought, “Go, Dweezil.”
Some time later, early summer, 2007, I’m in Montreal at the start of a four-month Canadian tour. I see a poster that says, “Zappa Plays Zappa.” According to the poster, Dweezil has now emerged from his cocooning, put together a band and taken the show on the road, playing his father’s music live in concert. And they’re coming to Montreal!
And I’M in Montreal!
Oh … except that I’ll be gone by the time they arrive. Wah …
(* Years before FZ Friday I had my own radio show on KAJX called “The Dangerous Kitchen,” where I played all Zappa. Nobody cared or noticed, which was fine by me.)
A few weeks later I’m in Toronto, where I see that same Zappa-heavy poster, only this time announcing that they’ve already been to Toronto. Wah …
Later. Winnipeg. Poster. With a performance date on a day I’ll actually be in town! Yay! Oh, except that the show is the exact time as MY show. Wah …
I know, I know … I’ve suffered.
(* Halloween, Aspen, circa 1996, I went out on the town dressed as, you guessed it, Tiny Tim. No, just kidding. Frank Zappa.)
I never got to see Frank Zappa in concert. By the time I became a serious fan, in the late ’80s, he was embarking on his last tour, and the tour never made it to my Southern California neck of the woods. And given their difficulty, Zappa songs aren’t usually covered by other bands. So, the opportunities to see/hear live versions of these gems are pretty rare.
So the backstory was extensive – the history, the anticipation, the missed connections, the obsession – it was all with me as I walked into the Belly Up last week to finally … FINALLY … see “Dweezil Zappa Plays Zappa.” All I had to do was patiently wait for it to come to my little hometown! There’s a lesson in there somewhere, and I’ll avoid it for as long as I can.
For nearly three hours Dweezil and his amazing band tore through beautiful renditions of “Montana” and “Willie the Pimp” and “Cosmik Debris” and “Keep It Greasy” and “Dirty Love” and “San Ber’dino.” And though the house was packed and appreciative, I doubt if anybody was in fan-boy heaven like I was. It was a blissful, long-overdue Zappa-gasmic night. Be still, my geeking heart.
(* Frank Zappa and I dropped out of the same community college in Southern California, a fact that I’m quick to bring up whenever the topic turns to education. Or sports. Or anything, really. I’m surprised I’ve waited this long to tell you.)
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