Zappa, Frank

orig. Francis Vincent Zappa

born Dec. 21, 1940, Baltimore, Md., U.S.
died Dec. 4, 1993, Los Angeles, Calif.

U.S. rock musician and composer.

Zappa grew up in California and taught himself drums and guitar. He wrote film scores in the early 1960s. In 1964 he began working with the Soul Giants, who eventually became the Mothers of Invention. He became known for his musical virtuosity and wildly eccentric wit on albums such as Freak Out! (1966), We're Only in It for the Money (1967), Lumpy Gravy (1967), Absolutely Free (1967), Sheik Yerbouti (1979), and Jazz from Hell (1988). His greatest commercial success was "Valley Girl" (1982), featuring his daughter Moon Unit.

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▪ American musician
in full  Frank Vincent Zappa 
born Dec. 21, 1940, Baltimore, Md., U.S.
died Dec. 4, 1993, Los Angeles, Calif.

      American composer, guitarist, and satirist of the 1960s, '70s, and '80s.

      Zappa was, in no apparent order, a first-rate cultural gadfly dedicated to upsetting American suburban complacency and puncturing the hypocrisy and pretensions of both the U.S. political establishment and the counterculture that opposed it; a contemporary orchestral composer uncompromisingly rooted in 20th-century avant-garde tradition; a rock bandleader who put together a series of stellar ensembles both under the rubric of the Mothers of Invention and under his own name; an erudite lover of the most esoteric traditions of rock and roll and of rhythm and blues; an innovative record producer whose use of high-speed editing techniques predated the later innovations of hip-hop; and one of the premier electric guitar improvisers of a generation that included Jimi Hendrix (Hendrix, Jimi), Eric Clapton (Clapton, Eric), and Jeff Beck. One of the great polymaths of the rock era who, arguably, possessed a broader range of skills and interests than any of his peers, he was an instinctive postmodernist who demolished the barriers and hierarchies separating “high” and “low” culture.

      Zappa was a prolific workaholic who released more than 60 albums in his 30-year career. His first release with the original Mothers of Invention, the conceptual double album Freak Out! (1966), was a key influence on the Beatles (Beatles, the)' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, released the following year. By way of wry acknowledgment, the cover of the Mothers' third album, We're Only in It for the Money (1967), parodied that of Sgt. Pepper's, just as the music challenged the Beatles' visions of love and beauty with the deliberate “ugliness” with which Zappa assailed what he saw as the totalitarian philistinism of the establishment and the vacuous fatuity of many aspects of hippie subculture. Zappa was not a hippie, he claimed. He was a “freak.”

      After retiring the name the Mothers of Invention in the late 1970s, Zappa withdrew from explicit political commentary and released, under his own name, the enormously influential jazz-rock fusion album Hot Rats (1969), which featured a memorable vocal from his old friend Don Van Vliet, better known as Captain Beefheart. Throughout the 1970s Zappa released instrumental albums that featured orchestral music, jazz, his own guitar improvisations, and, later, synthesizers and sequencers. He also released rock-oriented vocal albums that, like most of his live concerts, specialized in jaw-dropping displays of technical virtuosity and crowd-pleasing exercises in misogynistic grossness such as “Titties & Beer” (1978) and “Jewish Princess” (1979).

      In the 1980s, by contrast, Zappa was sufficiently angered by the policies of U.S. President Ronald Reagan's administration to rediscover politics. He set up voter-registration booths in the lobbies of his concerts and memorably testified against censorship at the Parents' Music Resource Center hearings in 1985 in Washington, D.C. In 1982 he had an unlikely hit single with “Valley Girl,” which featured a rap by his daughter Moon Unit; and, shortly before his death from prostate cancer in 1993, he was finally recognized as a composer of “serious” music when his Yellow Shark suite was performed and recorded by Berlin's Ensemble Modern. Zappa was posthumously honoured when a set of his pieces was performed during the Proms festival at London's Royal Albert Hall. Considering that he had been banned from the Albert Hall in 1970 when the theatre manager objected to some of the saltier lyrics from Zappa's motion picture 200 Motels (1971), this was no mean achievement. Zappa was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995.

Charles Shaar Murray

Representative Works

The Mothers of Invention
We're Only in It for the Money (1968)
Uncle Meat (1969)

Frank Zappa
Lumpy Gravy (1968)
200 Motels (1971)
Joe's Garage: Acts II & III (1980)

Additional Reading
Ben Watson, Frank Zappa: The Negative Dialectics of Poodle Play (1995), insightfully analyzes Zappa's multifarious life and work.

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Universalium. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Zappa, Frank — orig. Francis Vincent Zappa (21 dic. 1940, Baltimore, Md., EE.UU.–4 dic. 1993, Los Ángeles, Cal.). Músico de rock y compositor estadounidense. Zappa creció en California y aprendió guitarra y batería en forma autodidacta. A comienzos de la década …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Zappa, Frank — soprannome di Vincent, Francis …   Sinonimi e Contrari. Terza edizione

  • Frank-Zappa — Frank Vincent Zappa (* 21. Dezember 1940 in Baltimore, Maryland; † 4. Dezember 1993 in Laurel Canyon, Kalifornien) war ein amerikanischer Komponist und Musiker, der zu Lebzeiten mehr als 60 Musikalben veröffentlichte. Zappa hat das Genre der… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Frank Vincent Zappa — Frank Zappa Frank Zappa Frank Zappa en concert à Austin, Texas le 13 septembre 1977 Alias FZ Nom Frank Vincent Zappa …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention — Frank Zappa Frank Zappa Frank Zappa en concert à Austin, Texas le 13 septembre 1977 Alias FZ Nom Frank Vincent Zappa …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Frank Zappa Meets the Mothers of Prevention — Studio album by Frank Zappa Released November 21, 1985 May 16, 1995 (reissue) …   Wikipedia

  • Zappa plays Zappa — ist der Name einer Konzerttournee und einer Band, die von Dweezil Zappa, dem ältesten Sohn des amerikanischen Komponisten und Musikers Frank Zappa, geleitet wurden. Zappa Plays Zappa widmete sich der Aufführung der Musik von Frank Zappa. Die Band …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Zappa — may refer to:*Frank Zappa, an American composer and musician **Moon Unit Zappa, Frank s daughter **Dweezil Zappa, Frank s son **Ahmet Zappa, Frank s son **Diva Zappa, Frank s daughter **Gail Zappa, Frank s wife *Francesco Zappa, an Italian… …   Wikipedia

  • Zappa (Begriffsklärung) — Zappa ist der Familienname folgender Personen: Ahmet Zappa (* 1974), US amerikanischer Musiker, Schauspieler und Autor Dweezil Zappa (* 1969), US amerikanischer Rockmusiker Francesco Zappa (18. Jahrhundert), italienischer Cellist und Komponist… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Frank Zappa — [Frank Zappa] (1940–93) a US singer and writer of ↑rock music who was especially popular with ↑hippies. He joined the Soul Giants group in 1964 and a year later changed their name to the Mothers of Invention. They were known for ‘psychedelic… …   Useful english dictionary

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