Vol 13 No 12
Which Way to Planet Zappa
By John V. Scially, M.D., 1 p
Most people know CompuServe as a way to get information about, and to interact with, the world. I found a way to use it to create new information about another world. I spent four months of networking with people in 15 countries to have a celestial body named as a memorial to the late American composer Frank Zappa, who died in December 1993.
Americans think of Zappa as a bizarre, iconoclastic rock musician who founded the Mothers of Invention and opposed Tipper Gore, the wife of U.S. Vice President Al Gore, during U.S. Senate hearings on "porn rock." The rest of the world has recognized Zappa as an innovative composer who mastered every current compositional style. He is considered a great 20thcentury classical composer. While under Communist rule, people in Eastern Europe found him to be a symbol of free speech. When secret police arrested dissidents in these countries, they would say, "We're going to beat the Zappa music out of you." Vaclav Havel, president of the Czech Republic, is a great admirer of Zappa.
Dr. Brian Marsden, director of the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center, told me that, with enough support, he would propose naming a Czech-discovered asteroid after Zappa. The more endorsements he had, the more likely his committee would be to approve this official naming.
I networked electronically, using CompuServe Mail and the Internet, and posted messages in the RockNet and Music/Arts forums and on alt.fan.frankzappa, a Usenet newsgroup. Dr. Marsden received hundreds of endorsements by e-mail and fax – he said it was the largest lobbying effort he had seen in the naming of more than 3,000 minor planets.
There was no problem getting approval for my memorial. In late July, Dr. Marsden made the announcement at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts: An asteroid, a five-mile-long boulder orbiting between Mars and Jupiter, was now named Zappafrank. (The names were reversed for technical reasons.)
Since then, my life has changed because of the media's interest in the story. For weeks after the announcement, news stories were written and I was interviewed by major radio networks and the international press, including CNN and MTV.
Most important, the Zappa family was very grateful.
Dr. John V Scialli, 41, is a child and adolescent psychiatrist and family therapist in Phoenix, Arizona. Scialli notes that Zappa was very interested in astronomy and had some pet theories about the nature of matter-"Stephen Hawking-type stuff" Scialli says. His CompuServe User ID number is 73614,360.