Frank Zappa never had much use for sentimentality. As a lyricist, he could be sly, silly or bitingly sarcastic, addressing anything from groupie sex to the perils of yellow snow. But he had no more use for soft-hearted sentiment that he did for those “board housewives” in the P.M.R.C., whose efforts to “clean up” pop music he vilified on album and in Congressional testimony.
Zappa was so good at being smart, cynical sourpuss that people often overlooked his musical depth. Yes, he was the author of such classics as “Crew Sluts” and ”Illinois Enema Bandit,” but beneath such juvenile titles lurks some awesomely sophisticated music. Zappa thought like a serious composer, and took no small pride in the way he could make complex cadences and convoluted melodic lines flow as smoothly as the average boogie lick.
Zappa’s musical range was as enormous as his output was prodigious. Sift through the 80-some albums in his catalog and you’ll find everything from doo-wop and surf guitar to acid rock and free jazz. He composed for rock bands, big bands, even orchestras and chamber ensembles (composer/conductor Pierre Boulez was among many advocates). Zappa was also a virtuoso guitarist, whose technical mastery and improvisational flights were documented on Shut Up ‘N Play Yer Guitar and its spawn.
Born in Baltimore, MD, on Dec. 21, 1940, Zappa moved with his family to California when he was 10. He formed what would become the Mothers of Invention in 1964, and made his first album, Freak Out!, two years later. Zappa kept various incarnations of the Mothers going until the early Nineties, when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He died Dec.4, 1993, and in typically unsentimental fashion, was buried in an unmarked grave in Los Angeles’ Westwood Memorial Park.
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