Frank Discussion

Frank Zappa and I have a complicated relationship, made perhaps a bit more personal this week. His music is vulgar, obtuse, jazzy and free, but full of stereotypes and tropes that were difficult in the 1970s, let alone half a century later. Listen to his guitar playing, and sense the boundaries of rock and roll that the Mothers of Invention pushed, and there is latent genius.

I keep intersecting Zappa, a few times a decade, always in clusters. After friend and former roommate Bill completed my basic Zappa education with late night play-throughs of “Joe’s Garage,” things were quiescent for 20 years. Around an industry event, a Sun co-worker and I were discussing crazy walk-on music and the topic of Zappa came up; turns out her uncle was one of the Mothers of Invention and she had been in the penumbra of some musical bright minds.

Phish covers “Peaches En Regalia,” fitting in that sometimes Phish is seen as a high-funk blend of the Mothers and the Dead, and it’s on my Phish bucket list to experience two of the most misunderstood musical acts in unison. Current guitar hero Trey Anastasio cites Zappa as influence and inspiration, saying “[he] wrote music that challenged people, and always worked at the edge of his abilities”.

Fast forward to the current time track and one of my music teachers’ parents was in the same circle of fifths, intersecting Zappa and the Mothers, a fact that came to light when I literally ran into Frank Zappa on the side of Dirty Frank’s in Philadelphia this summer. Zappa shares wall real estate with Frank Rizzo, Frankenstein, Aretha Franklin, and Frank Oz, something that would probably make him jeer but also be mildly proud.

Four months later I’m mentally recounting these plates of shrimp and I am reminded that Zappa died of prostate cancer, just shy of his 53rd birthday. At the end of the first week of Movember, I raise a Burnt Weenie Sandwich in FZ’s memory.



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Hal Stern

By day: CIO for R&D at a drug company. Scalable computing, data privacy, performance. Non-day: husband, parent, phan, bass player, ice hockey coach