Close Encounter With Zappa

By Arthur Deco

Milkshake Madmoiselle, January-February, 1982

Surely, one of the most memorable Rock experiences was meeting the "King of Avante-Rock: Francis Vincent Zappa.

SCENE: New Years' Eve Day, '75/'76, Long Beach Arena.

I am hanging out around the stage door, wearing the three foot high goat fur hat, I had custom made for me, just a few days prior by a funky little shop in Lancaster. I had been escorted out of the main auditorium section earlier by one of the crew and decided to take a chance and sit a few hours 'round back, smoke my cigarillos and hope for a glimpse of the high priest of progressive Rock.

"What was I doing in Long Beach, you ask?" Well, that's another story, consisting of 3 parts: 1) Running Away From Home, 2) Looking For Work In Suburban L.A. and 3) Desperation and Enlisting In The Army! Yeh, I was due to go into the service just two days after the concert. If I had more time to talk to Frank, I'm sure he could have convinced me of a better course of action, but, oh well ... Live, Burn & Learn.

"What was I doing with a snow white billy-goat hat?" I wanted to look "unique" on occasion, and the idea for it popped into my head while searching through the shops in Lancaster. I saw this rug and noticed some small fur hats that had been custom made. I didn't want these common ones; I wanted a huge snow-capped mountain growing off my head. It's that whole thing of letting your soul show on the outside; l wanted people to notice me and say: " My, my, what a unique individual," but instead it was more like: "Oh, God! Another freak from L. A.!" Oh well, some folks have such wonderful minds.

Anyways, back to the Arena. So, I'm just bein' cool and hangin' loose, waiting to see somebody, anybody, in order to have them present this hat to Zappa. I decided that it fit his image and furry self much better than it did me – clean-cut chil' from the Evergreen State.

A car pulled up to the rear entrance and out jumped a man carrying a flute or piccolo case. Clever me decided he must be a band me member or roadie, so l ask, "Do you know Frank Zappa?" "Yes, was the disgusted reply, I work with him all the time." This man (Napoleon Brock) sounded kind of tired of being obscured by the shadow of Zappa; nevertheless, he was polite to me and when I asked him to take the hat to Zappa he said, "No, hold on, I'll be right back." About 30 seconds later, Brock motions me into the dark back-stage area where I meet the Zap, face to face. "Holy Shit, what a sight to wake up to!" I shook Frank's hand and introduced myself, then gave him the hat. As he positioned it on its' frizzy platform, one of the band members vocalized in AM Disc Jock style: "Dr. Chicago!" A great laugh.

Zappa noticed my cheap 110 Kodak Instamatic and said something like, "Are you going to use that on me? " "Would you mind?" l asked the amused composer, "I'd love to have some pictures of you wearing the hat." "If this thing will work, I'll be O.K." Zappa smiled and suggested we go outside for it, so we did, and me, being a true idiot with a camera, was wondering if I should use a flash attachment on the overcast day. l was fumbling nervously with the gizmo as it dropped to the pavement. "There's your answer", quipped FZ. He made me feel at ease, what a great guy! He even posed and mugged for me, rather than just stand there like some obligatory affaire. l believe he knew this moment was important for me.

Afterwards, I was regretful about not having talked to Zappa more; I wanted to sit in on their practice session etc. but also didn't want to be a pain in the ass like many fans are. Still ... it was a unique experience, meeting one of my heroes of the Rock world. Frank Zappa – Composer, Artist, Musician, Film-maker, Rhythm & Blues Record Collector!! And ... best of all – Human Being. Thank You!

P.S. Frank, if you read this, please write us and tell us about your latest projects. I am currently jamming with an old friend of yours, Al Surratt.

Read by OCR software. If you spot errors, let me know afka (at)