By Ken Clarke
Ten years ago today, Frank Zappa, according to his family, “left for his final tour.”
Although I never met the man, it was a sad day for me. Prostate cancer had prematurely claimed a musical genius who turned rock music upside down and inside out by effectively combining such unlikely elements as classical, jazz, doo-wop and Rïœ|B. Often sprinkled on top was a healthy dose of demonically innovative guitar playing seasoned with liberal amounts of social and political satire. The result was a unique conglomeration that can only be described as "Zappa."
One of the most impressive aspects of Zappa’s career was his fierce work ethic. When he wasn’t touring or producing he was writing music, often spending 18 hours a day in his home studio. Equally notable was his orchestral work which included the Royal Philharmonic, the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra, Pierre Boulez’s Ensemble Intercontemporain, The London Symphony Orchestra and The Ensemble Modern.
Lyrically, every person or group was considered fair game. Some of his many targets included television evangalists, groupies, disco, Republicans, sex, the drug culture and music videos. Zappa remained totally unrepentant up until his death. Matt Groening, Simpsons creator and Zappa fan, once remarked, "Zappa satirized subjects we would never touch."
He toured the world many times, although he claimed to hate it. I’m eternally grateful that I was fortunate enought to witness a 1981 Zappa concert in Vancouver.
That was one performance I will never forget.