On The Record
By MARC GEELHOED
Published in the Chicago Time Out - July 19-25, 2007
Frank Zappa’s arch mix of satire and seriousness, along with close attention to songwriting and compositional details, earned him a cult following from the ’60s to his death in 1993. His son Dweezil has been carrying the torch, and leads the second of his Zappa Plays Zappa tours. Given his dad’s loathing of anything that smacked of self-involved tradition, how does Dweezil salute the elder Zappa without the tour being an empty tribute act?
Your dad was known for making a few provocative political statements along the way. What do you think he would have to say about our current leaders?
I think he started making comments about some of the same people that are still involved in shaping our country. I think he would encapsulate all of the issues and make it easy to understand for everybody, but in a humorous way. He would be extremely disappointed by things that have occurred but, you know, would’ve predicted it anyway.
Which part of his legacy are you trying to celebrate in this tour?
You can’t really say it’s about one particular thing. First of all, it’s a way to say thank you to the fans that have supported him for all these years, but also sort of a grassroots outreach to newer audience members who may find themselves uninspired by today’s current music. Beyond that, it’s also sort of about reeducating people about Frank’s music because I think the average person with casual exposure to his music will get the wrong impression. Because if they only know a handful of songs like “Yellow Snow,” “Valley Girl,” “Titties and Beer,” those songs are not even 1/64th of the total makeup of Frank’s catalog.
Don’t people uninspired by today’s music have other avenues to find what they like, though? They’ve got MySpace, blogs…
Well, the thing is, your only option if you’re not getting that exposure on radio is to perform live.
How would Frank Zappa have dealt with that market reality?
I doubt whether he would still be doing a live tour. I think he’d be focused more on his classical composing. He really always thought as a composer, not just a “Hey, I’m a rock musician who writes little four-chord songs with simple things.”
Do you think that your father would have appreciated this sort of look back at what he did—this re-creation of it?
The music itself is very contemporary, [and] even if we’re playing the version that came from 40 years ago, it still sounds like nothing you’ve heard on the radio, and it requires a lot of skill to perform these things. So there’s really no danger of it being a nostalgia revue, because the music itself has a perpetual life of its own. You can always find something new when you’re listening to Frank’s music. The way we present it; it’s not like a greatest-hits revue. There’s nothing schmaltzy about this stuff.— Marc Geelhoed
Zappa Plays Zappa arrives at the Civic Opera House Friday 20.